Archive

June 14th, 2016

Girl Squad

    Hillary Clinton greets Elizabeth Warren in the cream-and-coral sunroom of her home on Embassy Row.

    “Elizabeth, welcome,” Clinton says, smiling stiffly. “I was worried that you were lost since it was taking you so-o-o-o long to finally get here.”

    “Hahaha,” Warren replies. “I’ve always heard you’re a hoot in private. I know I was the last Democratic woman in the Senate to endorse you but Bernie and I have more in common. We don’t buckrake on Wall Street. People are enthusiastic about us and believe what we say. We’re pure.”

    “Pure scolds,” Hillary sniffs. “I guess it hit you, when you saw me fighting for my life against a dyspeptic 74-year-old socialist with one suit, that if you had jumped in, you could have been the first woman president.”

    “Yes,” Warren muses. “I only loaned Bernie my progressive hordes. I’m the real leader of that movement.”

    “Not anymore,” Hillary says.

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June 13th

In praise of superdelegates

    Though often fiercely partisan, Americans have no great love for political parties as such. Ever since James Madison wrote his mistrust of "factions" into the Constitution, parties and their "bosses" have been repeatedly attacked as privileged insiders bent on thwarting or twisting democratic processes.

    Madison's plan worked, partially. With 50 state governments and with a federal government divided between a bicameral legislative branch and a president, the United States produces parties that are relatively unstructured and ideologically amorphous - and generally only two of them. Parliamentary systems encourage multiple disciplined parties, representing more, and more distinct, interests and sentiments.

    The other side of the story is that American parties still provided valuable public services, including the facilitation of collective action by like-minded, or at least compatible, citizens; continuity and responsibility in ideology; and, last but not least, the vetting of aspirants for public office.

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The First Gay President?

    If you went into some laboratory to concoct a perfect Democratic candidate, you’d be hard pressed to improve on Pete Buttigieg, the 34-year-old second-term mayor of this Rust Belt city, where he grew up and now lives just two blocks from his parents.

    Education? He has a bachelor’s from Harvard and a master’s from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

    Public service? He’s a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve. For seven months in 2014, he was deployed to Afghanistan — and took an unpaid leave from work in order to go.

    He regularly attends Sunday services at his Episcopal church. He runs half-marathons. His TEDx talk on urban innovation in South Bend is so polished and persuasive that by the end of it, you’ve hopped online to price real estate in the city.

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Is It a Crime to Be Poor?

    In the 1830s, the civilized world began to close debtors’ prisons, recognizing them as barbaric and also silly: The one way to ensure that citizens cannot repay debts is to lock them up.

    In the 21st century, the United States has reinstated a broad system of debtors’ prisons, in effect making it a crime to be poor.

    If you don’t believe me, come with me to the county jail in Tulsa. On the day I visited, 23 people were incarcerated for failure to pay government fines and fees, including one woman imprisoned because she couldn’t pay a fine for lacking a license plate.

    I sat in the jail with Rosalind Hall, 53, a warm, mild-mannered woman with graying hair who has been imprisoned for a total of almost 18 months, in short stints, simply for failing to pay a blizzard of fines and fees relating to petty crimes (for which she separately served time). Hall has struggled for three decades with mental illness and drug addictions and has a long history of shoplifting to pay for drugs, but no violent record.

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The GOP's Trumpian Catch-22

    Hillary Clinton faces a strategic choice. She can concentrate on closing off Donald Trump's potential openings with the white working class. Or she can build large leads among more affluent voters, many of whom are moderate and see Trump as dangerous, extreme and temperamentally unfit.

     She will necessarily do some of both -- she needs a decent share of the blue-collar vote to hold key Midwestern states -- and she will have to rally what have been core Democratic constituencies: younger voters, who eluded her during the primaries, African-Americans and Latinos. But the direction of her campaign and her selection of a running mate will depend in significant part on the class tilt of her strategy.

    For the moment, however, her decisions are easy compared with those confronting Republicans. Trump's stubborn refusal to transition away from his persona during the primaries has put the party's leaders in an impossible position.

