Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth to be the Christ, the Son of God, who allowed himself to be sacrificed and who died for the good of all humankind. Although Jews and Muslims – who are, currently, respectively in the midst of Passover and Ramadan — reject the notion of Jesus’ divinity, I understand that they nonetheless hold him a great prophet. I will venture that the vast majority of those who are aware of Jesus and his teachings, even those who do not believe in a Supreme Being, consider him to have been a wise and good man. Given the bitter discord in which we seem endlessly enmeshed within both our nation and our world, it seems appropriate on this day to record his succinct summation of his teachings.
“He began to teach them, saying,
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.’”
As all are aware, former President Donald Trump has been indicted by a New York state grand jury. Although the indictment is said to involve, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, “[Mr. Trump’s] role in paying hush-money to a porn star on the eve of the 2016 election,” the exact nature and extent of the charges have not yet been revealed.
As liberal commentators intone that such indictment is proof that “No One Is Above The Law,” and right-winger scream, “Witch Hunt” and “Weaponization of Government,” a few feelings of unease emerge in addition to concerns about the prospects for violence arising from the presentation of the charges. Hopefully, all of the following misgivings are woefully misplaced.
If the counts brought against Mr. Trump ultimately amount to no more than falsification of business records under New York law [e.g., that he intentionally mischaracterized the nature of his business expenses to hide his payment to the porn star, Stephanie Clifford (a/k/a Stormy Daniels)] – since any violation of federal campaign finance law is outside NY State DA Alvin Bragg’s bailiwick – such charges are highly likely to be seen (ironically, in part because of the raft of more egregious offenses for which Mr. Trump is arguably culpable) as ticky-tack fouls. Such an impression helps Mr. Trump.
The existential significance of any charges hereafter brought against Mr. Trump for his role in the January 6th insurrection by Special Prosecutor John L. “Jack” Smith might well be diluted in the public mind by being conceptually lumped in with the New York state charges. Mr. Smith and his team may be viewed as simply piling on. Any such impression also helps Mr. Trump.
If there was a path for another Republican to challenge Mr. Trump for the nomination, today that path seems to me significantly narrower if not completely foreclosed. Anyone now getting in the race is going to be perceived as being disloyal to the party – the ultimate Republican sin. While announced candidate Fmr. U.S. U.N. Amb. Nikki Haley will avoid that particular charge, her campaign certainly hasn’t caught fire to date and appears overwhelmingly likely to be swamped in the wake of Republicans rallying to Mr. Trump. [A bright note for readers of these pages: I had a post mostly finished outlining how a more moderate credible Republican might make effectively challenge Mr. Trump’s seeming iron grip on the Republican nomination. I see little reason to run it – at least now – sparing you several minutes of your life 😉 .]
Although the outcome of any charges brought against Mr. Trump won’t be known for some time – he is likely to seek to delay any trial until after the 2024 presidential election – if any charges do go to trial against him before the election, it can’t be denied that Mr. Bragg will need to win – obtain a conviction. Obtaining a criminal conviction against any defendant in this country obviously requires the prosecution persuade a jury of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is an extremely high standard, and it should be; but if Mr. Trump is acquitted – as he was in his two Senate impeachment trials, despite patently clear evidence of offenses that unquestionably warranted his removal from office – he and his cohort will, as they did following the impeachment proceedings, claim vindication. I am sure that Mr. Bragg understood that in obtaining an indictment against Mr. Trump, he was going to need to get a conviction. I most sincerely hope he knows what he’s doing.
Finally, faraway events can have unforeseen repercussions. I am absolutely confident that Mr. Bragg, in seeking an indictment against Mr. Trump, had no thought of a state Supreme Court race going on in what any New Yorker considers the backwater of Wisconsin. And yet, as I have earlier asserted that the U.S. Supreme Court’s vitiation of women’s U.S. Constitutional right to obtain an abortion aided Democrats’ better-than-expected showing in the 2022 elections, and have opined that the Roe v. Wade reversal was going to boost liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz’ campaign for the Wisconsin Supreme Court against conservative former WI S. Ct. Justice Daniel Kelly culminating next Tuesday, I will venture that the Trump indictment being handed down right at this time – a challenge to Mr. Trump intrinsically involving the courts — could literally not have come at a worse time for Ms. Protasiewicz (who even her supporters concede has run a more overtly political campaign than traditionally seen in Wisconsin judicial races). I fear the Trump indictment will galvanize Republican support for Mr. Kelly in what was already projected to be a very close contest.
It is very likely that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will ultimately be called upon to decide any challenge mounted to the state’s initially-announced 2024 presidential vote tallies. The winner of the Protasiewicz-Kelly contest will determine whether liberals or conservatives command the Court’s majority.
An indictment spawned from a meaningless tryst occurring over a decade ago between a reality TV ham and a porn actress might ultimately have consequences for the direction of America akin to those wrought by a reckless interlude between a president and a White House intern. Let us hope not. If anyone wants to take sharp issue with any of the unhappy impressions set forth here, have at it. I want you to be right.
[All wanton destruction of life is tragic; yet, I feel the shootings of children in our schools the most deeply. This is a shortened version of a post entered in these pages in late May, 2022, after the horrific loss in Uvalde, TX. I’m republishing it following this week’s shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville simply because there’s nothing else that I can do. The passages posted here contain a few textual clarifications but no substantive changes.
At the conclusion of this note I have added a link to a Washington Post article entitled, “THE BLAST EFFECT: This is how bullets from an AR-15 blow the body apart.” Although deeply troubling, I hope you can and will find the means to access it, either here or otherwise.]
