Open Thread for Wednesday, January 31, 2024

It’s been awhile since one of these. Let’s dig in…

  1. House GOP advances impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — This happened a bit after midnight last night, on a completely partisan vote, of course. I heard an account of it on a podcast from the NYT while I was out walking earlier today. I kept expecting the voice to say, “And the GOP committee members followed that up by attempting to cram themselves into a Smart car, to the even greater delight of the crowd…”
  2. Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce and a MAGA Meltdown — And if you think that last item was weird, check this out. Did you know that “around four years ago, the Pentagon psychological operations unit floated turning Taylor Swift into an asset during a NATO meeting?” Her mission? Get Joe Biden re-elected. And do you realize that Taylor Swift (net worth, about $1.1 billion) is only hanging with this Kelce guy (net worth, about $30 million) because she wants his money? Did you know the NFL is “rigged” to spread Democratic propaganda?  If you don’t know these things, you’re just not keeping up with your MAGA conspiracy theories. Try harder.
  3. Is the Future of Medicine Hidden in Ancient DNA? — Sorry to throw another NYT at you if you’re a nonsubscriber, but this was the subject of today’s “The Daily” podcast, and it was very cool. It seems science has gotten so good at reading DNA in prehistoric bones that we can now track what people died of, and the respective evolutions of both microbes and human immunity. Which could have great medical implications going forward. I hope you can hear this, because this is way more interesting than the DNA stuff I’ve been writing about…
  4. Mark Zuckerberg among tech CEOs grilled for failing to protect kids — Speaking of the negative effects of social media… I assume you’ve also seen this awful story closer to home. I don’t know how much the courts can help with the problem, but we need to find ways to stop these things from happening.
  5. Members hope to save 35-year-old Capital City Club — I had no idea my old club — I was a member for more than two decades, as y’all probably know — had fallen on such hard times. I left during COVID. Others must have done the same. I’m sorry to see it. It was a great club, established for good reasons.

DeMarco: Why I’m voting for Haley, then Biden

The Op-Ed Page

12/20/10 Columbia, SC: Gov. Nikki Haley official portrait.
Photos by Renee Ittner-McManus/

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Nikki Haley faces stiff head winds as she tries to become the Republican nominee for president. If only the Republican base participates in state Republican primaries, Trump wins going away. Her only path to the nomination is for independents and centrist Democrats to back her.

The majority of Americans recognize the unique threat Trump poses to democracy. Even his supporters are known to call him a “disrupter” or a “wrecking ball.” For them, his positives outweigh his innumerable negatives. They are willing to roll the dice on a second Trump presidency. I am not so sanguine. Trump is too unpredictable, too big a risk.

Our crucial national task in the primaries is to ensure that Trump is defeated. Almost anyone alive would be a better option than Trump. Surrounded with intelligent, capable advisors, any thoughtful, humble American would be superior. I know some teenagers to whom I would gladly hand over the reins of this country if it were them or Trump.

Biden is old and fails to excite. He has numerous policy positions that can be legitimately opposed. But he will not wreck the ship of state. If he loses in 2024, he will not spend his lame duck period trying to subvert the will of the people and remain in office, nor when he leaves office use the next four years to lie about the result.

The risk in my strategy is that Haley becomes the Republican nominee and beats Biden in the general. According to polls about a head-to-head contest with Biden, she is a stronger candidate than Trump. But I am willing to accept a Biden loss to ensure that Trump has no chance to be president again.

Haley, of course, has her own set of drawbacks about which I will write if she is the nominee. But she was a capable governor and has expressed dismay over January 6th, calling it a “terrible day.” She is willing to state the obvious truth that Trump lost in 2020, which leads me to believe that she would not engage in Trump’s corrosive brand of election denialism if she loses.

Here’s my plan. The SC Democratic presidential primary is February 3rd. The only candidates on the ballot beside Joe Biden are Dean Phillips, a congressman from Minnesota, and Marianne Williamson, neither of whom have a chance. Although I usually vote for the Democrat and voted for Biden in 2020, I will sit this primary out. Instead, I will wait until February 24 and vote in the Republican primary for Haley (remember a voter can only vote in one party’s primary).

Partisans on both sides will object to this. I employed the same approach in the 2022 US House 7th District Republican primary between incumbent Tom Rice and several challengers, including the eventually winner, Russell Fry. Since there were no pivotal races on the Democratic side, I voted in the Republican primary for Rice. Despite having major philosophical differences with Rice, I felt he had served my district well. He was one of the few Republicans brave enough to vote to impeach Trump for his part in January 6th.

I wrote a column titled, “Democrats, Let’s Elect Tom Rice,” to which Drew McKissick, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party wrote a rebuttal, arguing that people like me shouldn’t be allowed to meddle in the Republican primary and renewing the call that the Legislature pass a law forcing voters to register as Republicans or Democrats and be confined to that primary.

Folks like Mr. McKissick seem to view party affiliation as a deeply imprinted, immutable characteristic. One must be fully baptized into Republicanism and conform religiously to every tenet. If you fail to do so, you are consigned to the purgatory of RINOism. There are, of course, mirror images of McKissick on the Democratic side.

This strict ideological view defies the shifting moods and desires of the body politic. First of all, most voters hold their party affiliation loosely and are willing to vote for an inspirational candidate of their second-choice party – the Reagan Democrats were a prime example of this.

Second, the modern political parties have shifted seismically in the last 75 years. The Democrats were the party of white segregationists until the 1960s when Strom Thurmond and Richard Nixon attracted them to the Republicans. For decades after FDR’s New Deal, the Democrats were considered the party of the worker. Until recently, Republicans were hawks and Democrats were doves. But all that has been scrambled. Many now see the Democrats as the party of the rich, dominated by economic, academic, and cultural elites who are blind to the everyday reality of working people. Meanwhile, it’s the Democrats who support the war in Ukraine while a significant fraction of Republicans have retreated into isolationism.

So I invite you to consider voting for your country rather than your party. Whether Haley or Biden wins in 2024 is less important than Trump never being allowed to wield again the enormous power of the presidency. Neither Haley or Biden will threaten the democratic foundation on which our country rests. Trump’s most enduring legacy will be the lesson that our system is fragile and must be guarded from politicians who care more about their own power than honoring democratic principles. We don’t need a second kick from that mule.

A version of this column appeared in the January 17tt edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

Triangulating my DNA

You know how I sent off a tube full of spit to Ancestry several years ago, and ever since then, they’ve been making unlikely changes to my “ethnicity estimate” at least once a year, if not more often?

Of course you do. I bore you with it all the time. (Oh, and just in case you’re keeping score, they’ve changed the “estimate” a couple of times since I last mentioned it, and currently I’m 47 percent Scottish. Which I know will change yet again.)

Most of you have heard enough about it. Well, brace yourselves.

Soon, I will triple the amount of personal DNA information at my fingertips. Well, maybe not the amount, but at least triple the number of sources.

I had put the word out before Christmas that I’d like to have my DNA done by 23andMe. Several people in my family have done that, but their data are of little use to me in building my family tree (which now has 9,829 people on it, and continues to grow, so you may be wondering why I need more data, but never mind), since I’m on a different platform. I wanted to see what I could find running my saliva through that filter. Not so much for the ethnicity stuff, but to make connections with folks for the tree.

And so my wife gave me a kit for Christmas, and a few days later I sent the tube off, and ever since then have been as impatient as a kid who has sent sent off a bunch of box tops for a secret decoder ring.

But wait, there’s more! Have you heard about the In Our DNA SC project? It’s run by MUSC, and it’s purpose is… hang on, let me look:

In Our DNA SC is a large-scale community research project investigating how DNA impacts health, with a broader goal of learning how to offer more personalized health care to our patients and community.

I had to look it up because I forgot what it was about. I had seen a flier about it maybe a year ago, and sent off for a DNA kit so I could participate in it. I did this even though, as you will see in the quote above and elsewhere on the website, they are inordinately fond of using “impact” as a verb.

