I know we’re all supposed to be obsessed with who broke out and who broke down during the first Democratic debates last week. But I would like to interrupt this predictably-scheduled programming to make a general plea to all the candidates on behalf of everyone who desperately longs to defeat Donald Trump.
Please, please, please do not let a day go by without hitting at least one of the following points, and hitting it hard:
In the debates and elsewhere, it is true, Democratic candidates have been loud and clear on a number of key points:
Those are all good, indeed essential, arguments. No one should stop pounding them. But there’s an awful lot that this litany simply omits.
Long before the candidates took the stage in Florida, Democratic politics had become soggy with its saturation in the debate over whether victory lies in running way to the left or hewing to the left-of-center. Meanwhile, nobody seems to notice that in following Trump, the GOP has almost entirely abandoned its own side of the field.
It’s astonishing. Trump and company have applied scorched-earth savagery to almost everything that has historically made the GOP appeal to anyone outside the confines of a few distinct, if overlapping, groups: the Christian and/or white-nationalist right; the personality cult of Trump; and the anti-tax, anti-regulation absolutists who don’t care if U.S. governance becomes a Kim Jong-Un/Franklin Graham co-production as long as they get richer.
Free trade, free markets, individual rights, localized political control, global leadership, fiscal prudence, (true) religious liberty, law and order…Trump’s GOP has torched them all. In so doing, they have alienated some highly honorable Republican and recently-ex-Republican dissidents -- and a giant mass of not-so-left-leaning independents on whom this election will hinge.
So far, Democrats have been behaving as if there are only two ways to treat these folks: woo them by pre-diluting liberal ideals so as to compromise before anyone even gets near a table, or “stir the base” with big-government, identity-infused visions and hope that independents’ reservations about this will be drowned in a sea of anti-Trump disgust.
Just an aside here, I think that such reservations should be drowned in a sea of anti-Trump disgust. I find it wildly misguided to reason, as columnists such as David Brooks have been doing, along the lines of “I think it’s a bad idea to abolish private health insurance or super-tax the super-rich, so I might just sit back and facilitate the re-election of someone I do believe to be a dangerous lunatic. ” But I’ll accept that many Americans might reason just so.
Anyway, these folks might or might not be comforted by kind words about rich people or promises go halfsies on subsidized health care. But they certainly ought to be reminded:
This would not be true in virtually any other election, but it is very true of this one: If you are a good, sane, solid American whose politics lean right but not far right, Joe Biden is not the only Democratic candidate with whom you should feel greater affinity than you feel with Donald Trump. In fact, you should feel greater affinity with almost all the Democratic candidates than you feel with Trump--and not just because of his racism, sexism, cronyism, authoritarianism, impetuousness, ignorance, crudeness, and whatnot. It’s also his complete renunciation of many of your own values. After all:
Some candidates – Pete Buttigieg comes to mind – do talk in general terms about the need to address entirely new realities in entirely new, label-resistant ways. In his turn on Thursday night, Buttigieg actually stated, “tariffs are taxes.” But that should not be a throwaway line on a debate stage by this or that contender. It should be one of five simple, straightforward lines of attack, relentlessly pressed by all the contenders:
It’s all well and good to fight over whether Joe is too old and grabby, Bernie too old and crabby, Elizabeth too wonky, Kamala too prosecutorial and Pete too young and/or the right amount of gay. It’s fine to debate whether the standard ought to be “Medicare for All” or “Semi-Decent Health Care for Most;” “The Green New Deal” or “A Cyan-Colored Strategy That Treats Climate Change As Something Other Than A Chinese Hoax.” But wherever one comes down on those issues, these facts remain:
In future posts, I will flesh out each of these ideas. But for now, if you happen to be a Democrat running for President, please, please, please hit at least one of them, at least once a day.
It’s official: Beto O’Rourke has thrown his mop of hair into the ring.
No one knows whether O’Rourke the presidential candidate will be able to scale the magic of Beto the bane of Ted Cruz. But for purposes of defeating Donald Trump, Democrats should hope like hell that he can.
It’s not because he’s cool or "Kennedyesque" or so much better than – or, frankly, different from – most of his fellow Democrats on “the issues.”
It’s not because he’s a white man. (In fact, I’d be happier if he weren’t.)
It’s because Beto O’Rourke is from Texas, also known as the state with the second-highest number of electoral votes. So, of course, is Julian Castro – and if Castro should capture sufficient lightning (and funding) in months to come, the same argument certainly applies to him.
Yes, this is a simplistic way of looking at things – but then again, Democrats are busily thwarting themselves with sophisticated ones.
There’s the whole Rubik's cube of identity:
Would male voters turn out for a woman, or turn on her? Conversely, having had such bitter back-to-back defeats in the last two go-rounds, would women rally to yet another man? If so, does that man have to be black, Hispanic or gay? On the other hand, given the collective fear of Joe Six Pack, would he be allowed to be any of those? Supposing it’s Bernie or Biden, can anyone name a vice-presidential prospect sufficiently fresh to extend the expiration date on those guys?
