Politics & Policy

The Double Standard for High-Profile Sexual-Misconduct Accusations

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, September 4, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The ongoing effort to institute a new standard, that an accusation is sufficient evidence of guilt in the court of public opinion; a celebrity publicly bristles at an insult on social media, raising the question of whether anyone can just let a slight pass anymore; and another lesson of why we shouldn’t be too quick to judge anyone depicted in a viral video.

The On-Again, Off-Again Skepticism about High-Profile Sexual-Misconduct Accusations

In 2009, massage therapist Molly Hagerty went to the Portland, Ore., Police and gave a lengthy statement claiming that about three years earlier, former vice president Al Gore “pinned her to a bed in his hotel suite, forcibly French kissed her, and groped her breasts.” She described herself as “petrified during the encounter and how she had to bolt the room to avoid being raped.” She also described Gore as having a violent temper. She had gone to Portland Police three years earlier, but abruptly stopped cooperating with the investigation. Then, without a clear explanation, she returned and gave a full account to investigators.

The Portland Police opened an investigation and interviewed Gore. In June of 2010, news of the investigation broke, and Gore adamantly denied the accusation. Steve Kornacki, then of Salon and currently with MSNBC, told his readers that three reasons to be skeptical jump out: The Portland Police had not initially chosen to follow up on her allegation, a local newspaper had heard her story and chosen to not publish any articles about it, and that several celebrities are falsely accused of sex crimes before.

Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post pointed to the masseuse’s comment that Gore behaved like a “crazed sex poodle” and chuckled, “There are hundreds of jokes to be made here. I won’t make any of them, because I don’t want the world to be destroyed by global warming.” Marc Ambinder, then with The Atlantic, assessed her account with great skepticism:

The narrative is pulpy and riveting and tragicomic. You half expect there to be a reference to a “torn bodice” at some point. Either the masseuse or Mr. Gore has an extremely vivid imagination, and in our system of justice, we must presume that since the police did not file charges, Gore is innocent.

(You notice that there is little of this skepticism and reasoning around for the current accusations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh.)

The Portland District Attorney’s office chose not to press charges against Gore, contending that Hagerty failed a polygraph test, sold her story to the National Enquirer, and had not agreed to turn over certain medical records. “This case is not appropriate for criminal prosecution. The matter is closed and the investigative materials will be returned to PPB [the Portland Police Bureau].” The former Vice President was cleared of the charges, or at least as much as a man can be.

The only two people who know precisely what happened in that room are Al Gore and the masseuse, but there is no fair way to characterize Gore as a sexual predator or a creep. Sexual predators don’t look a certain way, publicly behave a certain way, or vote a certain way.

Nor do they come from particular backgrounds. In the coming days, you’re likely to hear a lot of sneering about wealthy and privileged white guys who attended prep schools and the Ivy Leagues, a lot of fuming about how anyone with a background like Brett Kavanaugh’s — mother who is a judge, father who is a head of a perfume-maker’s trade association, Georgetown Prep, Yale University — must be arrogant, entitled, smug, and elitist. Of course, that background is hard to distinguish from Al Gore’s — father who is a senator, mother who is a lawyer, living in the Fairfax Hotel on Embassy Row in Washington, attending Saint Albans prep school and going on to Harvard University.

Apparently, we only hate the preppies when they’re in the other party.

False, or unprovable, accusations of rape and sexual assault occur. The 2014 Rolling Stone article. The 2006 accusations against the Duke Lacrosse team. Columbia University’s “Mattress Girl.” Those high-profile examples don’t mean one should instinctively refuse to believe every accusation, any more than the cases of Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski, or Mike Tyson mean one should instinctively believe every accusation.

But right now, many Kavanaugh foes are eager to implement a new standard that they would never agree to live under themselves — that the accusation itself is sufficient evidence of guilt. Some are surprisingly explicit about it, such as Matthew Dowd, the chief political analyst of ABC News:

Enough with the “he said, she said” storyline. If this is he said, she said, then let’s believe the she in these scenarios. She has nothing to gain, and everything to lose. For 250 years we have believed the he in these scenarios. Enough is enough.

Senate Democrats want the FBI to investigate the claims, but a Department of Justice spokesman has already pointed out that Christine Blasey Ford’s account does not describe a federal crime.

It is fair to ask just what an investigation at this date would involve. The accuser does not remember the date of the alleged crime; she can only narrow it down to “near the end of her sophomore year.” She cannot remember the location of the scene of the crime. After 36 years, there are no forensic tests to run, and there is no physical evidence to collect or analyze. She names one witness, Mark Judge, who denies her accusation.

In 2012, 30 years after the alleged events, the accuser either told her therapist that there were four boys involved, or the therapist misunderstood and miswrote that she said four boys were involved.

No one at the school remembers hearing about any allegation along these lines involving Kavanaugh during his time there. Two of Kavanaugh’s ex-girlfriends from around that time period have come forward to publicly declare they never witnessed or experienced any behavior similar to what the accuser describes. And of course, Kavanaugh has categorically denied the accusation.

But if the foes of Kavanaugh are determined to implement a new standard — that the accusation itself is sufficient evidence of guilt — then that new standard will be implemented for figures in both parties, whether they realize it or not.

If you believe that Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Keith Ellison, Al Franken, and Bobby Scott are all falsely accused, while Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Donald Trump, Blake Fahrenthold, Roy Moore, and Eric Greitens are all guilty as sin — or vice versa! — you’re part of the problem.

Does Everyone Let Insults Get Under Their Skin?

Last night, model Chrissy Teigen responded on Twitter when the morning-news anchor of the Temple, the Texas, NBC affiliate, asked on the social-media platform, “Chrissy Teigen is beautiful but does she have to be included in everything just because she’s married to John Legend?”

I’m sure that offended Teigen; it’s always insulting to have someone suggest you’re just an appendage to your spouse. (In the diplomatic and military communities, the non-government employee is sometimes called “the trailing spouse.” I suppose that’s one step above “tagalong.”)

But I can’t help but notice that Chrissy Teigen is . . . well, living the life of Chrissy Teigen. She’s ranked among the best-known models in the world since 2007, appearing on calendars and just about every glamorous magazine cover imaginable. Last year, she was the highest-paid model in the world, according to Forbes, making an estimated $13.5 million. She’s been a recurring guest host and contributor to lots of television programs on various networks, and appears in commercials for plenty of products. She’s had a cookbook that became a New York Times bestseller, and has another cookbook on the way. She has her own clothing line.

She has what appears to be a happy marriage, other than her husband constantly taking all the phone recharging wires, and two beautiful children. From what we in the public can see, she has oodles of friends and admirers, travels around the world, and meets fascinating people. It is about as charmed and blessed a life as one can imagine; the world is her oyster.

And yet, a snarky and disrespectful comment from a little-known news anchor with about 1,250 followers . . . bugged her.

Should it bother her this much? Should it bother anyone that much?

ADDENDUM: Social media is turning us into judgmental jerks, example No. 1 million: “A man who was mocked online after he was recorded shaving at his seat on a commuter train headed out of New York City said he was just trying to clean up after days spent in a homeless shelter.”

White House

This Week Will Make the Clarence Thomas Confirmation Hearings Look Civil and Agreeable

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, September 4, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

We need a way to evaluate accusations of sexual misconduct against public figures beyond “I like the accused person” or “I don’t like the accused person.”

Up until Sunday afternoon, the vague-but-ominous-sounding accusation against Kavanaugh didn’t have a named accuser, and those of us who prefer to see the judge confirmed had an exceptionally strong argument: You can’t destroy a man’s career and reputation on the basis of an anonymous allegation and no evidence.

Now it’s no longer an anonymous accusation; the Washington Post printed the account of Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford Sunday afternoon, and the accusation now has some more specifics. But there’s a catch:

After so many years, Ford said she does not remember some key details of the incident. She said she believes it occurred in the summer of 1982, when she was 15, around the end of her sophomore year at the all-girls Holton-Arms School in Bethesda. Kavanaugh would have been 17 at the end of his junior year at Georgetown Prep.

Ford said she does not recall the date “around the end of her sophomore year” or the exact location, or “who owned the house or how she got there.” It’s natural that some memories would be hazy after 36 years and alcohol consumption at the time of the incident; in Ford’s account, she had a beer. But this means that if anyone can contradict any detail of her account, she has the built-in excuse of a hazy memory. Perhaps Kavanaugh could prove he was away from the D.C. area during some periods of late spring or the summer of 1982, but because the allegation can’t even be narrowed to a particular month, that would be pointless.

