Biden 232
image description
Trump 306
image description
Click for Senate
Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description
  • Strongly Dem (134)
  • Likely Dem (61)
  • Barely Dem (37)
  • Exactly tied (0)
  • Barely GOP (71)
  • Likely GOP (134)
  • Strongly GOP (101)
270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2020 2016 2012
New polls: (None)
the Dem pickups vs. 2020: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2020: AZ GA ME MI NV PA
Political Wire logo Stefanik Rebukes Biden in Address to Israeli Parliament
Democrats Running on Ending Filibuster
Americans Are Down on the Economy Again
Coup Foiled in Congo
Nevada Slipping Away from Democrats
Trump Urges NRA Members to ‘Be Rebellious and Vote’

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Dow Closes Above 40,000 for the First Time Ever
      •  Not Again, Sam
      •  Saturday Q&A

Dow Closes Above 40,000 for the First Time Ever

We almost wrote this up yesterday, because the Dow crept up above 40,000 on Thursday, before closing slightly below. Yesterday, however, it closed above 40,000 for the first time in its 139-year history. The final closing price was 40,003.59, after a fifth consecutive week in which the index was up.

We do not know exactly what impact this will have on the presidential race, but we know it will have some, presuming it stays about 40,000 for an extended period. We certainly know that a stronger stock market does not mean more wealth for everyone, but it does mean more wealth for some. In particular, upper-middle class suburbanites who are with the Democrats on social issues but with the Republicans on taxes and economics, are likely to notice that their IRAs, 401(k)s, and stock portfolios are doing especially well under Biden and might decide he is worth keeping. It's also a great soundbite, thanks to round number bias. 40,000 is not meaningfully different from 39,995, but it FEELS like it is. (Z)

Not Again, Sam

Given that his job is ostensibly to uphold democracy as best he understands it, Associate Justice Samuel Alito earns a lot of the sort of headlines that don't really seem to go with his job description. So it was late Thursday, when the news broke that, after the 2020 election, a U.S. flag was hung upside down outside of Alito's residence. This was a common symbol for people who believed the election was stolen.

When Alito was asked about the upside-down flag by reporters, he bravely... blamed his wife. The Justice told a tale in which one of his neighbors put up a F**k Trump sign, Mrs. Alito had words with that neighbor, and then to fight fire with fire, hung the upside-down flag. The Justice also claims that the flag only flew that way for a short period of time (and yet, enough time for people to get pictures... hmmm).

We don't especially believe Alito's version of events. But even if he's telling the truth, he gave a very tone-deaf response. The correct response goes something like this: "Ah, yes. I understand entirely why this looks problematic, and I was horrified when I learned of the upside-down flag, so I had it removed promptly. You can be certain that nothing like this will happen again, as I remain mortified."

As you can probably guess, there have been many calls for Alito to recuse himself from any future cases involving Trump. And as you can certainly guess, he's already said there is no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that he'll do so. And so, the Court's reputation erodes just a little bit more. (Z)

Saturday Q&A

The question of the week answers from last week need a bit more editing/formatting than we expected, and we want to get this posted as close to our weekend deadline (5:00 a.m. PT) as is possible. So, we'll have those next week.

And if you need help with the headline theme, well, yesterday you had a week to solve it, but you didn't have a fortnight.

Current Events

W.S. in Austin, TX, asks: At several protests for different issues, far-right protesters or counter-protesters often chant "USA!" repeatedly—even when it doesn't make any sense in the context of the protest. At the end of CNN's video of the UCLA protest attack, for example, it can be heard.

Does chanting USA! make any sense? Or is it that they don't know what to say?

(V) & (Z) answer: For a group chant to take hold, it has to be something that multiple members of the group are likely to come to spontaneously. And "USA!" is one of the few things that work in that way, especially when there are no sports teams involved, and thus no reason for a chorus of team names/sports terms/boos. So, you may be right.

However, our guess is this: The kind of people behave like that tend to think they are the "real" Americans, and thus that anyone who opposes them is "anti-American." If that's your mindset, then "USA!" basically works in any context.

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, asks: This counterfactual question isn't material to the guilt or innocence of defendant Trump, because the alleged crime was fraud to cover up the campaign finance violations to bury salacious stories, not the stories themselves.

However, if the Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal, (apparently non-existent) Trumpian lovechild, or all three stories HAD come out before the 2016 election, how do you think it would have affected the election? Would Trump have lost? My own thinking is that if the Access Hollywood tape plus Trump's track record as a very public philanderer didn't cause him to lose to Hillary, then the additional information from Stormy, et al. wouldn't have either. Then again, the Orange One himself seemed to be highly concerned about the story getting out, so maybe it would have. Your thoughts?

