Impressions on RBG’s Passing: Part II

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

Upon hearing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing and my estimation that it was likely that Republicans would immediately move to fill her seat, I feared that given progressives’ capacity for uncontrolled outrage, exacerbated by Republicans’ inexcusable refusal to act on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Garland four years ago, progressives wouldn’t be able to contain themselves.  In a random sampling of liberal outlets over the weekend, there appeared wall-to-wall liberal apoplexy about Republicans’ filling Justice Ginsburg’s seat.  I would suggest that such frenzy is counterproductive.  Bob Woodward reports in his book, Rage, that Presidential Advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s “… core understanding of communication strategy … is, ‘Controversy elevates [Trump’s] message.’”  If – while it remains to be seen how big an “if” it is — Senate Republicans suffer no more than three defections in seeking to confirm Mr. Trump’s nominee, they hold the winning Senate procedural hand.  For progressives to expend undue emotional reserves on a contest that they’re likely to lose at the expense of a contest that they can win – the presidential election – is at best a political gamble and at worst, detrimental to their strategic electoral designs.

That said, there is a distinction between luxuriating in incendiary rhetoric and outwardly temperate expression (even if seething inwardly) of distress and concern with the impact another conservative Supreme Court Justice might have on American rights, and with the blatantly partisan nature of the Republicans’ maneuvers.  The Democrats’ target audience, persuadable swing voters, could be alienated if they make hyper-partisan declarations, but may well be amenable to reasoned arguments and indignation.  While Republicans will attempt to make the fight about abortion, I would offer that Democrats’ best approach will be the line that some have already adopted:  how another conservative Trump appointee might adversely impact the now widely-popular Affordable Care Act, with dispassionate commentary on the contrast between the Republicans’ refusal to proceed with Judge Garland’s nomination and their rush to judgement on the Trump nominee.  Then, get back to the Coronavirus.  They should follow the wise advice of Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules Winnfield, near the end of the film, Pulp FictionBe cool.  I’m somewhat reassured that at least Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden apparently understands this; reports indicate that he said nary a word about the Supreme Court during a recent trip to Wisconsin. 

Recent accounts indicate that the Trump Campaign is calling upon Mr. Biden to identify whom he would nominate to the Supreme Court if elected, and that Mr. Biden is rebuffing such calls.  Here, I think he is missing a golden opportunity.  He should declare that he will re-nominate Judge Garland.  I submit that such a declaration would be brilliant politically.  Progressives will grumble, but faced with the prospect of another Trump term and Trump Supreme Court nominees, will ultimately stay in line behind Mr. Biden; Mr. Garland will have the aura of having been previously nominated by Mr. Obama, providing Mr. Biden cover with his constituencies preferring a nominee of color; Mr. Biden’s naming of Judge Garland, a moderate, would destroy Mr. Trump’s argument that Mr. Biden is a tool of the “alt-left”; and Mr. Biden’s selection of Mr. Garland would seem fitting to swing state swing voters offended  by Republicans’ unfair treatment of him.  I believe that if Mr. Biden would name Judge Garland, he “wins” the Supreme Court debate with persuadable voters no matter what the Republicans do with a Trump nomination.

While political prognostication is engaging, Justice Ginsburg’s passing and the potential fallout has left me with a couple of more fundamental impressions.  The first – perhaps to the surprise of those who are aware of my obsessed keyboard frothing about Sen. Mitch McConnell’s contemptible, despicable, execrable dereliction of duty in refusing to proceed with the Senate confirmation process for Judge Garland – is that President Trump should put forth a nominee, and if, after appropriately-paced and illuminative confirmation hearings, the nominee is found to be judicially qualified and without other objective “disqualifying” factors such as drug addiction (not subjective legal views), the nominee should be confirmed.  Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides:  “[The President] … shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Judges of the supreme [sic] Court.”  Four years ago, I wrote U.S. IA Sen. Charles Grassley, then the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee:  “I see nowhere in the [Constitution] any language limiting the President’s powers of nomination and appointment to the first three years of his/her term.”  Mr. Trump is the President.  He is within his term.  He has not just the “Power” but the duty to put forth a Supreme Court nominee.  As the late U.S. AZ Sen. John McCain once urged in another context:  Let’s return to regular order.  To me that needs to apply whether or not one finds “regular order” convenient.  As abhorrent as I find Messrs. Trump and McConnell, there is no value to enshrining the notion that a President cannot perform a vital Constitutional function a quarter of the time.  As our mothers taught us:  Two wrongs don’t make a right.