I suppose I read about it initially and got the impression it was a sort of public-spirited, communitarian kind of thing to do. So they sent me the kit, and I congratulated myself on being a volunteer… and it sat about the house for months.

Finally, somebody called me from the project and asked me to get on the stick and send my kit in. I didn’t know where the kit was, so they sent me another one, several months back. It was still sitting on a shelf here in my home office when I got the 23andMe kit. Thus prompted yet again, I spit into that one, too, and sent them both off — on Jan. 6, I think. Seems a fitting way to celebrate such a date, don’t you think? Sending off some spit?

I don’t know if I’ll learn much from that one, since they must not have had an overwhelming response if they were willing to be that patient in waiting for me to send the thing in. (I have this sneaking suspicion that at this moment, someone at MUSC is ringing the bell and crying out, “We got one!“)

Anyway, while the young folks who still get paid to be journalists have been so suspensefully excited over what was happening in Iowa and New Hampshire, I’ve been breathlessly awaiting this.

Different priorities. I’m triangulating my DNA. Maybe that will help pin it down for sure. Which, to me, is way cooler than a decoder ring…

After today, no more hearing about New Hampshire!

Or at least, that’s what I hope, being a hopeful kind of guy. Eight days ago, I tweeted this:

Yeah, I was sounding a bit desperate there, wasn’t I? Well, I was, after suffering through all that hyperventilation over a meaningless contest. But so much for that. After today, it will be over, right? Wrong. After today, I will be tormented by the hellishly long general election campaign, which journalists everywhere will write about as though a normal election was going on, and a serious decision to be made.

When there won’t be. The only “decision” will be whether to turn out and vote for Joe, or vote for (and not voting would be a vote for this) the utter destruction of the country, an outcome that will make the disgrace of America in the four years after 2016 look like a picnic.

So, no decision to be made, not for anyone who cares at all about the country. You either step up and vote for Joe, or become part of the problem. You know what I will do… enthusiastically.

Of course, there’s another way to look at New Hampshire today — as the last chance for Nikki Haley to save the Republican Party from itself. It’s a longshot, but it would be nice to see her win there. Of course, it remains to be seen whether that would give her enough of a boost to win here at home. But it would be nice to see such an expression of sanity happen up north today — and it remains remotely possible, since N.H. has an open primary. (Of course, so do we, but that hasn’t done much good on the GOP side lately, has it?)

Notice I said this was Nikki’s last chance to save her party. I did not say “to save the country.” That was for a couple of reasons. One, the country doesn’t need saving, since we’ve got Joe, and as expected, he has done a fine job. Of course, there’s always the horrible chance that — since doing a fine job doesn’t get you much in our recent social-media elections in Rabbit Hole, post-reality America — Joe could lose to whoever the GOP nominee is.

And as I’ve said in the past Nikki would be exponentially better — or rather, exponentially less bad — than you-know-who by almost any measure you choose. But… she’s not qualified to be president of the United States. Not by a very long shot.

I say that for a lot of reasons, which you’ve seen me state over the years. Frankly, I’ve forgotten some of them — things that offered ample proof of her unreadiness over the years, and fed into my overall impression. The Boston Globe reminded me of this the other day when they ran this item from The New York Times about things we all knew here in South Carolina back in the day:

But that old news is far from being a significant reason to see her as unqualified. Those of us who have known her for what — 20 years now — have a sackful of reasons, from her immature craziness on Facebook while governor, to her failure to denounce Trump and run squarely against him, for which Chris Christie criticized her so aptly before he bowed out. (And yes, we all know why she didn’t. But what good to the country is a presidential nominee who won’t do that?)

So, despite the ongoing breathlessness from national media, I’m not in any kind of great suspense today.

How about you?



Apparently, ‘tactical’ now means ‘I wanna play soldier!”

WARNING: Clicking on the links in this post might cause the mentioned ads to show up every day on your browser as well.

I made the mistake last summer of ordering a birthday present for my wife from a Chinese company that I suppose rhymes with “emu.” Note that I’m avoiding the name because I’m already getting way, way too many of their ads (although, I suppose I’m being less clever by linking to the site below — oh, well). Today, I see, they’re pushing a “yoga top” that will make you look like this. Namaste, y’all.

But I rise to speak about another thing they’re promoting today — the “Men’s Nylon Woven Tactical Belt.” See the image above. It’s a sort of variation on the belts my Dad wore with his everyday khaki uniforms, only with the buckle jazzed up. The only “tactical” purpose they serve, to my knowledge, is keeping your pants up. Of course, that’s nothing to sneeze at. An officer who habitually appears on the bridge with his britches around his ankles could go on report in a way that might affect his whole career. So you might even say such a belt is of “strategic” importance.

It seems like you’d only call them “tactical” if they hold up your “tactical” pants that a similar ad coaxed you into buying. You may or may not recall that I mentioned those before, in a post headlined, “‘Tactical pants?’ How stupid do they think men are?” The answer to that question, by the way, would appear to be “Stupid enough to buy any ridiculous thing that we call ‘tactical.'”

And clicking on it will also open you up to lots of other things appealing to similar tastes, such as the vest pictured below. I’m not going to buy one of those, and not just because it would make me look like one of those loonies who wore things like that to assault our nation’s Capitol three years ago. I’m not gonna buy it because I’m a guy, and they didn’t say “tactical” in the name — even though it has holsters! They called it “Men’s Training Vest With Detachable Belt, Subcompact/Compat/Standard Holster.” Apparently, someone was asleep in the marketing department. Hey, I don’t wanna train! I want action! I want to put this stuff on and parade around in public and make folks think I’m a soldier!

But to be more serious…

Y’all know how much I respect soldiers, sailors, Marines, and anyone who legitimately wears our country’s uniforms. But that respect does not extend to the posers who run around pretending to be soldiers. That’s something I did when I was about 8 years old, running about with other boys that age engaging in extensive debates that consisted of such arguments as “You’re dead! No I’m not! I ducked!” We did that with plastic guns. These guys do it with AR-15s. Why? To complete the imagined illusion that they are soldiers, men of courage and honor.

I would say that these guys should go see a recruiter — but these are the kinds of people we don’t want in the service. We need those who don the uniform for their country, not to address their own feelings of inadequacy.

It occurs to me that we didn’t have this phenomenon back when we had a draft. Guys of all sorts got drafted, went in, performed their service, got the urge to wear “tactical” things all out of their systems, and went on to live the rest of their lives as grownups.

Of course, some of these guys — a few, but not few enough — just can’t hold themselves back any more, and they use their toys to commit mass murder. Which means it’s not funny at all. But it’s certainly ridiculous…

Do you think Trump is the whole problem? Well, don’t…

I’ve made this point a bunch of times, but having been reminded of it the last two or three days, I thought I’d share it again once or twice.

Over the weekend, my friend Steve Millies in Chicago tweeted this:

What got me going was those last few words, “We should be capable of recognizing him as what he is, never voting for him.” Well, indeed. Anyone who walks into a voting booth should find the idea of voting for him unthinkable. But the problem is, there’s a big difference between should and the way things are. So I responded:

And there you have placed your finger upon the problem with America. Trump isn’t the problem. The problem is that there are actually people who will vote for him. Millions of them. And frankly, I don’t know how we solve that problem…

As regular readers will have noted, I’ve been trying to sort that out since 2016, when something happened that had never even come close to happening in our history. For the first time, American voters were willing to vote for someone as low, crude and grossly unqualified as Trump — enough of them to actually elect him.

Trump had been embarrassing himself on a public stage since sometime in the 1980s. But now, there were all these millions of people who thought he was a great choice to become the most powerful man in the world.

And those same people would do it again.

Anyway, this morning while working out, I got around to listening to Friday’s Matter of Opinion podcast, which was dedicated to the question, “Should Trump Be on the Ballot?” It was provoked, obviously, by the Supreme Court deciding to take up the question after recent developments in Colorado and Maine.