There is evidence that Ford discussed her experience and allegations before now, but that has complications:

Ford said she told no one of the incident in any detail until 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband. The therapist’s notes, portions of which were provided by Ford and reviewed by The Washington Post, do not mention Kavanaugh’s name but say she reported that she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who went on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” The notes say four boys were involved, a discrepancy Ford says was an error on the therapist’s part. Ford said there were four boys at the party but only two in the room.

As noted, Kavanaugh denied the accusation. The White House points out that Kavanaugh has undergone six FBI background checks over the course of his career and none of them uncovered this event, or any other events like it. The one other witness that Ford names, Kavanaugh’s friend and classmate Mark Judge, denied her allegations in a statement to The Weekly Standard:

Now that the anonymous person has been identified and has spoken to the press, I repeat my earlier statement that I have no recollection of any of the events described in today’s Post article or attributed to her letter. Since I have nothing more to say I will not comment further on this matter. I hope you will respect my position and my privacy.

The Post writes, “Ford named two other teenagers who she said were at the party. Those individuals did not respond to messages on Sunday morning.”

As of this writing, there are no photographs of the two together, no letters between them, no physical evidence proving that the two met each other, much less that the events occurred as she described.

The allegation against Kavanaugh is almost certain to get lumped into the discussions about #MeToo and powerful men engaging in wanton sexual misconduct. Unless more women come forward, this will be exceptionally unfair to the judge; all of the most infamous cases of #MeToo have involved multiple accusers and patterns of abuse. In at least two cases that were briefly high profile, the accusations were found to be either false or insufficiently provable to carry consequences. CNN reinstated Ryan Lizza, formerly of The New Yorker, after conducting what it called “an extensive investigation” and concluding, “based on the information provided and the findings of the investigation, CNN has found no reason to continue to keep Mr. Lizza off the air.” AMC reinstated television host Chris Hardwick after a suspension for allegations of being abusive in a past relationship, declaring “given the information available to us after a very careful review, including interviews with numerous individuals, we believe returning Chris to work is the appropriate step.”

The Post‘s story ends with Ford’s husband declaring:

“I think you look to judges to be the arbiters of right and wrong,” Russell Ford said. “If they don’t have a moral code of their own to determine right from wrong, then that’s a problem. So I think it’s relevant. Supreme Court nominees should be held to a higher standard.”

Indeed, but . . . Kavanaugh has been a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals since 2006. If this allegation is serious and important enough to deter his confirmation by the Senate now . . . why was it not serious and important enough to deter his confirmation by the Senate twelve years ago?

The coming week is going to be an ugly one, with half of the political world screaming at the other, “How can you be so certain that she’s telling the truth?” and the other half yelling back, “How can you be so certain that she’s lying?” The problem is that if Kavanaugh is confirmed, a (likely vocal) segment of the public will forever accuse him of committing sexual assault and getting away with it — and if Ford is telling the truth, he did. If Kavanaugh is rejected, it means an accuser can come forward after 36 years, with no evidence beyond her own account, and not able to remember key details, and ruin the life and career of a man.

Why Democrats Think $40 Trillion in New Spending Is Reasonable and Feasible

On Sunday morning, Jake Tapper tried to get Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to explain where she would find the $40 trillion needed to pay for her agenda. I know this will shock you, but she didn’t have many good answers.

TAPPER: Your platform has called for various new programs, including Medicare for all, housing as a federal right, a federal jobs guarantee, tuition-free public college, canceling all student loan debt. According to nonpartisan and left-leaning studies friendly to your cause, including the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities or the Tax Policy Center, the overall price tag is more than $40 trillion in the next decade.   You recently said in an interview that increasing taxes on the very wealthy, plus an increased corporate tax rate, would make $2 trillion over the next 10 years. So, where is the other $38 trillion going to come from?

OCASIO-CORTEZ:  Well, one of the things that we need to realize when we look at something like Medicare for all, Medicare for all would save the American people a very large amount of money. And what we see as well is that these systems are not just pie in the sky.  They are — many of them are accomplished by every modern, civilized democracy in the Western world.  The United — the United Kingdom has a form of single-payer health care, Canada, France, Germany. What we need to realize is that these investments are better and they are good for our future.  These are generational investments, so that not just — they’re not short-term Band-Aids, but they are really profound decisions about who we want to be as a nation and as — and how we want to act, as the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.

Tapper pressed again, and she continued:

 OCASIO-CORTEZ:  What these represent are lower costs overall for these programs. And, additionally, what this is, is a broader agenda.  We do know and we acknowledge that there are political realities.  They don’t always happen with just the wave of a wand.  But we can work to make these things happen.  And, in fact, when we — when you look at the economic activity that it spurs, for example, if you look at my generation, millennials, the amount of economic activity that we do not engage, the fact that we delay purchasing homes, that we don’t participate in the economy and purchasing cars, et cetera, as fully as possible, is a cost. It is an externality, if you will, of unprecedented — unprecedented amount of student loan debt.

TAPPER: So, I’m assuming I’m not going to get an answer for the other $38 trillion.

We can scoff at how, when pushed for specifics, Ocasio-Cortez provides a steady stream of gobbledygook. But if you’re wondering why today’s Democrats are embracing socialism and new spending programs that are wildly expensive and ambitious even by the standards of the past generation of Democrats . . . how much of it reflects the end of the Republican party as the debt-focused party? We used to have one party that ignored the debt and another that paid lip service to it. Now we have two parties that ignore it.

We’re on pace for a trillion-dollar deficit this year, during an economic boom. And this is with the amount of money collected by the federal government in terms of taxes, fees, and tariffs increasing :“Receipts totaled $2,985 billion during the first 11 months of fiscal year 2018, CBO estimates — $19 billion more than during the same period last year.” Even with the tax cuts, the government is taking in oodles of money, but it’s still spending it at a faster rate.

Many Democrats consciously or subconsciously notice, “If there’s no political or noticeable economic consequence to running a $1 trillion-per-year deficit, why not spend even more and have a $2 trillion or $3 trillion annual deficit?”

ADDENDA: Yesterday was a deep disappointment for my Jets, but probably the team that had it roughest was the Buffalo Bills, who had cornerback Vontae Davis decide to retire at halftime of yesterday’s game against the Chargers. That’s not a metaphor for playing half-heartedly in the second half; he decided he “didn’t feel like himself” and took himself out of the game.

I hope Bills coach Sean McDermott’s halftime pep talk wasn’t about the importance of not quitting.

“Okay, guys, I know we’re trailing and it looks tough, but let’s go out there and show them that we never give up!”

“Coach, I’m retiring immediately.”

Politics & Policy

Wait, That Allegation Sat on Dianne Feinstein’s Desk Since Late July?

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, September 4, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Senator Dianne Feinstein promises a vague bombshell and Ronan Farrow fills in the details; Mr. Nanny State himself is allegedly running for president; and Democrats say they expect to see another old, familiar face return to the campaign trail in 2020.

The FBI Tip Line Has to Deal with a Lot of Cranks

Yesterday afternoon, California senator Dianne Feinstein said she referred unspecified information about Brett Kavanaugh to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but refused to offer any specifics.

By Thursday night, reports suggested the information was wildly vague.

A source who claimed to have been briefed on the contents of the letter said it described an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman that took place when both were 17 years old and at a party. According to the source, Kavanaugh and a male friend had locked her in a room against her will, making her feel threatened, but she was able to get out of the room. The Guardian has not verified the apparent claims in the letter. It is not yet clear who wrote it.

Kavanaugh was 17 years old in 1982. Quick, call Agents Mulder, Scully, Cooper, Booth, Dunham, Terranova, and Erskine! Get all the forensics teams out to that party house! Alert the U.S. attorney! Ready the hostage-rescue teams! Alert Quantico!

By the middle of Friday morning, Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker added some details that made it sound much more serious.

The allegation dates back to the early nineteen-eighties, when Kavanaugh was a high-school student at Georgetown Preparatory School, in Bethesda, Maryland, and the woman attended a nearby high school. In the letter, the woman alleged that, during an encounter at a party, Kavanaugh held her down, and that he attempted to force himself on her. She claimed in the letter that Kavanaugh and a classmate of his, both of whom had been drinking, turned up music that was playing in the room to conceal the sound of her protests, and that Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand. She was able to free herself. Although the alleged incident took place decades ago and the three individuals involved were minors, the woman said that the memory had been a source of ongoing distress for her, and that she had sought psychological treatment as a result.

In a statement, Kavanaugh said, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

Kavanaugh’s classmate said of the woman’s allegation, “I have no recollection of that.”

The woman declined a request for an interview with The New Yorker.

The FBI responded as one would expect: “The bureau does not plan to launch a criminal investigation, according to a person familiar with the matter — a probe that would normally be handled by local authorities if it were within the statute of limitations.”

We have an allegation of a very serious crime by an accuser who doesn’t want to go public, with no corroborating witnesses or evidence.