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You can't be for and against Trump

    Republicans can't have it both ways: If you say you intend to cast your ballot for Donald Trump, that's an endorsement. You can be for him or against him, but not both.

    So don't even try to take the untenable position that Rep. Bill Flores of Texas, chairman of the influential Republican Study Committee, tried to outline. "I will vote for him," Flores said, "but in terms of getting my endorsement, I don't endorse people that bash a judge based on his ethnic heritage."

    You just did, Congressman.

    Equally absurd, and even more cynical, is what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is doing: encouraging Trump to pretend to be something he is not. "Using a prepared text last night and not attacking any other Americans was a good start," McConnell said, referring to Trump's teleprompter-assisted speech Tuesday evening. "I think it's still time for him to act like a presidential candidate should be acting. So I haven't given up hope."

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The Parent Trap

    Somehow, it's always the parents' fault. We are too lax, except when we are too helicoptery. We coddle the kids too much, except when we drive them into neurotic overachievement. We are enablers. No, we are Tiger Moms. The societal urge to blame is matched only by the parental instinct to second-guess -- ourselves as much as our fellow parents.

    And so, two big and otherwise unrelated news stories of the last few weeks -- the killing of a silverback gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo and the lenient sentence imposed on a former Stanford student for sexual assault -- arrive with an unavoidable overlay of debate over proper parenting.

    The first reaction to the zoo story, and the decision to shoot the gorilla to protect the toddler who fell into the animal's enclosure, was entirely unsurprising: Blame the mommy. Not just blame her -- prosecute her. Surely no responsible parent could have allowed her child to escape her watchful eye. Call Child Protective Services.

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The best way to fight campus rape

    Last week, a California judge sentenced former Stanford University swimmer Brock Allen Turner to six months in jail for a horrifying sexual assault on an unconscious, alcohol-impaired woman. The resulting uproar over the sentence's undue leniency risks missing the most important lesson of the case.

    Contrary to campus conventional wisdom, the Turner case shows that the best way to deal with a campus sexual assault problem is to rely on law enforcement professionals to protect women and to pursue justice, not on campus disciplinary systems run by amateur sex bureaucrats.

    The backlash against Turner's sentence is being exploited by a powerful but misguided movement to delegitimize law enforcement as the best way to handle campus sexual assaults. The accusers' rights group Know Your IX has claimed that even reporting an assault to police could harm campus victims. "#copsoffcampus," the group recently tweeted.

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Republican leaders who support Trump are modern-day Neville Chamberlains

    American conservatives are fond of World War II analogies, especially those that illustrate the dangers of appeasing dictators. In this historical appropriation, today's conservatives invariably assume the role of Winston Churchill, courageously telling the truth regardless of the consequences. Their liberal adversaries, meanwhile, behave as latter-day Neville Chamberlains, hoping against reality that diplomacy and concessions will satiate the desires of evil men.

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Mr. Trump is ready for his close-up. Always.

    Donald Trump tapped my arm as we flew to Los Angeles on his jet and, between bites of Oreos, confided a little something: "Clint Eastwood is the greatest star ever," he said. "All those Sergio Leone westerns. Nobody was cooler."

    This wasn't entirely true, I suspected. Deep down inside, Trump has always believed that he's the greatest star who has ever existed.

    Once upon a time -- long before the carnival that is the 2016 presidential election -- Trump set his sights on Hollywood.

    When Trump was 18, he wanted to be a movie producer. He told me that he considered attending the University of Southern California to study filmmaking after he graduated from military school in 1964 (several years later he even produced an ill-fated Broadway show, "Paris Is Out"). Inevitably, perhaps, he was drawn instead into his father's real estate business.

    Still, Trump's fascination with movies never wavered, a fact that became abundantly clear as I traveled with him in 2004 and 2005 to report a book on his life and business. (Disclosure: Trump later sued me for that book because, among other things, it questioned the size of his fortune. The suit was later dismissed. )

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