At some point, conservative Catholic columnist Ross Douthat said the following:

A deeper question here is just, do you think that the challenge to American democracy is just all about Donald Trump himself alone, this one guy, this distinctive figure, this reality TV show, proto-fascist, billionaire, whatever. And if we can just make him go away, things will go back to normal.

Do you think that? Because if you think that, then I can see how you start to talk yourself into the idea that this is a good idea, and you say to yourself, look, I’m sure that a majority of the Republicans on the Supreme Court do not want Donald Trump to be president again. So why shouldn’t they just wave a magic wand and get rid of him? Nikki Haley can run the table or maybe DeSantis could make a comeback. One of them will beat Donald Trump. Everything will go back to normal.

And that’s sort of a view that I had for the first year or so of the Trump phenomenon. And I guess, I don’t understand how at this point, with everything we’ve seen in Europe, in North America, around the world, that you could think of Trump as just sort of a force that you can just make go away, and everything will go back to normal. But clearly, there are people who think that. So that’s what I’m interested in, I guess, again, having thought that once myself…

Which brings us again to the question: If Trump goes away, does the problem go away?

I don’t think so. The problem is bigger and more complicated than that. If you want to paint a picture of it, it’s not going to be a portrait of this one weird guy. It’s going to be more like a Bosch painting. Good luck making sense of it…

You couldn’t do this if you tried

Here’s how it looked, up on the lift at the muffler place.

Or at least, I couldn’t. I certainly wasn’t trying to when I did.

Last week, when we were hurrying about to go to the beach for a few days, I noticed that my old truck’s bed had a lot of water standing in it. I generally park it off to the side of our driveway under some trees, and the way the pine-needle-covered surface slopes, the water couldn’t escape.

So I backed it out to let it drain onto the driveway, which slopes the other way.

Then I had a bright idea (watch out for these, by the way). I decided to back the truck into its usual position, so if it rained, the water would drain out.

The idea was simple enough, but delicate to execute, because it involves slightly tricky maneuvering to avoid backing into a couple of trees and not running over some azalea bushes. But I was careful, very careful, with most of my attention focused on the trees.

Suddenly, I heard this grinding, wrenching sound that I didn’t understand — I was still a foot and a half from the nearest tree. Whatever it was, I couldn’t back up any further. I decided I would pull forward away from it before changing my angle and backing up again.

But I couldn’t pull forward, either. It was like some giant, supernatural hand had a grip on the truck. And each careful attempt to move either way produced slight noises that suggested I would hear huge noises again soon if I gave it more gas.

So I turned off the truck, got out, and peered under the bed from the rear. I saw the tailpipe you see in the photo above, bent almost double. I had backed over a stump of a pine we had removed sometime back.

This stump had not figured into my calculations, because it rose only about four inches above the ground immediately surrounding it. I should have cleared it easily, and would have on a level surface. But back here in the trees, there was sort of a dip in the ground, and my rear tires were in that dip. So the stump had easily bent the pipe into the shape you see.

But that’s not the really genius, amazing part of what I did. With its new shape — which I would describe as a sort of fishhook, or maybe grappling hook — my tailpipe had dug into the stump to a surprisingly firm degree, which was why the truck was going nowhere.

Nothing I could do right then. So I drove away to the beach — in a different vehicle, of course — with a troubled mind. I had a plan, but I couldn’t execute it right then.

Several days later, when we were back and both my sons were at the house, I got them to lift up on the bed slightly — a millimeter or two would do — and I drove off the stump easily.

The next day I drove off to buy a tailpipe and a new muffler, since the old one had suffered damage in the incident. Cost me a little over two hundred bucks. Happy New Year.

Anyway, I’m still sort of marveling at what I did.

Today, I was going to work on that stump with chainsaw and ax and see how close I can get it down to ground level. But it’s raining today. And I suppose the truck bed is filling back up…

See how low that stump is? You can hardly see it for the pine straw. I was worried about the TREE behind it…

Christie pretty much nailed it on Nikki’s gaffe

Last week while I was at the beach, I got a call from an old friend who is among the few who are still employed at one of South Carolina’s metropolitan newspapers. He was working on a piece about Nikki Haley’s Civil War gaffe, and had a technical question about how she and the Legislature brought down the Army of Northern Virginia flag in 2015.

He should have called someone with a way better memory for specifics regarding legislative procedure. I was unable to help. But we discussed the matter for a few minutes, and I intended at the time to write about Nikki’s self-inflicted problem, but I didn’t get to it until now.

There had so many things to say, that I had trouble finding the time. Just briefly:

  • First, it’s not a huge deal unless you’re among the many Americans who are not South Carolinians. Around here, we’re used to seeing Republicans dodge that simple question, “What was the cause of the United States Civil War?” Even my hero John McCain, having been burned by telling the truth initially regarding the flag, started reading something akin to what Nikki said in response to questions. But at least he had the character to be ashamed of himself. He made a big show of unfolding the paper and reading it each time he was asked, so everyone would know he had been bludgeoned into it by his advisers. Nikki had a lighter approach, in keeping with her superpower of making positive impressions (which usually involves not offending any potential GOP voter). But she ran into a buzz saw because the press was present. And millions of unprepared nonSouth Carolinians were shocked, shocked to hear someone who won’t even condemn Donald Trump answer in such a weaselly manner.
  • You want to be shocked? Go back and watch her meek answers to the questions of actual, real-life neoConfederates. Here’s the video. As I’ve said before, at least she has the character to look like she’s responding under duress. But she still goes along with the program.
  • It’s ironic — not that she doesn’t deserve it — that unlike most South Carolinians who identify themselves as white on their driver licenses, this is one Republican who has NO ancestors who owned slaves, or fought for the Confederacy, or any of that stuff. She just sounds like a Lost Cause defender because she’s so used to telling these South Carolina Republicans what they want to hear — or at least, not telling them things they don’t want to hear. She’s used to politely brushing such questions aside and moving on to something she’d much rather talk about. If you can call it up, you might enjoy reading Alexandra Petri’s column mocking her on that point.
  • At least Nikki managed to demonstrate in one respect that in this benighted MAGA age, at least she retains some values of the Reagan era, or at least one: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. Not that that’s necessarily a good thing, either. She blamed the asker of the fateful question thusly: “It was definitely a Democrat plant.” Well, I suppose it could have been. Certainly it was posed by someone who did not wish her well. When you’re running for the nomination of the White Man’s Party, and in the age of the MAGA White Man, there’s no way you answer that question — whatever you say — that doesn’t get you into trouble with somebody. Either you — the one who stuck her neck out to finally get that flag down — get yourself in hot water with those Trump voters you’re trying to lure away with the simple answer, “Slavery. Duh.” Or you draw the “shocked, shocked” opprobrium of the rest of the country, by doing a little dance around it. But here’s the thing, Nikki — lots of people would want to back you into a corner with such a question, and a lot of them are Republicans. But of course, you don’t blame them, do you? You want every one of them, including the creeps, to love you.

I could have taken any of those courses (and those aren’t all the potential courses), and rattled on all day along any of them. But I was at the beach, so I didn’t.

But a couple of days ago, I resolved to take the subject up anyway. That’s when I ran across this tweet:

Nice one there, Chris. You nailed it. “She did it because she’s unwilling to offend anyone by telling the truth.”

And, as he continued, that demonstrates her lack of fitness for the office she seeks.

No doubt about it. Looks like Chris is running hard to regain the dubious distinction of being my Least Awful Republican Candidate. Nikki had stolen it from him, and he’s anxious to grab it back.

In keeping with his goal of regaining my “favor,” such as it is, his campaign started sending me press releases yesterday, and one of them told me he’s continuing the charge against the South Carolina darling. The release begins, “Chris Christie calls Haley’s commitment to pardon Trump part of a pattern where she tries to be everything to everyone.”

This remark goes even more deeply to the truth of why Nikki is not fit for the highest office in the world.

As I said, the no-mention-of-slavery thing was no big deal, if you know what to expect from Republican candidates who came up in South Carolina.