Other unidentified sources characterized the letter’s content to the New York Times on Thursday as an allegation of “possible sexual misconduct.” Assuming Farrow’s description is true, the sources of The Guardian are seriously misleading about the contents of the letter. (Of course, no news organization has provided the public with a copy of the letter.) While it’s conceivable that the letter mentions both, it doesn’t make sense that one source would only describe one part of the allegation while the other source only described another part. It is more plausible that either The Guardian’s sources describing a “locked in a room” scenario or the Times sources describing “sexual misconduct” are lying.

If the letter is ever released, and any of these characterizations were inaccurate, will any news organization reveal its sources for giving them wrong, or at best extremely misleading information?

The White House Is Understandably Outraged

Farrow’s article mentions that Feinstein has had the letter since “late July.” And she issues a vague press release about it days before the committee’s vote?

“Throughout his confirmation process, Judge Kavanaugh has had 65 meetings with senators — including with Senator Feinstein — sat through over 30 hours of testimony, addressed over 2,000 questions in a public setting and additional questions in a confidential session. Not until the eve of his confirmation has Senator Feinstein or anyone raised the specter of new ‘information’ about him,” said White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec. “Senator Schumer promised to ‘oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have,’ and it appears he is delivering with this 11th hour attempt to delay his confirmation.”

Every Supreme Court nomination brings some antics and political stunts, but the Democrats have really turned it up to eleven with Kavanaugh. The constant interrupting protesters throughout the confirmation hearing, Cory Booker’s “I am Spartacus” routine, Kamala Harris’s blatant dishonesty about Kavanaugh’s positions and writing, the implausible “Kavanaugh refused to shake my hand” stunt from the father of a Parkland-shooting victim, and now this last-minute evidence-free vague accusation. Even by the standards of shameless political stunts and grandstanding, this feels . . . disproportionate. The Neil Gorsuch confirmation fight wasn’t that long ago, and Democrats didn’t resort to all of this in 2017.

Democrats are reacting to everything about Kavanaugh with alarm and horror, even though every step of the process was predictable. Rumors about Justice Kennedy retiring grew louder each year. Judge Kavanaugh is well known and well respected in Washington’s legal community. He wasn’t on Trump’s initial list of potential justices, but he was one of five additions Trump made to the list back in November 2017, eight months before Kennedy announced his retirement. Everyone knew that a five–four originalist/strict constructionist/conservative majority was likely to happen . . . but if we’re being honest with ourselves, replacing Kennedy with Kavanaugh doesn’t really change the dynamics of the court that dramatically. Kennedy’s decisions on gay rights and gay marriage set his reputation, but he voted with the conservative/strict constructionist/originalist wing on most other issues.

Some Democrats will inevitably argue that this is simply payback to Republicans for the refusal to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland. But Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell operated within the rules of the Constitution — that is, there’s nothing in the Constitution or law that said that the Senate had to consider Garland.

You can argue that Senate Republicans should have given Merrick Garland a hearing. But at the end of the hearing, Republicans could have and should have said, “The fights over Justices Roberts and Alito established the precedent that senators can vote against the confirmation of a well-qualified, scandal-free judge if he disagrees with the philosophy and legal vision of the nominee. Therefore, I vote against Judge Garland.”

Perhaps Democrats have convinced themselves that if Garland had gotten a hearing and vote, they could have persuaded four of the then-54 Senate Republicans to vote for him. That would have been a tall order. Perhaps Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, although remember Murkowski was up for reelection in 2016? Maybe Illinois’s Mark Kirk . . . and then who? Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire? No way she’s voting to confirm a Supreme Court nominee from President Obama while running for reelection. Thirty-one Republicans voted against Sotomayor, and 37 voted against Elena Kagan.

And mind you, this would be happening in the heat of the Trump-Hillary campaign. Do you think four Republicans would vote to give Obama one more Supreme Court justice, right before facing the voters? Extremely unlikely.

So you’ve got this volcanic, rule-smashing, evidence-free-accusing, decorum-obliterating, dishonest, code-red nuclear meltdown of a reaction from Democrats in response to a well-respected, rigorous, mild-mannered judge . . . who some conservatives (such as David French) doubted was the best possible pick.

Yes, some of this reflects 2020 ambitions on the part of Booker and Harris, some of this reflects anti-Trump rage, some of this reflects Democratic certainty that on day one Kavanaugh would say to his colleagues, “Hey, everybody, what do you say we ban abortion?” But one almost wonders if there’s something else at work here. Everyone could see that with 51 Republican senators and a bunch of red-state Democratic senators who had voted for Gorsuch seeking reelection, Kavanaugh was a very safe bet for confirmation. Why are Democrats concentrating so much energy and time and focus on a battle they’re certain to lose?

It leaves one wondering, is there some other X-factor at work in all this?

Are some people worried about the health of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Stephen Breyer or something?

He’s Coming for Your Large Sodas, America

Finally, an egomaniacal septuagenarian New York City billionaire will run for president, to save the country from having an egomaniacal septuagenarian New York City billionaire as president.

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire founder of a business news empire, is preparing to run for president as a Democrat, The Times understands.

Mr Bloomberg, 76, a former mayor of New York with a personal fortune of more than $50 billion, has previously considered running as an independent but decided against it in 2012 for fear of splitting the Democratic vote.

He has told confidants that he is planning to join the presidential race, in which several leading business figures could follow the example of Donald Trump and throw their hats in the ring.

This is actually good news for the president. If Bloomberg runs for president the way he ran for mayor, he will attempt to overwhelm all of his Democratic opponents with a tidal wave of spending. Forget about it, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and the rest of the also-rans. You would probably see Howard Schultz countering with his own big-ticket advertising blitz, and those of us watching the primary from the outside will laugh ourselves silly as the self-proclaimed party of the working man has two billionaires throwing around tens of millions in television advertising. Bloomberg has most of Schultz’s weaknesses coupled with the fact that he was a registered Republican for his first seven years in the political world. Bloomberg embodies wealth, Wall Street, and “the Establishment,” meaning he would be the perfect primary target for . . .  [dramatic cliffhanger music]

Are Sequels Always Worse Than the Original?

. . . Bernie Sanders, who is apparently expected to run again.

Allies to Bernie Sanders say the Vermont Independent senator is increasingly likely to make a second bid for the White House in 2020 — once again as a Democrat.

“I expect him to run,” said Larry Cohen, the chairman of Our Revolution, a movement formed by Sanders operatives after their candidate lost the Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I wondered if Bernie Sanders would prefer to be king-maker rather than the king in 2020 — sit back, let the various candidates court his endorsement, let him probe them on how they would enact the agenda he prefers, and then anoint someone like Elizabeth Warren as his rightful successor.

Sanders is four and a half years older than President Trump. The Vermont senator just turned 77 and, if nominated, would be 79 on the campaign trail in the general election. (How much do you think the questions about health were a factor in Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016?) And there have to be more than a few Clinton supporters who blame Sanders in part for her defeat.

ADDENDA: The New York Times continues to live down to its critics’ accusations.

Headline on a piece: Nikki Haley’s View of New York Is Priceless. Her Curtains? $52,701.

The sixth paragraph: “A spokesman for Ms. Haley said plans to buy the curtains were made in 2016, during the Obama administration. Ms. Haley had no say in the purchase, he said.”

White House

The Word ‘Hypocrisy’ Doesn’t Do It Justice

U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is pictured as President Barack Obama meets with China’s President Hu Jintao at the G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, June 19, 2012. (REUTERS/Jason Reed )

Back in July, the Washington Post revealed how the private-equity firm of Tim Geithner — Treasury secretary during the Obama administration — profited from unsolicited high-interest loans that many would characterize as “predatory.”

Mass-mailing checks to strangers might seem like risky business, but Mariner Finance occupies a fertile niche in the U.S. economy. The company enables some of the nation’s wealthiest investors and investment funds to make money offering high-interest loans to cash-strapped Americans.

Mariner Finance is owned and managed by a $11.2 billion private equity fund controlled by Warburg Pincus, a storied New York firm. The president of Warburg Pincus is Timothy F. Geithner, who, as treasury secretary in the Obama administration, condemned predatory lenders.

Since the revelation of Mariner Finance’s loan program, Tim Geithner’s life has gone on . . .  more or less as normal. Shortly after the Post report, he gave the keynote address at a CNBC conference with (ahem) Larry Kudlow, formerly of National Review  and currently advising President Trump. Geithner is invited to the Brookings Institution to talk about the 10-year anniversary of the Wall Street meltdown and the financial crisis. He heads up the “Group of 30” forum that studies the health of the financial markets. He’s invited to speak at Yale University.

In other words, Timothy Geithner is a predatory lender, and no one around him cares.

