Can Democrats bring themselves to reach out to those who are reachable?

I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts about this Ross Douthat column of Oct. 21, headlined “The Democrats in Their Labyrinth.”

Sure I think the headline was cool, although it provoked in me a twinge of guilt for never having finished that novel. (I had thought I would love it, because in 5th and 6th grades my history classes were in Spanish, and Bolívar and Sucre and O’Higgins and the rest were the heroes of the story we were told. Also, I felt that I should read some Márquez and it sounded more cheery than One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera. But it wasn’t.)

Anyway, I like the column for what followed the headline, so let’s get to that:

America has two political parties, but only one of them has a reasonably coherent political vision, a leadership that isn’t under the thumb of an erratic reality television star, and a worldview that implies a policy agenda rather than just a litany of grievances.Douthat

Unfortunately for the Democrats, their vision and leaders and agenda also sometimes leave the impression that they never want to win another tossup Senate seat, and that they would prefer Donald Trump be re-elected if the alternative requires wooing Americans who voted for him.

Consider recent developments in the state of Alabama, where the Republican Party has nominated a Senate candidate manifestly unfit for office, a bigot hostile to the rule of law and entranced with authoritarianism.

And who have the Democrats put up against him? An accomplished former prosecutor, the very model of a mainstream Democrat — and a man who told an interviewer after his nomination that he favors legal abortion, without restriction, right up until the baby emerges blue and flailing from the womb….

But just as this post wasn’t about Gabriel García Márquez, it’s not about abortion, either. That’s just an illustration of the way Democrats push away people in the middle who might vote for them occasionally if not for their rigid, prickly ideological orthodoxy — and the fact that they think people who don’t subscribe to their more extreme manifestations of dogma are barbarians, people they wouldn’t want voting for them anyway, because they’re not the right sort.

The point, in other words, is the assertion that Democrats “would prefer Donald Trump be re-elected if the alternative requires wooing Americans who voted for him.”

This is a problem for Democrats, and a problem for the country. Because, you know, Trumpism needed to end a year ago. And if we wait for Democrats to do anything to end it, we might have to wait the rest of our lives. (We could depend on principle Republicans, the ones who know better, but so far they only seem to want to stand up and speak truth when they’re headed for the exits. As for us independents — well, we lack organization.)

Douthat’s “point is that a party claiming to be standing alone against an existential threat to the republic should be willing to move somewhat, to compromise somehow, to bring a few of the voters who have lifted the G.O.P. to its largely undeserved political successes into the Democratic fold.”

But perhaps you won’t. And admittedly, for those of you who lean Democratic, perhaps a conservative Catholic such as Douthat isn’t the messenger you’re likely to heed — although I believe in that column he means you well.

How about Rahm Emanuel, then? Here’s what he was saying earlier this year:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has warned Democrats they need to “take a chill pill” and realize that they are not going to take back national power anytime soon.330px-Rahm_Emanuel,_official_photo_portrait_color

“It ain’t gonna happen in 2018,” Emanuel said Monday at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in California. “Take a chill pill, man. You gotta be in this for the long haul.”

As he did last month at an event in Washington, D.C., the mayor expanded on what he believes is the road map back to power for his party — putting moderate candidates such as veterans, football players, sheriffs and business people up in Republican districts, picking battles with Republicans, exploiting wedges within the GOP and fighting attempts to redistrict Congress on partisan grounds….

Remember how Emanuel did just that and won a majority in the U.S. House in 2006? Democrats don’t, near as I can tell.

The problem is, I have the feeling that too many Democrats are doing what the Republicans did after losing in 2008. Back then, egged on by ideological extremists such as our own Jim DeMint, the GOP leaped to the conclusion that they lost in 2008 because they weren’t extreme enough, because they had bet it all on relative moderate McCain. This led to the Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus and Steve Bannon and so forth, which led to our current national crisis.

If the Democrats want to be part of the solution to that crisis, they need to reach out beyond their “safe space” and engage with people who don’t entirely share their worldview. Because, ahem, most people don’t.

Yet there are a lot of people trying to pull the Democrats in the opposite direction. They take the DeMint approach, which goes: The Democrats lost in 2016 because they weren’t extreme enough. They needed more feeling the Bern and less Clintonian Third Way. Perhaps, as New York magazine wrote early this year, The Socialist Takeover of the Democratic Party Is Proceeding Nicely. If so, then the left will dominate the party. But they won’t be running the country, because they won’t be winning general elections.

Let me share one more thing with you, from The New York Times Magazine over the weekend. It begins with an anecdote about a conference call Nancy Pelosi made to House Democrats right after their disastrous defeat a year ago:

Several members on the call later told me they expected their leader to offer some show of contrition, an inventory of mistakes made or, at minimum, an acknowledgment that responsibility for the previous night’s disaster began at the top. Already, Trump’s sweep of what had for years been Democratic strongholds in the Rust Belt had led to a fast-congealing belief that the party had lost touch with white working-class voters.

But Pelosi sounded downright peppy on the call, noting a few vulnerable House seats that the Democrats had managed to hang onto. As for those working-class voters, “To say we don’t care about them is hard to believe,” Pelosi insisted, according to a transcript of the call I obtained. “I have to take issue and say I don’t think anybody was unaware of the anger.” The Democrats weren’t out of touch, she said. They just hadn’t made their case clearly enough to voters — or as she put it, “We have to get out there and say it in a different way.”