We were with good friends [at a socially-distanced outside gathering ;)] when word came of Justice Ginsburg’s death.  All felt a deep sadness both for the passing of a great American and for what it might mean for our country.  My thoughts initially drifted to the likely political ramifications of Ms. Ginsburg’s passing, but as I contemplated the fire, I considered that no issue so divides our people as does abortion — which Supreme Court nominations have come to symbolize in the public mind — and that Justice Ginsburg’s passing, coming right when it did – neither early enough in Mr. Trump’s term that progressives would ultimately emotionally reconcile themselves to another conservative Supreme Court Justice, nor after Mr. Biden’s inauguration (if such occurs), when conservatives would emotionally accept that Ms. Ginsburg would be replaced by another liberal – could violently deepen the cultural chasms already existing between us; that the impending Supreme Court nomination and confirmation process has the potential to further rip and salt our deepest wound. It is easy to presume that as her condition reached its final stages, Justice Ginsburg explored with her physicians whether there was any way to keep her medically alive through January 20.  There obviously wasn’t. Russian President Vladimir Putin couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

Notwithstanding Mr. Biden’s apparently encouraging lead in the polls, as we enter what I consider the most dangerous months for the future of our democracy since the defeat of Nazi Germany, it is difficult not to have concerns; we seem beset on so many sides. Yet, I find solace in Proverbs 3:5:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not .…”  

May we hold ourselves together.

Impressions on RBG’s Passing: Part I

[Comment:  These notes frequently take shape over several days.  Although I dislike regurgitating old ground, I have taken the liberty of leaving in concepts drafted before they were confirmed by subsequent events or expressed by pundits, such as the likelihood that President Trump would nominate a woman for Justice Ginsburg’s seat and the political conundrum that the Justice’s passing creates for GOP Senators such as Sen. Collins.]

I never engaged in Constitutional Law during my decades of law practice, and never developed any detailed understanding of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s jurisprudence beyond that she was a liberal icon.  What I found notable about her was the extent to which she “broke through” to the public as a woman’s rights icon and a person of grit and stamina respected across the political spectrum.  Even President Trump, who never misses an opportunity to be churlish in his description of anyone who doesn’t agree with him, was gracious in his initial comments after learning of her passing.  I’d wager that if last week, a cross section of Americans was asked to name members of the Supreme Court, the highest percentage would have mentioned Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Roberts, and Brett Kavanaugh [I suspect that the latter would rather not be as readily remembered as he is  ;)].     

At this point, the political maneuvering is well underway.  “All politics is local” is a well-known maxim most closely associated with the late former Democratic Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, Jr.; I would suggest that the maxim is a subtler way of saying, “All politics is personal survival.”  How Justice Ginsburg’s passing will affect individual politicians will seemingly vary greatly.  We’ll get to the President in a minute.   

First, the easiest:  Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  The play for Sen. McConnell – or if you prefer, Moscow Mitch, The Man of Many Chins, or The Evil Weasel — is obvious:  push the nomination through.  Mr. McConnell views the conservative stacking of the federal judicial system as his legacy.  He has no qualms about fairness or decorum.  He undoubtedly realizes that this could be his last chance to put another conservative on the Supreme Court.  Even so, perhaps the most important point for him:  despite the egregious hypocrisy involved in proceeding with efforts to confirm any Trump nominee given his thwarting of former President Barack Obama’s nomination of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland four years ago, I’ll venture that the majority of Kentuckians will approve of his moving forward.  Such an approach may well seal his victory in his 2020 U.S. KY Senate race.  At a guess perhaps born of northern ignorance, an aggressive Republican move also seems to help Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC), Thom Tillis (NC), and Sonny Perdue (GA) in their tighter-than-expected races.

At the other end of the spectrum is U.S. ME Sen. Susan Collins and perhaps other Republican Senators in close races in more moderate states, such as Republican Sens. Martha McSally (AZ), Cory Gardner (CO), and Joni Ernst (IA).  None will win without rabid support among committed conservatives but perhaps can’t win without some support from moderates who may be offended by a blatantly political Republican move to cram a nominee into Ms. Ginsburg’s seat. Calls by Sen. Collins and her friend, U.S. AK Sen. Lisa Murkowski, to delay any Senate confirmation vote until after Election Day demonstrate that they understand that the upcoming process places Sen. Collins in acute political peril. The decision by Messrs. Trump and McConnell to proceed — although it arguably reduces their odds of maintaining a Republican Senate majority in January — simply confirms that at bottom, all politics is … personal survival.