Subject to the exception below, “assault weapons” should be banned in America for all but military use and law enforcement. Now.
[In this post, I mean “assault weapons” to include any weapon (and attendant high-capacity magazines) designed or reasonably modifiable to kill a lot of people in a short amount of time, as needed for use in war. I don’t know enough about weapons to make finer distinctions, and lack the patience to quibble with gun rights apologists. If a reasonable case can be made for a weapon’s inclusion within the definition, it’sincluded.]
Let’s take the Constitution first. For those that hear a lot about the hallowed “Second Amendment,” but have better things to do than delve into arcane legal jargon, Amendment II to the Constitution of the United States of America, ratified along with nine other Amendments constituting our Bill of Rights, provides as follows:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
In District of Columbia v. Heller (“Heller”), written by Justice Antonin Scalia for a 5-Justice majority including present Justices (Chief) John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court held that an individual has the right to bear arms, apart from service in a militia, for lawful purposes such as self-defense. At the same time, Justice Scalia — a hero to younger conservative jurists such as current Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett – was ultra-conservative, but he wasn’t crazy. Toward the end of the Heller opinion, he gave the Court and himself some leeway for the future gun rights cases he knew would inevitably arise:
“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. … [N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. [U.S. Supreme Court decision United States v. Miller, 1939] said … that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” … We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’ … It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. … It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. … But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right [i.e., that the right is not “unlimited”]. [Emphasis Added]”
Although Justice Scalia’s language can only be described as tortuous, courts have interpreted his words to uphold state bans on assault weapons such as AR-15s (akin to the M-16s he referred to in his opinion). The reason we have not had a federal ban since 2004 is because Congressional Republicans lack the guts to enact one.
There is not time in this lengthy note to address all of gun rights advocates’ supposed concerns; just three of my favorites:
First: Citizens need assault weapons to protect themselves against an impending government takeover. Let’s put aside reason, dive into the weird world of the Conspiracy-Obsessed, and communicate on their plane: Dude [or Dudette 😉 ], for years, we killed terrorists in the Middle East – smarter, and better equipped than you will ever be — from tens of miles away. If the President decides to take you out, the AR-15 won’t save you. You’ll be vaporized while standing in front of your house, wearing your helmet, waving your weapon and pounding your chest. You won’t even see it coming.
Second: Let’s give guns to the good guys in churches, schools, and stores, and they’ll defend themselves against the bad guys. Put aside the fact that most religious, educators, and shop keepers don’t want to assume the responsibility to defend those within their purview from perpetrators with firearms. How can they reasonably be expected to defend themselves and others in situations that are sometimes beyond the capabilities of trained officers? Aaron Salter, a retired Buffalo police officer, although armed, was outgunned by an 18-year-old in protective gear, and died attempting to defend Tops patrons. …
Finally: If we start to regulate guns, where does it stop? This … makes one blink. Across this country, citizens have had to register their motor vehicles at the state or local level for many decades; this hasn’t resulted in government or anybody else taking our cars away. One obeys traffic lights and speed limits; these regulations haven’t surreptitiously limited anybody’s operation of his/her car. From time to time, for the public good, one needs to demonstrate driving proficiency to maintain your legal right to drive – a right, unlike the use of firearms, that many literally rely upon to sustain their livelihoods — and no one objects, although the number of victims in the vast majority of negligently-caused automobile accidents pales in comparison to the number of victims of many mass shootings.
What’s the exception to the ban I would impose? Citizens ought to be able to retain the assault weapons they already own. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution provide that no person shall be deprived of property “without due process of law.” That said, in addition to a ban on all future manufacture and sale of assault weapons except for and to military and law enforcement authorities, Congress should pass legislation that provides: for a national registry of all assault weapons; that an owner’s failure to register any such weapon(s) within a year after the effective date of the law is a federal crime, making the weapon subject to confiscation and the violator to mandatory fine and jail time; a specific purchase price scale, annually adjusted for depreciation and inflation, at which the government would be obligated to purchase any registered assault weapon offered for sale by its owner; a ban on the sale or other disposition (e.g., by inheritance) to any private party of any registered assault weapon, with a proven violation resulting in weapon confiscation and a fine and jail time for the violator; and since the perpetrator of an injury caused by an assault weapon would almost certainly be beyond civil recourse, a repeal of any laws shielding manufacturers or sellers of assault weapons from civil liability for loss caused by the weapons they manufacture and/or sell, combined with a provision granting anyone suffering physical and/or emotional injury caused by an assault weapon a federal cause of action against the maker or seller of the assault weapon. In order to collect from a defendant under the latter provision, a claimant would need to establish only (i) injury (ii) and that the injury was caused by an assault weapon made or sold by the defendant. Any judgments would not be subject to discharge in bankruptcy.
Such laws would have no effect on citizens’ unlimited rights to purchase, keep and bear multiple handguns, shotguns, or rifles. Even I can see that a citizen might consider more than one handgun necessary for defense of his/her home and a hunter stalking bear would require a more powerful weapon than s/he would use to hunt deer or fowl.
Are any of the proposals set forth in this note going to happen? Obviously not. Are they too extreme? Certainly not. Although it is unrealistic to suggest that banning all assault weapons would have prevented all of the losses suffered by all of the victims of mass shootings that we have witnessed over the past decades – an expert with a long-range rifle can obviously inflict significant damage upon a crowded area — it is fatuous not to recognize and acknowledge that such a ban would have avoided a significant share of the loss and grief – the agony which will never go away — arising from these tragedies. Although it is for the Almighty, and not for me, to judge, I would nonetheless venture that the blood of some of these victims stains the hands of the politicians, who out of fear and ambition have failed for almost 20 years to enact strict controls on assault weapons, every bit as surely as the blood of innocent Ukrainians festers on the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin.”