“It reminded me of that scene at the end of ‘Animal House,’ where Kevin Bacon is standing in the middle of all this chaos, screaming: ‘Remain calm! All is well!’ ” Scott Peters, a congressman from California who was on the call, told me. “After telling us before that we were going to pick up 20 seats, and we end up with six, underlaid with Clinton losing, I had no use for that kind of happy talk.” During and after Pelosi’s monologue, Democratic representatives who were listening texted and called one another incredulously, but Peters was one of the few who spoke up on the line. “I think we’re missing something,” he told Pelosi. “We’re just not hearing what’s on people’s minds.”…

Yeah, so what did they do? They held a quick leadership election, and stuck with the same crowd who had brought them to this low point. But before they did that, there was a brief moment of truth-telling:

In the end, her only opponent was Tim Ryan, a young congressman and former high school quarterback star from Ohio’s 13th District, the ailing industrial region surrounding Youngstown and Akron. Ryan offered a splash-of-cold-water speech just before the vote: “We got wiped out,” he said, according to a recording of his remarks. “We’re toxic in the Midwest, and we’re toxic in the South.”…

Jaime HarrisonThere are Democrats who acknowledge this — I think. This morning, The State reported that “Jaime Harrison knows how Democrats can win elections. Are Democrats listening?” The story, unfortunately, didn’t really explain what it is that Jaime knows. Perhaps I should give him a call and see if he’ll share the secret sauce.

Smith, if he goes about it right, has an opportunity to make a play for those of us in the middle. After all, the Republicans seem hell-bent on having the most extreme gubernatorial primary in living memory: Oh, yeah? Well I’ll see your imaginary sanctuary cities and raise you a Steve Bannon!

Can Smith, or anyone, reach out to the state’s sensible center and rescue us from Trumpism? I certainly hope so. Because we are in serious need saving. But they can only do it if they go after people who’ve fallen into the habit of voting the other way, and do it competently…

James Smith

76 thoughts on “Can Democrats bring themselves to reach out to those who are reachable?

  1. bud

    Douthat is nothing buy a shameless ideologue. This is what he claimed Jones said: “he favors legal abortion, without restriction, right up until the baby emerges blue and flailing from the womb….”

    Here’s what Jones actually said:

    “No, I’m not in favor of anything that is going to infringe on a woman’s right and her freedom to choose,” Jones said. “That’s just the position that I’ve had for many years, it’s the position I continue to have.”

    If you’re going to quote someone quote them accurately. Otherwise you lose all credibility. Going forward I will pay zero attention to anything Douthat says on any issue. He can’t be trusted. The abortion issue is the single most divisive issue in politics. This isn’t a new position for Democrats; they’ve always held that position, during times when they were winning blowout victories and at times when they lose big. Couldn’t Douthat just as easily misquote a Republican by saying: “I support forcibly making a 13 year old carry a baby to term even under conditions where she was forcibly raped by her grandfather and even though the baby has a 100% chance of dying within 15 minutes of birth”. But no, anti-choice candidates get a pass so Douthat is likely to say that a Republican candidate “respects the sanctity of life” and leave it at that.

    Democrats need to stick to their ideological guns. They have zero chance of winning the Alabama senate race. So why sell out your convictions on a pipe dream. That’s what is known as phony.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Thanks for the quote, Bud. But that’s pretty much the same thing, isn’t it? That’s what “her freedom to choose” means, isn’t it? Absolute power to abort right up until the moment of birth…

      But I wish he’d used an example other than abortion. People get so worked up over that one…

      1. Lynn Teague

        Actually, for many people “freedom to choose” means a standard like that established in Roe v. Wade, usually with exceedingly rare exceptions for medical conditions that threaten the life of the mother. It does not mean an unrestricted right to kill a kicking and screaming viable baby. Do you know of some onslaught of legislative advocacy or legal cases grounded in the belief that Roe v. Wade is unduly restrictive in not permitting that?

        At the other end of the spectrum we have the really quite extreme position, the “personhood” notion that every fertilized egg should be regarded as a legal person, making not just abortion but contraceptive pills and IVF illegal. That is a position that is not part of our general social moral understanding and can only be justified by reference to religious views that are not shared even by a majority of religious persons. If embodied in law, it would be an appalling violation of the religious freedom of the majority of the American people. However, it is a hardy perennial in bills in our General Assembly.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yeah, and I think one reason it is is that people will naturally push against something as absolute and antidemocratic as Roe.

          As for the religious aspect…

          What makes it wrong — completely wrong, so that everyone agrees on it — to kill a newborn infant? Where does that absolute standard come from? Is it religion? What are the roots of it? And whatever that root is, what makes it wrong, or extreme, to apply it nine months earlier when that individual’s existence began? What makes it religious, in a way that believing killing the newborn is wrong is NOT religious? (Frankly, to me it seems at least as much biology as religion. You’ve got something that’s observably alive, and that thing has the DNA of an individual human. And you know that if you don’t interfere with the biological process, in a year no one will be arguing whether it’s human. You’ve got physical evidence upon which to base a moral judgment, without getting religious about it.)