As to the President:  He has already indicated that he intends to send a nominee to the Republican-controlled Senate in short order.  The nominee will undoubtedly be an avid cultural conservative and pro-life advocate.  I’ll be shocked if it’s not a woman; the Trump Administration will attempt to defuse by at least a bit the feminist ire that would result from women “losing” a seat on the Court.  No matter whom the President chooses, going forward with the nomination is the obvious play for him.  He would absolutely grievously offend and lose vital support among evangelicals and cultural conservatives if he doesn’t proceed.  The beauty of this from his perspective – although he has already proven too ham-handed to take advantage of it – is that he could have gained political advantage for himself – all he cares about – and while seemingly sticking to the high ground:  a Supreme Court Justice has died; he’s President; he’s going to put forth a nominee to fill the seat, as the Constitution requires; he had no part in the Senate’s lack of action on the Garland nomination; what the Senate does with his nomination is up to the Senate.  Since he isn’t subtle enough to stick to that tack, Mr. Trump could well lose some swing state suburban moderates who may be concerned that an unfairly partisan rushed confirmation process will endanger pro-choice and health care protections, but this is obviously an electoral risk he intends – and from the standpoint of his cold political need for staunch religious conservative support, has — to take.

All that said, I would submit that the most important political advantage the nomination provides Mr. Trump:  every day the discussion is about the Supreme Court and not about the Coronavirus is a good political day for him.

In an effort to keep these posts to at least a somewhat manageable length, what remains of this note will appear in Part II.

A Profile in Courage

Other obligations have limited the time I’ve had to devote to these pages in recent days, but I want to note the video posted yesterday by Olivia Troye, attached below.  There are now so many “tell-all” accounts regarding President Trump that they no longer seem worth noting [I declare as I’ve spent some time going through Bob Woodward’s book, Rage ;)]; to borrow from the Lord, all that have ears to hear regarding the President’s malign character and blatant incompetence … have already heard.  Even so, I want to echo what I’ve seen a couple of others note:  Ms. Troye, a lifelong Republican who until recently served as Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism Advisor to Vice President Mike Pence and Mr. Pence’s lead staff member on the COVID-19 response, is, out of love of our nation, risking what has been shaping up to be a noteworthy career to speak out about Mr. Trump’s manifest unfitness for the presidency.  Her courage is of the type shown by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and others who might be described as “just regular public servants,” and puts to shame all of the gutless current Republican officeholders who know – who know – that the President is unfit, people such as former Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan who ran from the field with their tails between their legs rather than speak out about the President, and most particularly … her former boss, Vice President Pantywaist.  The selfless courage of Americans such as Ms. Troye provide our greatest hope for the future.

Initial Reflections on Woodward Book, Rage

As I suspect all that wish to be aware are aware, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has published a new book, Rage, including many hours of interviews with President Trump in the early months of this year in which the President made plain that he understood the Coronavirus’ virulence and its potential for spread among Americans much more clearly than he publicly articulated at the time or for months thereafter (or arguably, given his inconsistency, to this day).  I haven’t yet read the book [I have signed up to get it upon its general release  ;)], but the interview recordings Mr. Woodward has made available along with the book’s preliminary release – tapes undeniably bearing Mr. Trump’s voice – seem to warrant some initial impressions.

On March 19, after months of scoffing at the severity of the disease or the likelihood that it would spread in America, Mr. Trump told Mr. Woodward, “I always wanted to play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Sometimes Presidents have to lie.  It’s a part of the job.  I am confident that if President Harry Truman had been asked the day before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima whether he had approved use of such a weapon at that time at that site, he would have denied it.  If President Barack Obama had been asked the day before the raid that eliminated Osama bin Laden whether such a raid was imminent, he would have denied it.  I suspect that President Franklin Roosevelt felt less optimism about a successful outcome of the war against Japan than he expressed the day after Pearl Harbor, with the American Pacific Fleet then in tatters and little between the Sea of Japan and San Francisco Bay to defend us against the Imperial Japanese Navy.

I would submit that Mr. Trump’s false representations fall into a completely different category.  He was neither lying in the interest of national security nor seeking to maintain the mood of our people at a time – such as the day after Pearl Harbor – when there was nothing they could realistically do but hope.   I would suggest that what Mr. Trump really meant when he spoke to Mr. Woodward on March 19 was, “I don’t want to create a panic in the financial markets, since my only hope for re-election is a healthy economy.”  I would assert that the Coronavirus, unlike Hiroshima, bin Laden, or Pearl Harbor, presented a danger akin to a hurricane, in which affirmative efforts by our people, had they been told the truth, could have saved thousands upon thousands of lives.  If told a Category 5 hurricane is coming, coastal Americans evacuate, board up windows, collect supplies.  If they’re told a light tropical storm is approaching … they don’t.