And the Jacob's ladder of ideology/policy:
Do you have to be for the green new deal or Medicare for All? Is it smart to drop the occasional nice comment about this or that Republican, or is it suicidal? How do you navigate slavery reparations and #me too without coming across as either racist/sexist on the one hand or looney-lefty on the other?
Meanwhile, nobody seems to be looking at a map.
Whatever other qualities they may have to recommend them, Kirsten Gillebrand, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Jay Inslee, Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney, Andrew Yang, and Marianne Williamson all come from states that the Democratic candidate is almost certainly going to win in a walk.
Notwithstanding the positive buzz he has generated with one stellar performance after another, Pete Buttigieg comes from a state where Donald Trump is just as sure to rock out, and would do even if Mike Pence weren’t a native son. (Buttigieg 2036? Count me in!)
John Hickenlooper and Amy Klobuchar come from states where Hillary Clinton beat Trump, who has only been growing less popular in those places ever since.
By contrast, Beto O’Rourke has just come off building a massive grass-roots organization and one hundred per cent name recognition in a long-Republican state that Democrats have a real shot at taking, partly thanks to him.
Clearly, there are limits to this calculation. Trump lost his native New York and will lose it again, and there is no point of origin that can turn a loser of a candidate into a winner.
Coming off the high of his senate run, it will be quite easy for O’Rourke to come across as a loser. Straight out of the gate, he has only two options: dazzle or fizzle. If he fizzles, there’s no math that adds up for him.
If he dazzles, though…if he dazzles, Democrats should let everybody else fade in his glow. There is just no sense in peeling the shine off a candidate who stands the greatest chance of beating Trump where he most needs to win -- or failing that, can at least force the incumbent to spend a lot of time and money to secure himself where he ought to be safe.
He may or may not have been wearing Prada, but make no mistake: Howard Schultz is the devil.
Tuesday night, on the CNN Town Hall designed to introduce him to the nation, Schultz came across as intelligent, articulate, well-informed, well-intentioned. He had a compelling rags-to-riches life story and a modest but powerful way of telling it. You couldn’t see the horns hidden in his hair or the pitchfork he was holding, but they were there.
Schultz is not the devil because he is a centrist. Joe Biden is a centrist. Michael Bloomberg is a centrist. A number of the declared Democratic presidential candidates (Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg) will probably run as centrists. Despite decades of being pummeled from the right as some kind of Bay Area Bolshevik, Nancy Pelosi is a centrist. Not that anyone cares, but I am a centrist – by which I mean, I may be very liberal, but I recognize that many Americans are not, and that they count, too.
Centrists may be passé or short on star power or meh in the eyes of single-issue pressure groups or flat-out wrong. But centrists are not the devil.
Schultz is not the devil because he’s mega rich. Unlike the (supposed) billionaire in the White House, Schultz rose from nothing and has created tons of employment. At his town hall, he shrank from positing his business experience as a qualification for the presidency, but in key ways, it is one.
Of course, Schultz is the devil because if he mounts a third-party candidacy, he will bolster President Trump’s odds of re-election – but also, and importantly, because of the way he talks about the possibility of doing so.
As the CNN town hall made clear, that way is: he spins the oft-told, not-true tale that normal Americans can find no home in either of the major parties because both have gone equally crazy. Even when he wasn’t decrying it, Schultz was implying it: this vision of a “far left” and a “far right” and trapped between them a vast middle who just want – to use a favorite term of Schultz’s – “sensible” government.
Oh, please. There isn’t a horse on earth that would own up to producing that grade of manure.
In normal times, I’d react very differently. In normal times, when it comes to governance, I love “sensible” the way Abelard loved Heloise. I’m a common-ground, half-a-loaf-is-better-than-none, sounds-great-but-how-much-is-this-going-to-cost kind of gal. In normal times, I reject the idea that Democrats are, by definition and default, superior to Republicans for the steaming pile of garbage that such an idea normally is.
These are not normal times.
If the crucial line of distinction were ideological, as it is often mistaken to be, I would argue that the Democrats have not gone nearly as far left as the Republicans have gone right; at least not yet – and that if Schultz were really concerned about the party tilting too far left, he’d do much more to counter that by exerting his gazillion-dollar force from within, a la Bloomberg. But the crucial line of distinction is not ideological.
For decades, Republicans have gotten away with depicting themselves as the party of fiscal restraint while running up vertiginous levels of public debt. Now and with equal gusto, they are ridiculing Democrats for being delusional while merrily severing strand after strand of their own connection to reality.
No question, as currently formulated, such proposals as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, a 70 per cent tax rate on the richest Americans, and tuition-free college may all be fantasy solutions. But at least they address real problems.
The GOP, by contrast, has dedicated itself to going hammer-and-tongs after fake ones. Especially with – but even without – Trump, it has become a phony-issue factory. Sometimes drawing raw material from actual challenges, other times working with thin air, the party of Lincoln has become scarily efficient at churning out crises that don’t exist but do resonate.
Clearly, there are real debates that need to be had in connection with every issue I am about to list, as well as many others. But as long as the Republicans keep going as they are, those debates cannot possibly be had, because their starting position on each rests upon some self-generated, ferociously-guarded fiction. Such as:
The fiction that that there is a crisis-level number of central Americans (not to mention Arabs), streaming across the southern border to terrorize Americans and steal their jobs.