          Yeah, I know, a lot of pro-life people couch it in religious terms, which is a gift to the pro-choice folks, appealing as they do to the “wall of separation” so many secularists believe is contained in the Constitution, to the extent that it’s patently wrong to bring values arising from one’s deepest beliefs into the public square.

          In my view, it’s only religious in this sense: I believe there’s such a thing as right and wrong, and that it is objective. It doesn’t depend on one’s point of view. That’s either a baby, protected by both religious and secular notions of morality, or it isn’t. It’s not up to the opinion of the individual whether it’s a baby or a tumor-like clump of cells without moral value.

          Now, here’s the thing: I can’t claim to always KNOW what’s right and what’s wrong. But I do believe something is, in the balance, right or wrong whether I’ve got it right or not. Therefore I want to err on the side of caution when it comes to the cosmic question of whether a human being is being killed in an abortion or not.

          By and large, people who are pro-choice do NOT believe there is such a thing as right and wrong that is independent of an individual’s opinion. They can’t, or the “whatever YOU believe” pro-choice position would be completely untenable.

          I suppose you can call that religious — the idea that there is such a thing as right and wrong no matter what you or I or anyone else thinks — in the sense that there is a standard outside us.

          But it’s not religious in the sense of just dogma, or what this sect believes as opposed to what some other sect believes. It’s a cognitive approach to morality and ethics that is independent of any particular religion’s teachings.

          Is this making sense to y’all?

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            STOP IT, Brad! Don’t engage…

            My POINT is that we need to steer clear of such issues — as I did all those years on the editorial board, preferring to concentrate on the issues we could AGREE on, rather than dividing the board over things that a) we’d never form a consensus on, and b) we couldn’t affect anyway. South Carolina has so many practical, non ideological issues to work on, we preferred to concentrate on those…

            As I said, “on the stump, stick to good government — good roads, good schools, good public health, accountability, transparency, fair taxation, ethics…”

            1. bud

              So let’s talk about good roads. The problem is that is such a mundane issue. Sure we can debate where the money should come from but good, and let me add, safe roads are something we all agree on. Abortion is just the opposite. No one agrees how to handle that. It’s toxic. Which makes Douthat’s article all that much more toxic. Can’t we at least agree that a Democrat in a purple state has little chance of winning an election on a no exceptions pro-life platform?

            2. Chuckie

              Nope, sorry, you opened it up, so I’m not going to let you off the hook.

              You take the moral absolutist’s position here in terms of what’s right and what’s wrong. To you, it’s black and white, with no shadings. But there is a long-standing, well defined and entirely respectable school of moral thinking that sees a whole range of gradations between right and wrong – and understands the need to weigh the broader moral implications of allegedly “right” choices. (And it’s not based simply on individual opinion.) Included in this is the view that, in some circumstances, there simply is no right choice, that there are only wrong ones. So it’s incorrect to claim that “pro choice” people “do not believe there is such a thing as right and wrong.” It’s just that we practice a more nuanced moral reasoning than you do on this issue.

              Would you ban abortion by law? There are serious and extremely troubling consequences to that as well. You can’t claim the moral high ground all to yourself by calling for a ban. Banning one thing can lead to many bad things in turn. That’s what comes of living in fallen world: the necessity of dealing with ambiguity.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                “Nope, sorry, you opened it up…”

                No, Douthat did. As I said, I wished he’d found a different issue to use as an example. Of course, the litmus test issues ALL stir strong emotions, and make it hard to see the larger point…

              2. Brad Warthen Post author

                “To you, it’s black and white, with no shadings….”

                Where did you get that from what I wrote?

                Did you not read what I wrote here?

                Now, here’s the thing: I can’t claim to always KNOW what’s right and what’s wrong. But I do believe something is, in the balance, right or wrong whether I’ve got it right or not. Therefore I want to err on the side of caution when it comes to the cosmic question of whether a human being is being killed in an abortion or not.

                That kind of seems to me the opposite of “black and white, with no shadings…”

                1. bud

                  I do believe something is, in the balance, right or wrong whether I’ve got it right or not.

                  I DO NOT believe that. Take cannibalism. Normally we would regard this practice as wrong. However, there are circumstances whereby it is morally ok to eat other human beings. Take the Donner Party for example.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Ah, you’re speaking circumstantially. I’m not. I’m saying that in a given situation, given all of the circumstances of that particular situation, there is a right and a wrong. I’m not necessarily wise enough to know which it is, particularly in extreme circumstances in which there are all sorts of conflicting considerations.

                    So I reconcile it by erring on the side of NOT KILLING, because you can’t take that back.

                    You mention cannibalism. I don’t know if I would consider cannibalism an absolute wrong, the way I would look upon murder or rape. Distasteful, certainly. But as you say, there can be extreme circumstances in which it is defensible (but still gross, and to be avoided). I think the only place where it becomes unquestionably WRONG is when you kill someone in order to eat him. There’s that dividing line again.

                    I’ll quote Dr. Jubal Harshaw on this:

                    Jubal groaned. “Duke, how could you learn so much about machinery and never learn anything about how you yourself tick? That nausea you feel — that’s not an instinct; that’s a conditioned reflex. Your mother didn’t have to say to you, ‘Mustn’t eat your playmates, dear; that’s not nice,’ because you soaked it up from our whole culture — and so did I. Jokes about cannibals and missionaries, cartoons, fairy tales, horror stories, endless little things. But it has nothing to do with instinct. Shucks, son, it couldn’t possibly be instinct . . . because cannibalism is historically one of the most widespread of human customs, extending through every branch of the human race. Your ancestors, my ancestors, everybody.”