Although Americans live in different information silos and I doubt that Mr. Woodward’s revelations – any more than recent reports that Mr. Trump was advised early this year that Russia had put bounties on the heads of American soldiers in the Middle East or that Mr. Trump has declared those that served in Vietnam “suckers” and those that have died in battle “losers” — will have an adverse impact on Mr. Trump’s cult support.  I would venture, however, that Mr. Woodward’s account could have a pivotal impact upon the election because of the effect that it might have on those reluctant 2016 Trump voters not entirely in the right-wing information silo who polls indicate were leaning toward Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden in the first half of the summer but have more recently been considering returning to Mr. Trump.  Mr. Woodward’s book turns the nation’s eyes back from our sporadic urban unrest to the Coronavirus, and appears likely to command the media spotlight for days.  It seems a prime subject for inquiry at the first presidential debate on September 29.  If the attention on Mr. Woodward’s reports reduces wavering 2016 Trump voters’ return to the President by even 1% in pivotal states, such could have a decisive electoral impact.

As to Mr. Woodward:  notwithstanding my extremely high regard for – and frequent references to — the late Author and New York Times reporter David Halberstam, I would submit that if the tapes of Mr. Woodward’s interviews of President Trump indeed help persuade significant segments of independent voters to repudiate Mr. Trump, Mr. Woodward’s work here, taken together with his Watergate reporting, will mark him as the most influential political journalist of his time.

Electoral College Bingo: Round 1

This week, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s Morning Joe (MJ) has been gleeful about new Morning Consult (MC) polls which he claims strongly favor Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Biden over President Trump.  Mr. Scarborough further asserts that the polls show that the President’s recent emphasis on law and order isn’t helping him.  I assume that Mr. Scarborough is spinning left because that’s what MSNBC does.  The candidates’ polling numbers on FiveThirtyEight.com (538) between the beginning of the Republican Convention and now indicate that the race is tightening; the MC polls seem to me to indicate an Electoral College Contest perhaps on its way to narrowing from six swing states to two.

In 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won states with 232 Electoral College votes (she lost some to “faithless Electors” – too hard to assess for 2020 other than to acknowledge that each candidate will want to achieve a total exceeding 270 in order to compensate for any “faithless” Electors).  To win the presidency, Mr. Biden needs to hold the 2016 Clinton States and claim 2016 Trump States with 38 or more Electoral College votes.  Let’s review the bidding:

MC showed Mr. Biden to be significantly ahead in Michigan, a 2016 Trump State with 16 Electoral College votes.  All seem to consider Michigan in the bag for Mr. Biden.  Let’s say they’re right, although 538 shows Mr. Biden’s lead to be narrowing a bit.  That brings Mr. Biden to 248 Electoral College votes (assuming that he holds all 2016 Clinton States with no Faithless Electors).   

The MJ team chortled that MC indicated that Mr. Biden was beating Mr. Trump by 10 in Colorado and 7 in Minnesota.  In fact, 538 indicates that Mr. Biden has lost almost half the Minnesota lead he enjoyed six weeks ago.  In any event, I don’t see why he should be excited about having a sizeable lead in either state.  Ms. Clinton won both.  If he can’t carry them, he would need more than 22 Electoral College votes even with Michigan in his column.

MC found Mr. Biden narrowly ahead in North Carolina – considered a swing state because former President Barack Obama won it in 2008 — and Georgia, and trailing narrowly in Texas – all three 2016 Trump States.  While a victory in North Carolina would probably seal the presidency for Mr. Biden, the Tar Heel State seems to me a long shot and the Peach and Lone Star States but electoral Fool’s Gold.  [Georgia Republicans have wrested the title from Chicago Democrats and Louisiana Democrats as the nation’s best election thieves  😉 ].

The MJ team noted that Mr. Biden was beating Mr. Trump by 10 in Arizona and by 9 in Wisconsin, both 2016 Trump States.  538 shows the Democrat to have smaller, but nonetheless notable and consistent, leads in both states.  Certainly encouraging for Mr. Biden; but even assuming that he ultimately wins both states, their combined 21 Electoral College votes plus Michigan’s 16 are still one short of the 270 Mr. Biden needs even if he holds all 2016 Clinton States with no faithless Electors.