Jas 4:17. From the Bible’s only recorded Letter of James, the man referred to as the “brother of the Lord” in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.
… If there was ever a good faith belief that we could control this risk to our children and ourselves by identifying those who pose a danger to others, our experience has made a mockery of that belief. We’ll never identify them all. We can’t do worse than we have been by instead doing what we can to keep these terribly destructive weapons out of their hands.
I was planning to put this off – former President Donald Trump’s declaration of candidacy for the 2024 Republican Presidential nomination being insufficient incentive for me to dive back into the pandemonium of presidential politics – but former U.S. UN Amb. and SC Gov. Nikki Haley’s recent declaration of her candidacy for Republican Party’s 2024 Presidential nomination and the likelihood that other Republican hopefuls will soon join her means: It’s that time again.
As all who have read these pages for a while are aware, I consider the winning of general elections to be about matchups – each candidate’s strengths pitted against the other candidate’s weaknesses – but the parties’ nominating processes to be about lanes. In U.S. presidential politics, I would offer that one should picture a five-lane highway: the far-left lane, occupied today for purposes of reference by U.S.VT Sen. Bernie Sanders; the center-left lane, occupied by President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton; the center lane, occupied by independent and moderate voters but without a politician occupant; the center-right lane, occupied by former President George H.W. Bush (and interestingly, now shared by former President Ronald Reagan and former U.S. AZ Sen. John McCain, who during their lifetimes were considered to drive in the far right lane); and the far right lane, now occupied by Mr. Trump. A maxim which all except avid Progressives and ardent MAGAs understand: to win a presidential general election, a Democrat must have sufficient presence in the far-left lane to win the party’s nomination without veering so far left that s/he can’t move back toward the center lane to win the decisive percentage of independent and moderate swing state swing voters who decide the general election, while the Republican must have sufficient presence in the far-right lane to win the party’s nomination without veering so far right that s/he can’t move back toward the center lane to win the decisive percentage of the same swing voter segment. A candidate’s challenge is further complicated by how many other candidates for his/her party’s nomination seek to run in the same lane s/he chooses.
It appears – despite the sage counsel I dispensed in these pages not long ago 😉 – that Mr. Biden does intend to seek another term; but let’s set the Democrats and the political highway’s two left lanes aside for the present, and consider the right two lanes.
Thus far, pundits have identified the following individuals in addition to Mr. Trump and Ms. Haley as among potential contenders for the Republican nomination, listed in alphabetical order: TX Gov. Greg Abbott; former NJ Gov. Chris Christie; U.S. TX Sen. Ted Cruz; FL Gov. Ron DeSantis; former MD Gov. Larry Hogan; former AR Gov. Asa Hutchinson; SD Gov. Kristi Noem; former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence; former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; U.S. SC Sen. Tim Scott; NH Gov. Chris Sununu; VA Gov. Glenn Youngkin; and – not in alphabetical order, given her special status – former U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney. They, as well as any other aspirants for the Republican nomination, drive in one of the two lanes:
In the far-right lane are Mr. Trump and those that have closely associated themselves with the MAGA movement who, if they declare for the Republican nomination, would in effect be seeking to replace Mr. Trump as its leader: Messrs. Abbott, Cruz, DeSantis, Pence, Pompeo, and Ms. Noem. (In fairness, although I consider MAGAism a threat to democracy, I do not consider Mr. Pence himself such a threat. Although I disagree with his domestic agenda and deplore his obsequiousness as Vice President, I am confident that if reasonable evidence showed that he had lost an election, he would accept the result. I have significant doubts in that regard about Mr. Cruz, and don’t know enough to venture an opinion about the rest.)
In the center-right lane are those who have managed to maintain a perception of distance from Mr. Trump and MAGAism: Mses. Haley and Cheney, and Messrs. Christie, Hogan, Hutchinson, Scott, Sununu, and Youngkin. It is no coincidence that Messrs. Hogan, Hutchinson, Sununu, and Youngkin are governors who have been outside Mr. Trump’s maelstrom, while Mr. Scott, the only black Republican Senator, has been able to stake out his own niche. Ms. Haley and Mr. Christie, although past advisors to Mr. Trump, have to some extent been able to disassociate themselves from him. Ms. Cheney’s position needs no elaboration for anyone who hasn’t spent the last two years in a cave in Nome.
I have seen any number of professional political operatives opine that given Mr. Trump’s estimated core 30% support among Republicans, he is the overwhelming favorite to win the party’s nomination and that a large field will almost assure his victory. I have seen these prognosticators scoff at Ms. Haley’s chances, and suggest that the race will quickly become a two-candidate affair between Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis.
They’re professionals and I’m just a retired old blogger, but I see other potential scenarios that I assume at least some of these GOP hopefuls are banking on. The rest in Part II.
There is exquisite irony that then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s disreputable manipulation of Senate procedures — enabling former President Donald Trump to appoint U.S. Supreme Court Justices who thereupon overturned women’s federal Constitutional abortion rights — was likely a notable factor in Democrats retaining their Senate majority in 2022, perhaps costing Mr. McConnell, an octogenarian, his final opportunity to reclaim Senate Majority leadership.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade may well be Republicans’ political gift to Democrats that keeps on giving.