But this was a deal-killer.

“I would pardon Trump if he is found guilty,” Nikki said last Thursday.

You know, I could have forgiven her if she had said, very carefully, that she might consider pardoning him — say, with regard to a poorly-handled conviction on one of the weaker of the many charge he faces. After all, I’ve never been mad at Gerald Ford for pardoning Nixon (not that it’s fair to compare Dick to Trump; by comparison, Nixon was a paragon).

But she didn’t hedge or qualify, from what I’ve read. She didn’t say she’d do it, under certain conditions. She just said she’d do it. And anyone who has that little respect for the Rule of Law has no business holding the lowest office in the land, much less the highest.

So thanks for reminding us of that one, Chris…

You say you want a resolution…

I’m not shooting to getting back to THIS skinny, but this gives you the idea…

OK, so, these things don’t usually go so well, but here goes. Fortunately, most of them don’t require much typing, because I can refer you to when I made the same ones in years past. But I’ll start with something a little different:

Lose weight. This still feels new to me, although as you know, I have tried before. It still feels new because I was a skinny kid, and continued the tradition for several decades after I grew up. When I was little, I was also almost always the shortest kid in the class. I got over that in high school, reaching my present moderate height of 5’11” and a fraction. Which was satisfactory (although an even 6 feet would have been more so). But talk about skinny… In my junior year, I was this height, but in the 115 class on the wrestling team. The following year, I was in the 132. Now I weigh in the vicinity (sometimes more, sometimes less) of 13 stone. In the 180s, that is. In the past, I’ve tried and failed to get down to 168. This time I’m going for 160. (That way, maybe I’ll get to 168.)

Eat better. Not just to lose weight, but to be healthier. I haven’t decided whether to go back to the paleo diet, but I’m going to cut out junk — once I get done with the stuff from my stocking. Don’t want to insult Santa.

Meet my step goals EVERY month. I mentioned that it took several days of heavy beach walking to make it in December. And I made it. I will this month, too — then take it from there. What’s the goal? An average of 10,000 steps a day. Back before the stroke, I was doing better than that. But now, 10k looks good. And I haven’t been hitting it consistently enough.

REALLY read more books. Yeah, that was THE resolution last year. And I did a little better. For instance, back then I mentioned starting le Carre’s A Legacy of Spies. I finished, and it was wonderful. But if you do read it, first go back and read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — if you haven’t read them already. It’s a look back at things that were going on at the same time as those books, and it contains huge spoilers. I also got into Candice Millard, reading her Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, and Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill. Both excellent. And I got her The River of Doubt among several other books for Christmas. And I’m coming off a success. I just finished (last night) reading The Scarlet Letter finally. One of my twin granddaughters is reading it in school, and I want to discuss it with her. The other twin is reading Moby Dick, so now I’m going back to finally finish reading that. Overall, I think I’ll make the goal a book a week. We’ll see.

Blog more, and enjoy it more. That means posting more stuff, and spending less of the tiny amount of time I have dealing with civility problems. For starters, I’m just not going to approve anything I see as problematic — thereby forcing me to spend more time responding and explaining. Maybe I’ll do away with comments altogether — probably not, but that’s on the table. In any case, I intend to enjoy it more. We’ll see how that goes…

That’s enough. How about you?

Oh, and to fulfill the promise the headline hinted at…

DeMarco: Can There Be Peace for the Jews and Palestinians?

The Op-Ed Page

Over the decades, the very few hopeful-seeming moments have been pathetically far between.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

The war in Gaza has galvanized the American public more than any international conflict in decades. To try to educate myself on this faraway conflict, I have spent many hours listening to the voices, both written and spoken, of Jews and Palestinians. Many of them express mistrust, disdain, and even hatred of the other, none of which I feel.

What I feel is profound sorrow that two peoples who believe in a loving God have let it come to this. The barbarous Oct. 7 attack on innocent Israeli civilians was as cruel as it was shocking. There is no way to justify it. It must be condemned as heinous and self-defeating. Hamas knew it would provoke the overwhelming Israeli response that is unfolding. Many more Palestinians will die than Israelis who were killed in the initial attack. It was desperate and senseless.

But if one puts the attack in context, one can see how a young Palestinian man could be radicalized to feel that this kind of vengeance was his only remaining option. I’ve never been to Gaza, but I think I can understand on a basic human level what it might be like. That young Palestinian man could have grandparents who were driven off their land in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, could have parents who have lived their entire lives as refugees, and could himself be unable to find work because of the economic and travel restrictions Israel has placed on Gaza. It’s possible for me to understand how such a person could have his mind warped into killing for revenge, particularly if surrounded by a circle of jihadist contemporaries.

I can also understand what it might be like to be a Jewish man of that same age whose great-grandparents were Holocaust survivors, whose grandparents grew up in the new, precarious Jewish state in the 1950 and ’60s and fought in the 1967 war, whose parents fought in the second intifada, and who himself has had to live his entire life fearing suicide bombings and missile strikes. I can understand his wholesale lack of trust in the Palestinians, a simmering anger with the Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness to compromise to achieve a two-state solution, his horror at Gaza being run by Hamas, which advocates for Israel’s dissolution, and his fury over the Oct. 7 attacks.

So where do we look for hope? America’s history provides a glimmer. Our nation knows something about forcibly removing a people from their land, as we did with the Native Americans. In addition to Native Americans, we have historically denied many other groups their full citizenship rights. But America has gradually welcomed those it previously sought to exclude or marginalize. The process has been slow, often begrudging, and it is not yet complete. But America’s direction is clear. Israel has the same duty. It drove Palestinians off their land in order to create a Jewish state and has denied them the right of self-determination. It must find a way, as America has, to right those wrongs.

The Palestinians, for their part, must renounce violence. Every group that was treated unjustly in America has won its rights over the past century by mostly peaceful means. It is essential that the Palestinians do the same. As long as they indiscriminantly fire rockets, detonate suicide bombs, and commit unspeakable atrocities as they did on Oct. 7, Israel is within its rights to fight back.

Imagine if after breaching the border wall on Oct. 7, tens of thousands of Palestinians had marched peacefully into Israel in a demonstration similar to the American March on Washington in 1963. They would have been embraced by the international community. People like me, and I believe there are many, who recognize that both Israelis and Palestinians have a legitimate claim to the land and that both a Jewish and Palestinian state deserve to exist side by side, would have been moved by that display. We know that our nation provides substantial aid to both Israel and the Palestinians and therefore has leverage. We are willing to add a candidate’s position on Middle East peace to our electoral calculus. But we will not support violence from either side.

As a starting point, the two sides have an important commonality – a language of peace. In Hebrew the word is shalom. In Arabic it is salaam. It means more than a sterile absence of war. It means completeness, wholeness, a state in which God’s people treat each other as he intended.

These two words can be the cornerstone of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. I had an elderly Jewish patient who would greet me with a resonant “Shalom” when I walked into the exam room. It was so much more powerful than my generic “Hello.” It was tangible, a verbal embrace. Similarly, on a medical mission to Tanzania in 2020, I was sometimes greeted with “Salaam Alaikum” (“Peace be upon you”) by Muslim passersby. One evening, our group was invited to a Christian Bible study by some local missionaries. As we sang a hymn, the Muslim call to prayer could be heard from a nearby mosque, symbolic of the harmony that can exist between the religions.

We in America have a role to play. As voters we should demand that aid for both sides become contingent on seeing real progress toward the two-state solution.

A version of this column appeared in the Dec. 21 edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

Catching up, with a few photos

Just got back from the beach a couple of hours ago. Sorry I haven’t posted. I’ve been busy, you’ve been busy. You know how it is.

I’ll just try to catch up with some pictures, starting a couple or so days before Christmas…

Did you check out the big sale in the last few days of Barnes & Noble at Richland Fashion Mall? This was taken three days before Santa came.