That snow and ice constitute evidence against global warming.
That in the absence of an absolute ban on late-term abortions, it’s open season on newborns.
That no woman is safe in a public restroom unless transgender people are kicked out of the military and, ideally, existence.
One could go on.
It’s as if, delighted at the traction they were able to get by selling a “war on Christmas” even as the Yuletide season grew to encompass Labor Day through New Year’s, they’ve decided to try their luck at turning every issue upside down while screaming that it’s right side up.
There are constitutional fictions too, in connection with which Mitch McConnell deserves more Oscars than Meryl. Having acted as if Democratic presidents in the last year of their terms are not allowed to have their Supreme Court nominees voted up or down, McConnell more recently played – no, he truly inhabited the role of – a Senate Majority Leader convinced that he couldn’t possibly help shut down the shutdown because the legislature he runs is not allowed to pass a measure unless the president has already agreed to sign it.
And of course, the most darkly dazzling make-believe of all: that said president may have a few quirks for the liberal media to exaggerate, but nothing about him, in word or deed, need really worry anyone.
None of this is remotely true. One party has staked its life on pretending that it is, and the other party, though far from perfect, recognizes that it is not.
Who needs Russia? This time, just a semi-objective grasp of a few basic facts on the ground ought to be enough for the most “sensible” among us to go with the Democrats.
Expert though he is in all matters of coffee, Howard Schultz displays a highly questionable belief in America’s current desire to come together and try the decaf. In order for a third-party candidate to win in 2020, the national mood would have to be monumentally less partisan than it was when John Anderson, Ross Perot, Ralph Nader and Jill Stein tried the same thing. Not to mention, as the great Charlie Cook recently pointed out, the Electoral College would have to disappear like a cube of raw cane into a double-shot of espresso.
In 2020, then, the presidency will either go to Donald Trump or to the Democratic nominee. If Schultz runs, he will obviously and greatly enhance the hopes of the former. But he doesn’t even have to run to do real damage to the latter.
Over and over again on CNN, Schultz insisted that he would not do anything to re-elect Trump.
By daring to equate the party of reality with the party of reality television, he already is.
Considering the closeness of the race and the bizarrely-permissible tasking of her opponent with presiding over its results, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is all too well advised to do exactly what she is doing: forestall concession to recusal-resistant Secretary of State Brian Kemp until every last vote is counted. While she’s at it, though, there is something more that Abrams should do, and she owes it to herself and to Georgia to do it now.
Abrams should stand up, throw her head and shoulders back, and pull herself up like a great wall of rectitude. And in the strongest, clearest-possible voice she should declaim: “I call for a full investigation of the allegations recently made by Secretary Kemp that the Democratic Party had hacked into our state voter-registration system. I do not believe that there is any substance to these allegations. But the integrity of our elections is too important to leave to any one person or party. If there is a legitimate shadow to be cast on my own side of the aisle, let it be cast, so the system itself can shine clean and bright for all Georgians to see and believe.”
With that statement, Abrams would come across as – and, in fact, be – a champion of voting rights for all; more mindful of the sacred electoral process than of her own prospects in it; just as disturbed by any possible tampering with Kemp’s votes as by tampering with her own. More deliciously, she would also present Kemp with the problem of what to do with whatever conclusion such an investigation came to: Either he chose to ball up serious but unfounded allegations and throw them at Abrams for his own gain. Or – I'm guessing not, but who knows? -- the voter-registration system was indeed hacked, meaning that the system was hackable….on his watch.
Granted, none of this would do a thing to bring Kemp’s total below the 50-per-cent-plus-one threshold required to avoid a runoff. But on the off chance that such a runoff were to take place, it would make it a whole lot more interesting.
Does victory lie in an eleventh-hour strategy of nagging apathetic neighbors, relatives, Uber drivers and grocery-cart helpers-with; stress-eating entire Alps of Halloween candy, and ceaselessly toggling between taking heart in encouraging poll numbers and slapping oneself with the reminder of what a heinous howling horrendous mistake that was in 2016?
If so, I have wrought the blue wave all by myself.
If not, listen up children: Mommy is going to be someone to avoid tomorrow.
It’s literally sickening, how much is at stake in this election: not just control of the Congress and many powerful offices across the country, but, I'd give anything not to feel, the country itself. As of November 2016, it may have been (just about) possible to pretend, if you stood on one foot, squinted, and tilted your head just so, that Donald Trump would not govern as the crazy, bigoted ignoramus he ran as, or at least that responsible Republicans would check him if he tried. Today, no such delusions are possible. Long, long before today, in fact, it had become plain not only that Trump is precisely as he seemed, but that almost all of his party and a solid third of the nation wish only that there were more just like him.
Twelve hours from now, it will be much more clear than it is as I type whether America wants to stem this nativist, nihilist tide or ride it to God knows what end.