(V) & (Z) answer: We think you are right that subsequent events have shown he's bulletproof on this, and on all, issues. We don't even think his apology after the Access Hollywood tape was actually necessary.

However, we also believe that, at that time, he thought the various stories would hurt him if they got out. And all of this came at a time when he first began to think that, just maybe, he could win this thing. So, he reacted in a way that proved to be overly cautious. If a woman were to come forward with her Trump sex story today, he'd just dare her to do it probably while tacitly threatening her that she was taking a "big risk." Then, if she moved forward anyhow, he'd call it fake news and another example of the deep state trying to take him down.

D.R. in Phoenix, AZ, asks: I'd love to see none other than Barack Obama, the most popular living Democrat by far, speak out in support of the rule of law outside Judge Juan Merchan's courthouse. The Repugs sent one of their top sycophants, the pitiful Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA; who wields power only when House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY, gives permission), alongside people like "Coach" Tuberville (R-AL) and bearded weirdo J.D. "when we apologize for this man, lord help us" Vance (R-OH). So, in my fantasy, the Democrats send America's first Black president, who has more dignity than the entire GOP put together, to articulate why the rule of law is important and to highlight who is for it, and who is against it. When the Speaker of the House of Representatives tries to convince the nation that our judicial system is corrupt to its core, someone's got to punch back, for the good of us all, and 44 is the man for the job. What would it take to get non-disgraced former president Obama to make the trip to Manhattan to blot out the likes of Coach Tuberville at least for a day, or maybe a weekend? Judge Merchan and the rule of law could really use the support, especially in light of TFG's tiresome end run around the gag order.

(V) & (Z) answer: We understand the appeal, but this would play right into the Republicans' narrative that this whole trial is a sham staged by the Biden administration. That is why Biden and all other Democrats have not been willing to touch it with a 10-foot pole.

M.P. in Plano, TX, asks: All the elected officials all of a sudden showing up at Donald Trump's trial, spouting the talking points, and suggesting the process is corrupt makes me think that Trump and his campaign think the case is going well for the prosecution and poorly for Trump. Do you think that's the case or do you think this was planned regardless?

(V) & (Z) answer: We think that the likeliest explanation is indeed that Team Trump thinks they are losing this thing, and they've called "all hands on deck."

Alternatively, it's possible that one of the sycophants (J.D. Vance) figured out this would be an excellent way to kiss up, and that the other sycophants smacked their heads, cursed themselves for not thinking of it first, and then booked their tickets for New York.

T.B. in Powell, OH, asks: If Donald Trump is found guilty in the New York hush money trial and the judge sentences him to 4 years in prison at the same time that Trump wins the election for president, would he serve his second presidential term in prison?

(V) & (Z) answer: There is nothing that forbids it, but it would be rather impractical. It would leave him unable to do the job, which should cause him to resign, or should cause his Cabinet to remove him under the terms of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. Of course, neither of those things will happen, and so New York would undoubtedly be compelled to defer the sentence.

M.J. in Granger, IN, asks: Do you think if Donald Trump had pardoned Michael Cohen (they were federal charges, correct?), he would not have had the New York criminal fraud trial and the New York fraud trial about overvaluing his buildings? I think the latter started from Cohen's testimony under oath in front of Congress. Thoughts? Given that he pardoned a quite a few other slimeballs—Joe Arpaio comes to mind—he could have taken the hit politically and saved himself about $450M+ and a possible criminal trial. And, as George Bluth says, "There is always money in the banana stand and always keep your fixer out of jail" (that last part may have been an ad-lib).

(V) & (Z) answer: In retrospect, a pardon of Cohen almost certainly would have saved Trump from at least one trial, and probably both. Trump didn't do it because he didn't want to imply his own guilt in the crimes Cohen got popped for (e.g., paying off Stormy Daniels), and because he had decided he had no further use for Cohen. Everything is transactional with Trump, and the people he did pardon, he expected future assistance from.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, asks: You wrote: "[H]ow was [Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ] able to accrue more than half a million dollars in cash and gold on a salary of about $200,000 a year?", implying that is evidence of nefariousness.

Now, I wouldn't want to question the level of the Senator's nefariousness, but I will point out that I've accumulated somewhat more than that amount of cash (in insured savings accounts, not lying around the house!) and gold on a salary of a little less than that, and I've done so in a lifetime about 20 months shorter than his. To be sure, I did that by generally spending about one-third of my gross and about one-half of my net pay, which hardly seems to conform with the Senator's lifestyle, but still, are you implying that I am a somewhat nefarious being? Note that I don't consider myself to be extremely frugal—I drive a luxury automobile and take international vacations—but I'll admit that some people spend more money on a single shirt and pair of pants that I spend on my entire wardrobe! My motto has always been that just because I can afford something doesn't mean I have to buy it!

