Category Archives: Joe Biden

Afghanistan, Joe Biden’s biggest mistake as president

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At least, I hope and pray it will be his biggest mistake. We — by which I mean the United States, and the world that depends on it — can’t afford any bigger ones.

That takes a lot of explanation, more than I have time to address tonight, but let me at least get started.

It’s complicated, which is why, in these last few months, when I’ve had so little time to blog, I’ve not addressed the topic. Especially since I knew nothing I could say would change anything — not my readers’ minds, and certainly not the president’s course of action. But the Taliban, with its rough impatience to oppress the country again, wasn’t polite enough to allow me to wait any longer. So, this being an opinion blog, I need to express some opinions now.

As y’all know, I am profoundly grateful that Joe Biden is our president. Not only did he save our country from Donald Trump by winning the election, he has taking office done a great many impressive things. Good things.

But there’s nobody I agree with on everything, and sometimes I disagree profoundly with even the best leaders, people I admire greatly.

In the past couple of years, since he launched his campaign in 2019, Joe Biden has done two things I disagreed with to that extent. The first was at the very start of the campaign, when he dropped his support for the Hyde Amendment. No, I don’t want to have another argument with any of y’all about abortion. But I mention it just to set up what I want to say about Afghanistan.

As I understand it, Biden abandoned what he believed about the Hyde Amendment because it seemed impossible, to him and his staff, for him to obtain the Democratic nomination without doing so. Democrats, who tend to congratulate themselves on their open-mindedness, have zero tolerance for anyone who opposes any facet of the party’s doctrinaire position on abortion. If he had held on to his principled position, he would not have become the Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump would still be president of the United States.

No one could have removed Trump from office except the right Democratic nominee. And Joe had lost the argument within the Democratic Party on the Hyde Amendment decades ago. A mere senator could get away with that. But not the party’s presidential nominee.

Similarly, those of us who believe the United States needed to stay in Afghanistan in order to prevent the Taliban from retaking the country lost our argument long, long ago. And not just in one party. The hordes of those who disagreed marched upon us from the left and right both, and overwhelmed us politically long before Joe became president. I suppose he decided he had no choice on Afghanistan in light of that, so he might as well get it out of the way to concentrate on all the other ambitious things he wanted to do. A simple matter of political pragmatism, like the change on the Hyde Amendment. LBJ badly wanted to accomplish so many things domestically, and hated having Vietnam on his hands. But he didn’t dare withdraw, and you see how he came out on that. Joe was avoiding that mistake. “Our leaders did that in Vietnam when I got here as a young man,” the president said today. “I will not do it in Afghanistan.”

In his earlier post, Bryan said his objection was tactical, not strategic. He’s not arguing we shouldn’t have left; he’s criticizing the way we did it. Well, my objection is strategic. Leaving was the wrong thing to do.

Note that I don’t disagree with Joe on the politics. As I said, our opponents across the spectrum “overwhelmed us politically” on this long ago. But that didn’t make us wrong. We are told that our venture in Afghanistan was a failure. It wasn’t. Note what I said above. I believe “the United States needed to stay in Afghanistan in order to prevent the Taliban from retaking the country.” And we did that, for 20 years. In perhaps the most fragmented, ungovernable (by Western notions of governance — stable administration, rule of law, etc.) large country in the world — or one that at least was in the running for the title. And it had been that way for centuries, if not millennia. (Don’t ask me to be more specific; I don’t claim to be a student of Afghan history going back to Alexander.)

The goal was not, in the phrase of those looking for a phrase that made our presence there seem as absurd as possible, to establish a “Jeffersonian democracy.” (I’m not sure I would embrace that as a goal even here. Madisonian, maybe.) We just needed it to be a place where the Taliban didn’t rule. Where the Taliban didn’t oppress the people, especially, to a shocking degree, the women and girls. And, from the purely practical American perspective, where the Taliban couldn’t provide a safe base for entities such as Al Qaeda.

Did our presence completely shut the Taliban out of power? No, they were always holding onto this or that piece of the country. But it was like that when the Taliban itself was the chief national power. Look up the Northern Alliance, for instance. Look up tribalism (we have Identity Politics; they have tribalism, with AK-47s). Afghanistan wasn’t a showplace for what the Taliban wanted any more than it would ever be for us.

But our presence there held them in check, kept them from sweeping in and doing whatever they could.

Our presence. Not our perfection. Not our 1945-style victory. Just our presence, which in and of itself was better, far better than our absence (ask those thousands of Afghans scrambling to get on one of the last rides out).

Not even our fighting. No U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since February of 2020. Just our presence.

And here’s the thing: If we’re going to have this big, strong military, the forces should be positioned where their presence does some good. As it did in Afghanistan. What good does it do to have the troops in, say, Georgia or North Carolina or Texas, where they just sit around and train. Why not have them where they do good just by being there? As they have, say, in Germany since 1945?

Of course, if you don’t believe we should have this big, strong military, well then I can’t possibly say anything that will make any sense to you. I, for one, believe it is essential that the world’s largest, richest liberal democracy have the strongest military forces, rather than ceding that position to, say, China — which would love to be in that position. If you don’t agree, well, perhaps you want to go read something else.

And as long as we have that military, why hide it away in places where the only good it does is provide an artificial boost to the local economy?

This, of course, is what John McCain was talking about when he said the thing that made people from the extreme left to the extremer right regard him as a lunatic, saying that we might need to stay in Iraq for 100 years, or as he said in 2015, we might need a permanent presence in Afghanistan:

INSKEEP: Is the United States headed toward a permanent presence, then, in Afghanistan?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think we are, just as we have a permanent presence in South Korea and in Japan and in Germany and other places where we’ve fought conflicts. That does not mean that we would continue to see casualties, but I am totally sure that if we pull everybody out to the degree as it’s presently planned, we will see the Iraq movie again. And that is the place, I would remind you, where the 9/11 attacks were inaugurated….

I don’t know why people think that was crazy. It makes perfectly calm, reassuring sense to me. We’re not talking about, to use another favorite phrase of the “let’s get out” contingent, a “forever war.” We’re simply talking about a presence. One that might not be permanent, but let’s just call it that to keep the kids in the back seat from saying, “Are we there yet?” every five minutes.

After Bryan wrote his post earlier, he and I had a brief discussion via text. In that context, he agreed with me to this extent: “I think we should have kept a presence in Afghanistan, but my group of folks lost that argument.”

I responded,

Maybe you lost the argument, but you’re not commander in chief.

If I were commander in chief, and people wanted to abandon Afghanistan (which I agree they do want), they’d have to remove me from office to get it done.

I like to make dramatic statements like that, but I do have that kind of stubborn streak. I’d rather fail at many other things than hand over to the Taliban all those people who put their lives on the line to help us help their country — not to mention every single woman and girl in the country. That’s something I couldn’t live with, if I had the power to stop it. And if I lost my job for refusing to go along, well, I’ve lost jobs before.

What worries me is that so much more than Afghanistan is at stake. Joe Biden probably has no more important international task than restoring trust in the United States after the nightmare of the past four years. This collapse in Afghanistan does serious damage on that front. And as I suggested in my first graf above, the world can’t really afford that kind of lack of confidence in America.

I could go along and say Trump put Biden in this spot. He made an agreement that would have had us out in May; Joe at least delayed that. Some make that argument, while at the same time noting, as did Bryan, that there were better ways to do this.

The president — my president, I’m still proud to say — gave a good speech today about all of this. I admired it, mostly. And I agree with him on this: “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. That’s why we’re still there.”

But in my book, this wasn’t a good time, either…

He gave a good speech...

He gave a good speech…

 

 

DeMarco: Bishops move to sever the tie that binds

The Op-Ed Page

eucharist-1591663_1280

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

You would think that American Christians, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, would be rejoicing that there was a faithful occupant of the White House.

Although white evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Biden’s predecessor and cheered many of his policies, Trump rarely attended church and seemed unfamiliar with the Bible (once referring, during a campaign speech at Liberty University, to the book Second Corinthians as “Two Corinthians” a mistake that any child with a year of Sunday school would avoid).