So very much hinges on the result, it seems crazy to focus on the things that don’t. But I’m going to focus on them anyway, because whether tomorrow finds people like me jumping for joy or curling ourselves into balls of woe, these things will be true, and they will matter.
Actually, maybe it’s more the things that have revealed themselves to be so absolutely untrue. In the past two years, so many political myths have been slain, they’re lying dead all over the place, like dragons after a run-in with St. George.
My top three:
Progressives aren’t patriots. For decades now – probably since Vietnam -- Republicans have depicted themselves as guardians of the American warrior, and Democrats as flag-burning traitors to the troops. This has always been absurd (see: Bob Kerrey, John Kerry, Jim Webb, Tammy Duckworth…) But with the help of meh Democratic messaging, the GOP had done a remarkable job of making it stick, to the point where their adored draft dodger draws lusty cheers for impugning the Americanism of kneeling football players, veterans or not. Back in March, it was nothing new when Pennsylvania special-election congressional candidate Rick Saccone blasted his Democratic opponent, Conor Lamb USMC, as someone who hated America. The twist was that Lamb trounced him. This was definitely the start of a trend; the question is, how large? Win or lose, though, Amy McGrath, Mikie Sherrill, M.J. Hegar, Jason Crow and so many more have served the nation yet again by destroying the notion of “liberalism” and “love of country” as a contradiction in terms.
Government is the work of Satan. It remains to be seen whether Republicans will succeed in pretending that they supported the super-popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act which they tried to gut. But Democrats should take pride in the pretending itself. This is truly a case of hypocrisy becoming a high form of flattery. Republicans realize that disaster lies in vowing to allow the private insurance market to do what it will with pre-existing conditions, let alone demonizing the idea that government has a role to play in such matters. That’s a major battle in the war of ideas, and no matter how their candidates do today, Democrats have won it.
Who cares about Harvard and Hollywood? Real people love Trump. Republicans have long used the existence of “limousine liberals” to deny the existence of liberals without limousines. Even Hillary Clinton’s decisive victory in the popular vote was disdained on the grounds that she had merely run up huge totals among the sushi hounds of New York and California, while losing the authentic, saturated-fat folk of the Rust Belt.
Today, it is anything but clear that America’s heartland belongs to Trump.
Look at the Senate, rightfully seen as the Democrats’ longest shot. As of 2016, Republicans were salivating over the possibility of taking Democratic-held Senate seats in Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Not anymore. Odds are looking at-least even that Democrats will hang on in West Virginia and Indiana.
Step back for a minute from the panting over whether Beto O’Rourke can pull off a stunning upset in Texas. Assuming he doesn’t, will anyone be able to deny that millions of Texans wanted him to? Missouri might or might not re-elect Claire McCaskill. But if she loses, it won’t be by much.
In fact, at high noon on election day, “flyover country” seems replete with places where Democrats were dead three years ago but now have real game. It’s not just that very un-Bannon candidates may rock out in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. It’s that they’re in close contention for two out of four Congressional seats and the governorship of Kansas; within three points of catching the Republican running for governor of Oklahoma.
Wait, wait, all that is based on polls, and after 2016 (slap!) I don’t believe any polling numbers, ever. But unless all the polls – and the fundraising, and the floods of volunteers, and what people in the streets are telling reporters, and the yard signs – are off by an absolute ton, left-of-center (or at least anti-Trump) Americans can be found in large numbers all over this country. And they are at least as “real” as anyone in a MAGA hat.
Whatever happens today, don't forget: that will be true tomorrow.
If, tomorrow morning, Almighty God came down and whispered in my ear that Brett Kavanaugh had never come within a hundred miles of committing sexual assault, I would still believe that he has no business coming within a hundred miles of the Supreme Court.
This is not, I could swear to that same Almighty God on a stack of Bibles, because I am a liberal (which I am) out to avenge the Clintons (which I am not) in accordance with my hatred for white males (like my dad, my brothers, my husband, my son, and many of my friends). And it is only tangentially because of the foul mood and manners Kavanaugh displayed before the Senate Judiciary committee – no matter how patently obvious it may be that if any female nominee threw half that hissy-fit, she’d be chopped right up for fire wood.
As a matter of fact, I started out this scandal-cycle more than prepared to side with Kavanaugh.
In spite – no, because – of my default loathing of Trump, mourning of Garland, crediting of sexual-assault complaints, and dreading of an even further-right turn by the Supreme Court, I greeted the emergence of sexual-assault allegations with an instinctively cold shoulder. It wasn’t any assumption on my part that Christine Blasey Ford was lying. It was an acutely self-scrutinizing awareness of what was in it for me if she wasn’t.
It was a certain measure of deference, too, to the smooth velvet approval that Kavanaugh came cloaked in: the number of times he’d been vetted before; the glowing reviews he’d garnered from judicial sages, some of whom disagreed sharply with his politics.
Taking those cues, I’d already spent the weeks since Kavanaugh’s nomination shooting down my own objections with “true, but” bullets.
He’s sooo conservative…true, but who is this president going to pick that isn’t?
He’s a son of such privilege…True, but anyone who counts that a demerit had better be ready to disavow FDR and the Kennedys.