I'm also a little surprised by the reporting on his gold bars. It's been made to sound like he has stacks of heavy gold bars lying about his house, like a mini-Fort Knox. Then yesterday, I heard that the value of the bars is about $100,000. At the current price of gold, that's only a little over 40 ounces, or a bit over 2-1/2 pounds, which isn't massive. You can easily hold a sleeve of 20 U.S. Gold Eagles in the palm of one hand, so the amount we're talking about could easily be held in two hands. So, do you think the reporting around the gold bars has been a little sensationalized?

Again, not implying that the Senator is not sleazy, nor that he may very well deserve to be convicted, just that at least some of the reporting has been a bit overblown.

(V) & (Z) answer: That sentence is an example of being imprecise due to writing quickly.

There are, in effect, two scenarios. Either the half-million (or so) is a modest slice of Menendez' net worth, in which case, where did he get all that money? Or else, the half-million is a major chunk of his net worth, in which case, why would he risk keeping money in a form that could be stolen or burned in a fire, and that (in the case of the cash) basically doesn't appreciate? He's trying to peddle the tale that it's because of his Cuban upbringing, but we all know what the much more plausible explanation is. Anyhow, we basically merged both possibilities down into one sentence.

And we don't think the gold is especially overblown, because the key issue isn't the physical size, it's the value. While not unheard of, not too many people have $100,000 in gold in their house. Among those who do, there are a number of possible reasons, and most of those do not reflect well on a U.S. Senator. For example, is he secretly some sort of right-wing survivalist who is prepping for the collapse of the U.S. government? Or is he perhaps making sure he's got something that stores a lot of value in a small space, in case he needs to make a quick getaway?

D.M. in Boston, MA, asks: Many articles in the press have included this quote: "[Judge Jacqueline Scott] Corley said she took into account when giving [Paul Pelosi attacker David] DePape's sentence the fact that he broke into the home of a public official, an unprecedented act in the history of the country."

I believe this statement is false, I think the attempt on William Seward was in his home. And I would say he qualifies as a public official. Can you think of other examples?

(V) & (Z) answer: The Judge might have been allowing "broke into" to do some heavy lifting, since many politicians have been attacked at home, but without a "break in."

To take the Seward example, his attackers were actually let into his house as well-wishers, and then they attacked him. So, technically no break-in. Similarly, when Rep. Angie Craig (DFL-MN) was attacked last year, it was in the publicly accessible elevator of her complex. When judge Andrew Wilkinson was shot to death last year, it was in his front yard.

And so, Corley's statement might technically be correct, but it's very misleading.


C.W. in East Hills, NY, asks: One thing that I have a very hard time wrapping my head around the common wisdom that a poll-driven narrative, showing a very tight race, is a bad thing for Joe Biden.

In my mind, a close race—especially because the opponent is an existential threat such as Donald Trump—is scaring the s**t out of Biden's supporters and those on the fence. It likely will drive donations, volunteerism and, ultimately, votes.

In other words, the Trump campaign and the pollsters who lean toward him seem to want to create a horse-race narrative with Trump slightly ahead. In my opinion, this ultimately will be to Biden's advantage. Indeed, a narrative in which Biden is up by a lot would lead to the overconfidence of the type that cost Hillary Clinton so dearly.

What am I missing?

(V) & (Z) answer: We don't think you're missing anything. Obviously, there is a point at which the polls are so bad, some people don't donate, don't volunteer and don't show up to vote, because they think it's not worthwhile. And there is a point at which the polls are so good, some people think they can afford to cast a third-party protest vote or skip voting, and they don't need to donate or volunteer because it's not needed. Biden appears to be in the sweet sport between those two extremes. Of course, so is Trump.

D.D. in Lansdowne, PA, asks: I appreciate the analysis that you provided about the Siena Poll and I agree there are still many unknowns that will become known as we get closer to Election Day.

My question is about the percentage of voters that Nikki Haley is still receiving in the Republican primaries—how does this number get factored into the poll model?

(V) & (Z) answer: Pollsters don't generally ask the questions that would be needed to answer that, so all we can say is that some of her voters aren't being included in polls because they are telling pollsters they are not planning to vote in the general, and some of them are in the various third-party columns, and some of them are undecided, and some of them are "hold my nose and vote for Trump" voters, and some of them are "hold my nose and vote for Biden" voters. It would be nice to know which categories the majority are in; if a big chunk of them are in the "hold my nose and vote for Biden" category, that would be a big deal.