                2. Chuckie

                  You may think that “erring on the side of caution” underpins your absolute position on abortion, but not knowing the answer to a “cosmic question” is more an argument for allowing abortion than it is for banning it, because it provides no firm grounding for an absolute position. So “exercising caution,” from my point of view as a non-absolutist, means allowing abortion, under certain conditions.

                  You also said that “people who are pro-choice do NOT believe there is such a thing as right and wrong….” I pointed out that it’s possible to be pro-choice and still have a healthy appreciation of right and wrong, the kind that doesn’t take absolute positions on issues like abortion and instead seeks compromise and accommodation – which is where we are right now in terms of how abortion is handled: by balancing interests.

                  You still haven’t answered the question, though: Would you favor banning abortion by law?

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    What I would do, were in it my power, is overturn Roe. Get rid of the absolute right to abortion under all circumstances.

                    That’s a completely intolerable situation. Ours is a country of laws and not of men. We don’t grant a single individual absolute power of life and death over another. If we DID (under any circumstance other than abortion), we would certainly limit it to make sure that the individual or group making the decision — judge, jury, medical review panel (which I believe makes such decisions in some countries), whatever — was in no way involved or personally interested in the situation. Roe completely violates that consideration, giving the one most interested person on the planet the power to decide. This seems just to a lot of folks. To me, it does not.

                    But as long as you’re granting me impossible powers, I’d like to go back and stop Roe from happening in the first place, and let the matter be decided by the political branches (back when we HAD functioning political branches). That would have the added benefit of avoiding the past 44 years of distorted politics, with consideration of court nominees taking on FAR too great a weight in presidential elections (from both sides of the debate), and in acting as a litmus test for the parties….

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author


                      But I’m not going to take AK-47s back to the Confederacy, as much as I enjoyed that book. I’m satisfied to leave it with my ancestors losing. I don’t think they were bad people (actually, they could have been — I never knew them — but I don’t have evidence either way), but they were on the side that needed to lose…

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Speaking of my ancestors losing… I have quite a few who fought for the Confederacy, and some who died in that service — two during the Petersburg campaign alone.

                  I have yet to find one who served as a Yankee soldier.

                  Of course, only a fourth of my tree — my father’s father’s family — wasn’t from South Carolina. The Warthens and their branches were from Maryland.

                  Maryland was a Union state, of course, but a slaveholding one with a lot of sympathy for the Southern cause. But it seems like I’d still run across a Billy Yank or two. But not yet…

                4. Chuckie

                  “ We don’t grant a single individual absolute power of life and death over another.”

                  First of all, I don’t share your belief that a (theoretical) legislative solution to this would have been the magic bullet that settled the matter for all time. In part, because I see the arrangement under Roe as generally providing the kind of balancing you call for – though it hasn’t settled the issue in some peoples’ minds. But let’s leave that aside for now.

                  What I’d like to know is this: If you’d like to see an independent body, let’s call it the Abortion Adjudication Board, make judgments on a case-by-case basis, it’s important that you define the criteria you think should be applied by the board in deciding which women should be allowed to get an abortion and which not. And what moral principle should those criteria be based on.

                  I’ll be interested in your solution.

        2. Karen Pearson

          Also, could we please start admitting that making abortions illegal doesn’t stop abortions; it merely stops iegal abortions, leaving desperate woment with the choice of going to a country whare it’s legal or seeking illegal abortions which are much more dangerous. The best way to reduce or stop abortion is to make sure that, by the time our children are mature enough to make babies, they have been taught a thorough course in sex ed, which includes the use of various contraceptives, and that they have access to cheap and reliable birth control. That doesn’t mean that we can’t point out that abstinence is the surest contraceptive and the best way to prevent STDs.

          1. Barry

            Making abortion illegal immediately creates a huge, unregulated black market of willing abortion providers be they doctors, nurses, Aunt Sue, or crazy Uncle Joe looking for a few hundred dollars.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      And the POINT here, Bud, is that it would be wise for Democrats to stick to issues that people can unite around, rather than embracing ones that divide us.

      A large part of the problem is that Democrats get all prickly and indignant toward anyone who dares suggest that their cherished culture-war values might be less than helpful in reaching out to people in the middle who might help them win elections.

      Believe what you want about abortion, Democrats. But on the stump, stick to good government — good roads, good schools, good public health, accountability, transparency, fair taxation, ethics. Stick to things that people who don’t subscribe to your brand of secular religion can agree with you on.

      Run like you want to be the governor of ALL the state’s people, not just the ones who are on your side of divisive, litmus-test issues….

      1. Karen Pearson

        You’re the one who gave abortion as an example. As a christian Democrat I’m just pointing out the demonstrated way to reduce abortions, instead of insisting on a way that simply ensures that a lot of desperate women are injured/killed in the process of trying to obtain an abortion. I don’t like abortions either, but I respect a person’s right to control what happens in his/her own body, insofar as possible. As a sane person, I think we should go with what works to reduce/eliminate abortion not what doesn’t.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          “You’re the one who gave abortion as an example.”