He’s claiming a second seat for the far right when the last one should have gone to an Obama moderate…. really, really true, but with zero Republican senators losing a wink of sleep over it, sadly irrelevant.
Once Blasey Ford arrived on the scene, I felt the usual disgust at the usual characterizations of the accuser as some sort of liar-lunatic-conspirator mongrel. At the same time, however, I just couldn’t get into the baying for Kavanaugh’s blood. It isn’t often that I find myself nodding in agreement with Kellyanne Conway, but the line she was soon taking –that with all due regard for the pent-up anger of the #MeToo movement, it could be wrong to unleash it on this one man -- struck me as valid. Especially for liberals, traditionally so consumed with the rights of the accused, the current imperative to “believe the women” instantly, completely and permanently ought to be a problematic one. That is not to question the fact that sexual assault happens to women seismically more often than false accusation happens to men. But fairness demands an allowance that in any given case, it can happen.
And Democrats, it must be said, did not seem the slightest bit concerned that it might be happening here. Days before the hearing, the cameras found Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, sparkling with certainty like a guillotine in the sun: “I believe Dr. Ford because she is telling the truth!” she declaimed.
“Really, senator?” I snapped at the T.V.. “Will you be turning your decoder ring to the weather and Wall Street, too?”
Meanwhile, back in the weeds of the matter in question, there lay the apparent impossibility of proving anything one way or the other. So, while continuing to find Kavanaugh ideologically distressing, I felt myself coming down on the side of giving him a moral and intellectual pass.
It was as I watched the nominee on Fox News that I felt my apprehensions stir and start to shift. Gradually, beginning with that interview, I began to feel less disturbed by Democratic hints of Robespierre, and more disturbed by the degree to which Team Kavanaugh had gone full Gertrude. Talk about “doth protest too much.”
Not content with categorical denial that their Brett committed the egregious acts in question, his defenders – himself chief among them -- leapt to the position that he had never done anything wrong, ever. Certainly nothing in the shitfaced-misogyny department!
This gave me a real, creeping, gut-level sense that there was something rotten in Bethesda: Kavanaugh’s desperation to depict himself – and his coterie’s desperation to depict him -- as having sprung into the world fully and perfectly formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. If, in the highly sympathetic setting of that Fox interview, Kavanaugh had taken the opportunity to draw any sort of picture of how he had matured through making mistakes, I would have likely found it human, reflective, the very opposite of disqualifying. But he sprinted the other way. By his lights, he had never done anything worse than "on occasion" drink a little too much legally-obtained-in-Maryland-at-the-time beer! He had always treated women with dignity and respect! He had a letter signed by 65 female friends from high school, for Chrissakes!
Now think about that for a second: Do you know 65 people who could truly attest to the content of your character? I don’t. Cut out one entire gender and anyone I met after high school, and I really don’t.
Maybe I am just a fool for flawed people. But even before Blasey Ford waded carefully and credibly through her testimony and Kavanaugh wigged out during his, that insistence that there were not, nor had their every been, any chinks in his armor bothered me. Then I realized he’d been a year ahead of me at Yale, where he belonged to two of its most notoriously, um, louche ‘n’ liquid brotherhoods, and I thought “he’s lying.”
Then, just before falling into the rush of general opprobrium, I caught myself on the twig of ‘probably’: “He’s probably lying. But you never know: it could come out in the next couple of days that Brett was always the designated driver or the guy who really liked his frat brothers, but sat out, even tried to steer them away from, their uglier antics. There are those kids, too.” But then came one very convincingly-told tale after another that portrayed this particular DKE as your basic Eli booze hound, and that twig snapped.
To be clear: Short of an actual crime, I could not give a rat’s boola boola if Brett Kavanaugh spent the first 25 years of his life boozing, boofing, barfing and devil’s-triangulating to his frat-boy heart’s content, provided he spent the next 25 doing better things. But that is not Kavanaugh’s account of himself. Kavanaugh’s account of himself is one of ceaseless rectitude with a touch of thirst, and it differs wildly from many others’ first-hand accounts of him. Thus, the current fixation on the follies of his younger days is not, as widely fretted, an ominous example of extreme vetting gone wild. It is an acceptance of Kavanaugh’s own, unfathomably ill-advised invitation to hold the reality of his younger self against the image he has chosen to wave at America much more purposefully than he could possibly have waved his genitalia in the face of Deborah Ramirez. It is as if he has flung open the door of his old dorm room and defied everyone not to pronounce it immaculate. It’s not our fault if, now that we’re here, the rest of us can’t help but notice the empty beer cans under the bed and the stolen-bra flag over it.
Oh, those beer cans, and kegs, and pitchers, and steins. Once the time came for him finally to speak for himself before the Senate judiciary committee, Kavanaugh didn’t speak so much as sneer, shriek and snort with derision at Democratic senators’ attempts to quantify just how much ‘ski he was wont to swill. Oddly for such an eminent jurist, he failed to grasp – or pretended that he failed to grasp – that this issue goes straight to the heart of the quandary at hand. It offers at least something of a plausible basis for the sense, which many Republicans professed to have, that neither he nor his main accuser was lying. Before and after his testimony, Kavanaugh has been plausibly described as a frequent drunk, a belligerent drunk, a stumbling drunk – but he was never, ever, his champions proclaim without possibly knowing, a blackout drunk.