Most Christians believe that corporate worship is essential to a complete and thriving relationship with their Creator. Biden’s desire to join weekly with other Catholics and remember who they are and to whom they owe their most important allegiance should be reassuring to those of every faith and no faith. However, some of the bishops are disquieted by the highly publicized gap between Biden’s abortion stance and Catholic teaching (he personally opposes abortion but supports abortion rights policy). At an assembly of the bishops last week, there was enough concern that three-quarters of them approved drafting a document examining the “meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the church.” Some of the bishops clearly have Biden in mind with their vote, including Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, who has said unequivocally that Biden “should not receive Holy Communion” for his abortion stance.

Catholics are obligated to attend Mass weekly and expected to take Communion. Although I married into the Methodist church, I was raised as a Catholic and understand the centrality of Communion to Catholics, who believe that the elements actually become the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament.

Refusing Communion to any Christian who comes to a house of worship is an affront. The bishops’ desire to deny Biden the Eucharist put me in mind of an experience I had over two decades ago while I was visiting with a Catholic family member. During the visit, our families went to Mass together. Although I am no longer Catholic and technically should not partake, I always accept Communion when it is offered. Methodists have an open table. The invitation is to “all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin, and seek to live in peace with one another.” So, no matter who is offering Communion, I feel invited.

When I rose from the pew, my children, who were still in elementary school, naturally followed. I knew this might be a problem since this was a large church in which one stood before the Eucharistic minister, received the wafer in cupped hands, and the took a sip of wine from a common chalice. In our home church, we kneel at the altar rail and take juice in tiny individual cups. I didn’t have time to give them any instructions except, “Watch me.” I chose one of the side aisles thinking that a modestly dressed nun might be less imposing to them than a tall, portly priest arrayed king-like in his vestments. They were both nervous and the nun deduced by their hesitation that they had not received the strict instruction Catholic children get when they prepare for their first Communion. Thankfully, she did not withhold the elements from them, but she gave me a look of displeasure I will never forget.

I understand the bind that faith leaders are in. If there is no dogma, then they worry “What do we stand for?” and “How do we distinguish ourselves from the secular world?” And I also understand the moral urgency that the bishops feel toward abortion. Lives hang in the balance. I think their denunciation of abortion is defensible, as is Biden’s position.

Unfortunately, and Brad can disagree with me here, the Catholic Church is expert at inducing guilt. The majority of bishops feel so strongly about Biden’s positions on abortion and same-sex marriage that they feel a public shaming is in order. I saw both the positives and the negatives of the church’s robust adherence to dogma in my parents, whose educations through high school were entirely in Catholic schools. They both are highly motivated, disciplined, honest and smart. The nuns who taught them expected, even demanded, that they excel. But there was a downside. Eventually the weight of those rigid expectations and a perceived dearth of compassion drove them, as adults, to the Episcopal church (the Catholic teachings barring women from the priesthood or from using birth control also played a major role).

I can see nothing to be gained by the bishops denying Biden Communion. It will satisfy no one but a group of authoritarian Catholics. Biden is the kind of faithful man that any church should want. There are very few Catholics (or adherents of any faith, for that matter) who accept every one of their church’s precepts. For example, more than half of Catholics surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2019 agree with Joe and support abortion in all or most cases.

And what disastrous evangelism. At a time when U.S. Catholic affiliation is dropping (along with most other denominations) the bishops’ desire to rebuke Biden will only serve to repel potential converts and may push some teetering Catholics out of the flock.

The Catholic faith needs some good news. It will take decades for the reverberations of the sex abuse scandal to dampen. Still, as Brad reminds us, Catholicism is the oldest and largest (by far) of the Christian denominations. It offers its followers a connection through time and space that is rivalled only by Islam. Even though I’m no longer Catholic, I experienced that connection one morning in February 2020 in Africa. I travelled there for a two-week mission in a hospital in Mbeya, Tanzania, with the USC School of Medicine. The leader of the trip was a Catholic physician who took me to an early morning Mass at Saint Anthony of Padua Cathedral. It was one of the most moving worship services I have ever experienced. A group of nuns chanted and sang accompanied by shakers and drums giving the service a unique energy and rhythm. Even though I understood almost nothing except “Yesu Kristo” and “Mungu” (“Jesus Christ” and “God” in Swahili) I felt the connection that Brad has described.

The bishops would do better focusing on our commonalties as human beings and what binds us rather than trying to humiliate the President.

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.

The churc h in Mbeya, Tanzania, where Paul attended Mass in 2020.

The churc h in Mbeya, Tanzania, where Paul attended Mass in 2020.

What Tim Scott said about race in America

Tim Scott

As I told you previously, such is my complacence with regard to the national government now, with Joe Biden as our president, that I forgot to watch his address to Congress last week.

Consequently, I certainly didn’t watch Tim Scott’s Republican “response.” You recall that I take a dim view of this “tradition” that we’ve had since 1966. It’s rather idiotic. First, it’s not a “response,” because it is written before the president’s address is delivered. It’s basically just a recitation of party talking points, with networks providing free air time. (And now, any national news outlet with a website providing live streaming.)

Here’s the thing: The Constitution requires the president to give Congress an update on the state of the union “from time to time.” He can do it with a scribbled note if he chooses to. But modern presidents have been happy to deliver it in person with much pomp. Fine. Let them do that, and I’m glad the networks are willing to broadcast it when they do. But if the other party wants such a platform as well, they should have to win the next presidential election. Democrats should have no expectation of free air time when the president is named Nixon, Ford, Reagan or Bush, and Republicans should have to sit it out when we have a chief executive named Carter, Clinton, Obama or Biden. Issue all the releases, tweets, etc., you want, and you will get some coverage. But expect no more.

Anyway, this wasn’t a State of the Union, technically.

But on to Tim Scott…

I’ve never had much occasion to say much about him. For one thing, I don’t know him — he rose to statewide prominence after I left the paper, and I’ve never met him, much less sat and talked extensively with him. Secondly, and more to the point, he hasn’t done much to attract attention, until quite recently. For years, I had trouble remembering his name, because it didn’t come up much. When people said “Senator Scott,” I tended initially to think they were speaking of John. Him I know.

It always seemed to me that Tim Scott was sort of maintaining as low a profile as possible — which of course set a stark contrast with our senior senator. South Carolina had elected him (after Nikki appointed him) when he hadn’t done much to attract attention, so he was sticking with the formula. All those white voters seemed pleased to have a black Republican senator, so they could tell everyone “See? We’re not racist!” And that was the sum of his effect on state politics. Why rock that boat by doing or saying anything that drew attention?

That has changed recently, starting with his appearance at the GOP convention last year. For me, it was almost an introduction to Tim Scott. Not only had I never met him, I’d never heard him speak for several minutes at a time.

I formed two impressions:

  1. He seemed like a good and decent man, quite sincere.
  2. He was undermining, even canceling out, all that decency by using it to support the reelection of the man who was by far, by light years, the worst person ever to hold the office.

Anyway, as I said, I missed his recent “response” speech (although I’m listening to it as I type this). But I saw some of the responses to it, which seemed to all center on this passage:

When America comes together, we’ve made tremendous progress. But powerful forces want to pull us apart. A hundred years ago, kids in classrooms were taught the color of their skin was their most important characteristic. And if they looked a certain way, they were inferior.

Today, kids again are being taught that the color of their skin defines them, and if they look a certain way, they’re an oppressor. From colleges to corporations to our culture, people are making money and gaining power by pretending we haven’t made any progress at all, by doubling down on the divisions we’ve worked so hard to heal.

You know this stuff is wrong. Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country. It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination. And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present….

I read, for instance, two views in The Washington Post.

The first was actually a step removed from Scott and what he had said. It was headlined, “Kamala Harris has to walk a tightrope on race. This time, she slipped.” This was in response to the vice president having agreed with Sen. Scott on the point that seemed to disturb “woke” Democrats the most. She said “No, I don’t think America is a racist country.” The writer of the column — one Karen Attiah, whom I had to look up because I wasn’t familiar with the name — tried to make excuses for the veep, but nevertheless she “slipped,” leading the writer to conclude:

And especially for women of color, it is exhausting to watch Harris have to walk on the all-too-familiar tightrope of race and gender. Perhaps, in time, Harris will get more space to shine as the administration progresses. Until then, we are all holding our breath.