L.A. in Waynesboro, PA, asks: Since both parties' presidential candidates are known, why even bother having nominating conventions at all? Wouldn't it save a bunch of money, as well as avoid all the potential protesting already predicted, to cancel either or both conventions? Because those funds could obviously be used elsewhere. Are the conventions required legally?

(V) & (Z) answer: The conventions are not legally required, and were not even held until 1828. They are basically an invention of Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren.

Canceling the conventions is unlikely for two reasons. First, they are essentially a near-free 4-day commercial for the party, its candidates and its platform. Second, if a party was to cancel after two centuries of holding conventions, that party better have a heckuva good explanation for why. Otherwise, everyone is going to guess the real reason (i.e., "the Democrats are canceling their convention because they are scared of protests").

Actually, the Democrats are scared of protests but they planning to handle them by having substantial portions of the convention being done remotely. For example, one plan is to have the actual votes be cast by the delegations in their own states, at some famous landmark in that state, rather than at the convention center. This will force the networks to have TV crews at 57 locations and deemphasize what is going on in Chicago. The 57 comes from 50 states, D.C., American Samoa, Democrats Abroad, Guam, Northern Marianas, PR, and the USVI. There is a famous statement to the effect that if a tree falls in the forest and there is no TV crew around to record it, does it make a sound? Or something like that.

A.G. in Scranton, PA, asks: It would seem as if CNN is rather breathless when reporting on the many shortcomings of President Biden's polling position as well as his candidacy. Is this part of the idiotic and intellectually dishonest attempts by the media to be "balanced" by showing that "both sides" are equally screwy and damaged? To me, that seems a little too easy an answer, as their negativity towards the President is notable enough that I'm bothering to query you about it. To me, it seems as if they want him to drop out so Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) or some other white knight can ride in on his steed.

(V) & (Z) answer: We do not believe CNN is trying to get the Democrats to dump Biden for some other candidate.

We do believe that CNN is the worst of the three cable networks when it comes to performing phony "balance." MSNBC, and especially Fox, don't make any pretensions about their editorial slants.

We think the biggest thing, however, is that CNN is desperate for eyeballs and clicks. Have you looked at their homepage anytime recently? It has some real news and commentary, to be certain, but also a bunch of fluff, like updates on the latest news in McFlurry flavors, or meet-cute stories from couples, or a rundown of this week's Saturday Night Live opening. And then there are the fifteen-or-so daily links that are baldfaced attempts to sell product, under the title "CNN Underscored."

Anyhow, if the goal is to drive viewership/readership, apparently because that is what the bottom line demands, then that argues for extreme political stories, whether extreme anti-Biden or extreme anti-Trump.

L.M. in Troy, MI, asks: Do you think the pictures you have for Donald Trump and Joe Biden in upper left are fair and balanced?

(V) & (Z) answer: When (Z) delivers a lecture, he always starts the day with at least one song appropriate to that day's discussion and at least one trivia-style question. The trivia-style question is ideally something the students won't know off the bat, but something they can guess or reason their way through. If things work as planned, it gets them started on thinking about that day's material.

On the very first day of his U.S. history survey course, which covers the years 1877-present, the song is "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin, and the question is: "Today, we'll be talking about the Gilded Age. What does it mean to describe an era as 'The Gilded Age'?"

Usually, students are able to work through that because at least a few of them know the literal meaning of "gilded," and then they think through how that general concept might be applied to an era. This produces a correct answer something along the lines of: "Things look very prosperous at first glance, but if you dig beneath the surface a little bit, it's a different story." (Z) then adds: "That is a very judgmental label for a historical era, and historians try to avoid doing that. We don't call the 1830s 'the era of bigoted sexists,' for example. However, we can use 'The Gilded Age' because it's not a term coined by historians, it's a term coined by someone who lived at that time, namely Mark Twain. So, it's their term, not ours. And we use it today because it reminds us of an important element of the story, namely the growing gap between rich and poor in the late 19th century."

Presumably you can see where this is going. We would not have switched over to the mugshot without justification. But once Trump started using it as part of his marketing and his fundraising, it was fair game. He can't use that image to represent himself, but complain about bias when others use it to represent him. And, for those who recognize the image (a group that includes most readers of this site), it is a small reminder of an important element of his story. We wrote about this on the day we made the changeover.


J.E. in Boone, NC, asks: North Carolina may become the 20th state (of the 34 needed) to approve calling for a Constitutional Convention that could rewrite much, if not most, of our current U.S. Constitution. What little reading I've done about this and—mostly—my intuition tell me that this is pretty much a right-wing plan to dismantle most of the rights, freedoms, and protections we now enjoy as a liberal democracy. My questions are: (1) How close am I to being correct? and (2) How worried do you think we should be that this will actually happen?