He’s doing a lot of panel discussions and speeches about the 10-year anniversary of the financial crisis, and predatory lending isn’t coming up in those discussions. Back when Obama was president, he regularly denounced Americans being “treated unfairly by a credit card company, misled by pages and pages of fine print, or end[ing] up paying fees and penalties you’d never heard of before,” and consumers who are “targeted by the predatory practices of unscrupulous lenders.” Geithner is doing exactly what Obama denounced, but the former president just never quite gets around to criticizing Geithner publicly. No, instead, former President Obama is going around the country urging Americans to elect Democrats in the midterm elections, so that government will protect them from predatory lenders . . .  like the former Treasury secretary.

Geithner’s gotten a little bit of grief from left-of-center writers here and there, but clearly it’s had minimal consequence on his life and career. No leftist protesters greet Geithner at his house and none (thankfully) scream at his children, the way they do for certain U.K. members of Parliament, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg. You’re not seeing Democratic senators line up and compete to denounce him in the most furious terms, the way they’re doing to honest, well-respected federal judge Brett Kavanaugh. Geithner is still welcome at CNBC conferences, and the Brookings Institution, and Yale.

It’s not that liberals no longer dislike predatory lending. It’s just that if you’re a prominent enough Democrat, you get a pass on things like that. Once you reach a high enough level in the hierarchy of the progressive aristocracy, you’re exempt from a lot of the rules.

This morning, the New York Times reports about the internal reaction at CBS as sexual harassment and assault allegations against CEO Les Moonves piled up.

We are going to stay in this meeting until midnight if we need to until we get an agreement that we stand 100 percent behind our C.E.O., and there will be no change in his status,” said one board member, William Cohen, a former congressman and senator who was defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, according to directors who heard the remarks and other people who were briefed on them.

A former Clinton cabinet official was insistent that everyone back the boss when he’s accused of sexual misconduct. I guess old habits die hard, huh?

Cohen declined to comment to the New York Times, and he’s not likely to face any further consequence of his stance. He was once a Republican senator but he quickly became part of bipartisan establishment Washington upon retiring from the Pentagon — making a fortune lobbying for defense contractors. He endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. He regularly appears on MSNBC and criticizes the Trump administration. He’s a powerful senator-turned-lobbyist and corporate board member defending a CEO accused of sexual harassment, everything progressives claim to hate, but I’ll bet very few of them remember him or perhaps have ever heard of him.

Perhaps liberal rage against the Norm Macdonalds, In-N-Out Burgers, and Kevin Williamsons of the world represents displacement. If a sense of partisan or ideological loyalty forces you to ignore and/or forgive sexual harassment by Bill Clinton, dysfunctional websites under Kathleen Sebelius, Veterans Affairs incompetence under Eric Shinseki, runaway firearms to drug cartels under Eric Holder, the largest breach of sensitive government data in American history under Katherine Archuleta*, and a total disregard for classified information under Hillary Clinton, you’ve probably got a simmering volcano of repressed anger to vent out disproportionately.

The concept of membership in the Democratic party being the modern equivalent of an indulgence, instantly washing away sin, is going to be appealing to some citizens and repellent to others. Some see a public reputation as a feminist as an excuse to harass and abuse others. Harvey Weinstein attended the Women’s March at Sundance Film Festival and when his horrific actions came to light, he tried to hide behind his support for progressive causes: “I am going to need a place to channel that anger, so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention.”

Some progressives still insist that Al Franken was merely guilty of “boorishness” — as if they would ever hand-wave away similar allegations made against a senator whose positions they oppose.

Loudly supporting raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour doesn’t mean you have to pay your interns anything. Progressive candidates who court union endorsements oppose the unionization of their own campaign workers. The New Yorker, which has written numerous times about the need for affordable health insurance for everyone, does not offer any health-insurance plan at all to its writers. You can demand everyone else make sacrifices in the name of reducing carbon emissions while enjoying a jet-setting life and racking up the frequent-flyer miles.

I’m sure it looks different from over there, but from over here, being a self-proclaimed progressive or outspoken Democrat looks like a way to be a jerk and treat people terribly but still think of yourself as a good person.

A liberal counterpart of myself would probably argue that the Right exhibits this same hypocrisy, and to a certain extent, that’s true. The world has plenty of self-proclaimed Christians who don’t practice much Christian charity or mercy. The Catholic Church, whose main purpose is to provide moral guidance and leadership, can’t go a week without some high-ranking figure sounding like an amoral maniac when discussing sex abuse. There are self-proclaimed patriots who will set fire to their Nikes because Colin Kaepernick “disrespected the troops” but who have never sent a care package to a soldier. There are no doubt enthusiasts of the free market who tout “creative destruction” but who don’t like to think too long about the fact that this process ends up with hardworking people getting laid off and whose lives are suddenly filled with uncertainty and anxiety, through no fault of their own. We call for decorum but enjoy the shock-jocks on our side. We denounce the “victimhood mentality” and then embrace it when convenient.

There are folks who have an American-flag bumper sticker and who say they love their country but denounce kids as bratty, college students as stoned drones, young African-American men as thugs, young Latino men as gang members, big-city residents as decadent snobs, everyone on public assistance as a leech (except their own Social Security; they earned that), every government employee as a parasite, and everyone who works in the news media as an unscrupulous propagandist. These folks claim to love America, but they can’t seem to stand Americans.

Mona Charen wrote earlier this year, “A key conservative insight is that character is a matter of behavior, not professed beliefs. Judge people by their conduct, not their branding.” Of course, judging people by their conduct requires paying closer attention.

*I looked up what Archuleta is doing these days, after resigning from OPM in the aftermath of the worst data breach in U.S. government history. She’s on the board of trustees at the University of Denver, serves on the board of the Swanee Hunt Foundation, founded a political consulting firm, and helps pollsters manage data. Once again, if you reach a certain level in the Democratic party, you will always find opportunities and doors open to you, no matter what went wrong or how poorly you performed in your previous duties.

Fear-Mongering

I wonder how many jobs the Trump administration is creating in the publishing industry:

Simon & Schuster announced that Bob Woodward’s Fear sold more than 750,000 copies in all formats through Tuesday, Sept. 11, when the book officially went on sale. Pre-order sales were the largest for any title in the company’s history. The publisher has ordered a ninth printing, bringing the number of hardcover copies to more than 1,150,000.

President Trump, Always Fighting on the Weakest Ground

And then this morning, the president insisted that the death-toll numbers from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico were a hoax: “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico.”

(Fascinating that Trump sees the appropriation process as “successfully raising” money. As though Congress wouldn’t have sent aid to Puerto Rico without his lobbying.)

What’s particularly infuriating is that Trump could make a legitimate argument that the FEMA response to the hurricane was impeded by problems at the local level. I mean, how do you lose track of millions of water bottles on an airport tarmac?

But even that egregious example demonstrates that FEMA was getting aid to the island, refuting the never-quite-plausible argument that the federal government didn’t care or dragged its feet in getting aid to the island. Former Bush-administration officials pointed out that the island’s government had severe problems long before the hurricane hit:

Puerto Rico was a catastrophe of corruption, mismanagement, incompetence and ignorance long before the added misery wrought by Hurricane Maria, which exposed to the world what was there to be seen all along: an island ill-prepared for a sunny day, much less a stormy one. For at least a decade, the media has been sounding the alarm about the crumbling infrastructure and financial mismanagement of Puerto Rico.

Any fair assessment would take all of this into account and conclude that no matter how cheesy the images of the President of the United States throwing paper towels to people were, Puerto Rico’s problems with the hurricane were more than a simple narrative of “Trump didn’t care enough.”

But instead, Trump wants to argue that the death toll is a hoax.

ADDENDA: I’m joining my friend Cam Edwards on NRATV at 2 p.m. today.

Elections

Don’t Get Too Excited about Election Day Yet, Democrats

A woman in the crowd holds up a “Take It Back” sign as she attends a political rally with former U.S. President Barack Obama for California Democratic candidates during in Anaheim, California, U.S., September 8, 2018. (REUTERS/Mike Blake )

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why you shouldn’t quite buy the hype about the Democrats winning control of the Senate this November, NBC finds a convenient scapegoat for #MeToo concerns, and a bit of intrigue about a disputed recount in Massachusetts.

Why the Democrats’ Senate Chances Are Overhyped

The past week brought another round of buzz that Democrats could win control of the Senate. The Washington Post declares this morning, “Republicans have grown increasingly worried about losing control of the Senate.” Roll Calls Stuart Rothenberg pronounces “the Senate is now in play.” Even Fox News concurs, “for Republican leaders seeking to maintain control of the Senate, some races are becoming a little too close for comfort.”