So in the next 60 days, Mr. Biden will need to maintain his leads in Arizona and Wisconsin and challenge Mr. Trump in North Carolina – if for no other reason than to help Democrat Cal Cunningham in his Senate race against apparently unpopular Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis – together with feints into Iowa (an Obama State which 538 shows the President to have but a narrow lead and whose 7 Electoral College votes would, together with the 2016 Clinton States, Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin, win Mr. Biden the presidency).  Mr. Trump seems to need repeated forays into North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Arizona with occasional feints to Minnesota. 

All that said:  it may ultimately come down to two states:  Pennsylvania and Florida.  If the 2016 Clinton States, Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin ultimately go to Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump holds North Carolina and Iowa, the good news for Mr. Biden and the bad news for Mr. Trump:  Mr. Biden needs only Pennsylvania or Florida to secure the presidency; Mr. Trump needs both.  What I consider disquieting for Mr. Biden and encouraging for Mr. Trump:  MC, which gave Mr. Biden implausibly wide margins in Arizona and Wisconsin, gave him only a 4 point lead in Pennsylvania (538 has him doing a bit better, but indicates that he’s lost a third of the margin it showed him as having before the Republican Convention).  For a senator that spent his career representing a neighboring state and has had a good record with blue collar workers, this is uncomfortably close.  Mr. Biden was shown to have but a 2-point margin in Florida – making the state, controlled by Republicans and won by a point by Mr. Trump in 2016, clearly a toss-up (538, again, shows Mr. Biden faring a bit better but still having lost almost half of the Sunshine State lead he had before the RNC). 

It is perhaps no secret why both candidates this week visited Pittsburgh, in the western (more conservative) part of Pennsylvania and events dictated that both travel to Kenosha (albeit to give very different messages), located in a pivotal state (while Mr. Trump has not traveled to Portland, in a solidly Democratic state).

There was one Morning Joe observation this week with which I entirely agree:  in starkly political terms, every day the candidates, the media, and our citizens focus on the unrest in some of our cities, or on any issue that is not on the Coronavirus, is a good day for President Trump.  Unfortunately, our attention span is scant.  I am concerned that we have become numb to the increasing numbers:  over 6 million cases and approaching 190,000 deaths as of the date this is posted.  I fear that Coronavirus many not reclaim our citizens’ focus until we inevitably reach the grim milestone of 200,000 dead.

Stay safe.

On the Republican Convention

[The tone of this note is a bit less restrained than that I generally strive to maintain in these pages; today, I just can’t help it.]

I confess it:  I didn’t watch the Republicans’ Convention.  After the first few minutes of the first night, I decided that I don’t have enough life space left to squander any of it observing what seemed certain to be four nights of an alternate universe – a genteel way of saying, “four nights of lies.”  (I instead spent one of the evenings reading Mein Kampf passages in which the then-future Fuhrer describes the importance, approach, and target populations for effective propaganda, and am confident that I learned more about propaganda from he who made it an art form than by simply watching the Republicans practice it.)  The snippets of the Convention speeches that I saw while carrying on over the last few days fully confirmed my initial impressions.

One unnerving note:  a kind and elderly soul we know well, who before the Republican Convention indicated that she was going to vote for Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden because she is repulsed by President Trump’s aberrant behavior, but wanted to watch the Republican Convention because she wanted to “listen to both sides,” told us during the last four days that she was reconsidering voting for the President after hearing of all he had done for the nation.  It was a stark reminder:  even after the last four years, a broad segment of our citizens – even those who are not habitual Fox and alt-right media followers – understandably have terrible difficulty internalizing the notion that the leader of our nation – the President of the United States — and his cohort will simply stand before our people and lie, and lie, and lie.

Another note:  how quickly we become anesthetized to atrocity.  I would submit that the shooting of Jacob Blake was every bit as malevolent an abuse of power as the murder of George Floyd (although Mr. Blake, unlike Mr. Floyd, was “only” paralyzed rather than murdered).  We all saw the tape.  The officer, gun drawn, followed Mr. Blake out to his car.  It is alleged that there was a knife in the car.  Under the circumstances presented, I would suggest:  If so, so what?  Mr. Blake was apparently seated in the driver’s seat, the officer – on high alert, gun drawn – hovering above him.  Even assuming that Mr. Blake had gotten the knife in hand – as far as I know, not established — how, given the two men’s relative positions, could Mr. Blake have realistically done serious harm to the officer?  Aren’t officers supposed to be able to deal with situations like this without shooting an alleged suspect in the back, seven times?  The outrage in white middle America nonetheless seems incredibly muted compared to that which attended Mr. Floyd’s killing.  I have seen reports – which I admittedly can’t confirm, since I didn’t watch – that the Republicans made no reference to the officer’s conduct toward Mr. Blake at any time during their convention.  They appear confident that too many of our citizens are instead becoming preoccupied with the danger that protests over police malfeasance may do to their lawns.