(V) & (Z) answer: Here is the list of states that have already signed up, along with the dates when each state did so:

State Date
Georgia March 6, 2014
Alaska April 19, 2014
Florida April 21, 2014
Alabama May 22, 2015
Tennessee February 4, 2016
Indiana February 29, 2016
Oklahoma April 26, 2016
Louisiana May 25, 2016
Arizona March 13, 2017
North Dakota March 24, 2017
Texas May 4, 2017
Missouri May 12, 2017
Arkansas February 14, 2019
Utah March 5, 2019
Mississippi March 27, 2019
Wisconsin January 25, 2022
Nebraska January 28, 2022
West Virginia March 4, 2022
South Carolina March 29, 2022

We included the dates so you can see that the rare purplish states to have joined the list (Arizona, Wisconsin) did so while under firm Republican control.

This is not a list of states looking to outlaw book bans or make sure trans rights are respected, so your intuition is surely correct. It is not something to worry about, though, because there are too many blue states for the red states to get to 34.

R.W. in Brooklyn, NY, asks: I'm wondering why you believe that requiring presidential candidates to submit medical records would "surely require a constitutional amendment." Are you thinking that would be in the nature of adding a qualification, like having to be at least 35 years of age? I see it more as a filing requirement, which Congress can and does impose. So I think you're wrong about that, but I think you'd be right if candidates were actually required to be in good health, not just to disclose health information.

(V) & (Z) answer: Filing requirements are set by individual states, not by Congress, and are generally justified as reasonable means for keeping the process manageable, so voters aren't having to pore through 2,000 candidates for president on their ballots.

If the mandate was to be federal, and the justification was related to fitness for office, then we do indeed think it would require an amendment.

R.B. in Novi, MI, asks: We have seen a lot of discussion about what happens if the Electoral College ends in a tie and the House of Representatives votes on the next president.

But if we take a step back, what are the odds that it really ends in a tie? It seems like every election we've got a handful of faithless electors. Admittedly their votes never impact the result, but what if there were a tie and suddenly that faithless elector has a chance to crown the next king?

Obviously, the people chosen to be electors are supposed to be loyal, but they are still humans. How much faith could each party put in to their electors holding the line and this situation and not being swayed?

(V) & (Z) answer: The odds of a tie are not high, but they are not zero, either. And if there were a tie, well, faithless electors wouldn't matter unless they flipped to the other party's candidate. Because electors are usually party activists, this never happens. So, if there were to be faithless electors as part of a 269-269 tie, maybe you end up with 269 votes for Biden, 267 for Trump and 2 for Nikki Haley. That doesn't change anything; it remains the case that if nobody has 270, the election goes to the House.

The one possible concern is that someone pays an elector a massive bribe to turn traitor. If someone were willing to flip an election, it shouldn't be too hard for them to score $1 billion (or more). That person would be under an enormous microscope, and would have to be careful about their corruption, but if they were to become the newest resident of Abu Dhabi's most exclusive condo building, they'd be beyond the reach of American law, since the United Arab Emirates has no extradition treaty with the U.S.

A.J. in Baltimore, MD, asks: Is there any logistical reason why mail-in ballots can't just be counted as they come in?

(V) & (Z) answer: They can be, and are, in some states. The states that choose not to do so, it's primarily for two reasons. First, some states don't want there to be any risk of the early returns leaking and affecting the election. Second, some states have a law that your vote doesn't count if you die before Election Day, and they want to be able to extract those more easily.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, asks: Since the Oct. 7 attacks, we've seen more of the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, on TV. Is this position mostly a ceremonial one where he doesn't have any power compared to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

(V) & (Z) answer: That is correct. He has soft power, in that he's the head of state, and so can be an example to the Israeli people, and can engage in various forms of persuasion. But he has few official powers. He's not especially different from Charles III in the U.K., except that Herzog's position is elected (to a single, 7-year term) rather than hereditary, and also none of Herzog's daughters-in-law never starred in a mediocre basic-cable legal procedural.


F.S. in Cologne, Germany, asks: Please give us your assessments of every president.

(V) & (Z) answer: We've done the presidents from Theodore Roosevelt onward, so today it's the eight who came immediately before him:

  • Andrew Johnson: He was Sarah Palin before Sarah Palin; a largely uneducated and staunchly conservative individual who was chosen solely to balance a ticket. Of course, Palin didn't get elected, while the Lincoln-Johnson ticket did, with Johnson taking over for Lincoln about 6 weeks into Abe's second term. Johnson had the stubbornness of Donald Trump and the political acumen of Gerald Ford, which is a very bad combination. One of the two or three worst presidents in U.S. history.