Of course, I have no idea whether Kavanaugh is any kind of alcoholic. But in his testimony, there is no delicate way to say, he certainly acted like one. I know that seems like a cheap shot to take, not just at Kavanaugh but at anyone with alcoholism -- but think about it: He depicted beer as nectar, and also as the essence of bonding. He distinguished between passing out and “falling asleep” from drinking. He seemed absolutely gobsmacked that Sheldon Whitehouse did not know how to play quarters. When challenged by others – senators! In a hearing! to determine his personal fitness to serve! – about his drinking, he challenged them right back about what and how much they drank. Honest to God, after a few of those exchanges, I wanted Grassley and Feinstein to stage an intervention.
Then again, when you think of Churchill the lush and Trump the teetotaler, you remember the limits of abstemiousness as a mark of civic virtue. But regardless of his own habits, Kavanaugh displayed a shockingly backward conception of the chemical dependency that, in one form or another, has so many Americans in its grip, including at least one of his best high-school buddies. If he had said “look, I realize that the nature of addiction is such that my denying it and my friends’ denying it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but what else can I do?” I’d have ceded him that point. What got me is, this guy really, really seemed to regard “I was the captain of the varsity basketball team!” as proof that he couldn’t possibly have had a substance-abuse problem.
Even if Kavanaugh never did anything sodden or lewd his life, I found this whole "I-couldn't-have-been-a-drunk-I-was-a-star!" business troubling. He kept equating sterling credentials with sterling character; kept stressing that he couldn’t have done these awful things, because he just wasn’t that kind of guy.
Now, critics retort that he was precisely that kind of guy, to which defenders retort "nuh-uh, he remembers everything, and it was almost all studying, lifting weights and going to church!" and so goes the shouting match that can’t be won. But isn’t it clear by now that Kavanaugh most likely is, or has been, both kinds of guy? A choirboy and a carouser? An overachiever with an underbelly? In the current New Yorker, a Yale suitemate describes college Brett as someone who was, at times, “quiet, studious” and at other times, when drunk, mean and aggressive. Based on everything out there, that sounds right to me. But even if Kavanaugh does not have more than one side to him, the world is full of people who do. Since he is a judge and will probably be a justice, let's hope he was only pretending not to know this.
In any event, Kavanaugh clearly feels rage and resentment at any notion that anything he might have done as a young man should affect his chances now, and that reminded me of another two-sided split, this one in society. For all practical – and most certainly legal -- purposes, there are certain youths for whom rule-breaking is a rite of passage, and other kinds of youths for whom it is a fall through a trap door.
Republicans from Mitch McConnell on down have been having a grand old time ridiculing, for example, the unearthing of an old police report revealing that an undergraduate Kavanaugh, somehow involved in a barfight in New Haven, threw ice in someone’s face.
OK, I get it: college guys drink, college guys say and do dumb things, (most) college guys (supposedly) grow out of it. But amid all the joshing and towel-snapping, I could not – cannot -- help but think of the countless American kids who aren’t captain of this or anywhere near the top ten of that, who screw up to the same level in their milieux that Kavanaugh did in his. But they’ll never find themselves fighting to get from the almost-top of the American ladder to the tippy-tippy-top, as Kavanaugh is, let alone feel free to throw a tantrum if they feel unfairly held down. For their sins, those kids fall into society’s basement, and had best act grateful for any chance they get to climb out.
Kavanaugh could also use a little brushing-up on his conspiracy theory.
I refer, of course, to what is perhaps the most self-damning passage of his testimony, which -- incredibly -- was included in his prepared statement:
"This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups."
Many have correctly cited these remarks as evidence that Kavanaugh is far too vituperatively partisan to serve on the Supreme Court. When it came to the revenge stuff, he also sounded…dumb.
At this point, how can any sentient person be under the impression that there is any significant cohort of the Democratic Party vowing to avenge the Clintons? These days, of course, one is much more likely to find Democrats disavowing them, whether it’s the Bernie folks who approach Trumpian levels of hatred for Hillary, the armchair strategists who are still grousing about how little time she spent in Wisconsin or whatever, and most crucially in terms of the Kavanaugh fight, the #MeToo movers and shakers – Gillibrand, for instance – for whom Bill has become a total albatross. It is true that many still do wish that Hillary had been elected -- and given Trump, who can blame them? But to the degree that vengeance is motivating anti-Kavanaugh Democrats, it's vengeance on behalf of Merrick Garland -- a factor omitted from Kavanaugh's screed, presumably because he knows it reeks.
It’s Republicans who are obsessed with the Clintons, and no Republican more so than the one in the White House. Once it was clear, from early in his testimony, that Kavanaugh was going all-out wingnut, I found myself asking the same question about him that I am always asking about Trump: is he really a crazy person, or is he just playing one on T.V.?