All that said:  I have also seen any number of pundits, including those that in no way support the President, indicate that the Republicans put on four nights of television that could well have been effective with swing voters in swing states.  As anyone that reads these pages is aware, I have thought and continue to fear that the contest between Messrs. Trump and Biden is going to be perilously close.  This campaign seems likely to be particularly akin to a professional prizefight. Mr. Biden landed some effective blows last week in what was, practically speaking, Round One; the President countered this week in Round Two.  Last Monday morning, on the eve of the Republican Convention, I recorded Mr. Biden’s respective swing state leads over Mr. Trump as depicted in FiveThirtyEight.com.  While given polls will reflect different results, it is the trends that matter.  I would suggest that the extent by which FiveThirtyEight.com’s findings show a week from today how much Mr. Biden’s lead over Mr. Trump has (inevitably) narrowed will be the measure of the effectiveness of the Republican Convention.  I would further venture that there will then be little movement in public sentiment until we citizens get a chance to see the two candidates square off against each other (perhaps another fitting boxing allusion) in the first debate on September 29.

I also understand that during their Convention, the Republicans sought to cast the Coronavirus in the past tense during their gathering.  Do you think it’s behind us?

Stay safe.

On the 2020 Conventions, Past and Ahead

To join the chorus:  Given what the Democrats had to accomplish last week, I would score their effort 9 out of 10.  I was very concerned during the first hour of the first night, which was both uneven and boring (a friend called the early minutes “a snooze”), and would maintain that the Democrats’ use of celebrities as moderators was less than befitting given the importance of the event, but starting with the second hour of the first night, I found it surprisingly arresting throughout.  A few impressions:

Putting aside until later the acceptance speech of Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, of the Convention’s many effective presentations – including one by former President Barack Obama, who clearly considers President Trump to be the existential threat to the American way of life that I have suggested in these pages — I found particularly powerful the talks by former U.S. AZ Rep. Gabby Giffords, a victim of gun violence, regarding our need for greater gun regulation, and by Kristin Urquiza, who declared of her father, a Trump supporter who had succumbed to COVID-19, “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump [that the Coronavirus was under control], and for that, he paid with his life.” That said — and speaking as a somewhat jaundiced political junkie that has seen, figuratively and perhaps literally, a thousand political speeches – I consider the words of young Braydon Harrington, who struggles with stuttering, on his relationship with and belief in Mr. Biden, as moving as anything I have ever witnessed.

For reasons I can’t readily describe, I have mentally paired what was to me a haunting part of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech and the presentations of former OH Gov. John Kasich and former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell.  In her remarks, Sec. Clinton stated, “For four years, people have said to me, … ‘I wish I could go back and do it over.’ – or worse – ‘I should have voted.’” [Emphasis by Ms. Clinton – in the sense that she uttered the italicized words in her speech, but they are not in CNN’s published text.]  I found Messrs. Kasich’s and Powell’s message, that it was acceptable for Republicans distressed by Mr. Trump’s presidency to vote for Mr. Biden, both encouraging and disappointing — encouraging because these gentlemen have greater credibility than any liberal in coaxing conflicted Republicans to vote for Mr. Biden; disappointing because some of our citizens are so rigidly party-bound that despite deep misgivings about the leader of their party, they nonetheless require reassurance that it’s “okay” to break ranks.

As to Mr. Biden’s speech:  it was undoubtedly the Republican ticket’s worst nightmare.  He was cogent, energized, caring.  He didn’t look befuddled or scary, and the Republicans needed him to look one or the other.  What’s more, he did something that I didn’t think he had in him:  make us believe that he truly believes that America’s best days are ahead.  All Presidents and presidential candidates mouth it, but none since Ronald Reagan – including Bill Clinton and Mr. Obama, despite their oratory skills – have declared it in a manner such that I actually thought they believed it.  Joe Biden believes it.  Until his speech I had been pleased to support him because I considered him honorable, qualified, and the most generally-acceptable alternative to the wide swath of voters needed to defeat Mr. Trump; I considered Mr. Biden’s contribution to the nation if elected was likely to be limited to ridding us of the malignant Trump presidency.  His words and manner in his acceptance actually made me contemplate the possibility that a President Biden, despite his age and if he has a Democratic Congress, could, by drawing on input from disparate constituencies in old-school style, be a healer and achiever rather than simply a caretaker.  His speech made me more affirmatively for Joe.  One cautionary note:  While Mr. Biden’s thundering declaration, “If I’m your president, we’re going to protect Social Security and Medicare. You have my word,” undoubtedly played well in Florida, a pivotal Electoral College state, it also carried echoes of then-Republican presidential candidate George H. W. Bush’s similarly-thundering declaration, “Read my lips.  No new taxes.”  Social Security and Medicare will undoubtedly need revision over the next four years, but many of the actions proposed by experts to perpetuate these programs, as well as measures likely to be necessary to reduce our seemingly-crushing deficits after the Coronavirus has been brought under control, may well lend to an accusation that Mr. Biden failed in his pledge to “protect” these hallowed programs.

As to the Republican Convention upon us:  I have seen comments that the GOP will strive to have upbeat sessions, and that the President has been advised to primarily focus on the perceived strength of the pre-pandemic economy and assert that he is best suited to resuscitate it.  My comment:  the President is congenitally incapable of being uplifting.  Where he’s comfortable and effective from a political standpoint is hate, fear, resentment, and bitterness.  I have no doubt that he recognizes that he’s never going to get anybody to like him that doesn’t already, and fully expect that he intends to stick with what got him the presidency:  hate, fear, resentment, and bitterness.  Since there are almost certainly not enough heretofore nonvoting Trump supporters to overcome his apparent poll deficits, and Mr. Biden’s speech has pretty well dispelled the notion among the few remaining swing state undecideds that Mr. Biden isn’t up to the presidency, one can anticipate that Mr. Trump will try to scare those few undecideds back into the Trump camp with the “Biden is the prisoner of the socialist left that will seek to cancel you” claim.

As per the link below, the Republicans have decided to forego a party platform and simply “continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.”  For a party known for its bitter internecine platform battles over the last 70 years from those between Eisenhower internationalists and Taft isolationists to those between regulars and tea partiers, and currently between those who respectively favor and oppose more robust Congressional Coronavirus aid, I confess that even given Mr. Trump’s dominance, I am surprised at this level of the party’s capitulation to the President. 

https://prod-cdn-static.gop.com/media/documents/RESOLUTION_REGARDING_THE_REPUBLICAN_PARTY_PLATFORM.pdf?_ga=2.109560193.504857691.1598219603-2087748323.1598219603

“[H]ow often the great interests of society are sacrificed to the vanity, to the conceit, to the obstinacy of individuals, who have credit enough to make their passions and their caprices interesting to mankind.”

Publius (Alexander Hamilton):  The Federalist No. 70

On Mr. Trump … and the Prophet Ezekiel

A couple of weeks ago at a Cleveland campaign stop, President Trump indicated that Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, was “against God,” and that if elected president, Mr. Biden will “hurt God” and “hurt the Bible.”  I found the President’s rant both absurd and shocking, but it was, like so many before it, shortly driven down my stream of consciousness by Mr. Trump’s continuing torrent of malign inanities. 

I am also a Catholic, albeit deeply flawed.  What caused me to recall Mr. Trump’s Cleveland rant – faith-based attacks uttered by one who for all practical purposes espouses racism, has bragged about grabbing women by their private parts, has belittled the handicapped, has approved the intentional separation of children from their parents at our borders, has sought to downplay the scope and effect of a deadly virus upon our people in order to enhance his own political fortunes, and has most recently referred sympathetically to Qanon, an alt-right fringe group embracing the notion that some Democrats are Satan-worshipping pedophiles — was the following, read during one of this week’s daily Masses:

Thus says the Lord GOD:  Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!  Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?  You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured.  You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured.  You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts. ….

As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have been given over to pillage, and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast, for lack of a shepherd; because my shepherds did not look after my sheep, but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep ….

I swear I am coming against these shepherds.  I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves. ….”  

Ezekiel, 34: 1-5; 8; 10

Mr. Biden’s acceptance speech last night seemed to me most fundamentally that … of a caring shepherd.  Notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s references to God and the Bible, I think it’s fair to assume that the President has little familiarity with the Book of Ezekiel.  From his perspective, perhaps just as well.

Mr. Bloomberg: Where Are You?