There are seven Justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Justices are elected to 10 year terms, and such races are nominally bipartisan. As all who care are aware, in recent decades such races have become decidedly partisan and relations between the liberal and conservative state Justices frequently acrimonious. Conservatives currently hold a 4-3 advantage. The winners of the just-past February 21st primary, Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz and former WI Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, are vying for a seat on the Court. Ms. Protasiewicz is unabashedly the liberal candidate; Mr. Kelly, who lost to a liberal in his bid to stay on the Court in 2018, is clearly the conservative favorite.
The Protasiewicz-Kelly contest promises to be a tight race, with millions of out-state money contributed to both candidates. Partisans on both sides are acutely aware that former President Donald Trump’s challenge to his 2020 Wisconsin electoral defeat – in which he sought to have disallowed a raft of absentee ballots in liberal Milwaukee and Dane Counties — was rejected in the Wisconsin Supreme Court by only a 4-3 margin that found Mr. Trump’s claims “unreasonable in the extreme.” Since the 2024 presidential race again seems likely to be razor-thin in Wisconsin, each party is wildly desirous of securing a majority on the state’s Supreme Court, which will probably be the final arbiter of any challenges to the initially-tabulated presidential election result.
Most now recognize that former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O’Neill’s famous adage, “All politics is local,” is no longer as true as it once was; the spread of media has nationalized our politics even down to the election of a state’s Supreme Court Justices and election officials. That said, there is a local issue that I would suggest could, by itself, tip the balance in the WI Supreme Court election: women’s right to abortion in Wisconsin.
A Wisconsin state law, a vestige of the 1800s, prohibits abortion in the state. At the same time, Marquette University polls indicate that a significant majority of Wisconsinites – over 60% — support a woman’s right to choose. The Republican-controlled legislature has refused to allow a state referendum on the issue, presumably because the Republicans know how it will turn out.
There can be little doubt that if elected, Judge Protasiewicz will vote for any legal rationale that enables women to obtain abortions in Wisconsin. It seems just as likely that if elected, former Justice Kelly will uphold the current Wisconsin abortion prohibition.
I’m confident that Ms. Protasiewicz is surrounded by savvy political advisors. If I were them – and it takes no prescience to suggest this – during her campaign stops, and in media advertising and literature, I would place relatively lesser emphasis on the potential impact that the Court’s composition might have on the state’s 2024 presidential election or the manner in which the Republicans have dishonorably gerrymandered the state’s legislative districts, and instead – not unlike the way U.S. WI Sen. Ron Johnson turned his 2022 race against then-WI Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes into a referendum on crime – turn this WI Supreme Court contest into a referendum on abortion.
If Ms. Protasiewicz wins the seat, Mr. Kelly will rightfully be able to lay part of the responsibility for his defeat at the feet of Messrs. Trump and McConnell.
A significant majority of Republicans have wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade for about 50 years. Their dog finally caught the bus. At least thus far, it generally hasn’t gone that well. We’ll see what happens this time.
My sense – although the impression, even if now accurate, can be dispelled by NATO allies’ future decisive action – is that Ukraine might be starting to slip away.
“Putin knows that unexpected events can and will blow things off course in domestic and foreign policy. … This means he focuses on contingency and adaptive planning to deal with them. … Having back-up plans means learning from past mistakes as well as successes.”
Mr. Putin; Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy
After initially misunderstanding Ukrainians’ devotion to a Ukrainian state, underestimating Ukrainian grit and determination, grossly overestimating the competence of the Russian military, misjudging NATO unity and resolve, counting on a cold winter to cause Europeans to prioritize Russian fuel over Ukrainian sovereignty, and hoping that vague threats of nuclear weaponry would deter NATO, Russian President Vladimir Putin has adjusted his war strategy to four pillars: holding the Ukrainian territory Russia now controls; terrorizing the Ukrainian population through continuous missile strikes (simultaneously destroying symbols of Ukrainian heritage); transitioning Russia to a wartime footing by mobilizing Russian industry for military production while conscripting a massive number of additional soldiers (i.e., following a centuries-old Russian tradition of feeding untrained Russian bodies into the meat grinder to compensate for Russian officer cronyism and incompetence); and waiting the West out.
Mr. Putin is now literally seeking to grind it out. Evil. But savvy.
For much of the conflict, I consider the United States’ response to have been almost pitch-perfect. The Biden Administration first sought to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine by publicizing its intelligence on Russian plans and deployments. President Joe Biden then masterfully marshaled NATO unity and action. Thereafter, understandably concerned that the conflict could lead to nuclear war (although those fears currently appear abated), America and its NATO allies have (in then-Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby’s word) “curated” their military assistance to Ukraine – a tit for every Russian tat – an approach designed to maintain a fiction that NATO is not at war with Russia.
The irony is that Mr. Putin maintains no such illusions; he considers NATO to be at war with Russia. You know what? He’s right.
At the time this is typed, NATO allies are divided over whether to and which tanks to provide to Ukraine. Reportedly, the United States doesn’t want to provide its Abrams tanks to Ukraine because … they require a lot of training and need a lot of gas. Germany isn’t yet willing to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine because … it isn’t. (Germany reportedly is willing to let other NATO nations send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, and the U.K. is sending 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks.) This follows diddling over whether to and who should provide planes to Ukrainians, diddling over which and how many missile defense systems are suitable for Ukraine (so far, we’ve provided one Patriot system), and hand-wringing over what firepower has too much range to provide to the Ukrainians. (God forbid that they start taking the battle to Russia in Russia, although this might cause some Russians to question Russian media claims about Russia’s success.)