But Josh Kraushaar’s column at National Journal is called “Against the Grain,” and it’s apt because he regularly enjoys puncturing the balloon of the political conventional wisdom.

He’s not quite so convinced about the latest Democratic optimism.

If Republicans can defeat two of the six vulnerable Democratic senators up for reelection, they’ve locked down their majority for another cycle. Strategists from both parties agree that Republicans have pulled ahead in North Dakota, where Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is facing a spirited challenge from Rep. Kevin Cramer. Public polls show Missouri’s and Florida’s contests as pure toss-ups, while Indiana remains highly competitive. Democrats have the momentum in West Virginia and Montana, but the conservative nature of those electorates give Republicans an outside chance.

If North Dakota already leans in their direction, Republicans would need just one more of these red-state races to clinch a majority—regardless of what happens with the several seats they have to defend. Even if Republicans fall short, Democrats would still need to win a GOP-held seat on deeply conservative turf, either in Tennessee or in Texas.

Take another look at those vulnerable Democratic seats. While Florida should be a close race, incumbent Bill Nelson hasn’t led a public poll since June. Missouri’s looking very similar, with several surveys showing ties or small leads for Republican Josh Hawley; incumbent Claire McCaskill hasn’t led a public survey since May. We haven’t had a public poll of North Dakota since June, but that one had Republican Kevin Cramer up by four. And note, this is with the political wind at Democrats’s back, at least nationally.

(There’s mixed evidence of whether undecided voters tend to break to the challenger. A Washington Post analysis pooh-poohed that conventional wisdom in 2014, but then later that year Republican Senate candidates across the map overperformed their final polling averages,sometimes by double digits.)

If Republicans win in Florida, Missouri, and North Dakota, it means the drama ends early on Election Night, at least for control of the Senate.

Democrats can assure themselves that Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, and Montana’s Jon Tester are in stronger shape than expected. But there’s another shoe that hasn’t dropped yet. All of these incumbents have to vote for or against Brett Kavanaugh to be the next justice on the Supreme Court. A “yes” vote probably frustrates the Democratic grassroots in their states; a “no” vote outrages and energizes the grassroots Republicans.

Now let’s go through the vulnerable Republican seats. A new poll of Arizona’s Senate race out this morning put Republican Martha McSally up by three points over Kyrsten Sinema; the previous poll put McSally up by one. Nevada’s Senate race has only seen one recent survey, and that put Democrat Jacky Rosen up by one point.

Progressives are really excited about Beto O’Rourke in Texas, and he’s no doubt performing much better than the typical Democrat in Texas. But he still hasn’t, you know, led a poll. If O’Rourke wins, it will indeed be a huge deal. But if Cruz wins this closely, I wonder if Democrats will be kicking themselves over the national hype and attention paid to O’Rourke throughout the summer. If you’re aiming to pull off a huge upset, sometimes the best option is to be under the radar for as long as possible to let the incumbent get complacent. Ask Dave Brat or Scott Brown. In fact, building strength under the radar while the incumbent puts in minimal effort is a big part of how O’Rourke won his House seat. No doubt Team Cruz will be pulling out all of the stops between now and November.

And while Tennessee Democrats have reason to cheer over Phil Bredesen’s two-point lead over Republican Marsha Blackburn in the latest poll, I can remember 2006, when Harold Ford Jr. was on the cover of Newsweek, under the headline “Not Your Daddy’s Democrats“one week before Election Day. Newsweek declared Ford had “Republicans running scared,” yet he was the only Democrat to lose a competitive Senate race that year, as Bob Corker beat him by three points. In other words, the last time Democrats enjoyed a big blue-wave midterm election, Tennessee bucked the trend.

There’s no doubt that there are some disappointments for the GOP this cycle. There’s not yet any sign that Minnesota or Michigan have gotten really competitive.

NBC: Hey, We Can’t Have Any Sexual-Harassment Commentary Around Here!

Right, right, because if there’s any institution that’s covered itself in glory since the #MeToo movement arose, it’s NBC.

Norm Macdonald’s appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” was hastily canceled Tuesday after the comedian stirred controversy with remarks about the #MeToo movement and the treatment of Louis C.K., Chris Hardwick and Roseanne in recent scandals.

“Out of sensitivity to our audience and in light of Norm Macdonald’s comments in the press today, ‘The Tonight Show’ has decided to cancel his appearance on Tuesday’s telecast,” NBC said in a statement. “Tonight Show’s” decision to drop Macdonald came even after he apologized for his comments later in the day.

In an interview with Hollywood Reporter, Macdonald said he was “happy the #MeToo movement has slowed down a little bit.” He further opined: “It used to be, ‘One hundred women can’t be lying.’ And then it became, ‘One woman can’t lie.’ And that became, ‘I believe all women.’ And then you’re like, ‘What?’ Like, that Chris Hardwick guy I really thought got the blunt end of the stick there.”

NBC might tolerate Matt Lauer’s secret-door-lock-button and predation for years, and throw roadblocks in front of Ronan Farrow, but boy, they sure as heck come down hard on Norm Macdonald.

Then again, Norm Macdonald might be used to getting a raw deal from NBC. Back in 1998, Macdonald was fired from Saturday Night Live, and the rumor was that an NBC executive who was friends with O. J. Simpson found Macdonald’s relentlessly scathing O. J. jokes intolerable. (Because if there’s any demographic NBC couldn’t afford to offend, it’s the O. J. Simpson fanbase!)

Ironically, in 2017, Macdonald said he saw Simpson slightly differently: “I’m not completely sure he’s guilty anymore. I’m almost completely sure, but I’m not completely sure.”

Recount Intrigue among Massachusetts Democrats? What Are the Odds?

Keep your eyes on the Massachusetts third congressional district, as the state is stepping in after problems with the regular recount process in the Democratic primary:

A recount to settle the tightly contested Democratic primary in the Third Congressional District will take place over the next week under the watchful eye of Secretary of State William Galvin, who said Monday he was taking over the election departments of Lawrence and Lowell due to understaffing in one city and the irregular certification of primary ballots in the other.

Galvin ordered the district-wide, hand recount of almost 89,000 ballots after Andover’s Dan Koh, who is currently sitting in second place 122 votes behind the leader Lori Trahan, filed the requisite signatures by last Friday’s deadline.

The state’s chief elections officer, Galvin said the recount must be completed by Sept. 17 in order for him to have enough time to print ballots and get them to overseas and military voters ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

This is a pretty heavily Democratic district, scoring a D+9 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index, but who knows whether the recount fight will stir up bad blood on the Democratic side. Meanwhile, Republican candidate Rick Green is unveiling a funny new ad this morning, depicting himself swimming across the Merrimack River in Lowell, Mass., while his brother waits in traffic on Rourke Bridge. Green is a former aerospace engineer with NASA and founder of 1A Auto, an auto-parts manufacturer. Plus, apparently, he’s a pretty good swimmer.

ADDENDUM: Deroy Murdock with a sobering thought:

Perhaps the absence of the fear and loathing that legitimately followed 9/11 has let us shift our energies from repelling a largely exterior threat to devouring each other instead. As America’s civil discourse devolves into a bloodless civil war between two sides that increasingly loathe each other, maybe this is — ironically — a luxury. Seemingly freed of the dangers posed by al-Qaeda, ISIS, and their ilk, we now have moved on to clobbering our fellow Americans.

National Security & Defense

Have We . . .  Won the War on Terror?

(REUTERS/Andrew Kelly)

It doesn’t feel like 17 years have passed since that day, does it? It feels like it was just a few years ago.

Those of us who lived through it are going to be dealing with a flood of memories on this date until the day we die. Maybe the date falling on a Tuesday makes the gut punch of dread, sadness, and anger — and our awe of the heroes of that day — and all of the other emotions a little more intense.

The day is bringing its share of grim assessments, such as the Los Angeles Times writing, “Seventeen years after Sept. 11, Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever” and Foreign Policy magazine declaring, “Al Qaeda won.”

Really?

On a day-to-day basis, Americans . . .  don’t think that much about terrorism anymore. That in and of itself is a remarkable victory. People talk about the fear that day, and then they remember the fears in the days afterwards. Anthrax and the fear of white powder in the mail. Every forgotten backpack being treated as a bomb, sudden evacuations of subway stations and office buildings and malls and airports. I’m struck by the . . .  un-empathetic mentality of so many people today, who look back in hindsight and indict the American people for panicking and somehow overreacting.

Americans went from knowing very little about the varieties and methods of terror attacks to learning all about them — biological, chemical, radiological dirty bombs, nuclear. We were still grieving from an unparalleled attack, and the nightly news kept bringing us a catalog of nightmares. Remember the worries about crop-dusters? The hijackers had spent time in California, New Jersey, Florida, Arizona, Virginia, New York, Georgia, Connecticut — and suddenly lots of people were convinced they had seen Mohamed Atta and the others. Some really had, while others merely believed they had after seeing Atta’s ghoulish mugshot with the soulless eyes.