"Does Kavanaugh really consider himself the victim of a purposeful partisan hit job which he truly believes that he can fight only by telling all these obvious, stupid, unnecessary lies?" I asked myself. "Or is he choosing to portray himself that way, so as to appeal to the one viewer who could pull the plug on his nomination but who, precisely because of this ranting and raving, won’t?"
And I came to the same conclusion for the judge as I do for the president: Either way, it’s catastrophic.
For very different reasons, Republicans and Democrats have both taken to observing that the Kavanaugh-Blasey Ford hearings failed to yield much in the way of new information. Not so. Remember back in the halcyon days of this confirmation fight, when even the most politically-neutral analysts wondered whether Kavanaugh’s expansive view of the power of the executive might hint at an over-willingness to dance to the tune called by this executive? Now we know.
Here's what else I know:
I know that in the unlikely event that Kavanaugh is withdrawn or voted down, another, perhaps even more conservative, figure will make it to the Supreme Court. I know that that scenario could very well do Democrats more harm than good in the mid-terms. And I know that notwithstanding those concerns, the question to answer is the question at hand.
Is Brett Kavanaugh fit to serve on the United States Supreme Court?
In counterintuitive honor of Labor Day, I am taking it easy and just cutting and pasting myself out of New York magazine...
The first, last and best reason to fight tooth and nail against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is that it is not rightly President Trump’s nomination to make.
Yes, Kavanaugh is very conservative and no, I don’t like that. Staring down the barrel of the next several decades under a Roberts-Thomas-Alito-Gorsuch-Kavanaugh court, I am just as likely as the next liberal to lose my cruelty-free lunch. But under normal circumstances, them’s the breaks: a president who holds very right-wing views (or who is beholden to those who do) gets to nominate judges who hold very right-wing views. The same, of course, goes for the left and whatever may remain of the center. Absurd and alarming though it may seem – and always does seem to the out-of-power party -- the ultimate law of our land is literally a function of who happens to die or retire when. Under normal circumstances, absent a manifest lack of qualifications or evidence of some serious personal failing, the Senate is, in my view, constitutionally bound to voice its concerns (advise), then pretty much swallow them with a vote to confirm (consent.)
Have you noticed? These are not normal circumstances, and for once, Donald Trump is not the main reason why. These are distinctly Mitch-McConnell-made circumstances; in other words, circumstances sewn solely out of one lamentably-powerful man’s impulse not merely to put party over country, but to put party leader (himself) over country. When Antonin Scalia had the temerity to leave this life well before Barack Obama left office, McConnell simply invented a constitutional loophole whereby the Senate need not vote on a Supreme Court nomination made by a president in the final year of office. He did this presumably because Merrick Garland, the nominee set forth by Obama, was so unassailable on the merits, at least some Republicans would end up voting for him. Then, of course, came the presidential election of the last man on earth who would put the outrageousness of McConnell’s action together with his own loss of the popular vote and conclude that a true compromise pick, if not Garland himself, was in order. Nope, Trump proceeded to pick Neil Gorsuch off a list of judges thrilling to his base and his base alone. And now, far from figuring that he has kept his promise to his pet third of the country and now maybe ought to think about some other people, he’s trying to do it again.
No. No. No no no no no no no no no no no.
Bear in mind, I count myself among the last of the civility Mohicans. Even – no, especially -- in the face of the verbal, physical and moral repugnancy that the President of the United States has seen fit to personify and promote, I just can’t wrap my mind around the proposition that the real trouble in this country today is insufficient personal nastiness. No matter how much Twitter may taunt me, I am just not going to applaud language or behavior in adults – whatever their politics -- that I would punish in my child. So, much as I might share the impulse, I hope that Democrats won’t bring their dogs to dump on Mitch McConnell’s lawn. But I absolutely insist that Democrats drain the sewage in which the Majority leader has submerged the Senate. This can only be done by reclaiming one, and only one, Supreme Court nomination from the right.
Thus, at its core, the fight against Brett Kavanaugh must not be about Brett Kavanaugh.
Nor, God forbid, must it be about adapting McConnell's constitutional contortions to Democratic purposes. Let's please, please forget these budding arguments to the effect that Trump should not be able to nominate in a congressional-election year, which lends retrospective credence to the completely credibility-free notion that Obama should not have been able to nominate in a presidential-election year. No! Back to the constitution before McConnell mangled it: Office holders can and must carry out their constitutionally prescribed duties until they leave their jobs, or at least until they've already been voted out of of their jobs. By that definition, Democrats were cheated of one Supreme Court nominee, by dint of which they deserve more leverage over the next Supreme Court nominee and hell will rightly rain on Republicans until they get it.
Look, I'm not wishing for Washington furies to unleash themselves on Kavanaugh. I have no doubt he is intellectually brilliant, personally nice and ideologically appealing to the people who should have the right to drive this decision. I also don’t care. The people who should have the right to drive this decision do not have it, because in 2016, they forfeited it. Having crumpled up, spat upon, and tossed the constitutional prerogative of one president straight out the window, they have vastly expanded the grounds upon which all Americans should feel compelled to scream like stuck pigs at their attempt to defend the constitutional prerogative of the next president. Thanks to ole Mitch, all bets, all norms, all gloves, are off. The president either chooses someone acceptable to both parties, or the opposition party must do everything possible to block his choice, whoever it is.