Note that I am standing with my back almost to the opposite side of the store from the cash registers, and the line in front of me extends all the way to the registers. And I’m not even at the back of the line. I waited in the queue while my wife continued browsing. We came away with a dozen or so books, marked down by 50 or even 75 percent. One was for me — something I never got around to reading in school (A Separate Peace). The rest were gifts…

On the next day, Saturday, my middle daughter and I decided to take a last-minute swing through Five Points. It was the first time I’d spent much time roaming around there since the Götterdämmerung — the closing of Yesterday’s. I also had occasion to mourn the missing Starbucks, and my daughter and I had to help a man from Cayce find another musical instrument store when he was disappointed to find Pecknel’s closed as well. But Papa Jazz was still there, as was Loose Lucy’s!

Here’s the store!

And here’s persistent proprietor Don McAllister, who reports that he’s had his best year ever! He and I chatted nostalgically for awhile about retired local leaders such as Duncan McCrae and Debbie McDaniel, and the late lamented hero Jack Van Loan. And I learned a shocking thing: Don himself is 12 years younger than I am! I thought he’d been running this store forever…

OK, now we’ll skip over Christmas, because that’s all personal family pics. We went to the beach Wednesday…

I did a lot of walking — managed to catch up on my steps for the month so I didn’t even have to walk today to meet my goal. And on my first morning I was surprised to find this interesting rose on someone’s front fence. Yes, three days after Christmas. We are living in weird times. Not that I’m any expert on when flowers are supposed to be out. In fact, I’m only saying this is a rose because of the leaves and the thorns. I’m sure it would smell as sweet by another name…

Later that same day, the 28th, my wife and I took a longer stroll on the beach, and found more cool bits of nature than we would have found amid the crowds in August. I’ve seen starfish there before, of course, but this is the first time I’ve spotted a sea urchin that still had some spines on it. I used to see live ones at low tide on the Pacific coast of South America when I was a kid, but this was my first one in South Carolina, I think…

Back here in the Midlands, I often marvel at grown men out walking wearing winter coats over short pants. This kid had them beat. A jacket and a toque… with pants rolled up so he could wade barefoot in the winter brine…

We found quite a few beautiful, fully intact nice shells that we had to put back in the water because when you turned them over the critters were apparently still living in them — such as the one above…

We ran across an interesting confrontation between two avian species. (Click on it to see it better; I left it big.) Note the way the gang of gulls on the left is glaring as one at the pigeons, who are doing their best to ignore the gulls. Obviously, the gulls have a strong case on their side. I mean, it’s their turf, right?…

Alas, this magnificent crab — from port to starboard, he was about a foot across — was no longer among the living. But still, an impressive find. No idea what caused his (or her — I know even less about crabs than about flowers) demise…

Later that same day, I went to check, and Murrells Inlet was still there, with a pelican presiding…

That was a pretty full day of walking and shooting pictures. I thought this one I took that night was pretty good, for a phone camera….

And then, fairly early the next morning, I went for a similar composition, only of a bridge across a freshwater pond, rather than the ocean. Yeah, the moon and the sun kind of blew out on both of them, but I like them…

On Saturday, I made a significant archaeological find on the beach. This is the first sand castle I’ve discovered that the builder actually used stone as a significant part of its construction. Still, I see no evidence of use of tools…

Finally, later that day, we were walking back a block or two off the beach when my wife spotted this flag in the gutter below it. (A bit of unconscious political commentary on the state of the nation?) Since it was nylon and in good shape — it seemed to have simply blown off its staff — I went around to a couple of nearby houses to see if anyone would claim it. (Rather than, you know, burning it as I heard we should do with flags that touch the ground when I was a kid.) When no one did, I clipped it securely to the tree, hoping the owner would more easily find it…

That’s all. No actual commentary. Just, I’m back and hoping we all have a fine 2024…

America is counting on you and your team, Scott!

On the road, with Scott Harriford driving (and yours truly at shotgun), in 2018. That’s the candidate in the back…

Right after Thanksgiving, I was at the Township watching my twin granddaughters dance in “The Nutcracker” (and they were awesome!). During intermission, I saw Kendall Corley sitting several rows ahead of me and went down to chat with him.

Kendall was our political director during the Smith/Norrell campaign in 2018.  More relevantly to this post, he was the man who saved America (OK, Jim Clyburn helped) by directing the campaign that won the South Carolina primary for Joe Biden.

I asked whether he was involved this year — now that America needs saving again, and from the same threat — and he said no. But he said the state team would be announced soon, and “some people you know” will be running the Biden campaign here.

That Kendall Corley knows what he’s talking about.

Two weeks ago (sorry to take so long to get to it), the campaign put out this release:

Biden-Harris 2024 Campaign Announces Key South Carolina Staff Hires

Today, the Biden-Harris 2024 campaign announced the hiring of the following key staffers to serve as the South Carolina state leadership team for the historic first in the nation presidential primary:

  • Scott Harriford, South Carolina State Director
  • Clay Middleton, South Carolina Senior Advisor
  • Jalisa Washington Price, South Carolina Senior Advisor
  • Brady Quirk-Garvan, South Carolina Advisor

Biden-Harris 2024 Campaign National Co-Chair Congressman James Clyburn issued the following statement:
“South Carolina Democrats have been the best preparers of our party’s nominees for decades and we are thrilled to have been given the opportunity to continue playing this historic role in nominating Joe Biden for reelection next year. Every candidate who has won the South Carolina primary in recent years has gone on to be our nominee and get the majority of the popular vote in the general election, and no one knows that better than President Biden. This seasoned, skillful South Carolina team will lead the Biden-Harris coalition to victory in South Carolina and the nation in 2024.”
At President Biden’s recommendation, the Democratic National Committee voted earlier this year to put South Carolina first on the Democrats’ 2024 calendar, followed by New Hampshire, Nevada, and Michigan. The Biden-Harris 2024 campaign’s leadership in the state will be focused on reaching out to voters and organizing in key communities ahead of South Carolina’s historic Democratic presidential primary on Feb. 3, 2024.

South Carolina State Leadership:

Scott Harriford, South Carolina State Director
Scott Harriford is a Principal at Hilltop Public Solutions. Most recently Scott was a political appointee at the Small Business Administration and served as the White House liaison. Scott worked on the 2020 Biden campaign as the South Carolina Political Director, and after the primary election he became the Southeastern. Political Director for the Biden-Harris campaign. In his role he helped the campaign develop and implement a regional political strategy. He was also responsible for community outreach, strategic planning, and political organization. Before joining the Biden campaign, Scott worked in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District as a Senior Field Director for Congressman Joe Cunningham. Previously, he worked on Representative James Smith and Mandy Powers Norrell’s campaign for Governor-Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina as the Deputy Political Director. Scott graduated from the University of South Carolina where he had the opportunity to start a small business that focused on hydroponic farm development and consulting.

Clay Middleton, South Carolina Senior Advisor
Clay comes to the campaign after previously serving as Senior Advisor to Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. During the 2020 cycle, Clay worked as House Legislative Advisor for the Biden-Harris Transition team. He was also Senior Advisor to Senator Cory Booker’s presidential campaign. A former Director of Business Services in the City of Charleston, Clay served as Regional Political Director and South Carolina State Director for the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. A long-time staffer for Representative Jim Clyburn, Clay also worked on the 2008 Obama presidential campaign as South Carolina Political Director. Clay is a graduate of The Citadel and is a Lieutenant Colonel in the South Carolina Army National Guard serving as a Battalion Commander.

Jalisa Washington Price, South Carolina Senior Advisor
Before joining the campaign, Jalisa was the Political and Advocacy Vice President at iHeartMedia. She also worked on the 2020 Biden-Harris presidential campaign, serving as Senior Political Advisor to then-vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris. After the election, Jalisa was the Director of the Office of the Vice President-elect for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Jalisa has also held senior leadership positions at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, advised on several congressional and statewide campaigns, and she worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. A native of South Carolina, Jalisa graduated from the University of South Carolina. She was named to Fortune Magazine’s 40 under 40 list in Government and Politics.