If you had asked Americans whether there would be another 9/11-scale attack, or worse, in the coming 17 years, most would have feared or guessed yes. We thought terror would be a regular presence in our lives in the years to come.

It’s not that terrorism hasn’t touched Americans on our own soil at all since that day — Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, Orlando. But terrorists of any stripe haven’t managed anything even remotely on the scale of 9/11. There have been plenty of failed or intercepted attempts — the shoe-bomber on American Airlines flight 63, the Fort Dix Six, the Times Square bombing plot, the underwear bomber on Northwest Airlines flight 253.

But if we’ll never get back to the pre-9/11 sense of normal — was that just another word about our naiveté about our own vulnerability in an open society? — we’ve gotten to a new normal. Yes, the Transportation Security Agency pat-downs at the airport are annoying. Yes, just about every federal building has heavy concrete planters that at least look nice with flowers and that serve the purpose of trying to make a blockade against truck bombs. But on any given day, most Americans are worrying about their job, their kids’ schools, maybe crime, maybe traffic, and maybe what their least favorite politician said or tweeted that day. We’re not afraid to visit landmarks, gather in groups, work in a skyscraper, get on a plane, or open the mail. Yes, terrorists exist, but we are not terrorized.

That Foreign Policy essay declares, “They convinced America that the only way to protect itself from this threat was to suspend civil liberties.” Nonsense. Even Khalid Sheik Mohammad is getting a long legal battle about exactly how and where he’s going to be tried. This may be a long, messy, and complicated legal process, but that’s the whole point — in the American system, even the mastermind of the worst terror attack in American history gets lawyers arguing for his defense, even though he’s probably itching for martyrdom. (Ha-ha-ha, KSM, we’re not going to kill you. We’re going to make you listen to lawyers argue for the rest of your life.)

Oh, some analysts say al-Qaeda won? I notice Osama bin Laden didn’t make it to the victory party. Every once in a while, his former lieutenant and al-Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issues some new video, but the American people barely hear about it. I don’t think that’s a reflection of bad news judgment on the part of the U.S. media producers. When bin Laden issued videos after 9/11, the whole world stopped and listened in fear. When Zawahiri talks, the world shrugs, or doesn’t notice at all. He’s turned into a remote-Pakistani podcaster.

Al-Qaeda’s not even the top “brand name” in Islamist terrorism anymore. ISIS turned into the big name in the headlines, the preeminent threat, the most feared producers of those nightmare-inducing videos. And the Islamic State has been reduced from a sprawling terror-nation the size of Britain to a bunch of guys making their last stand in Hajin, a town of about 60,000 people. Intelligence analysts say that the group still has as many as 25,000 fighters, but they’re now spread out and in hiding. Yes, ISIS as an ideology and movement will be tougher to defeat than ISIS as an army and a territory. But the Islamic State claimed they were the true new caliphate, capable of conquering and controlling territory. And we, and our coalition allies, and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, and the Iraqi army put that aspiring legend to an end.

A lot of foreign-policy and culture writers like to write essays on this day and about how we haven’t lived up to the example set by the heroes of that day (as if that’s an easy thing to do). Yes, more than 400 anti-Muslim hate crimes were reported in 2001, according to the FBI, but that figure was cut roughly in half the following year and stayed at that level until 2016. (Year after year, the group that is most targeted by hate crimes is Jews, and it’s not even close.) In a country of 325 million people, you’re going to get a couple hundred hateful thugs. Our police investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate the perpetrators. We are human and flawed, but we strive to be a safe, just, and fair society.

Amidst all of the other emotions you feel today, leave room for some pride. No, we’re not a perfect country, but no country is. Those of us who have lived abroad know that not every country would respond to an attack like 9/11 the way America did. Had, God forbid, multiple airliners crashed and killed thousands in Moscow, Beijing, Istanbul, or Mecca, the reactions of those governments and peoples would have been quite different, and probably much more violent and indiscriminate.

The Storm Approaches

If you’re living in the Carolinas, be careful. Prepare, and if you’re in an area where they’re urging evacuation, think about visiting that cousin who lives inland.

Hurricane Florence will lash the Carolinas beginning late Thursday as an intense Category 4 hurricane with life-threatening storm surge, destructive winds and massive inland rainfall flooding in one of the strongest strikes on record for this part of the East Coast.

Tuesday morning, a hurricane watch and storm surge watch were issued for the entire coast of North Carolina, including Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, and the South Carolina coast as far south as Edisto Beach. This includes Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Wilmington and the Outer Banks.

The Tough Competition for ‘Kerry’s Worst Decision’

John Kerry’s autobiography, Every Day Is Extra, is hitting bookstore shelves now. I went back to see what he wrote about the 2004 campaign and found he more or less admits he botched one of the biggest and most important decisions of his career:

The political world is rarely kind to the vice-presidential candidate on the losing ticket. Today you rarely hear Democrats asking, “What does Tim Kaine think?” Paul Ryan became speaker of the House and got his tax cuts passed, but he’s ending his career in Congress surprisingly early in his life. Sarah Palin became a superstar pundit but never took another role in government after resigning as governor. Joe Lieberman continued in the Senate, but lost a primary, ended his career as a pariah to his party, and became a McCain-campaign surrogate in 2008. Jack Kemp faded from the scene after 1996, and Dan Quayle never ran for office again.

But Edwards probably stands out as the worst vice-presidential selection in modern history. The lone general-election victory of Edwards’s career came against 70-year-old Lauch Faircloth in a Democratic wave year. His Senate record was unremarkable, and only two of his bills were ever enacted into law; one renamed a post office. His critics had him pegged from the beginning: an empty suit driven by slick speeches and photogenic charisma. His Democratic allies noticed it, too. In his memoirs, longtime Democratic strategist David Axelrod wrote of his former client, “His one-on-one interactions with people were plastic, and out of the public eye, his interest in the substance of issues was thin. He wanted only as much information as he needed to glide by — and he was bright and glib enough to glide a long way.”

Edwards was shameless enough to pitch himself to both the Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns as a potential running mate while hiding his child with Hunter. Once the façade crumbled, there was nothing left; he will be remembered as a catastrophe dodged by the Democratic party. After the revelation that he cheated on his wife while she was fighting cancer, a Democratic polling firm revealed that Edwards was “the most unpopular person it had ever polled.”

ADDENDUM: And how did you enjoy Monday Night Football last night?

Elections

How the 2018 Midterms Will Shape 2020

The facial reactions of an unidentified man (center) in a plaid shirt standing behind U.S. President Donald Trump led to the man’s ejection from where he was standing and then went viral on the internet as videos spread of his reactions at the president’s words at a “Make America Great Again” rally in Billings, Montana U.S., September 6, 2018. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Every midterm election is, in one form or another, a referendum on the president. What’s more, the last three consecutive midterms have been awful for the president’s party — 2006, 2010, and 2014.

There are intermittent signs that the midterm won’t be quite so bad for Republicans as the “blue wave” talk predicts. Polling finally has Martha McSally up ahead of Kyrsten Sinema in the Arizona Senate race, although it’s close. The recent live-updated New York Times/Siena surveys show Republicans hanging on in Illinois’s sixth and twelfth congressional districts, Kentucky’s sixth district, and close in California’s 48th, and with a decent shot of picking up a seat in Minnesota’s eighth. The Tennessee Senate race has an echo of the Texas one — to believe Democrats are going to win in a GOP-leaning state, you have to believe that Ted Cruz will lose while incumbent governor Greg Abbott wins by a wide margin, and that Marsha Blackburn will lose while Bill Lee is winning the governor’s race by double digits. It could happen, but . . .

Republicans can’t complain that President Trump hasn’t thrown himself into campaigning for them enough. He’s done 15 rallies tied to the midterm elections, with possibly nine more between now and election day. This week he’s scheduled to appear at two — one in Cape Girardeau, Mo. (Rush Limbaugh’s old hometown!), another in Jackson, Miss. He’s appeared at plenty of closed-door fundraisers.