  • Ulysses S. Grant: Almost certainly the most underrated president in U.S. history. He was unusually progressive, for his day, on issues of race and racism, leading the charge against the KKK, and pursuing a generally tolerant policy towards the Native Americans. He also helped many freedpeople to get some education, while healing many of the wounds of the Civil War. Unfortunately for him, people in his inner circle tended to take advantage of his trusting nature, leading to several scandals. Unfortunately for him, part II, he defeated the sainted Robert E. Lee. So, fans of Lee (a.k.a. the Lost Cause writers) shredded Grant after he died, using the political scandals to do it, while conveniently overlooking his accomplishments. Eventually, the Lost Cause narrative became the dominant narrative. Grant's reputation has only begun to recover in the last 10 years or so.

  • Rutherford B. Hayes: Some presidents are mediocre because they do some good and some bad, and that averages out to "mediocre." Other presidents are mediocre because they just don't do much. Hayes is the textbook example of the second type. You could ask 100 Americans what he did in office, and the small handful who gave you any sort of answer would probably say "served lemonade." You could ask 100 historians, and most of them might not do much better. If you want to know, the main thing on Hayes' résumé is the deadliest labor incident in U.S. history (thanks to his deploying the U.S. Army to quell the Great Railroad Strike of 1877). He also secured moderate reforms to the civil service and to monetary policy.

  • James A. Garfield: He didn't do much, because he only lasted 6 months...

  • Chester A. Arthur: ...but Arthur was able to use Garfield's death at the hands of a disappointed office-seeker to secure support of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883, which is one of the two or three most important pieces of legislation of the Gilded Age. It is somewhat ironic that the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 was meant to protect against people like... Chester A. Arthur, who was an unabashed spoilsman before becoming vice-president, but became a reformer once he was in the White House.

  • Grover Cleveland: If he had only served one term, he might be remembered as the best president of the Gilded Age, because his powerful anti-corruption instincts were just what was needed. He cleaned up military contracting, and reined in the railroads, and secured passage of the act creating the Interstate Commerce Commission. He also ignored the Tenure of Office Act, by which Congress gave itself the power to approve the firing of Cabinet officials. This killed the legislation, and to this day, Cabinet officials serve solely at the pleasure of the president, once they are confirmed.

    Unfortunately for Cleveland, there is the small matter of his second term. During that one, there was a severe recession and there was much labor unrest. His small-government conservatism and general lack of imagination were not well-suited to this sort of economic and social upheaval, and while Cleveland did not play the fiddle, he did basically sit there while the nation burned.

  • Benjamin Harrison: Wedged in between the two Cleveland terms, Harrison was better than any president in U.S. history at being the grandson of another president. In fact, you could say he's the only one who could do it. Unfortunately, he wasn't much good at anything else. He did sign the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 into law, but he didn't do much to steer it through Congress, and besides, the act didn't have teeth until long after he was gone. Another Gilded Age mediocrity.

  • William McKinley: Thanks to Cleveland's fumbling that second term, McKinley is either the second-best Gilded Age president (if you count Grant as having served during the Gilded Age) or the best (if you don't count Grant). He managed to get the U.S. economy back on track, and dealt very effectively with Spain, even if the resulting war gave the U.S. the quagmire that was the Philippine War. McKinley was also a fundamentally decent man, not unlike Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford.

Next week, it will be numbers 9 through 16, a list that will include the greatest president in U.S. history. Who could that be? Hard to guess, but you can be pretty sure it's not that sumbitch Millard Fillmore.

D.R. in Hillsboro, VA, asks: The Presidential Ratings Game is an understandably popular feature here, and presumably on many other history/politics sites as well. There seem to be two overlapping categories: those which rate the presidents numerically (Top 10), and those which assign a broader qualitative rating (Great, Good, Average, Sub-Par, Terrible, and the like). Of course, an important part is the nice rationale that you provide along with each rating.

I ask about the source(s) that inform the ratings. Obviously, the house historian is eminently qualified and capable of formulating these ratings all on his lonesome. But there may be other sources of ratings that represent different viewpoints, and/or consider different factors, in producing their lists. For instance, we now consider TFG (aka Von Shitzenpants) to be close to the bottom (among the Fillmores, Pierces, A. Johnsons, and Hardings), and still sinking. But might a more conservative historian, or a more fascistic historian, offer a different take?