          No, Douthat did. As I said, I wished he’d found a different issue to use as an example. Of course, the litmus test issues ALL stir strong emotions, and make it hard to see the larger point…

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          But let me point out that I very much appreciate what you say here: “As a christian Democrat I’m just pointing out the demonstrated way to reduce abortions…”

          What you say reminds me of Hillary Clinton, before 2016. I, as a pro-life independent, was much comforted by the fact that she was someone who as a Methodist had sincerely wrestled with the issue, and tried to reach across the political abyss to work toward making abortion rare. That made her, even on abortion, preferable to the charlatan who was fooling so many evangelicals (and too many Catholics, I’m very sorry to say) with his bogus pandering on the issue. (It’s so obvious that the man believes in nothing but his own self-interest; it astounds me that sincere Christians could be taken in by him.)

          But then, in 2016, she did what she could to push me away:

          Hillary Clinton engaged her 2016 campaign for president with the kind of hard-line abortion rhetoric and positions that had been noticeably absent from her political repertoire for most of her political career.

          Most of us knew Clinton as a moderate abortion rights advocate. She seemed to have genuinely wrestled with abortion as a deeply complex issue over the years, especially as it intersected with her faith. The struggle she said she’s had in protecting the autonomy of women and honoring the value of the fetus seems sincere.

          During her Democratic primary battle with Barack Obama in 2008, Clinton’s well-worn position had been clearly established: Abortion should be safe, legal and rare. “And by rare, I mean rare,” she emphasized.

          But that position is showing its age. By the November 2016 election cycle, Clinton was all-in for abortion rights. The nuanced rhetoric and talk of making abortion rare was nearly always replaced with talk of fundamental bodily rights and castigation of anyone who wanted to limit abortion….

          Despite all that, I was never going to vote for Trump. I’m not a single-issue voter. But plenty of other people who might have been willing to go for a more moderate Democrat did….

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I didn’t say anything even close to that.

              What I think is this: That a Democrat who wishes to win — particularly in a red state such as ours — should emphasize issues that independents and moderate Republicans might agree with the Democrat on.

              At the same, time, it would be smart — and helpful to reducing partisan bitterness — to talk less about issues that primarily serve to divide us.

              There’s a good model out there beyond the world of politics — Pope Frances. He has made a point of de-emphasizing the issues that push people away from the church, and emphasized the core messages of love and forgiveness.

              He hasn’t changed his mind, or church teachings, on anything. He’s just chosen to speak and act in ways that bring people together. And that has helped promote understanding.

              That’s what I’d like anyone, Democrat or Republican, who runs for office to do, so we can get beyond not only Trump, but the bitter partisanship of recent years that helped him come to power…

              1. Doug Ross

                Just because the Pope doesn’t talk about something doesn’t mean his views are not on the extreme end of the spectrum.
                There’s no room for compromise (or equality for women) in his world.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  That depends on how you define “equality.” Near as I can tell, he holds women in as high esteem as men.

                  It’s weird how, in a world that celebrates “diversity,” people can’t see that people can be regarded as different, and at the same time equal.

                  It’s not a hard concept for me.

                  But feminists (all but the “difference feminists,” I suppose) have always struggled with that. And they often contradict themselves. One minute, they want us all to act as though there is NO DIFFERENCE between men and women, as though the presence of difference makes equality impossible. Then, I’ll hear them insisting that the differences must be acknowledged, and that the world — workplaces and other spaces — must change in order to keep those differences from being stumbling blocks.

                  (Or maybe I’m just misperceiving. Maybe it’s not the same feminists each time. Maybe it’s different ones, and the ones taking the latter approach are all difference feminists. I don’t know. It’s not something I study or take notes on; I just sort of see this stuff by peripheral vision.)

                  To me, the differences are obvious. For instance, recent news should drive home to anyone but the most dense the fact that men are FAR more likely than women to be total, puerile, aggressively sex-obsessed pervs.

                  There are other big differences, of course, but that one really stands out…

                2. Doug Ross

                  Men and women are different. Equality of about opportunity for everyone. The Catholic Church is one of the few entities that has hiring policies based on sex — and an organizational hierarchy that forbids females from rising to any positions of power. The Sistine Chapel has a glass ceiling.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Yeah, because that’s what it’s all about. Power.

                    There’s probably a verse I’ve missed where Jesus said that in his kingdom, it’s all about having power, about clawing your way to the top. I mean, what else matters, right?

                3. Doug Ross

                  So there is no hierarchy in The Church? Everyone is equal in status and responsibility?

                  Are you suggesting that there is a biblical verse that supports every aspect of the organization and rituals and customs of the Catholic Church? Having just attended a funeral in a Catholic church on Saturday, I’d say there’s a whole lot of “interpretation” that has been established in the Catholic “employee handbook”… just as there are any number of other interpretations by other Christian denominations. Is someone who considers himself a Christian but believes that women can hold places of authority in a church wrong?

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    “Are you suggesting that there is a biblical verse that supports every aspect of the organization and rituals and customs of the Catholic Church?”

                    Nope. But no one pretends that’s the case. You have Scripture, and then you have 2,000 years of tradition and interpretation. And all SORTS of influences go into it. Your more recent sects — Baptists, for instance — look to the Bible as the last word on everything. The Roman Catholic Church does not.