Yeah, OK. The other piece was by South Carolina’s own Kathleen Parker, and it was headlined, “Liberals just cannot handle a Black conservative,” employing the Post‘s unfortunate recent style of capitalizing references to people’s race. OK… Such an assertion seems more like something that you’d hear on Fox than from such a normally sensible woman as Kathleen. But I suppose that is one way of putting it, since people were calling him “Uncle Tim” on social media. An excerpt:

This, my friends, is (also) what racism looks like in America today.

Let a Black man speak for the GOP; let him defend conservative values that were once considered mainstream; let him challenge the current orthodoxy of systemic racism that pegs Whites as oppressors — and he will feel the wrath of those for whom, as Scott said, belief in racism is essential to political power….

There’s that capitalizing-race thing again. I’ll post about that some other day. (“Capitalizing “Black” bugs me, and capitalizing “White” is just plain offensive. It’s like we’re back to separate restrooms, and they want to make sure the labels pop out so nobody goes into the wrong one.)

For the time being, I responded to the Attiah piece with this tweet:

If she hadn’t answered that way, I think we’d need to have a long conversation about it. But she did, as anyone a heartbeat away from the presidency should. And I see that Jim Clyburn also spoke in agreement with what Scott said.

So, nothing to see here, folks.

As for the Parker piece, I just tweeted it out.

What are your thoughts?

How about that Joe Biden, huh? You go, Joe: Do it!

Joe Speaks

How relaxed have I become since Joe Biden became my president? This relaxed: I forgot to watch his speech last night.

I had intended to watch it. But then I had a busy day, getting my stitches out and all, and ended up working pretty late — until well after 9 p.m. Finally I turned on the tube about 10 — intending to stream something, but the TV input happened to be set on broadcast — and there was Joe, in the chamber, shaking hands with people! I had missed it!

I was disappointed, but it was OK. I was sure whatever he had said was fine, and I could read all about it in the morning. Which I did. And if you need to catch up, here’s a transcript.

As you know from last year, I wasn’t all that interested in what Joe would do once in office. As I’ve said so many, many times in the past in many contexts, I don’t like campaign promises, and don’t want to hear grand plans (which kind of eliminated Elizabeth Warren right off). What I want is character. That, and solid experience. You don’t know, can’t know, what the big issues will be during an upcoming term (although in this case, we knew covid had to be dealt with). So I want someone I trust to cope with whatever happens competently, and decently. Someone who I believe will do the right thing both in terms of effectiveness and morality.

And Joe fit that bill perfectly.

Of course in this case, it was also about replacing the malevolent, clueless lunatic who had occupied the office for the past four years. Once that was done and covid was competently dealt with, I’d be happy.

What I didn’t reckon on — in fact, practically no one did — was that once in, Joe would be this ambitious. I didn’t know he would come in and try to accomplish more than any president since LBJ, if not FDR.

But hey, that’s fine with me. Pretty much everything he’s trying to do makes sense, and I’m on board. And pleased. What Joe is doing is saying, “These are the things government ought to do. Let’s get them done.”

One thing I’m seeing people say about him — and they’re right — is that he’s not content to just undo the damage done by Trump. He’s looking to roll back all that Republicans have done — in terms of alienating the American people from their government — since Reagan.

It had never occurred to me that that could be done — returning us to being the kind of confident country, with faith in each other and our way of governing ourselves, that we were before Reagan, before Watergate, before Vietnam. The country of FDR, Truman, Ike (Mr. Interstates!), JFK and LBJ (pre-credibility gap). The country whose leaders said, “Let’s do this!” and we just went out and got it done.

Will it be easy? Not at all. There are 50 people in the Senate determined to stop him from doing anything he tries to do. If the Republicans had a party platform — which they don’t; the sick personality cult of Trump doesn’t need one — Joe could try to accomplish everything on their list, and they’d oppose it because it’s him trying to do it. In a situation like that, you might as try to do the right thing instead. Especially if you’re Joe.

Obviously, Joe is more of a visionary than I am. And I bless him for it. We’ve needed this, for such a long time…

There are things we should do. Let's do them...

There are things we should do. Let’s do them…

Joe Biden tries to lead us away from the Culture Wars, bless him

Just hunkering down, governing...

Just doing the job, hunkering down, governing…

The mainstream media is bending backwards to depict the Atlanta mass shooting in a sexual massage parlor as a racially motivated crime. But they ignored completely suspect Robert Aaron Long’s own admission to the Cherokee Country Sheriff’s office that he was driven by sexual addiction…

— email I received yesterday, offering me a source to interview (I passed)

Those were the opening words to the email, which was a puzzler. Presumably, this offer of the wisdom of one “Dr. Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago,” was going out to, you know, media people. In other words, people who are sick to death of idiots who say things like “The mainstream media is bending backwards to depict…” yadda, yadda.

Just so you know:

  1. There are a bunch of people out there who are very concerned that these shooting were related to the fact that so many of the victims were of Asian descent. Asian-America were already concerned about this; this act of violence touched off that tension that was there.
  2. “The media” are reporting what’s happening in item 1. Because it’s news.
  3. Note that it’s “media are,” not “media is…”

I could go on, but I won’t, except to say, one grows so very weary of this stuff. I mean, I’m sorry that so many people try to frame everything in Identity Politics, and that that offends you, “Dr.” Lutzer. But they do. It’s a huge, huge factor in politics today. I think it’s problematic, as I’ve said so many times before. And almost the only issue on which I agree with libertarians is “hate crime” legislation. Right now, there’s such a bill going through our Legislature — many people are terribly upset that we are one of only three states without such laws — and much back-and-forth about which categories of people are covered by it. I say, let’s forget it. Let’s punish the act, not the thought (beyond thoughts relevant to culpability, such as intent or premeditation). I guess I’ve read too much Orwell or something…

But whether “Dr.” Lutzer likes it or not, and no matter what I think, it’s out there, big-time. So of course it gets covered.

Now… rather than go further down that rathole, I will now get to my point….

Thomas Edsall had a great piece in The New York Times yesterday, headlined “Biden Wants No Part of the Culture War the G.O.P. Loves.” Which prompted me to tweet, simply in response to that hed, “One of many reasons why ⁦@JoeBiden is my main man, and has been for a long time. And finally, he’s in the right job…”

Edall writes about how Biden is out there actually running the government, and trying to address real problems facing the country, while the poor Republicans, as someone Edsall quotes puts it, “try to counter with stories about Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head.” (Or, if you’re “Dr.” Lutzer, with yammering about how the danged “mainstream media” keep trying to cram dang-fool liberal notions into our poor, hard-working, innocent white heads…)

An excerpt:

The second prong of Biden’s strategy is to lower the volume on culture war issues by refusing to engage — on the theory that in politics, silence saps attention — exemplified by the president’s two-month long refusal to hold a news conference in which the press, rather than the chief executive, determines what gets talked about.

The strategy of diverting attention from incendiary social issues is spreading.

“Taking their cues from a new president who steadfastly refuses to engage with or react to cultural provocations,” Democratic officeholders “have mostly kept their heads down and focused on passing legislation,” The Week’s Damon Linker wrote in “Will the G.O.P.’s culture war gambit blow up in its face?”…

I noted recently that someone here on the blog was objecting to Joe not having press conferences, something that hadn’t bothered me. I’ve been seeing him plenty, and I have a pretty good idea of what he thinks about things. And now that Edsall has pointed this out, I’m in no hurry for him to have one. Not because, as “Dr.” Lutzer would have it, them media are trying to fill my head with socialist notions, but because of an actual, real problem that afflicts reporters: They don’t have an agenda, except to serve the binary conflict model: If all the idiots in the chattering classes are talking about X, then by God, we’re not going to let this elected official get away with not “answering the hard questions” and declaring whether he’s FOR X or AGAINST it, so the half of the country on one side can clap and cheer, and the half on the other side can hate him for it. Because that’s the way the stupid game is played.

By the way, in case you’re confused, that approach arises from the opposite of being a purveyor of propaganda. It comes from seeing oneself as “fair” and “objective,” and refusing to think about the consequences of asking the question, because reporters aren’t supposed to think about, much less seek, outcomes. So if you want to kick reporters, kick them for that.