Please propound a bit on the art and science of ranking the presidents, including which presidents are the most controversial, and any alternative sources that may be of interest to your readers.

(V) & (Z) answer: Actually, the politics of a president, or of the historians ranking them, don't matter all that much. In the end, the evidence is the evidence, and a lousy president doesn't become great just because some historian likes the cut of his jib.

The evidence here is that, for most presidents, the ratings are fairly consistent over time. Wikipedia has a nice table that shows the various lists, from 1948 (when Arthur Schlesinger Sr. did the first major scholarly survey) to the American Political Science Association's (APSA) rating from earlier this year. The APSA even tested for the basic question you asked, requesting that respondents (all of them scholars) reveal their political leaning. The liberal scholars ranked Donald Trump dead last. The moderates ranked Donald Trump dead last. The conservatives ranked Donald Trump third from last. That's pretty much a consensus.

To the extent that you see fluctuations in ratings, it's not generally because of the respondents or the methodology. It's because various presidential reputations have undergone revision for very identifiable reasons. For example, in the last 10 years (as we note above), there have been several important works reevaluating Ulysses S. Grant, and making a persuasive case that his reputation has less to do with his service as president and more to do with the Lost Cause. So, Grant has risen. In the other direction, Woodrow Wilson has slipped a bit because his views on race are much more concerning today than they were 50 or 75 years ago. Other movers are James K. Polk (down), Andrew Jackson (down), James Madison (up) and Lyndon B. Johnson (up).

J.R. in Minneapolis, MN, asks: My very bright 25-year-old grandson with a trade school education has asked me to read The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve. Help! I got through Chapter 5 before the writers obvious biases made it impossible for me to read further.

Can you suggest a book that offers a positive view of government regulation in general and of the money supply and fiat money in particular?

(V) & (Z) answer: Neither of these is exactly a bulls-eye for what you asked, but they are close. Take a look at One Nation Under Debt: Hamilton, Jefferson, and the History of What We Owe and/or Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing.

L.G. in Thornton, CO, asks: You wrote: "Part of gun ownership in the 1790s not only involved making sure your guns were registered, but making them available for inspection, in your home, by government officials."

I've never heard that before. I'm curious, was this a law? If so, what law? I don't recall the Constitution making that requirement. If not a law, by what authority was the government claiming such a right?

(V) & (Z) answer: These were state-level and city-level laws, generally passed under the authority to... wait for it... maintain a well-regulated militia. Think tanker Mark Frassetto has produced a paper identifying over 600 different pre-20th-century laws regulating guns in one way or another, and Robert J. Spitzer of SUNY Courtland has taken that and created a statistical overview. Spitzer says that at least 10 states had laws before the Civil War that mandated safety inspections, while at least 6 states had laws that mandated inspections for proper firearms storage. Not all of these inspections were home-based, but some were.

M.K. in Wilmington, DE, asks: During COVID lockdown I passed part of the time reading the Pentagon Papers and found them both enlightening and depressing.

It's unfortunate the study doesn't cover the whole war but of course no one in the Nixon administration was going to commission that kind of self-incrimination, especially after Daniel Ellsberg began leaking.

With that in mind, is there anything out there that comes remotely close in terms of pulling together what went on in Vietnam from 1968-1975 in terms of detail and style?

(V) & (Z) answer: The book you want is Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975. It covers a broader timeframe than you propose, but all Vietnam overviews do that, because you can't tell the story properly unless you start with the end of World War II (or, at very least, the end of the French occupation in 1954).


O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, asks: In response to the back-and-forth about the Clippers, is it legal for someone to own two franchises in the same league? I've heard of owners owning teams in two different leagues but I cant recall an example of ownership of multiple teams in the same league. Seems like such a conflict of interest that League rules wouldn't allow it. If so, then Steve Ballmer can't participate in an expansion team unless he sells his interest in the Clippers. Also, who could contractually prevent him from relocating to Seattle? There could have been a clause to that effect in his purchase agreement with previous owner Donald K. Sterling, but seems highly unlikely that someone like Sterling would insist on such a provision.

And as follow-up to my question, perhaps my mentioning revenue potential, etc, inadvertently led (Z) down the wrong path. Ballmer doesn't need money, and profits were not his motivation to buy the Clippers at a (then) pretty absurd valuation. So cutting into his revenue probably isn't a reason to not move to Seattle. So what gives? Why would he want to play second fiddle to the Lakers for the rest of his life, as opposed to being the native son who returned the NBA to Seattle? (I know he wasn't born there but he's lived there for years and continues to do so). Very odd...