                    “Is someone who considers himself a Christian but believes that women can hold places of authority in a church wrong?”

                    No. They just have a different perspective.

                4. Claus2

                  “You have Scripture, and then you have 2,000 years of tradition and interpretation. And all SORTS of influences go into it.”

                  I hear Christmas should really be celebrated during the summer. Probably someone in Brad’s family tree didn’t like the idea of Santa Claus in a Speedo so she moved it from August to December.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    They have it when they do because they were used to celebrating Saturnalia then. They didn’t KNOW, so they picked a date when everybody was already used to partying.

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Bottom line, it doesn’t really matter when Christ’s birth is celebrated. It was just important to the church to celebrate it SOMETIME.

                      That is, it was at certain times in history and in certain places. And for hundreds of years, it was suppressed by protestants because they associated it with “popish superstition,” or one of those things they disapproved of and were always going on about. Those early protestants disapproved of all sorts of things…

                5. Doug Ross

                  So as I have said, the Catholic Church has implemented policies that establish it as a male dominated patriarchy with women relegated to subservient roles. Allowing a female to be a priest, bishop, cardinal, or Pope would do what to the church? Weaken it?

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    I don’t know. Talk to someone who feels strongly about it.

                    Me, I just think it’s silly to say something like “the Catholic Church has implemented policies that establish it as a male dominated patriarchy with women relegated to subservient roles.”

                    You make it sound like there was this great gender-neutral society and the Church came along and said, NO, only guys will be in charge now!

                    On the contrary, when the church was coming into being, two thousand years ago, that’s the way things were. They didn’t have another model at hand.

                    Should they change it now? I don’t know. As I said, ask people who feel strongly about it one way or the other.

                    I doubt that you’ll understand what I’m saying, because our post-1970s society lacks a vocabulary for what I mean. But here’s the way I see it: I am not scandalized by the notion that men and women might have different roles in the world. People can be equally valued, and still different in their roles. For instance, I think women are likely to make better doctors than men — so I think we should do all we can to get more girls interested in being doctors when they grow up.

                    But if the church is wrong that women shouldn’t be barred from being priests — and it may be — in my worldview, it’s because they’re failing to value the characteristics about women that would make them good priests. It’s not because there are NO differences between men and women and it’s somehow morally wrong to act as though there were.

                    And that’s just not a thing that it’s easy to explain to modern people.

                    Oh, and before someone says, “But there are individual differences! All men are not the same, and all women are not the same!” I agree. Which is why I think there needs to be flexibility that acknowledges individual differences.

                    In other words, I’m just not inclined to argue with anybody about it. I don’t think it’s all one way or all the other…

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Another way to put it: I don’t want to misrepresent my views on this in order to be comfortable and have one side or the other pat me on the back and think I’m one of them.

                      You make me pope and I’d probably work on ordaining women. But I don’t want to be mistaken for someone who thinks it’s wrong to recognize differences, and possibly different roles, for men and women. Because I’m not.

                      I’m not really comfortable with either extreme in this debate. I think wisdom lies in between. And I’m not going to be badgered into embracing one view or the other…

                6. Richard

                  “Bottom line, it doesn’t really matter when Christ’s birth is celebrated.”

                  Given the fact that there’s little to no proof that this ever happened… I can see that. There’s proof that others during this time actually existed, why isn’t there been any physical proof that the most poplar person in the world existed? All we have is legend… kind of like Cayce’s Lizardman. I’m not saying he didn’t exist, but I’d like to see some proof.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Well, I suppose you can read Josephus.

                    But the best you get with people who weren’t kings or such is the writings of someone who knew a man. And there’s a good bit of that in the New Testament…

                7. Richard

                  “You make me pope and I’d probably work on ordaining women.”

                  How soon before women joining monestaries? Because being a nun just doesn’t cut it for them.

    3. JesseS

      “Democrats need to stick to their ideological guns. They have zero chance of winning the Alabama senate race. So why sell out your convictions on a pipe dream. That’s what is known as phony.”

      My state rep has been a Democrat my entire life –well up until this election when a newcomer decided to run on a platform of… gun control. I’m guessing the idea was to court African-American voters, but since when are they going to vote for a Republican? You can guess how that turned out.

      Who owns the state houses, the governor’s mansions, has a majority in US House and Senate? Not the Dems, that’s for sure. Good luck enjoying your convictions.

        1. clark surratt


          “Polling indicates that this will be a record low turnout election,” said (Patrick) Murray, head of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “Even though this means the electorate will be comprised of people who vote in nearly every election, a majority of these habitual voters say they really don’t know where either candidate stands politically. They (were) simply pulling the lever for the Democrat or the Republican.”

        1. JesseS

          We are talking NOVA, not VA. In rural VA you’ll hear the N-word at a truck stop. In NOVA people might faint or have a stroke if they heard it. It’s generally inclusive to a fault (and they take great pride in it) so long as the inclusiveness falls along the right economic lines. Your neighbor is a transmale refugee from Syria and you are proud of him! He is also an attorney for one of the most powerful companies on Earth, holds a masters from one of the most prestigious universities on the planet, and his husband just published his 3rd book in conjunction with one of the most influential think tanks in the US.