Last week, President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass made a point that resonated with me: slow escalations rarely work; the enemy simply adapts. He used Vietnam as an example, and although that war otherwise has little in common with the Ukrainian conflict, the analogy is apt. NATO has slowly escalated, and Russia has correspondingly adapted.
It’s time for America and its NATO allies to conceptually and viscerally internalize the fact that although at this point only Ukrainians are actively fighting and dying, NATO is indeed at war (albeit so far conventional) with Russia. Poland understands this reality – it has experienced life under Russian rule – which is why, despite its elected leadership’s increasingly illiberal leanings, it is among the NATO allies most aggressively assisting Ukraine’s defense. Finland and Sweden understand Russia’s voraciousness when it is guided by a KGB soul such as Mr. Putin, which is why they seek NATO membership after decades of reluctance. (The Biden Administration should put maximum pressure on Turkey and Hungary to vote to admit Finland and Sweden to NATO immediately. NATO Treaty provisions are what they are, but how to deal with two states that are now at best quasi-allies is an issue that the Alliance needs to consider.) Once NATO as a whole accepts the reality that it is at war with Russia, the steps that follow largely dictate themselves. In America’s case, I would submit that we should refrain only from providing Ukraine nuclear weaponry and the resources required to help rebuff any Chinese invasion of Taiwan; otherwise, within the confines of the Ukrainian aid package Congress passed at the end of 2022, we should furnish Ukrainians whatever we can that they either know or can be trained how to use.
Our national debt is now approaching World War II levels. I wholeheartedly agree that at some time in the not-too-distant future, we do need to lay a plan to curb our spending and increase our revenues. Given their past support of costly initiatives of former Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump, any protests for fiscal conservatism put forth by Republicans during this Congress will obviously be patently hypocritical, but I would further submit that any such claims asserted by MAGAs in the context of limiting future aid to Ukraine will also amount to a cloak for anti-democratic aims. No matter the size of our debt, this is NOT the time to back off on aid to Ukraine – a position I believe to be shared by sensible members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is frequently compared to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. During the last year, I have frequently turned to the World War II speeches Mr. Churchill rendered in the months after France fell to the Nazis and before the United States entered the war. It is clear that Mr. Churchill then believed that if Britaincould just hold on long enough, America’s entry into the war – with its military and manufacturing resources – would ultimately ensure victory. Mr. Zelenskyy is now nervous and exhausted, and he’s showing it. I am confident that he is acutely aware that in one vital respect, his position is in fact the reverse of Mr. Churchill’s so long ago: since the Russian invasion, although seemingly teetering at times, has not collapsed, it is Mr. Putin that is calculating that if he can just hold out long enough, NATO will lose the will to support Ukraine, and then … Ukraine will be Russia’s.
If Mr. Putin was going to be internally deposed for this Russian military debacle, he already would have been. If he is to be externally judged for this monstrous insult to humanity and international order, that reckoning is a long time off. We and our NATO allies need to grasp that we are at war, quit diddling, and give it all we have – now and into the foreseeable future.
I have heard commentators declare that the U.S. House of Representatives’ Republicans’ antics in their ongoing efforts to elect a Speaker don’t constitute a flaw, but rather a facet, of a vibrant democracy. Although an exchange of clashing viewpoints has been one of the wellsprings of American democracy from the days of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, such is only the case if such differing viewpoints are offered in good faith – i.e., with the sincere intent to select a better leader or reach a better policy approach for the greater good of America. I don’t have any insight into the views or motives of the vast majority of Republican House members who are refusing to vote for U.S. CA Rep Kevin McCarthy for Speaker. I have already indicated in these pages that if a GOP representative, I myself wouldn’t be supporting Mr. McCarthy because he has shown that he doesn’t have the steadfastness for the job. That said, I would submit that there is strong evidence that at least two of Mr. McCarthy’s most vocal opponents, election-deniers U.S. FL Rep. Matt Gaetz and U.S. CO Rep. Lauren Boebert, are simply hyper-partisan, self-promoting provocateurs. I see little to indicate any motive for their current drive to oust Mr. McCarthy beyond personal ambition.
The current Republican (Animal) House dysfunction is troubling on a deeper level. As Mr. McCarthy concedes more and more to the most rabid members of his caucus, how will he – and therefore, we – manage when a crisis needing unanticipated funding and unity inevitably occurs during the next two years? Will the agitators come away from this internecine party battle with the power to prevent a vote on a bill raising the federal debt ceiling, causing the United States to default on its full faith and credit? Will they be able to block additional needed aid to Ukraine, or aid to assist Taiwan, should Mainland China elect to invade the island? Will they hinder the provision of assistance to California if it suffers an earthquake, or to Puerto Rico if it is battered by another devastating hurricane, because they don’t consider these to really be part of their America? Will they fund the Biden Administration’s efforts if we are suddenly hit with another pandemic – or declare the announcement of a new virus merely a hoax? You may dismiss these concerns as unduly alarmist. If so, I hope you’re right.
Next: the situation at the southwest border is human tragedy, a logistical quagmire, and a political nightmare. Immigration has been a visceral issue for Republican voters, and generally a political winner for Republicans, for most of this century. On Thursday, the President announced new approaches that may have value and/or simply be a bandage. I have no substantive solutions to offer for the challenges we face. I would venture this: if Mr. Biden intends to seek re-election, his Administration had better achieve notable improvements to our humanitarian and security challenges at the border this year. If not, immigration may well prove to be the issue that Mr. Biden’s Republican opponent can wield most effectively against him in the upcoming campaign.