(V) & (Z) answer: It is up to the leagues themselves as to whether multiple ownership is acceptable. Generally, they try to avoid it because of the conflict of interest, but if there aren't enough investors willing to sink cash into the league, then sometimes it's necessary to let the same person own multiple teams. None of the "Big Four" allow this anymore, but some of the smaller leagues allow it. There are also leagues where the owners are a collective, and so they ALL own ALL the teams. Major League Soccer runs this way, as does the United Football League.

Also, there are no rules about arena ownership. There are a number of sports owners who own multiple arenas in the same league. So, Ballmer could own the Clippers, the Clippers' new arena, and the New Sonics' new arena, and that would be acceptable.

As to moving the Clippers, the transfer of an NBA team has to be approved by the other owners. And the other owners might very well have told Ballmer that one of the conditions of purchase was that he stay in Los Angeles, since they knew full well they intended to squeeze a $2 billion or $3 billion franchise fee out of Seattle.

As to Ballmer's motivations, money is like Monopoly money to him. And we don't just mean it has no real value to him, we also mean that he's playing to get the most of it. In other words, his interest may not be in profit, per se, it may be in "winning," as measured by how much (Monopoly) money he makes. This is especially important for someone like him, since his only real capitalistic success is with Microsoft, and there's an argument that he was just in the righe place in the right time, and didn't actually grow the business in a meaningful way. Note also that the price he paid for the Clippers ($2 billion) seemed absurd at the time, but in the 10 years since, their value has ballooned to $4.6 billion. So, maybe he wasn't throwing money around willy-nilly, after all.

Oh, and Ballmer leaves his Seattle house around an hour before gametime, zips down to L.A. on his private jet, helicopters over from LAX, and is there for tipoff. That's about the same commute he'd have if he lived in L.A., since Arena is downtown, and the rich people houses are 5-15 miles away, and not close to freeways. So, he can easily live in Seattle and yet still have a team in the much richer L.A. market.

If you wish to contact us, please use one of these addresses. For the first two, please include your initials and city.

To download a poster about the site to hang up, please click here.

Email a link to a friend or share:

---The Votemaster and Zenger
May17 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 18)
May17 In Congress: This Week in Performative Politics
May17 The Supreme Court: Just a Minute There, Fifth Circuit
May17 Abbott: From 25 Years Down to 1
May17 I Read the News Today, Oh Boy: Heat of the Moment
May17 This Week in Schadenfreude: Giuliani about to Lose a Second Job
May17 This Week in Freudenfreude: Living in the 18th Century
May16 There Will Be a Debate?
May16 LA-06 Is Back in Black
May16 Who's Gonna Win This Thing?, Part II: Keep an Eye on William Davis
May16 Who's Gonna Win This Thing?, Part III: A Poll Gone Mad
May16 Who's Gonna Win This Thing?, Part IV: Lichtman Makes His Pick
May16 Mitt Romney: Hey, Don't Forget I'm Tone Deaf, Too!
May15 Results Are in from Maryland, West Virginia and Nebraska
May15 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 17)
May15 And Don't Forget the Other Crooks
May15 Another $1 Billion in Arms for Israel
May15 Who's Gonna Win This Thing?, Part I: The Siena Poll
May15 Carter "Coming to the End"
May15 Today's Presidential Polls
May14 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 16)
May14 Voters Head to the Polls in Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia
May14 Uncovered, Part I: Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti
May14 Uncovered, Part II: Brain Food
May14 Where is RFK Jr. on the Ballot?
May14 House Republicans Tee Up Israel Bomb Bill
May14 They Doth Protest Too Much, Wethinks
May14 Today's Presidential Polls
May13 Netanyahu Is Losing...
May13 ...But What Does That Mean for Biden?
May13 Biden Makes the Ballot in Alabama... But Not Ohio
May13 Republicans Are Anti-Democracy
May13 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 16 preview)
May13 Trump May Owe a $100 Million Tax Bill
May13 And Don't Forget the Other Crooks
May12 Sunday Mailbag
May11 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 15)
May11 Saturday Q&A
May11 Reader Question of the Week: Donald's Song
May11 Today's Presidential Polls
May10 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 14)
May10 Fallout from Biden's Decision on Israel Commences
May10 Trump Environmental Policy: We're Gonna Need a Bigger... Bottle of Sunscreen
May10 Electoral-Vote Presidential Tracking Poll, May Edition: Are We in for a Thriller?
May10 I Read the News Today, Oh Boy: Black Magic
May10 This Week in Schadenfreude: Nights In White Satin
May10 This Week in Freudenfreude: (You're My) Soul And Inspiration
May10 Today's Presidential Polls
May09 Biden Puts His Foot Down
May09 The Greene Goblin Strikes