And yet, there’s no getting around the fact that there’s still a good chance that this year’s midterms turn out to be a disaster for Republicans. There are roughly 60 GOP-held House seats that are considered competitive, and Democrats just need to win 23 of those. An astonishing 44 House Republicans announced their retirement this term, leaving tougher-to-win open-seat races in their wake. The generic-ballot numbers look awful in most polls. A bunch of vulnerable Senate Democrats like Joe Manchin in West Virginia and Joe Donnelly in Indiana are hanging on, according to polling. (Before you scoff “the polls were wrong in 2016!” the polls also show Rick Scott in strong shape in Florida. So some Democratic incumbents are showing vulnerability in polls, just not some of the ones who were expected to be in trouble.) The governor’s races in previously deep-red states like Florida and Georgia look like toss-ups. Democrats could win a bunch of governors’ races in those Trump-won Great Lakes states. In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer’s enjoying a consistent lead. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker’s in trouble. In Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf looks assured of another term. Ohio’s Mike DeWine and Iowa’s Kim Reynolds look a little better, but they can’t breathe easily yet.

The media is itching to write a “The Democrats are back!” narrative, and Election Day is likely to give them enough evidence to justify that analysis. (It really shouldn’t be that difficult for the Democratic Party to perform better than its worst finish since 1929.)

Republicans can rightfully fume that they shouldn’t be in this spot, as unemployment is beneath 4 percent, the economic boom is finally reaching blue-collar workers, wages are finally increasing, the country only rarely sees flag-draped coffins returning, the Islamic State is smashed and (knocking on wood) there haven’t been any major terror attacks lately. The GOP has largely delivered peace and prosperity, and the public is still in a “throw the bums out” mood.

So why are Republicans in trouble? Whether Trump fans want to hear it or not, their man is a trade-off. He’ll drive up turnout in blue-collar whites and he’ll alienate the suburban soccer moms. What’s more, his constant appetite for conflict and controversy means he leaves almost no oxygen in the room for any other Republican message. He loves emphasizing the issues of illegal immigration and crime, whether or not those are the preeminent concerns of the district or state he’s campaigning in. And of course, he drives up Democratic enthusiasm to get out and vote to perhaps its peak.

Donald Trump is to Democrats as Obama is to Republicans.

Many Republicans saw Obama as more of a celebrity than a leader; full of himself; misinterpreting his helped-by-outside-circumstances electoral victory as a wide-ranging and permanent mandate from the people; arrogantly telling Congress what to pass; stubborn and refusing to compromise; disrespectful to his political opponents and eager to demonize them; the embodiment of some alien force that was anathema to America’s traditional values; eager to fundamentally transform the country into some European-style vision of a people micromanaged and indoctrinated by government and living lives in service to the state and a demagogic leader.

Democrats see Trump as . . . well, more of a celebrity than a leader; full of himself; misinterpreting his helped-by-outside-circumstances electoral victory as a wide-ranging and permanent mandate from the people; arrogantly telling Congress what to pass; stubborn and refusing to compromise; disrespectful to his political opponents and eager to demonize them; the embodiment of some alien force that was anathema to America’s traditional values; eager to fundamentally transform the country into some European-style vision of a people micromanaged and indoctrinated by government and living lives in service to the state and a demagogic leader!

Rank-and-file Republicans are sticking with Trump because he’s something they haven’t enjoyed in a long time: a winner, both in terms of the ballot box and in terms of getting most, but not all, of his agenda enacted. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be too much appetite for an anti-Trump candidate among self-identified Republicans. I use that term carefully, because I suspect that conservatives who find Trump intolerable no longer self-identify as Republicans. Nebraska senator Ben Sasse said on Meet the Press this weekend that he thinks about leaving the GOP “every day.”

But if the midterms are a disaster for Republicans, does that support hold? How much does Trump’s 2016 victory look like political genius and how much looks like the luck of running against Hillary Clinton? How bad does 2018 have to go to make a significant percentage of grassroots Republicans start to wonder if Trump is really in such strong shape for 2020?

Goodbye, Les Moonves

I’m just thinking about all of the times that CBS News let celebrity activists take the floor and fume on-air about, “what Democratic and progressive politicians have dubbed the Republican and conservative ‘war on women.’” Because between Les Mooves, and Matt Lauer, and Charlie Rose, and Mark Halperin . . . the war on women was coming from inside the newsroom.

Six additional women are now accusing Moonves of sexual harassment or assault in incidents that took place between the nineteen-eighties and the early aughts. They include claims that Moonves forced them to perform oral sex on him, that he exposed himself to them without their consent, and that he used physical violence and intimidation against them. A number of the women also said that Moonves retaliated after they rebuffed him, damaging their careers. Similar frustrations about perceived inaction have prompted another woman to raise a claim of misconduct against Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” who previously reported to Moonves as the chairman of CBS News.

One of the women with allegations against Moonves, a veteran television executive named Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, told me that she filed a criminal complaint late last year with the Los Angeles Police Department, accusing Moonves of physically restraining her and forcing her to perform oral sex on him, and of exposing himself to her and violently throwing her against a wall in later incidents. The two worked together in the late nineteen-eighties. Law-enforcement sources told me that they found Golden-Gottlieb’s allegations credible and consistent but prosecutors declined to pursue charges because the statutes of limitations for the crimes had expired.

But he never used an awkward phrase like “binders full of women,” so he was never called a threat to women. At the end of the year, see who’s had more ink spilled denouncing him — Moonves or Brett Kavanaugh. At the end of the day, a lot of people are a lot more worried about a pro-life Supreme Court justice than about a media CEO doing what Ronan Farrow describes.

Obama’s Return to Public Speeches Is . . . Disruptive?

New York Times columnist Charles Blow: “[Obama’s] very presence in the fight, as a presidential voice — even if former, for some he’s forever — is disruptive.”

Is it? Do you think there was anyone out there asking, “Hey, what do you think President Obama thinks of the guy who’s pulling the U.S. out of the Iran deal, withdrawing from the Paris accords, bombing chemical-weapons users in Syria, cutting taxes, signing the repeal of the mandate within Obamacare, scrapping the EPA and allowing drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge?”

Did anything Obama said late last week surprise anyone?

ADDENDUM: I’m scheduled to join the gang at HLN today, sometime around 12:30 Eastern.

White House

‘I Am Schmuck-acus.’

Sen. Cory Booker at a Senate Judiciary hearing, March 2018 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“This is about the closest I’ll have in my life to an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment,” New Jersey senator Cory Booker declared during yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, in one of the lamer and less convincing efforts by an aspiring presidential candidate to give himself a cool nickname.

Alas, Booker’s lame stunt — announcing that he would defy Senate rules and release confidential documents, and daring the Republicans to expel him, only to later find that the documents had been cleared for release — is getting an exceptionally sympathetic assessment from the mainstream media. Here’s the Washington Post’s description:

Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), soon joined by other Democrats, released documents he said were marked confidential. There’s some dispute as to whether, at the time Booker released an email chain of Kavanaugh talking about his views on racial profiling, they were actually still confidential. Aides on both sides of the aisle said they were set for release Thursday morning.

Then what, exactly, is the dispute? If aides on both sides agree that the documents were set for release Thursday morning, then they weren’t confidential, now were they? Cory Booker is walking up to the free-sample tray and announcing to everyone that it’s shoplifting.

Booker boasted that he was willing to risk expulsion from the Senate, with way too much “don’t throw me into that briar patch” tone. For starters, Article I, Section 5, of the United States Constitution says, “Each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.” You’re not going to get two-thirds of the U.S. Senate to expel Booker — although Democrats might vote to keep Booker around for a different reason than you might think.

Cory Booker seriously wants to be the next president, and right now, a day job in the Senate is a hindrance. For a while, the day job gave him a platform for publicity stunts, like fiercely denouncing the man he praised and cosponsored legislation with just two years earlier, or calling the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh “evil.” (Notice how quickly everyone forgot about that? These publicity stunts and over-the-top rhetoric are political junk food, with little-lasting effect or consequence.)

But serving in the Senate has now become a time commitment that keeps Booker away from where he wants to be: campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, etcetera before the small army of rival candidates descends upon those states. It’s also difficult to stand out in the Senate; right now at least six of Booker’s colleagues are also thinking about running in 2020: Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. (Don’t feel bad, I had forgotten about Klobuchar and Merkley too.)

If you’re Booker, why not end your Senate career with a bang, pose as a martyr to those secretive, nasty Republicans, and get a couple months head start on the rest of the Democratic field?

The problem for Booker is that so far, no one’s taking the bait. The only person talking about expelling Cory Booker is Cory Booker. Senate Republicans can see what’s going on here, and if Booker wants out of the Senate, he can always resign. Of course, that would allow Booker’s 2020 rivals to accurately call him a quitter.

It’s not often you see senators so gleefully trashing a colleague. Marco Rubio, this morning: “On this day in 71 b.c. the Thracian gladiator Spartacus was put to death by Marcus Licinius Crassus for disclosing confidential scrolls. When informed days later that in fact the Roman Senate had already publicly released the scrolls, Crassus replied, ‘Oh, ok, my bad’.”