Brady Quirk-Garvan, South Carolina Advisor
Brady Quirk-Garvan has been working in South Carolina politics for almost 20 years, where he has worked on and supported races across the state from city council to the Presidential level. Upon graduating from the College of Charleston, Brady went to work for President Obama’s campaign in the swing state of Ohio in 2008 before returning back to South Carolina. He served as the Chairman of the Charleston County Democratic Party for five years during which time they flipped six seats from Republican to Democrat. Brady has served as a delegate representing South Carolina for the last three Democratic National Conventions and was named “Democrat of the Year” by the South Carolina Democratic Party in 2015.

This is great news, because Scott’s in charge! Scott was the state political director under Kendall in 2020. But I know him better than the others because of the roles he had in James Smith’s campaign, which is where he started his meteoric rise in the politics biz.

As the bio above notes, he was the deputy field director (working under Kendall) in that campaign. That shows how quickly his talents were recognized. His original title was “body man” — you know, like Charlie Young on “The West Wing.”

He was the very first staffer James hired, fairly early in 2017, well before he had even launched the campaign. I met him one morning at the old (now closed) Lizard’s Thicket on Beltline, where I was having breakfast with James. The purpose of our meeting was for me to tell James that when he started building his staff, I wanted him to think about whether there was any way I could be a part of it. The answer, which was yes, came much later. (This was late summer or early fall of 2017, I would not join until the following July.) But James had been told a body man — mainly, a driver — had to come first. And he was right. And he and Scott were already out on the road.

Scott put in more hours, and far more miles, than anyone else on the campaign besides James himself. I need to ask him how many miles he drove, if he knows; it must be a stupendous figure. But he did more than that, involving himself in every aspect of the campaign, which I assume is how he ended up as Kendall’s deputy.

He was certainly essential to me. The other Scott on the campaign — our manager, Hogan (seen standing at the center with me behind Biden below) told me once that there should be five people doing my job handling communications, but we didn’t have the money. So I was tied up in the office most of the time, and relied on the pictures Scott Harriford texted to me to illustrate the social posts I was pumping out most of the time. He also handled Facebook Live videos out on the scene.

Occasionally I got out with him and James. In early October, I caught a ride with them up to my hometown, Bennettsville. It took us a while to get up there, because whenever Scott saw a good spot for signs, he would stop, and he and I would get out and put them up (something I’d never done before that day; Scott was giving me basic training).

At all times, Scott did whatever was needed. That, among many other considerations, makes me very happy he’s running the show here in South Carolina. America needs Joe to win re-election, to put it very mildly, and this is where it all starts…

Also back in 2018, when Scott (upper left) and I were working together, and Joe was just a former veep.

Our confusion between local and national

It started, more or less, in 1980…

This started as a comment, but I decided to make it a separate post, because it kept getting longer and longer…

This came from an exchange in which Doug Ross chided Barry for his long comments telling about things that happen on the local or state level hundreds of miles from us, and writing about them as though they held national or even universal meaning. Doug called the figures in these stories “political nobodies.” Barry took exception to that terminology. I responded:

In defense of Doug here. I agree with his point, although I would use different words to describe it.

Whether he’s right to say “nobodies” or not, the fact is that these cases shouldn’t get the national attention they get.

There used to be a clear distinction between national (and/or world) news and local news, and everyone more or less understood the difference. Forty years ago, or certainly 50 years ago, people understood that you don’t make a big, national deal out of local news.

That distinction is largely gone now. A lot of thing have gone into making that happen. You’ll see that most of it had to do with changes in people’s information sources:

  • The first step was 24/7 cable TV “news.” They had to fill every second of every day, and they couldn’t just talk about the same few legitimate national and international stories over and over all day. So they started filling some time with local news from everywhere, particularly quirky or shocking crime news. Gradually, people started to look upon those occurrences as having happened in their own communities, which is why people tend to have an exaggerated sense of the prevalence of crime.
  • The nationalization of local and regional politics. As recently as 20 years ago, or certainly 30 (the GOP took over the SC House, and instantly turned it radically more partisan, in 1994), the SC Legislature did not act like Congress. They were more about South Carolina issues than the Beltway Talking Points. A number of things went into this, particularly the rise of Fox News, which had an enormous effect on the Republican rank and file voters, convincing them that the national talking points WERE the most important things locally. Mind you, Democrats were getting more and more this way as well, partly in reaction to the GOP, and partly as a result of being hooked on that 24/7 stuff themselves.
  • The rise of the internet, which took the fire started by cable “news” and poured gasoline on it. The Rabbit Hole phenomenon, which I frequently mention, is a subset of this phenomenon.
  • The more or less complete disappearance of local news sources. You have a number of subfactors under this one. One is that there are far, far fewer — in some areas, I’d say less than 10 percent of what you once had — journalists working on these levels. Another is that so many of these ghosts of newspapers and TV stations still put out a product, but they grab content from anywhere to fill their webpages — a phenom much like what we saw earlier with cable “news.”

To get back to where we started, these people who do awful things in communities far from us SHOULD be covered — by local newspapers and other outlets. And their neighbors in those communities should care. But things are messed up when WE, so far away, regard those things as significant, and nationally meaningful. That distorts everything, including our ability to deal effectively and helpfully with the actual world around us…

If forced to choose a Republican, I’d have to go with Nikki

I failed yet again to watch the GOP debate last night, but never fear — I found the above video clip from it.

At least, it sounds like it, based on the debate clips I heard on the radio today.

What if you actually had to vote for one of these people? What if there were no choice?

That unpleasant choice seems much clearer than it was a few weeks back.

The stupidest headline I saw today, from a Ramesh Ponnuru column, posed the question as though it were actually difficult to answer: “How to decide between Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis.

Seriously? You think there’s a decision to be made? You think people would find it difficult? Of course not. The only possible choice would be Nikki Haley.

Is that an endorsement of Nikki? Absolutely not. I am 100 percent a Joe Biden man all the way. No one in any party comes within a mile of him.

But of course, for quite a few years, it was my job to preside over the drafting of editorial endorsements in both parties’ primaries. And I was always insistent that we couldn’t not choose. The voters had to make a choice, and so did we.

What if I had to do that now? Or what if I decided that my vote would be better used voting for the least nightmarish candidate in the GOP contest, since Joe seems likely to sail to the nomination?

Well, then, I’d vote for Nikki.

Oh, every negative thing I’ve every said about her is true. But she has seemed to get a little better each time I look at her. One of the main reasons I opposed her so often over the years was that she kept running for jobs for which she was completely unprepared. But then I’d watch her, and she would gradually get better.

For instance: She was a disaster in her first term as governor, as expected. I mean, really bad, with no notion how to exert leadership. But then, well into her second term, she was notably better. And she had a really fine moment in leading South Carolina to do what I had been shouting for governors and legislators to do for 20 years — take down that flag. (Yeah, I know a lot of people want to dismiss that as not really taking moral leadership — but that’s complicated enough that we’ll have to discuss it separately.)

In other words, by the time she left the governor’s office, she had grown more or less to finally be qualified for the job. And what happens then? Suddenly, she’s the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Of course, no one thought for a minute that she was in any way, shape or form prepared for that job. Well, she had one asset: As I’ve said many times, Nikki’s superpower is that she makes a very good first impression. Being able to present yourself well is good. Trouble was, aside from that rather superficial “qualification,” she had nothing to offer in the field of foreign policy. No training, no experience, and no ideas to offer.

Even Donald Trump, who offered her the job, wasn’t blind enough to think she was qualified. But he didn’t give a damn. His only motivation was to reward Henry McMaster, the first statewide elected official in the country to endorse him, by making him governor.

But here’s the thing… if you listen to her talk foreign policy in these debates, she may not be ready to write a doctoral thesis on international policy, but she’s light years closer to understanding America’s role in the world and how to meet it than anyone else on that stage. And is even farther ahead of the guy who never shows up for the debates.