Now, will “everything possible” include successfully keeping Kavanaugh from being confirmed? I am guessing not. I am guessing that Kavanaugh’s past statements deeming Roe v. Wade to be “binding precedent” will probably give Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski the cover they need to vote “yes”. It further seems likely that some, if not all, of the embattled Democratic incumbents from South Dakota, West Virginia, Indiana and Missouri will end up doing the same. So, barring a miracle, “Associate Justice Kavanaugh” does seem to be a phrase soon to enter the lexicon.
Nonetheless, some miracles are worth making, and this is one. It is worth calling, marching, organizing, funding, fighting on every front to defend the principle that the ruling party in Congress does not get to flip off a signal power accorded a president it happens to dislike. It is worth being hit with supremely hypocritical charges of “playing dirty” – for it will be nothing of the kind.
Unless and until the Garland wrong is made right, fighting a Republican Supreme Court nominee for the sake of fighting a Republican Supreme Court nominee will be the very opposite of playing dirty. It will be scrubbing a shamefully soiled process clean.
Thank God it’s Friday.
This weekend, let’s all take a nice, refreshing break from seeing the North Korea summit as a disturbing victory for Kim Jong-un and reflect upon it as an arguably-even-more-disturbing victory for Xi Jinping.
Having long sought a suspension of U.S.-South Korea military exercises that President Trump has now opted to suspend, China has gotten exactly what it wants out of the summit.
Then again, by now, China must be used to getting exactly what it wants from the Trump administration.
The bitter ironies of the Trump era are like a bowl of potato chips: you can’t stop at just one. So I’m not sure where this ranks on the list of screeching, two-wheel U-turns made by the administration even as it is screaming “pedal to the metal, straight ahead!” But it’s got to be in the top five:
Having run in large part as a candidate who would halt the rise of demon China, Trump has done nothing but fuel it.
Just a few Crayola-clear examples:
Trump rejected the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was designed to check the economic power of China by organizing its neighbors into a counterweight.
Yes, Bernie Sanders opposed TPP, and in the end Hillary Clinton pretended she did too – but even had a Trump opponent taken the same tack as Trump on this one item, he or she would not have done so in disastrously China-boosting combination with so many other things.
Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord – and governs, of course, at the behest of a group that would love to pull the U.S. out of the whole climate-change kit and caboodle.
Talk about irony. This has allowed China, a country infamous for the black skies of Beijing, to seize the lead on environmental issues. Wholly apart from the environment – and even from the growing economic activity generated by environmental concerns – this spells real geopolitical trouble. The Chinese regime perpetually strives for two aims: total authoritarian control at home, and prestige abroad. This has traditionally been a difficult balance for the Chinese to strike, but Team Trump has made it a whole lot easier. By ceding climate change, the U.S. has handed the Chinese the perfect opportunity to gain international status and influence without ceding a drop of domestic control.
Nor is environmental science the only science that matters here – not by a very long shot. For reasons too irrational to be called “reasons,” the U.S. has decided to treat brain drain as a national goal. Perpetually underfunding higher education; constantly placing long-term research at the mercy of short-term politics; hassling and harassing foreign-born scientists who want to study or work in the U.S. and thus hampering any collaborations they may undertake with their U.S. counterparts; demonizing intellectual elites as enemies of the average American rather than as catalysts for the employment of millions of average Americans…this country, as enthusiastically embodied by this administration, has chosen to make itself more and more hostile to science and scientists alike. Meanwhile, China is making itself more and more welcoming. Back in February, the National Science Board predicted that Chinese investment in research and development would overtake U.S. investment by the end of 2018. On June 3, the Washington Post ran an article entitled “China Increasingly Challenges American Dominance of Science,” in which a Spanish-born, Yale-trained researcher gave a simple explanation for why he is currently Beijing-based: “Right now, China is the best place in the world to start your own laboratory.” Meanwhile, the White House has yet to so much as hire a science advisor, though one shudders to imagine whom they’d get.
Resource-poor China didn’t need Trump to push it toward resource-rich Africa, where it has been building commercial and political relationships for years. But the president’s signature blend of racism and isolationism do not exactly point that continent toward an American alternative. In the 1980's, the U.S. treated South Africa as a key ally, to the point of treating apartheid far too leniently for far too long. Today, China is the number one trading partner of South Africa, toward which the Trump administration has recently taken two actions: slapped it with tariffs and threatened to cut aid.
Meanwhile, the greatest Sinophile on earth could not object to an American president who brought all the aggregate strength of this nation and its allies to bear against such Chinese practices as dumping, intellectual piracy, and unfair labor practices. Instead, this American president has turned his ire on Canada and the E.U.
With all this, why bother mentioning Ivanka’s patents or the bizarre coddling of ZTE?
I don’t know if there is such a thing as a Chinese jig. But I do know that these days, Xi Jinping is doing it.
Recently, the Columbia Journalism Review was kind enough to ask what had become of me. Here's my answer: