On Mr. Mueller’s Testimony

In his brief public statement on May 29, Special Counsel Robert Mueller III made his position regarding his possible testimony before Congress clear:

“Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress. [My emphasis].”

I expect Mr. Mueller to be true to his word. The House of Representatives’ Judiciary and Intelligence Committees have nonetheless determined to have Mr. Mueller testify before them. Any number of pundits have opined that the Democratic-led Committees are thinking that since reading the Special Counsel’s report – exceeding, as it does, 400 pages – is beyond the ken of the great majority of Americans (a fact that is, of itself, worthy of reflection), having Mr. Mueller testify on television – even if he says nothing more than what is in the report — will galvanize Americans to realize that President Trump has behaved in a way unfit for the office he holds. I’ve seen several references to the effect that the 1973 Watergate hearings had upon the general public perception of President Richard Nixon.

We are in a different time and place. Although I consider Mr. Trump to have behaved in innumerable ways – both detailed within the Mueller Report, and outside its confines – that warrant his removal from office, I would suggest that the Committees have embarked upon a fool’s errand … a perspective that I suspect House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shares. Mr. Mueller’s testimony promises to motivate those already vehemently opposed to the President to put pressure on their Democratic representatives to pursue Mr. Trump’s impeachment and removal from office – a politically quixotic endeavor, since there are not 20 Republican Senate Republicans (who already know what’s in the Report) possessing the political courage to vote to remove the President even if they privately consider such action to be appropriate.

On the larger substantive level, I would offer that the Democrats’ efforts are misguided because it seems overwhelmingly likely that Mr. Trump’s supporters already viscerally know that he did all the things that Mr. Mueller and his team have reported … and they don’t care. [“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 13:9.]  They believe themselves belittled, ignored, left behind, and perceive Mr. Trump – correctly or not – as being the first powerful politician in decades to speak for them. His voice is undoubtedly worth much more to them than what they almost certainly now dismiss as legal niceties. If you feel that you have been picked on for decades, and then a bully comes along that upbraids those that you consider to have abused you … you’ll be willing to overlook “your” bully’s flaws.

Spending more time obsessing and hyperventilating on malign activity that an insufficient segment of our electorate will be willing to act upon is a waste of taxpayers’ money.  [For once, I agree with Republicans  ;).]  At best, Democrats may weaken Mr. Trump’s support among any voters that are still undecided about him – an extremely small slice of the electorate that admittedly might be the difference in a close election – but risk having the undertaking redound to the President’s benefit by energizing his supporters. Democrats might be better served by devising strategies that will meaningfully resonate with the non-bigoted segments of Mr. Trump’s base, rather than exhilarating in maneuvers that will probably enhance the President’s chances of re-election.

Enough pontificating for one day …

And so …

If we hadn’t already known – and of course, we did – the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie, You’ve Got Mail, informed us that The Godfather is the I Ching, the Sum of All Wisdom, the Answer to Any Question. In a passage from the novel not included in the movie:

“With great effort the Don opened his eyes to see his son once more. The massive heart attack had turned his ruddy face almost blue. He was in extremis. He smelled the garden, the yellow shield of light smote his eyes, and he whispered, ‘Life is so beautiful.’”

We are engulfed in a political storm; hopefully, our republic will emerge stronger from the squall. As we who are blessed embrace the full glory of the summer, may we appreciate the sentiment expressed by the fictional Don Corleone with his last breaths – while recognizing that life isn’t beautiful for large numbers of our people worldwide.  May we not ignore the hardships being endured by so many of those in our country, by those simply seeking a better life that are being restrained at our borders, and by those around the world facing incredible torment …

A Plea to Democrats: Focus on Getting Rid of Trump

A close friend sent me the link below to a Washington Post opinion piece published earlier this week by Richard Cohen, with the comment, “This article expresses my sentiments EXACTLY [His emphasis].” I am pleased to associate myself with his remark ;), and with Mr. Cohen’s obvious frustrations.


On Keyless Car Risk

Attached is a link to a recent Detroit Free Press article outlining the tragedies that can result when vehicles operated by way of keyless technology are inadvertently left idling in garages attached to residences. Since I had not previously seen reports of this, it seemed worth noting. Apparently a significant number of vehicles utilizing such technology do not have automatic engine shutoff mechanisms – at least one of our “keyless” cars has no automatic shutoff — although the Free Press reports that such technology exists, is deployed on some vehicles, and can generally be included in keyless vehicles at little additional manufacturer cost. Its piece further indicates that versions the “Protecting Americans from the Risk of Keyless Technology” (the “PARK IT Act”), designed to require car makers to include such technology, have recently been introduced in the U. S. Senate and House of Representatives.

At one point, the article quotes an auto safety expert: “… [T]he law is needed because most people believe ‘our brains work better than they really do’ and any environmental sound including a garage door closing could mask a quiet engine still running or other warning cues.”


On the Democratic Debates: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there 😉

Former HUD Sec. Julian Castro: I thought Sec. Castro had a good night, bordering on very good. I suggested earlier that to maintain a viable candidacy he needed to gain traction among Hispanic voters that had theretofore eluded him, but I didn’t then appreciate his strategy for winning the Texas primary by disrupting the candidacy of former U.S. TX Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Mr. Castro looked strong on stage, and the contrast he drew between himself and Mr. O’Rourke regarding 8 U.S.C. 1325 (the federal law criminalizing the act of illegally entering the United States) was great theater. He has seemingly taken ownership of the progressive position on the immigration debate — clearly the strategic place for him during the Democratic nominating process although not necessarily helpful in the general election.

South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg: I hope that the Mayor is President of the United States one day. I nonetheless don’t feel that he had a strong performance. For much of the night, he was good at “Being Pete” by tactfully invoking the future and in his articulate expositions while adeptly avoiding the Green New Deal and Medicare for All political landmines. I liked his statement that the No. 1 issue facing us is, “Fix our democracy and we can handle the rest” — because I share his view. Someone very close to me – another Buttigieg fan – thought he perhaps looked too young, but that could cut either way with the Democratic electorate and against President Trump. That said, I thought he failed to communicate sufficient empathy on racial issues, which I believe should have been his core debate objective. His response – “I didn’t get it done” regarding South Bend Police Force integration during his Mayoralty, followed by platitudes about the need to rid policing of racism – seemed rote, antiseptic. As I’ve submitted earlier, no Democrat appearing half-hearted in support of minority rights will win the party’s nomination or the Presidential election. Since Mr. Buttigieg is not emotive, I’m not sure that the necessary overtures are within his compass.

VT U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders: Had I extended an Award to Sen. Sanders as I did with some candidates in Part I of this note, he would have received the “Lion in Winter” Award. While retaining vigor, snarl, and bite, he, like Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s, seemed to sense that a party moved by his ideas is passing him by. Although he stressed his normal themes, MA U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren seemed to do it better on the first night and CA U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris did it well on the second night. He (unfortunately for him) never got a chance to describe his brand of “socialism” to sound as benign as it did in his Fox News Town Hall. He was effective at attacking President Trump, but on that Democratic stage, all the candidates attacked Mr. Trump. I will not be surprised if Ms. Warren’s support in the Progressive Lane rises at Mr. Sanders’ expense in the coming weeks.

MA U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren: I suggested in an earlier note that if either Sen. Warren or Sen. Sanders was going to gain support as a result of the first round of debates, it was likely to be at the other’s expense. In my view, Ms. Warren won the contest. From a nomination handicapping standpoint, I believe that she was the overall winner of the first night through her passionate advocacy of progressive policies. That said, she referred to her teaching background – to me, a negative, since it invokes the impression of her as the imperious schoolmarm – and didn’t have a chance to discuss her Native American ancestry snafu. Her performance didn’t make her a bit more electable in November, 2020, but if at this juncture she couldn’t gain support at Mr. Sanders’ expense, her candidacy was perhaps going to stagnate, and I thought she achieved that goal.

Former Vice President Joe Biden: The former Vice President reinforced voters’ concerns about his vitality by at times seeming defensive, tentative, a bit frail. Surprisingly, he wasn’t ready for his competitors’ predictable race-related barbs; his straightforward response should have been that unless anyone was calling him a racist, his adversaries were simply attempting to score political points. Although no one could have been ready for Sen. Harris’ busing thrust, he erred by trying to hide behind a “local decision” response. It was similarly predictable that someone might allude to his age; he could have quoted President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 debate rejoinder about not wanting to exploit his opponents’ youth and inexperience. He didn’t. All that said, such a mediocre performance that might have doomed a less-well-positioned candidacy may only be a momentary setback because Mr. Biden retains a tremendous reservoir of good will with a significant swath of Democratic voters rooting for him. The reference to President Reagan is apt; after Mr. Reagan delivered his line about youth and inexperience, he cruised to re-election because our people were reassured that he was still in command. Although Mr. Biden will undoubtedly suffer some degradation of support because of the debate, if he is ready the next time, he’ll recover. The question isn’t whether he’ll understand how important it is to do well the next time; it is whether he can.

CA U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris: Sen. Harris unquestionably won the second debate. Her exchanges with Mr. Biden on race and deportation policy were masterful. She knew that she needed to pry away some of his black support while giving herself the edge over NJ U.S. Sen. Cory Booker among a demographic they both court, and she did it. She was emotive about the conditions we are imposing on immigrants at the southern border. Her closing – informal, conversational – was effective. I wondered before the debates whether she would go “all in” on progressive positions that might help her win the nomination, or moderate her responses in a manner that could help her in a general election; she embraced the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and seemingly the rest of the progressive agenda, clearly focusing on the nomination while perhaps being coastally oblivious that these positions are likely to spell defeat against Mr. Trump in the general election. However, something else that bothered me about Sen. Harris’ bravura performance was how it seemed entirely … planned and executed – like one would try a case. Her early riposte when others were jousting — to the effect that Americans “didn’t want to see a food fight but food on the table” – was a planned applause line she was looking for the chance to use. Portraying herself as the little girl being bused was effective … but clearly a set up. It remains to be seen how well she responds to something she hasn’t anticipated or prepared for.

I confess to feeling a bit of despair after the second debate, because I thought that Mses. Warren and Harris had clearly performed the best on their respective nights. What that meant to me was that the real winner of the first round of the Democratic Candidates’ debates was … President Trump.

On the Democratic Debates: Part I

We were tending to a toddler grandson for most of last week – a truly cardiovascular activity for Medicare beneficiaries – and although we watched the debates, have seen relatively little of the commentary. Being acutely aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, this note offers Selected Candidate Awards, followed by Selected Candidate Impressions:

The Despicable Me Award: CA U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell. His harsh and clumsy attempt to make himself relevant by essentially calling former Vice President Joe Biden old was, indeed … despicable – little better than President Trump’s degrading epithets that have so sullied our national discourse. Although I agree with Mr. Swalwell’s position on assault weapons, his tawdry attack on Mr. Biden ensured he is my 23rd favorite Democratic Presidential candidate only because there aren’t 24 or more such candidates.

The California Dreamin’ Award: Marianne Williamson. All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray … and Ms. Williamson should go for a walk before we next see a winter’s day.

The “Really, What Are You Thinking Of?” Award: Andrew Yang. Really – what was he thinking when he declared his candidacy for the Democratic Presidential nomination?

The Invisible Award: Two-way tie between OH U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and HI U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Both were on stage; both are creditable public servants; both said fine things; neither of them made a noticeable ripple.

The Foot-in-Mouth Award: NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. Even toddler-watchers couldn’t miss this one. Mr. de Blasio appeared to me to make headway during the debate; unlike Mr. Swalwell, his aggressiveness from the stage’s edge seemed within acceptable bounds. That said, the next day, the Mayor, in the words of The Miami Herald: “ … uttered [in Spanish] a revolutionary rallying cry deeply associated with … [Marxist Ernesto “Che” Guevara], a man viewed by hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles as a sociopath and mass murderer.” OUCH. Perhaps this indicates that even if one can make it in New York, one can’t necessarily make it … anywhere

The Clinton Clone Award: NY U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. If the Democratic Party wishes to nominate a not-very-likeable woman running on gender identity issues that has experience as a NY U.S. Senator, it should re-nominate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; it would then at least enjoy the robust taste of Coke Classic rather than opting for a watered-down Coke Zero.

The Scott Walker Award: Former TX U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. He apparently seeks to best former WI Gov. Scott Walker’s record for the quickest disappearance by a supposed heavyweight Presidential candidate.

The State’s Man Award: Three-way tie among WA Gov. Jay Inslee, CO U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, and former CO Gov. John Hickenlooper. All three are accomplished, and effective in their respective states … but I have concerns that none has the “It” to translate nationally. I admit to a pang as to both Coloradans: as to Mr. Hickenlooper, because I fear his Presidential hubris may have impaired his ability to make a viable 2020 Senate run against GOP CO Sen. Cory Gardner; as to Mr. Bennet, because I think he could defeat President Trump in Wisconsin, but in what promises to be a razor-thin race, his appeal against Mr. Trump in Pennsylvania and Michigan may well be more limited than Mr. Biden’s.

White House Chief of Staff Award: Former U.S. MD Rep. John Delaney. Although Mr. Delaney could credibly claim a piece of the Invisible Award, I found him knowledgeable, experienced, practical, and gentlemanly (he was probably seething at the extent he was ignored by the debate moderators, but he strove not to show it). I was impressed with the practical objections he voiced to parts of the progressive agenda. That said, while he lacks any inspirational quality, he would seemingly make a great White House Chief of Staff for a Democratic President wanting to actually get something done.

As to the Selected Impressions:

MN U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar: Ms. Klobuchar appears to me to have been a mild winner. She can either benefit from or be lost in the shuffle created by the second night’s more raucous and progressive-leaning exchanges. I liked her “all foam and no beer” sop to the Midwest, although fairly transparent. She looked strong putting Mr. Inslee on his heels by affirming the efforts of herself, MA U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Ms. Gabbard on women’s reproductive rights. I liked her references to her work on behalf of farmers and to the fact that she has won in conservative Minnesota Congressional Districts. She wisely avoided endorsing Medicare for All – a political landmine for many Americans that like their current health coverage. I earlier suggested that a good debate performance on her part could help her in Iowa if Mr. Biden faltered, as he did (more on that in Part II). Since Iowa moderates seem unlikely to desert Mr. Biden for the surging progressives, Ms. Klobuchar could benefit from erosion in Mr. Biden’s Iowa support. The claims that she’s unreasonably hard on staff will resurface if she does.

NJ U.S. Sen. Cory Booker: I thought Mr. Booker had a good debate performance. He presented as upbeat and progressive but not strident; his references to his background and where he lives, and his apparently conciliatory on-stage relationship with former U.S. HUD Sec. Julian Castro were effective efforts to establish his bona fides with minority communities to give him some room in the Identity Lane. (His expression at Mr. O’Rourke’s Spanish spouting was classic.) His problem arose on Night II: CA U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris — looking to not only chip away at Mr. Biden’s African American support but to claim supporters from the same demographic segment being courted by Mr. Booker – appeared to pick Mr. Booker’s pocket with her very impressive performance. Ms. Harris’ next poll numbers will almost certainly rise; if Mr. Booker’s numbers don’t also meaningfully advance, his campaign may be left in Ms. Harris’ wake.

In an attempt to avoid having these notes take as long to read as the debates themselves, the remaining candidates will be addressed in Part II.

On Democratic Presidential Debate Strategy: Night II

By luck of the draw, most of the Democratic presidential candidates currently leading the race – former Vice President Joe Biden, VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and CA Sen. Kamala Harris — are scheduled for the second night, June 27. Going on the second night will presumably provide the candidates a better feel for the tone and rhythm of the process, but it’s possible that viewers will be a little less excited by the second night, while being better prepared to assess the night’s exchanges. As to particulars for the Night II panel:

Mr. Biden: is almost certainly the greatest beneficiary of drawing the second night. He and his advisors will hear the barbs that first-night debaters level at him, and have time to hone responses to unanticipated variables. He needs to look SHARP, presidential, above the fray, NOT infirm. He can’t ramble, which leads to gaffes and could create the impression that he’s “slipping.” Due to the dustup caused by his comments about his relationships with segregationist Senators, he particularly needs to be ready on African American issues. He needs to avoid catfights that diminish him while having crisp responses on the Iraq Invasion, the Crime Bill, the Hyde Amendment, his “personal space” issues, etc., etc. He can’t let himself be maneuvered too far left: while advocating for the environment, he must describe a transition plan for displaced traditional energy workers; while discussing the Crime Bill, he needs to mention both his efforts to remedy its shortcomings and the dangers that police officers and black citizens face from crime. He needs to focus on President Trump. He needs effective remarks on NATO, Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. His measure of success is whether he maintains his current standing in the polls on Friday.

Mr. Sanders: Has, now along with Mr. Buttigieg, the most challenging debate assignment. If Mr. Sanders can’t unsettle Mr. Biden, he can’t win; but if he can’t secure the progressive lane against a charging Ms. Warren, he can’t win, either. He must double down on Being Bernie. He must emphasize that this is not a time for middling approaches – an acceptable thrust against Mr. Biden – and that the current progressive movement rose on his back – an implied parry against Ms. Warren. He should stress his normal themes of the working class, free college, Medicare for All, and how to pay for these programs. He should hit at the Obama Administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, a way to gain some of Mr. Biden’s working class support that won’t swing to Ms. Warren. Vitally, he needs to describe his brand of “socialism” to sound as benign as it did in his Fox News Town Hall. He should aggressively attack Mr. Trump, since he has the gravitas to call Mr. Trump a bigot and a liar in a manner that is effective without being offensive. If on Friday his national percentage has notably gone up and Ms. Warren’s has notably gone down – no matter what Mr. Biden’s percentage is – he succeeded.

Mr. Buttigieg: This could be a make-or-break night for Mr. Buttigieg. Last week’s shooting in South Bend of a 53-year-old black man by a white police officer with a turned off body camera requires the Mayor to entirely recast his debate strategy. I previously would have advised him to just “Be Pete,” use his stock lines about the future, his mayoral and military experience, his faith, his marriage depending upon one Supreme Court vote, etc., and concentrate on looking credible standing next to Joe Biden. While he had little African American support before the shooting, he now faces the reality that no Democrat perceived as being half-hearted in support of minority rights will win the nomination or the Presidential election. He currently appears insufficiently sympathetic and responsive to African American concerns. His performance at Sunday’s South Bend Town Hall on the shooting has been panned as too cerebral, not genuinely empathetic. Mr. Buttigieg must thread an extremely fine needle: show his understanding of black frustration while, as Mayor, stating that the process must be allowed to play out. An approach that is undoubtedly true: As a gay man, he does understand what it is like to be stigmatized, slurred, hated — a target – and as Mayor and President, he will act to ensure that none of our citizens have to live in such fear. He needs to explain why the officer’s body camera was off, and what procedures will be implemented to ensure that officers’ cameras are on. If in Friday’s polls he has lost only a little of his pre-shooting support, his debate performance will be a success.

Ms. Harris: she needs to establish running room in one of the campaign lanes. Currently, she appears a glitzy Coaster (easily the best smile in the race) bolstered by California money and the sheer number of California Democratic voters (who are already in any Democratic nominee’s 2020 Electoral College total). Although progressive, she lacks the track records of Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren, and thus, her appeal seems to be as an identity candidate in a year shaping up as a clash between moderates and progressives. The focus on African American issues engendered by Messrs. Biden’s and Buttigieg’s recent challenges has perhaps given her an opening to expand her support in the black community at Mr. Biden’s expense. The interesting issue to me will be whether she goes “all in” on progressive and minority issues that might help her win the nomination while imperiling her general election chances, or instead stresses her past as a prosecutor and speaks effectively on foreign policy, trade, and aid for our manufacturing sector that could help her in a general election probably decided in the Midwest. If following the debate she shows notably enhanced strength among black voters and in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, she was successful.

The WAYTOs (“What Are You Thinking Ofs?”): Mses. Gillibrand and Williamson and Messrs. Yang, Bennet, Hickenlooper, and Swalwell: As with the Night I WAYTOs, they need to say something to register on the polling Richter Scale, or it’s time to fold up shop. Hopefully, Mr. Hickenlooper will be shooed home to Colorado to run for the Senate against Republican CO Sen. Cory Gardner.