So she did learn something, which is more than you ever see from the rest of these people. When she was a dewy-eyed young legislative back bencher, I was happy to endorse her a couple of times because I thought she had some promise — if only she would take the time to learn a few things (such as how idiotic the phrase “run government like a business” is). But before she could qualify herself for the job she had, she kept running for the next brass ring. At least since then, she has learned a few things.

And as I’ve told you, I congratulate her on her willingness to turn away from the culture wars. You know, using beautiful words such as “consensus.” When she does that, it reminds my why I thought she was promising in the House.

Still, “President Nikki Haley” is a combination that causes me to shudder, no doubt about it. I could write a post several times as long as this one detailing why. But if you make me choose from that field, she’s now well ahead of my former reluctant choice, Chris Christie.

For what that’s worth…

Mind you, I never for a moment forget the darker moments…

December 6: Any Martin Cruz Smith fans out there?

Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6, 1941. Found this on the East Tennessee Veterans Honor Guard FB page.

Call this a sneak attack, coming on the eve of the date that will live in infamy.

I just had to write down today’s date for some reason, and it got me to thinking about Martin Cruz Smith. Well, specifically, one of his less-known novels, December 6. You ever read it? Here’s a synopsis from Wikipedia:

In late 1941, Harry Niles owns a bar for American and European expatriates, journalists, and diplomats, in Tokyo’s entertainment district, called the “Happy Paris”. With only 24 hours until Japanese fighters and bombers attack Pearl Harbor, Niles has to consult with the local US ambassador, break up with a desperate lover, evade the police, escape the vengeance of an aggrieved samurai officer and leave the island, the exit points from which are all closed. Having grown up in Tokyo, Niles is fluent in the Japanese language and culture, and is highly streetwise.[2][3]

In other words, he’s streetwise for a gaijin, which is a word that comes up frequently in the book as Japanese folk interact with him. But it’s been awhile since I read it. I’ve never reread it as often as I have Rose and some of his Arkady Renko stories, especially Red Square. Although the one that pulled me and so many others toward his work was his amazingly brilliant first Renko story, Gorky Park.

So — are any of y’all fans? I’d like to have a discussion about his stuff sometime. The dude can tell a story. His characters are a bit repetitive — it’s like the same people crop up in both 1870s Lancashire and 1980s Russia — but he makes it work. It’s actually kind of fun to see a familiar character, just with a different name, show up in an entirely different situation…

What’s YOUR Dream Team matchup for POTUS?

My mention of Matter of Opinion earlier reminds me of a podcast from last month that I meant to post about, and forgot.

So here goes, and this time, I’m giving you a link that MAY let you listen to it, or at least read the transcript, without a subscription. Someone please try it and let me know whether it works.

Here’s the link to “The Presidential Fantasy Draft America Needs.”

If you can’t or won’t go listen, here’s the essence of it: Ross Douthat posed a question to the panel:

Since so many voters seem to be so over a Trump-Biden rematch in advance, I want to ask each of you what your ideal match-up would actually be. Who do you wish was going head to head for president in 2024?

He started it off by offering his own picks:

I’m going to say that I would like to see a race between JD Vance of Ohio and my home state senator, Chris Murphy, Democrat, of Connecticut.

Michelle Cottle responded, “I’m going a different way. I’m going Gretchen Whitmer versus Glenn Youngkin.”

Lydia Polgreen said she was going to cheat, which if I recall correctly caused the others to hoot at her, but she went ahead:

I’m interested in the sort of theoretical exercise of what the future might look like, knowing that these matchups will never happen. So the first one is testing how the various inflections of populism will unfold in this country. So I would love to see the representative from New York City, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez against Ross’s candidate, JD Vance, in Ohio….

The other is Rafael Warnock, the senator from Georgia, and Josh Hawley, the senator from Missouri. The reason I chose those two is that I’m very interested in the role of religion in our country….

The only one who came anywhere near my own choices was Carlos Lozada, whom (as I’ve mentioned before) I have come to respect a lot from listening to these podcasts:

…I finally concluded that my dream matchup is, coming out of nowhere, Biden versus Trump.

This is not the matchup you want. It is the matchup we need. More than any other dream matchup that I can dream up, this matchup forces America to decide on first principles on what it is about. Trump is running as an authoritarian candidate who wants to shred the Constitution.

Biden’s campaign, both 2020 and for 2024, are premised almost entirely on preserving American democracy…

I’m with him on Biden, but definitely not on Trump. Any major-party candidate has almost exactly a 50-50 chance of winning — that’s the way America is now. But there must be ZERO chance of Trump winning again. I refuse to advance a “dream” that offers any chance at all of that.

To do what Lozada is trying to do, but without the distinct chance of driving the final nail into America’s (and the world’s) coffin, we need an actual Republican to oppose Joe’s classic Democratic-liberal views. Then you’re offering the country a real choice, but not playing Russian roulette with the country.

So I’d go with Asa Hutchinson. Yeah, I know he has no chance. But he’s running, and he meets the bill as I’ve set it out, and after all this is a “fantasy draft.”

All that said, what I really want is to see whom y’all would pick. And make a good case for it, please…

What’s your first political memory?

I got a couple of ideas out of this week’s Matter of Opinion podcast from the NYT. I’ll write about the other later when I have more time, but at the moment I’ll just share this little interlude where they asked kids (ranging in age from about 17 to a vague “under 30”) to call in with their first political memories:

And we’re back. So we have something else up our sleeve this week, in lieu of a Hot Cold. We recently asked our younger listeners to send in their political awakenings. So let’s take a listen now….

And the callers weighed in with their thoughts on recent events (one first took note of the political world on Jan. 6, 2021) that to them seem to have happened quite some time ago.

Which got me to thinking back a bit further, although I wish they hadn’t used the word “awakenings.” It has a disturbing flavor of ideological orthodoxy, like asking “When did you get your mind right?” I would simply have asked them to recount their “first awareness,” or simply first memory, of politics. That interests me more.

What is yours? Mine was from 1960, at more or less the very moment when I reached the age of 7. I’ve told it here before, but can’t find it at the moment, so I’ll just tell it again. I watched the presidential debates, and I decided I was for Nixon. That was based on my immature assessment of what I perceived as Kennedy’s aggressive tone on the subject of foreign policy. I don’t recall now what he said about the Soviets, but he sounded a lot more like a guy willing to go to war. And not a cold one. Of course, he may have said nothing of the kind. But that’s the way I heard it.

Thinking back on the impression now, I assume — if I heard it right — he was trying to sound that way because he was very young and widely regarded as inexperienced in comparison to the vice president. Maybe he was pushing the tough talk a bit in an effort to create a visceral impression of being a strong leader. But I didn’t know about things like that. I just knew my father was a naval officer, and Kennedy sounded more like a guy who would send my Daddy off to war.

I was quite serious about it, and took the election result hard, and rather, well, childishly. My mother watched Kennedy’s inauguration on the black-and-white in our Woodbury, N.J., apartment, and I protested loudly that I wanted her to change the station to something else (not that there would have been anything else at that moment). She ignored my requests, so in protest I hid behind a chair where I couldn’t see the screen. My mother told me to stop being ridiculous, but I persisted. Basically, I acted like a Trump supporter, although I didn’t storm the U.S. Capitol.

Anyway, I got over it, just not that day.

Speaking of my Dad, his first political memory was of his own father arguing loudly with a neighbor out on the sidewalk in front of the family home in Kensington, Md. The subject? FDR. The neighbor thought he was great, and I gather from his vehemence (which embarrassed my grandmother and caused her to call out to tell my grandpa to stop and come into the house) that he thought Roosevelt would be the ruination of the country. I’m guessing there, because my Dad was too young to understand and couldn’t explain it to me. I’m guess this was early in FDR’s time in office, so… maybe mid-30s. My Dad was born at the end of 1928.

Anyway, what’s your first political memory?

Hey, alla you kids — get offa my century!