          Which goes back to what I’ve been saying, run on what works. If location A wants a Democratic Socialist, run a Democratic Socialist. If location B wants a Neoliberal, get a Neoliberal. Get location C, what location C wants even if it isn’t pretty to you.

          NOVA didn’t have to face some massive change of heart for this. She didn’t win by running as the transgender candidate, she won by supporting traffic reform after years of investigating it. Ever drive around NOVA? It’s awful.

          1. Bart

            My son lives in WVA, close to NOVA, about an hour from DC and works for the government. According to his observations, conservatives are a rare breed in the region. He thinks he saw one not long ago while on one of the walking trails. He was sitting beside a campfire along with Bigfoot roasting marshmallows.

            1. Barry

              I do t think Conservatives are a rare breed in northern Virginia. As someone that works in the are fairly often, I know plenty.

              Given many residents in the area work for the federal government or for federal contractors, it shouldn’t shock people that many residents of the area might not rush to vote for a party that, at least in the last 20 years, have talked about them like they are dogs.

  2. Lynn Teague

    The election results yesterday suggest that the Democrats are reaching quite a few people who are reachable.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, Northam in Virginia certainly did.

      And as soon as I saw that, and other Democratic victories yesterday, I thought, Why didn’t I write this post a week ago when I thought of it? (The answer: That’s not a post you write until you can take some time with it. It was kind of like a column.)

      But everything I say is true, still. Especially from my perspective here in South Carolina.

      I HOPE what happened in Virginia has a similar effect here, too. That is, I hope Gillespie’s lame, Trumpist, nonexistent sanctuary-cities strategy doesn’t work any better here than it did there. But I don’t know. Virginia’s an increasingly blue state.

      Still, I think James Smith will do well to study Northam’s campaign, and learn from it…

      1. Claus2

        Virginia is just overrun with those who can’t afford to live in Delaware and Maryland but have the same flawed political views. It seems to be a good day for the transtesticles though.

  3. Doug Ross

    I want Democrats to win. Just as they did in 2008. I want them to prove (as they did with Obamacare) that their policies are wrong and that their ability to drive any positive change is hampered by their insistence on creating a class of government dependent people who hate anyone who achieves success.

    1. Doug Ross

      I’d love to see one Democrat claim they can improve everyone’s life without raising taxes. Just one.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Here’s the problem with that, Doug…

        In South Carolina, with only two exceptions I can think of, we’ve been doing nothing but cutting taxes since about 1987. That was the last time, before we finally did it this year, that we raised the gas tax. The other instance of a pure tax increase was the small increase in the cigarette tax several years back. (You might say that we raised the sales tax awhile back, but I don’t count that because it was accompanied by a sweeping, ill-advised rollback in property taxes that was in effect far greater.)

        I was an advocate of both of them, and any unbiased, pragmatic person would have been. It has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans. In fact, the long-overdue gas tax increase WAS spearheaded by Republicans — pragmatic ones unblinded by ideology.

        Anyway, other than those, we’ve done nothing but cut taxes for the last three decades.

        Here’s the way I look at it: Sometimes you need to raise a tax. Sometimes you need to lower one. Sometimes you need to institute a new tax, and sometimes you need to get rid of an old one. And you need to make these decisions on pragmatic bases — meeting needs, minimizing harm to the economy, being fair, and balancing your types of taxation so that you don’t overburden any one class of taxpayer.

        But in a state where we’ve been CUTTING taxes for three decades — and for ideological, not pragmatic, reasons — it’s sort of inevitable that you’re going to have some taxes that need raising.

        That said, I don’t think you’ll hear anybody advocating increases, Democrats or Republicans, very often, if ever. Our voters have been trained to believe it should always go one way, in the direction of cutting, and that any tax increase is beyond consideration. And we’ve been overwhelmingly electing people who are willing to affirm that prejudice.

        That GOP leadership finally passed a gas-tax increase this year (no thanks to the GOP governor) is a testament to just how long we’d gone without a long-overdue increase…

        1. Claus2

          So you’ve seen how the politicians spend money in this state and you are suggesting that we give them more money to waste?

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I said nothing of the kind.

            I suggested that in a pragmatic, nonideological universe, it would be more likely that SC would talk about tax increases than tax cuts, based on the record of the last three decades.

            I was speaking hypothetically, without getting into the state’s needs at all. I didn’t say, “Let’s raise a tax for this or that.”

            I was saying it shouldn’t be shocking if someone DID say something like that. The law of averages, if nothing else, suggests that someone would..

        2. Doug Ross

          Do you include property taxes and fees? Amazing how the amount of government spending hasn’t shrunk a bit. Magic.

          But you do agree that whatever Democrats want will require raising taxes, right?

          I would like to pay 10% less than I do now and cut spending.

          1. Barry

            My property taxes have remained almost perfectly constant for 7 years now. Yet the needs I see in my community haven’t remained constant, they’ve increased.

            I think I get a great deal for the property taxes I pay. I’ve encouraged my council rep to raise them for several specific purposes.

            1. Doug Ross

              You could always contribute more. Write the check. My property taxes have never gone down… and after purchasing our first new vehicle in six years, the first property tax bill was a shocker. 1400 is not acceptable for a CAR! Why in the world should a car be used to fund schools? It should be a flat fee per vehicle.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                No. No. No.