Next: I find it ironic that Republican-controlled states’ immediate reflex to oppose anything that the Biden Administration proposes is, in certain areas, helping the Administration either substantively or politically. Republican lawsuits thus far successfully thwarting Administration efforts to dismantle Title 42 – a Trump Administration initiative used to quickly expel immigrants at the southwest border – have, by keeping Title 42 in effect, perhaps prevented even greater politically-damaging border havoc for the Administration. (In an irony within an irony, the Administration’s new border protection measures reportedly expand the practice of immediate expulsion authorized under Title 42 to unsponsored migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti.) Likewise, Republican-led states’ efforts to throw out Mr. Biden’s plan to forgive federal student loan debt – no matter what one thinks of the Administration policy substantively – undoubtedly redounds to Mr. Biden’s benefit politically. (The President can justifiably say to all those whose obligations would be forgiven or reduced: “I tried to help you, and they wouldn’t let me.”) Who are those borrowers going to vote for in 2024?
Next: On a human level, all of us who are aware are saddened by the sudden cardiac arrest suffered by Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin in last Monday night’s NFL football game. As this is typed, Mr. Hamlin’s prognosis is reportedly improving. (I heard some ghoul ask one of Mr. Hamlin’s doctors this week whether he might recover sufficiently to return to the game.Really? That reporter should be made to face an unblocked rush from the San Francisco 49er defensive line.) All hope for Mr. Hamlin’s quick and complete recovery. At the same time, I am perplexed by the calls I hear from some for the NFL to “do something” to prevent afflictions such as that suffered by Mr. Hamlin. All who read these pages are aware that I am an NFL fan. Make no mistake: I believe that the NFL and its owners are much more concerned with protecting the multi-billion colossus they have created than they are with player safety. That said, having watched thousands of NFL tackles in my lifetime, I saw nothing unique or untoward about the collision that stopped Mr. Hamlin’s heart. Assuming that the NFL tests all players for cardiac fitness as part of its initial processes, I don’t know what the NFL could have done before or do now to guard against tragic disorders such as Mr. Hamlin incurred Monday night.
Despite the overwhelming popularity of football in this country – a popularity, whether one likes it or not, which arises in large measure from the game’s ferocity – perhaps we should ban the game due to the physiological and attendant psychological damage suffered by players resulting from repeated head and other reasonably-foreseeable trauma. TLOML and I were always happy that our sons never played the game at any serious level. At the same time, if mine was the voice deciding for all of America whether to keep or ban football, I don’t know which way I would vote. Our citizens voluntarily choose to downhill ski, sky dive, rock climb, bungee jump, and play soccer (which at advanced levels has its own head trauma challenges). People are injured or killed every day riding bicycles. By high school, every football player that chooses to play knows the risk. Even though the average NFL career is short, the NFL annual base salary is over $700,000; the average American salary is under $55,000 a year. Even if possessed in my late teens and early 20’s of the wisdom of Medicare-eligible years and aware of the game’s dangers [and despite lacking the coordination to efficiently tie my shoes 😉 ], would I still have gone into the NFL — to make the kind of money that could form a base of financial security for a lifetime — if I had had the ability? I would have.
Finally: Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan has announced that she will not seek re-election in 2024.
I have mentioned a number of times in these pages that I hope, for the good of my children and grandchildren, that U.S. Transportation Secretary and former South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg is someday president of the United States. It has been clear, however, that notwithstanding President Biden’s selection of Mr. Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary – an appointment of an extremely able young politician with a seemingly bright future who withdrew from the 2020 Democratic nomination race (along with U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar) just in time for Mr. Biden to corral all moderate liberal support and win the nomination – Cabinet experience is not a sufficient background upon which to mount a credible campaign for the presidency. If Mr. Buttigieg wishes to run for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination at some point in the future, he will no longer be able to employ the “Exciting Newcomer” lane he used in 2020; he will need a significant position from which to launch his campaign: a Governorship or a U.S. Senate seat. If he can win either office after leaving the Biden Administration, he can bide his time: he will be 42 on election day 2024, which means that he will be viable, from an age perspective, for at least the five presidential election cycles after 2024 – to 2044 [and, judging by the age of our recent major party presidential nominees, perhaps longer 😉 ].
I suspect that Mr. Buttigieg agrees with my assessment that he will need a substantial post if he wishes to mount another campaign for the presidency. I suspect that he agrees with my assessment that no Democrat will be elected a U.S. Senator or Governor in Mr. Buttigieg’s native Indiana for many years to come. I also suspect that he agrees with my assessment that he needs to establish greater rapport with and support in the African American community than he had in 2020 in order to make a viable run. For some months, I thought that he and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, might move their family from Washington, D.C., commuting distance down to Baltimore, since the term of Democratic Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, 79, will expire in two years.
I was wrong about Mr. Buttigieg’s moving plans. Last summer, the Buttigiegs established their legal residence in Traverse City, MI, Mr. C. Buttigieg’s home town, and registered to vote.
There are a lot of ambitious politicians in Michigan, as there are in all states. Many will consider a campaign for Ms. Stabenow’s seat, and all will consider and call Mr. Buttigieg a carpetbagger if he seeks Michigan Democrats’ U.S. Senate nomination. That said, presidential support would be an advantage in a Senate primary contest; the President has compared Mr. Buttigieg to his own beloved son, Beau; and a President pays his debts.
As former President Donald Trump sometimes says: We’ll see what happens.
[At the time this is scheduled, U.S. CA Rep. Kevin McCarthy has failed three times to secure the needed 218 votes needed to become Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.]