President Trump’s repeated claims (without any evidence) that mail-in-voting creates election fraud, buttressed by his recent (and, amazingly, acknowledged) efforts to impede the United States Postal Service’s activities because he perceives that an efficient November mail-in voting process will assist the Democrats’ electoral prospects, is simply the latest evidence of his willingness to do anything to remain in power.  (Mr. Trump did backtrack a bit late last week to indicate that he would agree to a Coronavirus relief package that contained funding for the post office.  Even if money is allocated, I fear it may have little effect unless accompanied by nonpartisan oversight ensuring that the funding is promptly spent in a manner that actually facilitates nationwide balloting.)  Consider the malevolent genius of it.  Mr. Trump has picked an election element – mail-in-voting – that is particularly vital in this COVID era, and labeled it the source of election fraud.  (He could actually more credibly claim that elections held on Tuesdays have historically been subject to a certain level of fraud.)  If Mr. Trump loses to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, he hopes to have instilled a belief in at least a segment of his millions of followers – who seemingly believe anything he, his cohort and his propagandists at Fox News and other alt-right media trumpet – that the election was stolen from him (and them) by fraudulent mail-in voting.  What happens if he refuses to concede despite a tight but discernable loss?  Even if he departs, his claims of fraud are an attempt to create popular unrest with the potential to cripple a Biden Administration while continuing a media spotlight for Mr. Trump – the latter unquestionably his primary focus.  But even if Mr. Trump wins, the recent demonstrations in Portland and elsewhere are a clear portent that if those opposing Mr. Trump believe that the Administration’s actions have stolen the election from them, riots will ensue across the nation. Mr. Trump will use these as a pretext to impose autocratic restraints upon those who oppose him.  A close outcome in either direction accordingly seems likely to threaten the American way of life.  I would suggest that in order to reclaim our future, Mr. Biden must not only win; the Democratic ticket must determine a way to win by decisive margins in a sufficient number of the battleground Electoral College states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin) to yield an impressive Electoral College margin.  I would submit that the Democrats need to wage their political war between now and Election Day on two fronts, and that at this stage, their overall success perhaps depends less upon the conventional – persuasion – and more upon the unconventional – education

The conventional is straightforward:   political professionals and pollsters of all stripes seemingly agree that although polls are starting to tighten, if all legally-eligible voters that wish to vote in November are actually able to vote and have their votes counted, Mr. Biden will defeat Mr. Trump in the Electoral College.  I would assert that deep antipathy among the electorate toward Mr. Trump is “baked in.”  Mr. Biden doesn’t need to win over any current Trump supporters to secure the presidency; he needs only a persuasion campaign to stave off material erosion in his current level of support.  Unless either Mr. Biden or presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee and U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris commit a grotesque gaffe during their respective debates with their Republican counterparts, the Electoral College victory seems near at hand.  Apparently reassuring – but I fear not enough by itself to secure a stable American future.

In my view, to facilitate Mr. Biden’s victory and enhance its legitimacy, the Democrats and their allies need to mount an extensive and effective education campaign – admittedly bordering on propaganda, to counteract the Trump and related alt-right barrage – to educate the electorate in the six battleground states regarding the states’ respective mail-in voting processes.  Even where local officials are well-meaning, neither local governments nor battleground state Democratic organizations have the funding nor the expertise required to develop and broadcast sufficient effective informational spots to reassure an electorate that polls show has increasing reservations about mail-in voting.  I see literally 25 different spots:  Four for each of the battleground states, to be run in the states’ respective progressive and independent markets, which in turn address:  (1) the given state’s voter registration requirements and deadlines, how to register online (all six allow online registration), and how a voter can obtain assistance for an in-person or online registration process; (2) the period within which the given state’s registered voters can request a ballot online, how to request a ballot, and any state nuances regarding the ballot’s completion; (3) a notice of the date by which registered voters should mail in their ballots to be confident that the votes will arrive in time to be tabulated; and (4) a notice that the date by which registered voters could confidently expect that their mailed-in votes would be tabulated has passed coupled with the observation that any eligible voters wishing to vote that haven’t already sent in their ballots should plan to vote in person, together with Coronavirus safety tips and information as to how the voter can find his/her voting place.  A last spot should be run predominantly on Fox News and other conservative outlets in conservative markets nationwide and describe, primarily through Republican election officials, the incredibly low incidence of historic mail-in voting fraud and lay expectations that tabulation delays will necessarily attend anticipated massive mail-in voting.

The effort, expertise, and cost to create, produce and broadcast accurate infomercials in the appropriate outlets would be an enormously expensive proposition – generally beyond the grasp of any campaign.  At the same time, if the content is appropriately cast, such spots would seem outside the proscriptions of campaign finance law.  At one point during former New York City, NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign for the presidency, the New York Times reported that Mr. Bloomberg indicated that he “wouldn’t rule out” spending as much as $1 billion to defeat Mr. Trump.  During his campaign, Mr. Bloomberg showed that he has not only the funds but the team expertise necessary to create effective campaign spots. 

Mr. Bloomberg:  Where are you?