Anyway…

Finally, we again have a president who is interested in governing (and know how to do it), rather than encouraging more ranting along the lines of, As a member of X group, I’m really worked up, and I truly despise you people in Y group who disagree with me…

Joe is governing for the members of ALL groups, and even those of us who resist such categorization, and he’s doing pretty well at it.

And I, for one, am quite pleased…

Fox wants to use that old Biden video again…

A very blurry Sen. Joe Biden, in Columbia in 2006.

A very blurry Sen. Joe Biden, in Columbia in 2006. Click on the image if you must watch the bad video.

It’s probably the worst video I ever shot, technically speaking. It’s horrendous. You can hardly make out what’s going on. I didn’t have my little digital camera I used in those days, so I shot it with my phone. We’re not talking iPhone here — no HD or anything. It was 2006. I shot it with a Palm Treo, if I remember correctly. That’s even worse than my old Blackberry.

But it’s been popular, particularly among people who want to take a dig at Joe Biden — or, worse, support Trump. So popular that, as bad as it is, it’s garnered 111,000 views, I just saw from glancing at YouTube. (I think that’s a record for me, although it’s been so many years since I checked to see which of my vids were most popular, that I’ve forgotten how to do it.)

I wish, if people were going to make such a fuss over it, they’d have chosen something that makes me look like I can handle a camera. But such is life.

This was shot at a Rotary meeting on Nov. 27, 2006. Joe Biden was our speaker, and while I had heard Joe speak, energetically and at great length, before, he was outdoing himself that day. When he got so worked up that he left the podium and started wandering about among the tables of Rotarians, I thought, “I’ve got to get some video of this for the blog,” with or without a decent camera.

Here’s the resulting post, in its entirety:

South Carolina, Joe Biden really, really wants you to help him get to the White House. I’ll write about this more later in the week, but for now I’ll refer you to this video clip I shot with my PDA (meaning it’s even lower quality than MOST of my videos) at the Columbia Rotary Club.

The clip begins right after he left the rostrum and waded into the crowd to answer a one-word question: “Immigration?” Note the passion, the waving arms, the populist posturing, the peripatetic delivery. Joe Biden has always loved to talk, but this Elmer Gantryesque performance went far beyond his routine style.

Most of his speech was about Iraq, by the way. And it went over well. This Rotary Club never goes past its 2 p.m. ending time, but he had the audience still sitting politely listening — some of them truly rapt — past 2:30.

It was quite a performance. You may think politicians act like this all the time, because of stuff you  see on TV and in the movies. But I have never, in real life, seen a national candidate get this intense seeking S.C. votes two years before the election.

That’s it. As you can see, what interested me the most was the Iraq stuff (although after all this time, I can’t tell you what he said about it now). But that’s not what has drawn attention since then. It has been passed about, and used on FoxNews and elsewhere, because of what Joe was talking about during those two minutes and 51 seconds that I captured on the Treo.

That was about immigration, and Joe was trying to win over that conservative crowd by persuading them of how tough he was on controlling the border. He talks about having voted for a fence, for instance. And he does so with the same intense animation that he used in talking about other things (I suppose — it’s been a long time). That, of course, is why Trump fans love the video.

Being me, I wasn’t interested in the immigration stuff. I was interested in showing people how pumped up Joe had been at Rotary.

Others, of course, have been more interested in the immigration stuff.

I’ve been vaguely aware of the video cropping up from time to time — cropping up, I mean, somewhere other than the blog, where it has sat for all these years. Back in the fall of 2019, I was more aware than usual, because Erik Wemple at The Washington Post reached out to me to talk about it. He wanted to talk to me for a piece he was writing that criticized Fox for failing to credit the source of material they used. And in this case, they had apparently become aware of my video not from my blog (which is a shocker, right?), but from this CNN piece by Andrew Kaczynski.

“Acute stinginess in terms of crediting CNN is something of a pattern at Fox News,” Wemple wrote — and my video was the first of several instances he offered.

The part of the video that seems to fascinate everyone, especially the folks at Fox, is when Joe says, as his blurry, low-res image moves about the room, “Folks, I voted for a fence, I voted, unlike most Democrats – and some of you won’t like it – I voted for 700 miles of fence.”

This apparently is the bombshell. Even though it was no secret. And even though, as Kaczynski notes, “The bill was also supported by then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.”

What do I think about what Joe was saying there? Not a lot. In the end, his point was that yeah, I voted for a fence, but you can build all the fences (or walls) you want, but you’re still going to have the same problems unless a.) things get better in Mexico and b) U.S. employers stop hiring illegals.

The first of those two points is pretty much what I’ve thought for many years. The U.S. should be working to improve conditions in Mexico and Central America. That would be tough, but worthwhile. It’s rather crazy to complain about people wanting to come here when they live in intolerable conditions where they are. No, I don’t have a grand plan, but this is why I have over the years supported such things as NAFTA, so maybe things get better south of the border.

Laura Ingraham was apparently delighted by my video because “He sounds like Trump there,” according to Wemple Well, no. If it had been Trump, he’d have said his big, beautiful wall was going to solve everything. That’s not at all what Joe was saying, because Trump is an idiot and Joe is not.

But they love it nevertheless. And now, they want to use it again.

Over the last couple of days, I kind of let my email get stacked up again, and so I just saw this one from two days ago:

Hello Brad!

My name is Errin Kelly and I am a producer on Fox Business Network. I hope you are doing well! With your permission and credit to you, our show would like to use this video of President Biden at The Rotary Club in 2006.

Did you shoot this video? If so, may we please have permission to use on Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, Fox Nation and all Fox News Edge affiliates across all platforms until further notice with courtesy to you? Do we also need anyone else’s permission?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15djRzWG3_0

Thank you for your time!

Errin Kelly

Well, at least they’re asking this time, and promising to credit me, which should please Wemple. Beyond that, I had the following series of thoughts in quick succession:

  • Here we go again. I guess this time they’re going to try to use this, somehow (it will require some gymnastics), to hammer Joe about all the kids stacking up down on the border. The Trump-lovers really think they’ve got Joe on the ropes on this one. (Here’s what I think about that.)
  • I guess I’ll tell them OK, as I pretty much always do. Let the chips fall, yadda-yadda.
  • I’ll also ask them to give me a heads-up when it runs, so I can see what they did with it.
  • Or should I say no, or ignore it? It would be interesting to see if they use it anyway. I guess that would be Wemple’s prediction. (Hey, since it’s been two days, they may have used it already.)
  • I know what! I’ll ask folks on the blog what they would do!

So here you go. Thoughts?

Yes, I now have a knee-jerk response to this kind of analysis

Biden speak

This came up over the weekend, and I meant to post something about it at the time, but just had too much going on. Before it gets too far in the past, I’m just going to put it up for discussion, and if y’all take it up, I’ll join in and say more.

Howard Weaver, a retired VP from McClatchy newspapers with whom I frequently trade tweets, brought this to my attention on Sunday:

Howard’s reaction to it was, “A pointless, reflexive inside-the-beltway example of savvy swagger. Stop it, @nbcnews

It certainly hit a nerve with me. I jumped in with:

I may have overreacted a bit. A bit. But there’s a reason.

Look, folks, Joe’s going to do some things wrong, and when he does, people should call him on it. I don’t think all the evidence is in on his administration’s failure to go after MBS over Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, but there’s plenty there to challenge, so have at it.

But this nonsense I keep hearing saying Joe Biden is somehow failing in his “unity” pledge when Republicans decide not to vote for something he advocates is ridiculous.

Mind you, in NBC’s defense, they didn’t quite say that — they suggested this bill isn’t bipartisan because it didn’t get bipartisan support. You can certainly assert that, and support it. And if this was the only thing I’d seen about it, I wouldn’t even take notice of it. And if you called it to my attention, I might even agree. But I see it within a context of multiple assertions about that poor, deluded (or dishonest) Joe Biden and his stupid, or alleged, belief in bipartisanship — a bunch of yammering we’ve been getting from all sides ever since (and even before) Inauguration Day. That makes it come across differently.

It gets asserted repeatedly by people on the left who don’t want any bipartisanship and see Biden as a doddering old fool for believing in it (something deeply rooted in the campaigns of all that huge crowd of people Joe had to overcome to get the nomination), and people on the right who claim, every time Biden expresses what he believes instead of what they believe, that he’s a big, fat liar. And media types who prefer that the two sides fight, because in their book that makes a better story — or certainly a story that’s easier to cover in their usual, simple-minded manner.

And it’s stupid, and I’m tired of it. Tired to the point that I react negatively to something that even suggests it.

So that’s the way my knee’s jerking these days. How about yours?

What an odd thing to say at this moment in history

The fuss over her tweets seems rather silly.

The fuss over her tweets seems rather silly.

The headline attracted me: “Why should Neera Tanden have to be confirmed by the Senate, anyway?

I’m not particularly interested in the case of Ms. Tanden, or the job she has been nominated to fill (it has to do with money, right?). But I was interested to see what sort of argument would be presented, and whether it had any merit.

After all, a case can be made that this or that office shouldn’t require the Senate’s advice and consent. As this author points out, the president’s chief of staff doesn’t have to be confirmed, so why should a functionary such as this one? And of course, it’s absurd how long it takes a new president to get his team in place. If there are legitimate ways to accelerate the process, let’s discuss them. As this author says, “Posts can go unfilled for months or even years. This keeps a president from doing what he was elected to do.”

(“This author,” by the way, is one Henry Olsen, with whom I was not familiar — even though he is apparently something of a regular in the Post. I guess his past headlines haven’t awakened my curiosity.)

Anyway, he was cooking along fairly well, even though he was edging close to problematic territory in the fourth graf, which begins, “These concerns were justified in 1789.” He’s talking about the reasons why the Framers included advice and consent in the Constitution, and apparently he is attracted to the seductive, modernist (excuse me for using such a harsh, condemnatory term) idea that what was a good idea then isn’t necessary now. But while I harrumphed a bit, I kept going to let the gentleman make his case.

Then I got to this:

It’s ludicrous to think this could happen today. Presidents arise from an extensive democratic process that makes them directly responsible to the people. They build political coalitions from diverse groups that seek to use public power to advance their agendas. These factors constrain the president far more than Senate confirmation. These considerations, along with the 22nd Amendment, which limits presidents to no more than two full terms, means there is little reason to fear that a president can turn the office into a personal fief wielding power without constraint.

Yikes! Trump has only been out of office, what, five minutes? Where has this guy been the last four years? We just lived through a period during which the nightmare foreseen by Hamilton, et al., came to life, to an extent he and the others probably couldn’t imagine in 1789. And everyone knows this! If there is any upside to Trump’s time in office, it’s that he got so many people to go back and read the Federalist Papers, because they realized we had before us such a lurid example of what those guys were on about.

What an extremely odd time to say such a thing!

Look, I don’t care whether this woman becomes head of the OMB or not. Personally, if Joe wants her, I’m inclined to give her the job, and the fuss over her past tweets seems pretty silly, but it’s not an important issue the way, say, Merrick Garland’s nomination as attorney general is.

But dang, if you’re going to argue that people nominated for this position shouldn’t have to undergo confirmation, then do it in a way that doesn’t make us think you spent the last four years in a cave!

I’ve got to go back and read that bit again: “Presidents arise from an extensive democratic process that makes them directly responsible to the people.”

Oh, let’s take a look at what those “people” — 74 million of whom voted for the guy again — are up to now… Have you seen this video from the CPAC gathering? Oh yeah, these people are gonna keep this guy accountable…

A real DNC Membership Card? Thanks! But no thanks…

Y’all know I’m a fan of Jaime Harrison, but I’m going to have to turn down his latest offer, which came today via email.

The message was headlined, “Brad’s 2021 DNC Membership Card,” and sure enough, down in the body of the email, there it was:

unnamed

Note that even though it had to be a bogus, random bunch of characters, I smudged out the supposed “ID” number. I’ve never given a penny to the DNC, but I was worried they might actually have me on file (else why do I get these emails?) from having given to Jaime, or Joe Biden. Or maybe from that $5 I gave ex-astronaut Mike Kelly at the last minute last year. Or the very first contribution I made to anyone — that was Mandy Powers Norrell.

Because, you know, that’s something I started doing last year — giving (very small amounts) to candidates I like. And since I started doing it in 2020, the year that there wasn’t a single Republican I would vote for who had opposition, I only gave to Democrats.

But a membership card? Save that for the people who want one.

The email claims there have been 102,753 such people so far. Well, good for them. Obviously, you don’t need me…

More on the problem afflicting many fellow Catholics

America screenshot

Here I am again posting about my other recent obsession (as opposed to the one about what the web is doing to our brains and society): Trying to pull back some fellow Catholics from their recent political (and theological) madness.

Reading frequently on this topic, I realized recently that I’d find a lot of good stuff (such as Jeannie Gaffigan’s great column I wrote about before) in America magazine, the Jesuit publication. So I subscribed. And yesterday they alerted me to this piece, which I thought was good.

It’s headlined, “The same Catholics who condemn ‘relativism’ and a ‘culture of death’ have built a deadly, post-truth world.

True, sadly.

An excerpt that sums up the point:

To speak of the “culture of death” and “dictatorship of relativism” is to invoke a recognizable formula that neatly sums up a particular sense of Catholic countercultural identity that has increasingly allied itself socially and politically with evangelical Protestants and the Republican Party. In this usage, this combined mantra has become a truism at best and a slogan at worst, even beyond its Catholic usage. Worse still, it has become a performative contradiction and scandal that makes a mockery of the Gospel.

In its final days, the Trump administration went on a killing spree, executing federal prisoners at an unprecedented rate; the number of Americans killed by Covid-19 broke 400,000; and five people died in a violent failed insurrection at the Capitol. Add to this the ongoing refugee crisis, the existential threats of climate change, the rise of populist authoritarianism around the world and the struggle against anti-Black racism in America, and it is not hard to see that the culture of death is alive and well.

But those who are most prone to support capital punishment and refuse Covid-19 safety protocols, who explain away and excuse violent insurrection, reject refugees and migrants, and deny the reality of climate change and racial injustice, are precisely the ones who have decried the “culture of death.” The tragedy and the farce of this situation is perhaps only rivaled—or sharpened—by the graphic and horrific images of Blue Lives Matter flags flying in the same place where a Trump-supporting police officer was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. A culture of death, indeed. Lord have mercy….

It’s worth reading, if you have access (and they allow a certain number of freebies to nonsubscribers).

Oh, by the way, I post these items in the hope that some of my fellow Catholics will see them and engage. The rest of you are certainly welcome to join in — even those of you who use all such posts as another opportunity to express your distaste for us nasty papists. Whatever, knock yourselves out.

But my fellow papists out there — this is mainly for you, so I hope to hear from you…

Mr. President, here’s what makes the ‘uncivil war’ so vicious

Guillaume

I wish my headline said, “Here’s how to end the uncivil war, Mr. President.” But I can’t say that, because I don’t know how to undo the damage.

But finally, after more than four years of bewilderment, I finally feel like I have a grip on what has caused the problem, and I’m not letting go. If I keep saying “Here it is!” enough, maybe someone else will see what to do about it, even if I don’t.

I’ve written about this in two posts now, here and here. In the second one, I mentioned having watched part of the documentary “The Social Dilemma,” and indicated I might say more about it when I’d seen it all. I finished watching it about a week ago, and yes, it certainly reinforced the epiphany I’ve been writing about. But I got distracted doing other things, and didn’t get to it.

Today (yesterday now, since I didn’t finish the post until Saturday), I’m reminded of the urgency by a several things I’ve read — items that point to the continued rapid descent of most of the country’s Republicans into madness. There’s the case of that deranged woman from Georgia, and the House GOP’s deep reluctance to deal with her. (The Republican leader is too busy running down to Florida to beg forgiveness of his master.) There are stories about polls, showing how most of that party’s adherents are still shockingly lost in their delusions. There was a Frank Bruni piece about how Marco Rubio — and anyone else with designs on the GOP nomination in 2024 — has utterly degraded himself in the pursuit of the support of his party’s conspiracy wing. And more.