This really cracked me up. Remember the anecdote I told about the conversation I overheard awhile back between two students? To keep you from clicking and reading through that long post again, here it is:

I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard on the USC campus back when I worked in an office, and took long daily walks around the campus and downtown area. These two boys were walking behind me, and one of them was bitching about having to take a course in stupid history — as if anybody cared about that.

His friend, however, protested that learning history was important to understanding our world, and he got the first kid to agree, reluctantly. I almost applauded, but in keeping with my lifelong habit of hanging back and observing, I didn’t (anyway, they may have found that a bit… condescending).

But then I heard the first kid say, “Yeah, OK. But this was, like, 500 years back! Who needs to know about that?”

The friend felt compelled to walk back his position: “Well, maybe not 500 years! Let’s not be ridiculous…”

I just kept walking…

Well, that kid who was willing to defend history — up to a point — was an absolute classical scholar compared to the one who wrote this note:

The 1900s! Had they developed writing that early?

I wonder what he would think about Paul’s 20th-century speakers? He’d probably confuse them with Cato the Elder, if he’s heard of him.

Ever since I read that, I’ve tried to reconstruct the train of thought that led to that question, but I haven’t arrived.

Did he think the prof would respond mockingly, saying something like “Hey, why dontcha cite the Magna Carta, or… I know!… the Code of Hammurabi!…”?

I’m thinking about quoting the sages William “Bill” S. Preston, Esq., and Ted “Theodore” Logan here, but that would take us all the way back to 1989…

The Kochs are backing Nikki

Does it seem weird to anyone besides me for the hopes of Republican orthodoxy to rest on her shoulders?

Hey, remember this mailer I wrote about back in August?

It was the one from the Koch organization Americans for Prosperity Action, urging Republicans to dump Trump.

Now, they’ve taken a more substantive step: They’ve made an endorsement:

A conservative-leaning political action committee backed by the influential Koch network is endorsing Nikki Haley for the Republican presidential nomination.

The Americans for Prosperity super-PAC says Haley is best positioned to beat former President Donald Trump in the primary election and President Biden in the general election.

In a letter addressed to “Grassroots Leaders, Activists, and Interested Parties,” Americans for Prosperity Action says it’s throwing its support behind the former South Carolina governor and United Nations Ambassador.

The statement says the Republican party has been choosing “bad candidates who are going against America’s core principles,” and that Democrats are responding with what it calls “extreme policies.”…

They’re making the move even as, in recent weeks, Nikki’s been making her own moves, rising to battle Ron DeSantis toe-to-toe — for the honor of being in second place, a couple of light years behind Trump.

Interesting. What the boys from Wichita seem to be trying to bring about is a return of the Republican Party, taking it back from you-know-who.

Is that possible? Can they even have a measurable effect in that direction? We’ll see. I wonder. Let’s say these guys could wave a wand and cause Trump to immediately have only one primary opponent. And let’s say every single real Republican left backed that one opponent.

Could they still deny the nomination to the interloper and his barbarian horde?

I hope they’re right to think they can bring that about. And just as fervently, I hope they’re dead wrong that this other person could defeat my main man Joe…

I’m posting this mailer from August because for some reason, it’s not showing up on the previous post…

DeMarco: Mike Johnson: a brilliant new speaker – for the 20th century

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Scene: A distant galaxy, year 2834, in the Tardis.

Dr. Who: What’s on the schedule today?

Ruby (the doctor’s companion): Looks like we have the day off. Not an alien in sight.

Who: Smashing! I’ve really wanted to brush up on my American history. The 1920’s seemed like an eventful time-jazz music, speakeasies, flappers, the Depression. I came across this name I had never heard of (flipping pages on a touch screen). Let’s see here… yes, there he is, Michael Johnson. Came out of nowhere it seems. Only six years’ experience and pop! – he’s the speaker of the House. Seems perfect for the job for someone of that era though. Rock-ribbed conservative Christian, literally interprets the Bible, believes in Noah’s Ark and the world being about 10,000 years old. A man for his time! Ha, but there’s a typo in his bio. It says he was elected in 2023. They must mean 1923 (pauses to adjust the Tardis’ time-travel settings). OK, course set for Michael Johnson as speaker of the House. Here we go!

Ruby (shouting over the roaring of the Tardis): Actually, Doctor, there is no mistake!! Johnson was elected in 2023!!!

Who: (also shouting): Sorry, I can’t hear you!!

(The Tardis makes a rough landing. Unbeknownst to the Doctor, Ruby is knocked unconscious).

Who: Blimey! That was more of a shake than I expected. Let’s see what other history we can glean before we start exploring. Righto, I see here that the Scopes Monkey Trial will happen in just a couple years. Well, that’s advantageous for Mike. He’s a constitutional lawyer whom I’m sure can argue a cracking case against evolution. He’s got a strong voice and a great stage presence. Ruby, don’t the creationists win at trial?

(Ruby awakens but is too groggy to respond. The Doctor is oblivious.)

Who: (continues reading) But there’s no mention of Mike at the Scopes trial… Hmm… I guess they needed a more experienced lawyer… (swiping)… so they picked Williams Jennings Bryan. Too bad for Mike.

Who: Ooh, I wonder if Mike ran for President in 1924. With that winning smile and such a nice head of hair. Surely he would have grasped for the brass ring. (Swipes touch screen) What! Calvin Coolidge?! Silent Cal? Surely Mike would have been more exciting. And he hated welfare just as much as Coolidge did.

Ruby (finally fully regaining consciousness): Where are we?

Who: 1923, weren’t you paying attention?

Ruby (now clear-headed): Doctor, we’re in 2023.

Who: Ruby, you are one sandwich short of a picnic! I mean a man like Mike Johnson makes perfect sense for 1923, when creationism and evolution were seen as competitors in the marketplace of ideas. But a hundred years does a lot to disabuse people of the notion that humans kept pet dinosaurs. And look at his ideas on sexual orientation. Back in 1923 every state had a sodomy law. Views like Mike’s prevailed and most gay people lived closeted and afraid. You expect me to believe that Mike Johnson was elected speaker of the United States House of Representatives, second in the line of presidential succession after the vice-president… in the year 2023! Not a snowball’s chance! It’s a foul-up in the blasted Tardis!

Ruby: Doctor, It’s not the Tardis.

Who: And then there’s his wife. Also ideal for early 20th-century America. What a role model for women who had just won the right to vote! Look at her – she’s running her own business. But, as would be expected in 1923, biblically submissive to her husband. What a power couple for the Roaring Twenties. She’s so much more magnetic than Mrs. Coolidge. Wow, they really missed an opportunity by not running in 1924.

Ruby (coming over to the doctor’s computer station and manipulating the touch screen fiercely): Doctor! There is nothing wrong with the Tardis!

Who: (reviewing what Ruby is showing him, stunned): Crikey… We are in 2023. It’s been 100 years since the Scopes trial, there’s now incontrovertible evidence that the earth is billions of years old, it’s been over 50 years since Stonewall, and gay marriage is legal. Isn’t that right Ruby? Gay marriage has been legalized by this time in the US?

Ruby: Yes sir, Obergefell was decided in 2015. (Swiping a touchscreen). Here’s some more about him. He made no secret that his interpretation of the Bible was at the base of his political views. He wrote columns in his local paper about it. Here’s one from 2003 in which he responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down of a Texas sodomy law. He said it was a “devastating blow to fundamental American values and millennia of moral teaching.”

Who: But surely he and his wife’s views moderated once he was elected Speaker…

Ruby: Well, his wife’s counseling service did take down their website in which they call homosexuality “sinful and offensive to God.”

Who: Well that’s something…

Ruby: But when asked what his views were a couple days after being elected, he said if you want to know what he thinks “About any issue under the sun… Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.”

Who: Any issue? Climate change? Nuclear arms? The next pandemic? I am gobsmacked. But I have to know. Does America become a theocracy? Set a course to November 2024 (TO BE CONTINUED).

A version of this column appeared in the November 15th edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

“Bigger on the inside…”