                Personally, I’d like to see the personal property tax go away. I’d prefer that property taxes only apply to real property.

                But if the property being taxed is of higher value, OF COURSE it should be taxed at a higher rate. I don’t know why that’s such a stumbling block for you, but you’ve demonstrated over and over that it is.

                A side note: You bought your first new car in six years? I’ve only bought three new cars in my life, and I bought the last one in 1986. And I’m STILL ticked off at the $13,000 price tag. Given what they cost now, there’s little chance I’ll ever buy one in the foreseeable future, even it I can afford it. I think the prices are obscene.

                But if I DID buy a new car, I would of course expect to pay higher taxes on it than I do with one of the worn, but perfectly serviceable, vehicles I drive now…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  My first new car was in 1978. That Volkswagen Rabbit cost me about $5,000.

                  But the only new car I ever bought that I think was truly worth what I paid for it was the 1982 Mazda GLC. It was a straight-shift, and the smoothest-shifting care I’ve ever driven. Paid between 6 and 7 thousand. If we hadn’t traded it in on the Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra wagon in 1986, I’d probably still be driving it. That was indeed a Great Little Car….

                2. Doug Ross

                  So basically up think it’s okay for someone who does but a new car to pay for the schools your grandchildren attend… Sorry, but 1400 for a car plus sales tax is a major ripoff.

                  One third of the property tax in blythewood goes for school tax bonds that were used to create state of the art campuses with huge football stadiums. Meanwhile, the students the schools are churning out are no smarter and no better prepared for life. It would have been better for me to burn the money than see it wasted.

              2. Claus2

                That’s the biggest bilking of citizens in this state. I traded an SUV in two years ago, I think between the time I bought it and the time I traded it, which was about 12 years that I paid close to $8000 in property tax on the vehicle. We need to pay full sales tax at the time of purchase and then $40/year for tags like every other state in the country. Used cars shouldn’t be taxed, because the sales tax has already been paid when the car was sold new.

                1. Richard

                  “You wouldn’t have paid 8,000 unless the value of your SUV never decreased- which is doubtful.”

                  I don’t know about that, I had a Lexus LS460 that didn’t go below $1000 until the 5th or 6th year I owned it. I want to say the first year was right around $1800. I’ve had vehicles for 10 years that were still above $200.

                2. Pat

                  I wish the vehicle sales tax was a constant 3% of the retail price (which would take care of increasing vehicle prices) and annual taxes based on weight like a flat fee each for a compact, standard sedan/SUV, monster SUV, basic truck, monster pickup, and on up. I agree that $1400 is ridiculous for a vehicle tax.

              3. Barry

                Nah, your suggestion is silly and illogical. I COULD contribute more but that makes no sense given the fact that I said I wanted increased taxes so that the the money would go to specific purposes.

                You don’t pay property taxes to find school operations. You pay property taxes to pay school bonds.

                If you don’t like that your county has a school bond in your district, you can pack up and move to another county or district in South Carolina. Your choice.

                1. Richard

                  “Oh, I intend to move within the next five years.”

                  Me too… Columbia –> Lexington –> Gilbert area

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    Rahm Emanuel, by the way, had a good op-ed piece today in the Post. The headline was “Democrats can keep winning: Just copy (Bill) Clinton.”

    An excerpt:

    Democrats had a good night Tuesday, but there is a lot of work yet to be done. If we want to be a majority party again, we must avoid our own forms of denial. Too often, our party succumbs to a recurring fallacy that voter turnout matters more than persuasion. Clinton knew that winning and governing required both. In 1992, he forged a personal connection with his base and a philosophical connection with undecided voters. When Ross Perot made 1992 a three-way race, some Clinton advisers urged a “34 percent solution” focused on Democratic turnout. Clinton chose instead to compete with Perot for swing voters and cruised to victory. Now, as then, sophisticated turnout models are no substitute for winning the argument.

    Show Americans what you’re for. Clinton understood that ideas are the most underrated weapon in politics and the best chance a party has to change minds. He ran the wonkiest campaign in memory and made real solutions to real problems — sending young people to college in return for national service, rewarding work with the earned-income tax credit, steering capital to poor neighborhoods through community development banks — the test for his opponents. Attacking “the brain-dead politics of both parties,” he declared: “Americans know what we’re against. Let’s show them what we’re for.”

  5. Karen Pearson

    I just wish someone, anyone, would run on a platform of honesty and ethical pragmatism. The way government works now I can’t really blame Doug for fussing about taxes and railing about government. If we want to change the tax code, but let’s make it clear what we’re changing and why. I know that anyone who has to pay more will complain, but if we need all those things done then there is a clear reason for it. For example, I have no idea why most of the members of state government need to travel so much, but I know the roads in this state are falling apart. If someone can justify all of the travel, and show that it’s clearly at least as important as the roads, then fine, I’ll pay a bit more to get better roads, if the money goes to road repair. Really, I’d just like to be able to believe that our elected legislators are (mostly) honest, sane, and trying to work for us, not just themselves.

  6. bud

    The transsexual candidate for the VA house of delegates ran on a platform of fixing a major road problem in her district. She defeated a long tenured (and bigoted) Republican who refused to address her as “her”. Issues do matter.

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