I’m flummoxed. We’ve all heard the clichés intoned by commentators: “S/He will do anything to get power.” Or: “S/He will do anything to keep power.” These pronouncements have in recent times frequently been made in reference to Republican officeholders bowing to claims of election fraud they know are false, but are equally applicable to rationalizations by politicians of both parties who understand the proper course but decline to take it to protect their own political careers.
What puzzles me about these phrases: their inclusion of the word, “power.” The groveling in which U.S. CA Rep. Kevin McCarthy has engaged since the November election to try to appease at least 218 members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Republican Caucus so he can become the Speaker of the House has been so publicly demeaning – to the extent that Mr. McCarthy has reportedly agreed to a rule that would provide any handful within the Republican majority the right to seek his ouster from the Speakership at any time – that it is obvious that he doesn’t really seek power; he won’t have any. He covets the trappings of power that would attend having his name etched into some marble Capitol wall under those of recent House Speakers such as Sam Rayburn, Tip O’Neill, Newt Gingrich, and Nancy Pelosi. No matter what you think of these past Speakers’ respective policy preferences, each was knowledgeable, savvy, and tough.
If – imagine this 😉 – I was a member of the House Republican Caucus, I’d be a hard No on Mr. McCarthy (unless the only alternative was U.S. OH Rep. Jim Jordan, whom I consider at this point to arguably present a greater danger to American democracy than former President Donald Trump). My principal objection to Mr. McCarthy would not be among those raised by House Republicans – a number of whom seek an American Apartheid and a few of whom, if reports are accurate, may have lent support to activities surrounding the insurrection on January 6, 2021 — but because he doesn’t have the fortitude. For months, he should have been telling the recalcitrant members of his caucus to either vote for him, or go … (you fill in the rest), and then walked away.
The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is third in line to the presidency of the United States. While some negotiation among any group of ambitious, strong-minded individuals is to be expected, Mr. McCarthy hasn’t grasped that attaining the Speakership by bootlicking would reduce his post to a sham. He apparently lacks the understanding of how to acquire and wield real power, and on this ground alone is unworthy of the position he seeks. Put aside all of the terribly vital issues upon which we generally focus, including the ongoing existential threats of our democracy; put aside the Democrats’ partisan chortling, and any unseemly guilty satisfaction some undoubtedly feel at the Republicans’ disarray; consider only this: If as a result of a devastating terror attack or other tragedy, Mr. McCarthy became President of the United States, do you think Chinese President Xi Jinping or Russian President Vladimir Putin would take him seriously? In their places, would you?
With the coming of the new Congress, in which a Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives seems more intent on dragging us into a maelstrom of hyper-partisan maneuvering and antagonism than serving us, this seems an appropriate time to review President Joe Biden’s first two years in office and ponder his political future.
All presidents since World War II have at least one notable positive achievement to their respective credits. (Even those of us who abhor President Donald Trump must concede that the development of extremely effective COVID-19 vaccines in an unprecedentedly-short amount of time through his Administration’s Operation Warp Speed probably saved millions of lives.) That said, I would submit that at this point in his term, the most consequential American president we have had since Franklin Delano Roosevelt is Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.
The positive value of a president’s accomplishments is determined by the gravity of the challenges s/he faces. I consider Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Mr. Roosevelt to be our three greatest presidents due to the manner in which they successfully addressed the existential threats to our nation that respectively confronted them. President Biden has – thus far, successfully – faced challenges of the same character.
Mr. Biden resolved to run for the presidency after watching Mr. Trump’s waffling response to the unrest arising from the white nationalist marches in Charlottesville, VA, in August, 2017. The President has indicated that after Charlottesville, he considered Democrats’ primary mission to remove Mr. Trump from the White House in 2020, and that he believed (as voting patterns ultimately demonstrated, correctly) that he was the only Democrat who could defeat Mr. Trump (an assessment shared by Mr. Trump). Through his (albeit uncomfortably narrow) victory (by less than 1% in each of the states of Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which provided him the decisive 57 Electoral College votes), Mr. Biden saved America from descending into the fascist autocracy that many of us feared would attend Mr. Trump’s re-election – a fear since confirmed by the uncontested findings of the U.S. House’s “January 6th” Committee.
One could argue that simply by beating Mr. Trump and thus (at least at present) protecting American democracy, Mr. Biden should be placed at the head of his post-WWII peers. Although the President has begun to tout the legislative achievements wrought during his first two years in office, I consider the way he has conducted the presidency – decent, stable, open – and the effective manner in which his Administration dispensed the COVID vaccines becoming available as he took office to be his most notable domestic contributions. I view his legislative accomplishments, while unquestionably impressive given the faction-driven Congress with which he had to deal, to pale in comparison to the manner in which he has protected America and other global democracies by first fostering cohesion among NATO allies when Russia invaded Ukraine – a point at which the alliance was in its greatest disarray since its founding — and since marshalling its effective support of Ukraine while deftly managing American domestic sentiment. Putting aside the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin would obviously be dancing in Kyiv today had Mr. Trump been re-elected, I would venture that none of Mr. Biden’s other living presidential predecessors could have done as well in the face of the Russian aggression as Mr. Biden did within the circumstances he found the world when he took office.
The President hasn’t been perfect – no president is. I think the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was a strategic mistake, there is clearly an unresolved mess at our southwest border, and I question – without knowing the innards of both Congressional and Democratic caucus maneuvering — whether a “small ball” approach to legislation might not have achieved more than his “Go Big” approach, but Mr. Biden has gotten a lot more right than he has wrong.