How did close to half the country lose its grip on reality? Well, that’s what I’ve been talking about in those previous posts, and return to today.

There’s a great moment near the start of “The Social Dilemma” when several tech industry veterans who are deeply concerned about what’s going on are asked to answer the question, “What’s the problem?”… and each of these otherwise articulate people stops, and stares vacantly, and for a long moment, fails to come up with an answer.

It made me feel better, because these were expert people who were here to talk about it, and had trouble explaining what the problem was.

As I said in my first post on this subject, I’ve been familiar with the problems for years, and felt stupid speaking of an “epiphany” when the basic facts were so obvious:

I’ve commented on this before. Everyone has. And I was conscious of the cause of the problem. But recently, I came to realize it, to understand it, to grok it, more fully. And it was as though I hadn’t thought about these things before.

It happened first when I listened to a podcast series from several months ago, called “Rabbit Hole.” If you haven’t listened to it, I wish you would…

That podcast helped the points sink in, to where it suddenly hit me that this was the explanation of Trumpism, specifically the explanation of how such a large portion of the country — close to half — had completely lost connection with reality, becoming immune to evidence to an extent far beyond old cliches about “confirmation bias” and such.

It was happening because they inhabited separate realities, which seemed as real to them as any other. And they were prepared to go to pretty much any lengths to defend their delusions, as we saw demonstrated so dramatically on Jan. 6, and in the willingness of so many to ignore the implications of those events. (By the way, these processes don’t just distort the perceptions of Trump supporters. It’s just that with Trump, you had a figure emerge who reinforced the tendencies of Qanon believers, white supremacists, and other whackos by repeatedly telling them it was all true, and that it was not only OK, but virtuous to embraces such insanity. This unprecedented situation caused that particular, easily deluded, segment of the population to go completely off the rails.)

Those experts momentarily lost the ability to address the Problem because it has so many aspects, all interacting with each other. But to simplify, these two factors are generally at the core:

  1. First, the fact that so many people now get all of their information that explains politics and the world to them from, shall we say, “nontraditional sources.” At the same time, part of what those sources have brainwashed them to believe is that the “traditional sources” — ones that operate according to procedures and ethics that require that facts actually check out before being reported — are “fake news,” and not to be trusted. Yes, this is very obvious, and doesn’t really explain things until you get to the second point…
  2. The way the Web works when it is successful. Success depends on keeping your attention, so that attention can be sold to advertisers. Which is the way newspapers, television, radio and other media monetized themselves — except that the Web is astonishingly better at it. And there’s one aspect of the algorithms that make them succeed more than anything: The simple matter of showing you what you like (or tell you what you want to hear), and then showing you more of it, to the point that you never get to anything else.

Ultimately, you end up living in a completely different reality from others whose predilections, in concert with the algorithms, have herded them into their own, distinct — and often diametrically opposed — universes. (Again, this works on MSNBC watchers as well as on the Fox people. But Rachel Maddow isn’t working in tandem with a POTUS who does not give a damn what the truth is. So things don’t get nearly as crazy. But it does mean that as Trump’s base gets crazier, people on the left move farther and farther away from them, and the Trump base sees that disdain, and gets crazier.)

Eventually, the deliberative processes that are essential to our system of representative democracy break down. Representatives who know their constituencies have no points of agreement on facts with people who live in other constituencies cast aside evidence and make themselves immune to persuasion, lest they lose their seats. Debate in legislative bodies is pointless, because it’s not about trying to achieve productive synthesis with the views of members on the other side of the aisle; it’s simply about proving one’s purity in adhering to the “reality” in which most of one’s constituents live.

Back to the movie…

“The Social Dilemma” has a lot of flaws, the most obvious of them being dramatization. When it sticks to tech gurus talking about the problem, it’s great. When it uses actors to act out the problems, it gets kind of cheesy. Perhaps that keeps more people watching (hey, just like YouTube!) but it almost made me turn it off a number of times.

The dramatizations try to capitalize on parents’ concerns about their children’s Web addiction — a very serious problem that all parents should worry about, but not the reason I’m watching. There’s this fictional family of actors, and you watch one teenaged boy who starts out fairly rational gradually get seduced into extreme views, to the exclusion of everything else in his life.

Perhaps the cheesiest thing — but I understand that someone thought this would help us understand better the way the algorithms work — are these fantasy sequences in which you see the algorithms personified. This one actor appears as three different parts of the online code, and his three “characters” have conversations with each other about how they are manipulating the teenager, as they gradually assemble a more and more complete model of the kid as he spends more time online. These scenes are exceedingly creepy — and meant to be — and I finally figured out one reason why. The actor personifying the algorithm is the one who played “Pete” on “Mad Men.” Creepy is what this guy does. (You kind of wonder what happened to him along the way to give him a face like that.)

But eventually the film confronts the issues that interest me, the ones I’ve written about in those preceding posts. This initially happens when, out of the blue, the person being interviewed is Guillaume Chaslot (pictured above), the Frenchman who helped develop YouTube’s “recommendation” software — before he realized with horror what it was doing.

I recognized him when he used the phrase “rabbit hole” — because his was one of the more important voices heard in the podcast series of that name. In the podcast, it was described how two developments on YouTube led to the creation of conditions that lead people to become committed conspiracy adherents — first, the moment when YouTube started allowing long videos, entire talk shows and such, to be posted. Then, the development of the current “recommendation” system, which essentially says, “You liked that? You’ll love this,” which so easily pulls people deeper into the hole as they watch one whack job’s video, then another more extreme one, then one more extreme than that, and on and on…

Mind you, the experts — the elements of the film I prefer — all insist that there are no bad guys (although the environment thus created is a welcome mat to bad guys, such as Vladimir Putin, to step in and use it). The aims of the people making these separate realities possible are fairly innocuous. As one of the main talking heads explains, as we’re watching the creepy Petes manipulate the kid:

At a lot of these technology companies, there’s three main goals.

There’s the engagement goal: to drive up your usage, to keep you scrolling.

There’s the growth goal: to keep you coming back and inviting as many friends and getting them to invite more friends.

And then there’s the advertising goal: to make sure that, as all that’s happening, we’re making as much money as possible from advertising….

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that, I can tell you as an old newspaperman (at least, that’s what the people on the business side kept telling me — and of course I noticed that when they stopped making money, everything that was important to me disappeared. Which was bad…). But when Web-based businesses do the same thing, we start seeing processes that humanity has never seen before, and which evolution has not equipped us to handle.

Anyway, I urge you to watch this film as well. Because I think it’s important in the extreme for all of us to understand how people come to accept the most unlikely-seeming propositions, and cling to them with religious fervor — fiercely resisting any attempt to argue them back to reason.

Because it’s tearing us apart.

There are plenty of other ways in which these problems — or at least bits and pieces of them — are being examined. I was listening to a podcast yesterday in which a New York Times reporter who watched Qanon chats happening during the Inauguration on Jan. 20, with the true believers assuring each other that at any second, Trump would declare martial law and stop the “steal.” Did they wake up when it didn’t happen? Some did. Others told themselves they had simply misinterpreted Q’s prophesies. It’s an interesting examination of effects, if not causes.

Or the piece I read in the NYT this morning headlined “The Coup We Are Not Talking About.” The writer approaches the same problems from a different direction, that of the development of “surveillance capitalism.” I think it’s the wrong direction, but perhaps it’s because some of the connections he makes are unconvincing. But maybe he made a better case in his book on the same subject. Anyway, he touches on the problems I’m on about, although in the service of his thesis:

The third stage, which we are living through now, introduces epistemic chaos caused by the profit-driven algorithmic amplification, dissemination and microtargeting of corrupt information, much of it produced by coordinated schemes of disinformation. Its effects are felt in the real world, where they splinter shared reality, poison social discourse, paralyze democratic politics and sometimes instigate violence and death.

Yeah, he uses the word “epistemic” a lot. And in other ways, he fails to express himself with simple clarity. Kind of made me more sympathetic to the cheesy dramatizations of “The Social Dilemma.” At least they were trying to reach people outside of academia.

But hey, if it leads you to understand it better, try that approach. Because we all need to come to understand it.

And do something about it. Again, I don’t know what to do, what with the toothpaste being fully out of the tube and everyone slathering themselves with it (kind of overdid that metaphor, didn’t I?). But I figure we need a diagnosis before someone comes up with the cure.

By the way, to head off certain obvious objections… before someone cries, “you’re acting like things were fine before this,” allow me to point out the obvious fact that I am not. As I have documented over and over in recent decades, things have been getting nasty in our politics for some time. There have been a number of milestones of our division into tribes that despise each other, and won’t listen to each other, thereby making the function of a deliberative form of government increasingly impossible. You could point to the emergence of negative campaigning in 1982 (which helped to produce the likes of Lee Atwater and his acolyte Karl Rove), or the moment in late 1992 when I first saw a new “Don’t Blame Me; I Voted Republican” sticker on a car before Bill Clinton was even inaugurated. Or Democratic lunacy over Clinton’s impeachment, leading them to defend the indefensible — or, two years later, their claims (very civil, nonviolent and short-lived claims, as opposed to what we’ve seen in recent days) in 2000 that the election was “stolen.” Or for that matter, BDS. Or the rise of the Tea Party or the Freedom Caucus, and the maniacal determination to stop anything Barack Obama tried to do — or, failing that, to undo it. (Remember the bizarre spectacle of all those utterly vain votes to “repeal Obamacare?”)

All before Trump. But not all before this phenomenon that I’m talking about, which certainly played a role in the things we saw in the earlier part of this past decade. In any case, this new problem, or set of problems, landed in a nasty partisan environment, and then exponentially accelerated the sickness, with a twist.

I could say a lot more, but at well over 2,000 words, I’d better stop….

creepy Pete

Creepy Pete in triplicate, manipulating the kid.

 

Bruni on the one word for Biden so far: ‘generous’

Bruni

Just a little something to feel good about…

I enjoyed Frank Bruni’s e-newsletter this week, particularly since I hadn’t seen one lately — he’d been away writing a book or some such. I hope he won’t mind if I quote from it fairly extensively. The email was headlined, “The one word that defines Biden’s presidency so far.”

An excerpt:

How good it feels to write that! President Joe Biden. We needed a change, and now we have it, and the rightness of this particular one was captured not just in his excellent inauguration speech but also in other words and gestures of his in the hours just before and after that address.

I’ll focus on three unscripted sentences shortly after 5 p.m., when a small group of journalists were on hand for his signing of several executive orders in the Oval Office. One of them asked about the content of a letter that President Donald Trump — who actually followed tradition in this instance — left Biden. There’d been doubt that Trump would do so.

“The president wrote a very generous letter,” Biden said. “Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him. But it was generous.”

Generous. The word grabbed me, and not because Biden used it twice.

For starters, “generous” perfectly describes Biden’s response to the question he was asked.

He could simply have declined to characterize the letter, citing etiquette and discretion. He certainly wasn’t under any obligation to compliment and essentially thank Trump, not after Trump refused to accept the legitimacy of Biden’s election, spread conspiracy theories and fomented violence. Trump was intent on making Biden’s transition into the presidency as rocky as possible and bequeathing him a country almost impossible to govern.

Biden nonetheless went out of his way to be big. To be kind. He placed Trump, of all people, in proximity to “generous,” when our former president (it feels good to write that phrase, too!) is anything but.

Ever since Election Day, Biden hasn’t merely been urging civility. He’s been modeling it, despite a magnitude of ugliness and absurdity from Trump and his Republican enablers that has tested it at every turn. It’s a monumental feat of discipline. It’s the epitome of grace.

And it’s the definition of, well, generosity, which is as good a one-word summary of what America and Americans need right now as any other. We need it from our president. We need it from other political leaders. We need it most of all from ourselves….

It’s small things like that that, if we pay attention, can remind us of how blessed were are in this country now.

Others can talk about policies or programs or whatever interests them. For me, this sort of thing is why I wanted Joe Biden to be our president. Because we really, really need this…

More friction between the Pope, and American bishops who don’t understand that the Pope is Catholic

Sorry. I couldn’t resist referring to the old joke in the headline. A more straightforward way to say it would be, “don’t understand that the Pope outranks them.”

At moments such as this, it seems they tend to think of him as “just the bishop of Rome,” rather than the Holy Father.

Or maybe they do get it, since it seems they pulled back their harsh statement when the Vatican stepped in.

Anyway, the conflict persists. Following up on my earlier posts on this subject, here are some excerpts from a piece in the Jesuit magazine America, rapidly becoming one of my favorite sources:

In a message of “cordial good wishes” to President Joseph R. Biden Jr. after his installation as the 46th president of the United States, Pope Francis assured him of his prayers “that Almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office.”Pope Francis

He told the president that he prayed that “under your leadership, may the American people continue to draw strength from the lofty political, ethical and religious values that have inspired the nation since its founding.”

“At a time when the grave crises facing our human family call for farsighted and united responses,” the pope wrote, “I pray that your decisions will be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom, together with unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice.”

Furthermore, the pope said, “I ask God, the source of all wisdom and truth, to guide your efforts to foster understanding, reconciliation and peace within the United States and among the nations of the world in order to advance the universal common good.”…

Pope Francis’ warm message contrasted with the public statement that had been prepared by Archbishop José Gomez in the name of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. While the bishops’ statement included much the pope would agree with, it nevertheless adopted a confrontational tone over the issue of abortion especially, as well as contraception, marriage and gender. The Vatican only learned of the U.S.C.C.B. message hours before it was due to be released, and a senior Vatican official told America that “it was reasonable to say” that it had intervened but did not confirm or deny the details first reported by The Pillar.

There was a negative reaction from Vatican officials contacted by America in Rome to the statement issued by Archbishop Gomez in the name of the U.S.C.C.B. “It is most unfortunate and is likely to create even greater divisions within the church in the United States,” a senior official, who did not wish to be named because of the position he holds at the Vatican, told America….

Amen to that.

Anyway, as I said earlier, I feel blessed that Francis is my pope, and Joe is my president….

Statement on the Inauguration from the McCain Institute

Joe speaking at John McCain's funeral...

Joe speaking at John McCain’s funeral…

I pass this on because amid all the gazillions of stories on the Inauguration, this might not come to the fore.

No, it’s not as good as McCain himself commenting, but it’s the next-best facsimile. It complements the witness of our last three real, normal presidents yesterday, who came and paid their respects the way statesmen do.

Oh, and did you see where W. praised Clyburn, and gave him credit for saving the country by endorsing the only Democrat who could have beaten Trump? Those are obviously true statements, but I thought it good that W. took the time to say them.

Anyway, here’s the statement:

Statement by The McCain Institute on the Inauguration

WASHINGTON, DC (January 20, 2021) The McCain Institute for International Leadership congratulates President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President Kamala Harris on their inauguration. Every four years, our sacred tradition of renewing democracy is a testament to the righteousness of the over 230-year-old experiment in self-determination.

As the Biden-Harris administration assumes office, a tumultuous domestic and global landscape awaits. The American people are resilient, but in order for us to rise to these challenges, a page must be turned and a nation must begin to heal. We must put country over party and end the partisan rancor. These ideals must be reconciled first by our leaders, who must lead by working together in a bipartisan manner to do what is best for Americans, not what is best for either political party.

In 2018, Senator John McCain said in his farewell statement: “We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country, we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.”

With this vision in mind, today, we honor the bipartisan and civil friendship by pledging to work with President Biden, Vice President Harris and their administration in any way that can improve security, economic opportunity, democracy, human rights, freedom and human dignity around the world.

“On the home front, we have witnessed firsthand the weaponization of misinformation and its negative results. The images of the U.S. Capitol under siege on January 6, 2021 will forever be ingrained in our memories as the day that democracy was threatened at the core of our fundamental freedoms. Those who perpetrated the violence must be held accountable as well as the government leaders who did their part in spreading the misinformation about our elections. On the global front, we must meet the challenges and threats from China and Russia head on,” said McCain Institute Executive Director Mark Green. “The COVID-19 pandemic has, unfortunately, emboldened some of the enemies of freedom across the globe, destroyed economies and livelihoods, and have made life even harder for the most vulnerable among us. These unprecedented times prove that American leadership on the world stage is desperately needed now more than ever.”

About the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University

Inspired by the character-driven leadership of Senator John McCain and his family’s legacy of public service, the McCain Institute implements programs and initiatives to make a difference in people’s lives across a range of critical areas: leadership development, human rights, rule of law, national security, counterterrorism and combatting human trafficking.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Institute is proudly part of ASU, the largest public university in America– ranked #1 in innovation for six years running.

Happy Day, Happy Day, Happy Day!

Joe Inauguration

A little something I saw on my TV just before noon today.

Wasn’t it, though?

Tonight, I particularly enjoyed listening to my NPR One app while belatedly trying to get in my 10,000 steps. On story after story, they kept saying “President Biden!” Bless them.

You can see what I had to say during the inauguration earlier today on my Twitter feed. I didn’t have time to write a blog post, but I wrote a few items in real time, such as:

Then, before Joe et al. had even left the Capitol steps, I had to run out to the Publix on Broad River Road (before yesterday, I hadn’t even known there was a Publix on Broad River Road) to take my parents to get their COVID vaccine shots. This took awhile, since their appointments were an hour and 36 minutes apart. (I tried to get them closer, but it took about 15 minutes to sign up for each appointment. I did my Mom’s first, and by the time I got back to the appointments on my Dad’s, there were no close appointment times left.)

Aside from that, it went well. Both claim it didn’t hurt a bit. Which is surprising, since that needle looked pretty long to me.

Anyway, I’m glad we got that done. Second shot is in four weeks — same bat-time, same bat-channel.

So things are good today. You saw the part about President Biden, right?

Happy Epiphany! And other stuff that’s going on

Yeah, Christmas is over, but we can still smile, can't we?

Yeah, Christmas is over, but we can still smile, can’t we? Someone posted this on social media today.

And there’s a bunch. Going on, I mean.

For instance:

We’re also waiting for confirmation that not only Donald Trump, but Mitch McConnell, will soon be out of power.

I wish you joy, Joe Biden!

Of course, it’s not certain. Life contains surprises. For instance, I was sure that today was Epiphany, but when I got my daily email of today’s readings from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, it said, “Wednesday after Epiphany.” Well, yeah, I know we celebrated it on Sunday, and sang “We Three Kings” and all, but I thought today was the actual day.

Nobody tells us converts anything.

Anyway, Christmas is over, especially for Donald Trump and, we hope, the aforementioned Mitch McConnell. I wasn’t sure how much I cared about what was going to happen in Georgia (I just wanted it to be over so I didn’t have to hear about it anymore), but the idea of saying “buh-bye” to Mitch is rather charming, I find.

Anyway, I post this as a place for y’all to comment on the many things happening around us at the moment…

Magi_(1)

Really feeling good about Tony Blinken

I haven’t really paid all that much attention to the names Joe Biden has put forward for his administration, beyond just a glance as they come out to make sure they’re more or less in keeping with my expectations.

The big thing for me was to elect Joe — to make sure he got the nomination, and won the election. Beyond that, I completely trusted him to appoint good people, people of good character. People with qualifications. People who understood what the country is about, and what would be expected of them in their jobs. People who would not delight the left wing of the Democratic Party, or give the other party anything of substance to whine about.

People who would restore the country.

So I’ve just been going, “Uh-huh” and “Sounds good” as the announcements have come.

Antony Blinken

Antony Blinken

But today, I listened to “The Daily” while walking, and it was a fairly in-depth discussion about Antony Blinken — his background, his understanding of America’s role in the world and what of it needs to be restored, his history with Biden, the ways in which he both agrees and disagrees with the boss. All of it fit perfectly with what Biden will need in a secretary of State. The new president will be pretty tied up with covid and other domestic concerns at first, but the rest of the world can’t wait. They need to know America is back, and willing to join back in with constructive efforts to build a better world. And while the president is busy at home, they need someone who can speak for him and be known to speak for him.

And Blinken seems to fit the need perfectly.

I haven’t felt this good about anyone nominated for a position in government in a long, long time.

I would have been happy and satisfied with it not being Pompeo, and not being Susan Rice.

But Blinken sounds way better than that.

My expectations for the coming administration were high, but having listened to that, they are now just a bit higher. And that’s saying something, really, as much as I like Joe…

Now I’m giving money. Not much, but technically money

filthy lucre

I mention this because to a lot of people, giving money is a big deal.

It’s not so much to me, because I don’t find money very interesting. Which is a big reason why I don’t have much of it. I’m even less interested in lucre than I am in football.

It was a bigger deal to me to actually start choosing and endorsing candidates back in 1994, my first year in the editorial department. That took some serious rewiring of my head. And then getting the point of putting out yard signs for candidates, as I started doing in 2018. And when I went to work for James and Mandy that same year.

To me, saying “I support you” is a bigger thing than “Here’s some money.”

But I know that makes me kind of weird, so I’m telling y’all — so you can make of it what you will — that one night last month, I actually, deliberately made a financial contribution to a candidate, in response to this appeal:

So I went to the ActBlue link and gave.

Yeah, I know. Twenty dollars and twenty cents ain’t much. I wish I could give Mandy a lot more. But still, it was technically money, and therefore kind of a step for me.

And as long as we’re talking technically, I guess it wasn’t my first. Several days earlier, my wife had made a contribution to Jaime Harrison. She mentioned it so I’d know, because my name’s on the account. So I was on the books as a donor. Which I thought was great — I’d been thinking about making a contribution to Jaime, but as I tend to do with money, I had repeatedly forgotten about it. So I was a donor, and I didn’t even have to do anything (like fill out a form or something, which I hate with a passion). Which is awesome.

But technically… I had made a contribution earlier in the year, to Joe Biden. I had reached out to folks I knew on his campaign, back before the primary, to ask if they’d like a free ad on the blog. They said yes, so I filled out an in-kind form (see how much I love you, Joe?), and put up the ad. I liked seeing it there so much that I left it up for awhile after the primary was over, but finally made myself remove it.

So I guess that was my first “financial contribution.”

I did it again a week or so ago. And reached out to Jaime Harrison’s campaign and did the same for him.  You can see both ads in the rail at right. (And I’d put one up for free for Mandy if I thought it would help her up in her district — I don’t know how many actual readers I have there.)

So I’ve just been giving like crazy to these campaigns. Sort of. And now you know…

 

Did you see that ludicrous display last night? (Thoughts?)

chart

Major national newspapers — I’m thinking here of The Washington Post and The New York Times, since I subscribe to them and read them every day — have to go way out of their way to find opinion writers who will defend Donald Trump. No established, accomplished writer with a reputation — whether on the left or right — will do that, so they’ve had to dig.

For instance, the Post enlisted this guy who made news in 2016 when his little paper actually endorsed the guy. So they’ve been running columns by him ever since. And we’ve also gotten used to the Trumpist stylings of former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen. We sort of knew who he was before, but he’s gotten a lot more play since the disaster that befell our nation four years ago. The State, which is also desperate to find people who will say such things, has run him a good bit.

I had not heard of the Chris Buskirk guy who was the only person the NYT could find who might applaud Trump’s behavior last night — behavior that would cause a 4-year-old to be sent to stand in the corner in preschool. He is described as “the editor and publisher of the journal American Greatness and a contributing opinion writer.” That’s from the NYT; he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page or anything. Anyway, mission accomplished! They got somebody to occupy the right-hand side of that chart.

You’ll note that the only one of the NYT’s most prominent conservatives who participated — Ross Douthat — is over in the middle of the “Biden won” crowd. No actual thinking conservative can stand up for Trump’s increasingly more outrageous boorishness. You have to go hunting for relative unknowns. Preferably ones who are hungry, I would guess.

Anyway, I have nothing to add about that ludicrous display last night, except to thank Joe Biden for standing there for all that time rather than walking out — which is probably what I would have done, and which would not have helped my electoral chances.

I cannot believe there will be two more of these. There must be a way that our country can be spared that. As I’ve said so many times before, if only we could just vote today and have an end to all this!

If you want to know what I had to say when I was forcing myself to watch last night, here’s my Twitter feed.

Other than that, if you have thoughts to add, please go ahead…

ludicrous