All Americans owe President Biden a debt of gratitude, whether they see it or not. Even so, he should announce before his upcoming State of the Union Address that he is NOT going to seek re-election.
The President has frequently asserted that we overstayed our mission in Afghanistan, which is why he ordered the withdrawal. If counseling him today, I would remind him that the reason he got into the presidential race in 2020 – the mission – was to beat Donald Trump. He was the only guy who could. He did. The mission was accomplished. Whether by divine providence or fortunate happenstance, he was probably the only 2020 American presidential candidate who, when the situation demanded it, could have as effectively rallied NATO against Russia’s offensive in Ukraine. He did. That course is set.
Presidential elections are about matchups. While Mr. Biden correctly assessed that he was the only Democrat who could defeat Mr. Trump in 2020, I will venture that given Mr. Trump’s obviously significantly-weakened political standing with independent voters, if Mr. Trump wins the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, any moderate (or even moderately-progressive) Democratic candidate facing Mr. Trump, not just Mr. Biden, will be able to claim enough swing voters in enough swing states to win the presidency.
I would suggest to Mr. Biden that his focus for the 2024 presidential election shouldn’t be premised on Mr. Trump winning the Republican nomination; it should be based on what happens if he doesn’t. Mr. Trump’s outsized presence has dominated our collective view of the political landscape since at least the day he assumed the presidency. If Mr. Biden runs and faces any Republican challenger in 2024 save Mr. Trump – across a gamut as wide as FL Gov. Ron DeSantis to (about to be former) U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney – voters’ focus will no longer be centered on Mr. Trump, but will be where it generally is when an incumbent President seeks re-election: on the President.
I find it disconcerting that at least according to some reports, Mr. Biden and his team believe that the Democrats did much better than expected in the 2022 mid-term elections because of Mr. Biden’s and Democrats’ affirmative domestic and foreign policy achievements. One can certainly argue that those accomplishments should have been the reasons that the Democrats fared as well as they did, but I consider it a dangerous misperception to believe that they were; if they had been, Mr. Biden’s approval rating would be significantly higher than it is. While Democrats’ fortunes were clearly politically aided by the Republican-appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justices’ vitiation of women’s U.S. Constitutional abortion rights, I would assert that they did better than expected – while in reality, doing no more than squeaking by – principally because a majority of Americans (if not a majority of Republicans) couldn’t stomach the notion of turning their government over to election deniers – i.e., either liars or fools. Such hardly constituted a resounding mandate for Democrats.
I would submit that if the President seeks re-election in 2024 and Mr. Trump is not the Republican nominee, one issue will dominate voters’ minds: Mr. Biden’s age. He would be running for re-election when 4 years older than President Ronald Reagan was when he left the White House.
As most that read these pages are aware, we live in Madison, WI, perhaps the chief citadel of progressivism between the coasts. Even so, when the prospect of another Biden campaign comes up in conversation, almost to a person our friends – if called upon, certain Biden 2024 votes — either cringe or shrug. “He’s so old,” they say – the italics implicit in their tone. A decade younger than Mr. Biden, I myself wonder: How does Mr. Biden keep up the pace? Even if the President doesn’t fall subject to some significant physical ail during the next six years: How can he possibly maintain the presidential pace until he is 86? Any political handicapper cannot help but consider: If Mr. Biden’s age is a paramount concern to those who will be committed Biden supporters, how well will Mr. Biden score with independent voters in what promises to be an extremely tight race against committed Republican opposition if his (probably significantly younger) Republican opponent is not so overtly autocratically toxic as Mr. Trump?
A key part of a great performance is knowing when to leave the stage: an understanding shared by Johnny Carson and Joe DiMaggio, not grasped by Michael Jordan or Tom Brady. Aside from what seems at least to me to be a very uncertain political route to a second term, I would suggest to Mr. Biden that it is not substantively good for the country to have a president as old as he is; only the existential dangers to the country presented by Mr. Trump even made him consider a candidacy in 2020. As long as he remains a viable political presence, the House Republicans will be hell-bent on tarnishing his name and dragging his son, Hunter (whom he clearly truly loves) through the mud. It is a presidential power maxim that a president loses the ability to get things done when s/he either can’t run or indicates that s/he won’t run for another term; I would venture that in Mr. Biden’s case, the opposite might be true. He can govern above the fray, establish an apolitical credibility. Republicans will lose interest in his son the minute he announces he isn’t seeking re-election. Since no progressive legislation is going to get through the House Republicans in any case, Mr. Biden might be able to achieve some moderate bipartisan agreements with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and swing district House Republicans they don’t see such resulting legislation as directly aiding a Biden re-election effort.
In the last two years, Mr. Biden has successfully protected democracy at home and abroad. While I sincerely hope that this will not always be the case, it seems overwhelmingly likely that in order to win the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, the Republican candidate will need to accommodate MAGAism to at least some extent, which I would assert means that s/he will, to at least that extent, present a continuing danger to American democracy. I would advise Mr. Biden that the best way he can secure what he has won for us is to step aside for another Democrat better positioned to defend his advances against what will undoubtedly be a fierce and cohesive Republican onslaught.
Thank you for the honor of sharing these posts with you again in 2022. May you and all of your family and friends enjoy a Healthy and Happy New Year.
Although I consider President Joe Biden to have done an exceptional job during the first two years of his term, I would submit that neither the policies of the Democrats nor of the Republicans received a mandate in this last election season; it was Americans’ belief in democracy that won. Right now, let us savor it with proclamations by our greatest real and fictional presidents.
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America
… I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday in the month of November … as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up ascriptions justly due Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become … sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.