(I hate to say this, but the shameless combativeness of former Stormy Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti and his willingness to jab at potential rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination . . .  makes for some entertaining Tweeting. He really is the Trump of their side. He doesn’t feel any obligation to be nice to anyone else in the Democratic party, so when their arguments in the Kavanaugh hearings turn out to be sound and fury signifying nothing . . .  Avenatti gleefully points it out.)

The problem for Cory Booker is that right now, there’s not a lot that makes him stand out from the rest of the Democratic field, particularly the other senators. Honest assessments of his time as mayor of Newark point out that “Booker cared more about the optics of a social media moment than actually delivering on basic city services” and “Newark has a steep climb before anyone deems it the model city Booker envisioned.” Democrats with long memories will recall the then-mayor defending private equity and taking intermittent potshots at the 2012 Obama campaign. His speeches drag on far too long, and he shouts them, convinced he’s leading a spiritual revival. Booker has always been a little too transparently ambitious, a little too shamefully self-promoting, a little too obviously bursting with self-regard.

As a young African-American senator with roots in a big city, Cory Booker will get compared to President Obama in the coming two years, but the figure he reminds me of the most is John Kerry: vain, supercilious, utterly convinced of his own historical importance, and completely oblivious to how he’s actually coming across to other people.

The Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau yesterday: “I asked Senator Booker if his remarks in committee were a stunt. He told me I [was] violating the Constitution by being in his way.”

So What Difference Does the Op-Ed Make, Really?

For what it’s worth, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman publicly denied being the senior administration official who wrote that op-ed trashing the president. Of course, the author would almost certainly have to deny writing it, unless the second half of his sentence was, “and I am resigning immediately.”

If the author thought the op-ed would generate goodwill and appreciation, it’s not working out as planned. Our David French:

Let’s put this as bluntly as possible: If you’re actively defying the president to pursue your own preferred policies, you’re subverting an American presidential election. If you’re withholding from the American people actual hard evidence of presidential unfitness, then you’re placing your own career before your country. If you’re lying or badly exaggerating the facts for the thrill of constant media contact or the approval of your peers, then you’re just despicable.

Elsewhere, our Jay Nordlinger asks why everyone’s more focused on who wrote the op-ed than the content of it.

I’d guess it’s because the descriptions of Trump in the op-ed, and the new Woodward book, aren’t that different from the portrait painted by other unnamed sources in the White House the past two years. Trump is described as erratic, uninformed, inattentive, temperamental, obsessed with what’s being said about him on television, prone to angry outbursts, and a general pain in the rear. What’s more, very little of that description of the private Trump contradicts what we see in the public Trump. We all know who this guy is.

People react to that portrait of Trump in one of several ways. Some of his diehard fans dismiss it all and insist that real life is a variation of the classic Saturday Night Live “Mastermind” sketch. Some shrug and conclude that volatile outbursts and Twitter tirades are an acceptable price for good judges, tax cuts, and an aggressive policy against ISIS. Others point out that even if this is the worst possible personality to entrust with the powers of the presidency, you’re not going to get 67 votes to impeach him in the Senate without hard evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors. Republican primary voters had a choice, and the general electorate had a choice, and they made their choice. They’ll get another one in 2020, with this year’s midterm election being something of a referendum on the president’s performance so far. The president has had some of his priorities stymied by Congress and overturned by judges. These are the constitutional measures in place to limit the powers of a president, and until there are 67 (or so) votes in the Senate to remove him from office, the president’s foes and critics will have to make do with those measures.

There’s No Use Crying Over Spilled Uranium

Now we know what the Obama administration used as leverage during negotiations with the Iranians . . .  literally crying at the negotiating table. Wendy Sherman, the chief American negotiator of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a.k.a. the Iranian nuclear deal, has a new book out. Matthew Continetti observes:

“After dinner on the 25th day, I met with Abbas Aragchi, Iran’s lead negotiator, with his partner, Majid Takht-Ravanchi to go over one final UN resolution.” Aragchi agreed. Then he backtracked. He wanted to re-open a matter previously considered closed. What happened next is the most stunning thing I have ever heard a diplomat reveal.

“I lost it,” Sherman continues. “I began to tell [sic], and to my frustration and fury, my eyes began to well up with tears. I told them their tactics jeopardized the entire deal.”

The Iranians sat there, “stunned” and “silent,” as the representative of the United States of America, the global economic and military superpower, broke down in the middle of a conference room inside a posh hotel in the Austrian capital. “Women are told early in life that it’s not socially acceptable to get angry,” Sherman laments. “And it’s a sign of weakness to let people see you cry.” Men are told that too, by the way.

What’s fascinating is that Sherman thinks this is a good anecdote to share. When your negotiating partner suddenly backtracks on a commitment, and your response is to cry, do you think that makes the other side feel chastened or emboldened?

ADDENDUM: It’s been a busy week. If you find yourself craving football talk, you can find Jets-focused talk here and general league-focused talk here.

White House

Who Wrote the Op-Ed?

Outside the New York Times building in Manhattan, 2008. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A theory about the author of that instantly infamous New York Times op-ed revealing a “resistance” against the president within his own administration, early market research suggests Nike completely misjudged consumer sentiment, and the big Morning Jolt NFL season preview.

The Mystery Trump-Administration Official Is . . .

We can draw a few conclusions about the anonymous senior official in the Trump administration who wrote the New York Times op-ed about the “stable state” “resistance” within the executive branch.

The writer is a traditional Republican, referring to “ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people.”

The writer is particularly informed about, and concerned about, the president’s views on Russia:

On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

The writer looked up to John McCain: “Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation. We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue.” The writer may well have been compelled to write this op-ed after McCain’s passing and the eulogies and reaction at his memorial service.

The writer did not work on the campaign — obviously, he holds Trump in low regard — but he’s probably been around the administration a while: “Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president.”

The writer must understand that being uncovered would end his career in GOP politics and torpedo any hopes of running for the Republican nomination someday. This is probably the last stop of his career. He probably considers himself to be part of a knowledgeable bipartisan consensus policy establishment and is worried about how his current work for Trump is perceived and will be remembered. This person is probably worried about his reputation and whether or not working for Trump will tarnish his legacy.

Traditional Republican, focused on Russia, inspired by McCain, been around a while, no future ambitions, part of the establishment. There is more than one figure in the administration who fits these criteria, but not many.

But I notice the recent article, “Aside from his father, Huntsman Jr. had ‘no greater mentor’ than McCain,” August 27, in the Desert News:

“Aside from my own dad, there’s been no one more impactful in my life,” [U.S. Ambassador to Russia] Jon Huntsman told the Deseret News from Moscow after initially declining to comment on his relationship with the Arizona senator, who died Saturday after battling brain cancer.

“It was the highest honor to associate with him. He was a mentor in many ways. Country first and bipartisanship were deeply ingrained due to his influence,” Huntsman said of his longtime friend.

Huntsman attended John McCain’s memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral. And Huntsman has already addressed calls for him to resign after Trump’s summit with Putin.

Huntsman responded:

Representatives of our foreign service, civil service, military and intelligence services have neither the time nor inclination to obsess over politics, though the issues of the day are felt by all. Their focus is on the work that needs to be done to stabilize the most dangerous relationship in the world, one that encompasses nuclear weapons, fighting terrorism, stopping bloodshed in Ukraine, and seeking a settlement of the seemingly intractable Syrian crisis. Their dedication to service to their country is above politics, and it inspires me to the core. It is my standard. (Emphasis added.)

I have taken an unscientific survey among my colleagues, whom you reference, about whether I should resign. The laughter told me everything I needed to know. It also underscores the fragile nature of this moment.

The unnamed official who wrote the New York Times op-ed concludes, “There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first.”

Just a theory.

Did Nike Just Make an Epic Mistake?

I thought Nike did a ton of market research. Did they just completely misread consumer sentiment?

A new report from Morning Consult reveals consumer opinions of Nike have shifted rapidly since announcing their new campaign with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Across nearly every demographic, perceptions of Nike’s brand have fallen, including among key consumer groups. 

Before the announcement, Nike had a net +69 favorable impression among consumers, it has now declined 34 points to +35 favorable . . .  Among younger generations, Nike users, African Americans, and other key demographics, Nike’s favorability declined rather than improved . . .  Before the announcement, 49 percent of Americans said they were absolutely certain or very likely to buy Nike products. That figure is down to 39 percent now. 

If those numbers continue, wouldn’t that make the Kaepernick deal the biggest self-inflicted marketing defeat since New Coke?

The Big Morning Jolt NFL Preview

I thought about doing a team-by-team preview, but I’m just not that interested in some teams . . .  and you probably aren’t, either. Also, before I go further, as mentioned in the recent video, those of us who are not boycotting the NFL over some players’ decisions to kneel don’t care if you’re boycotting the NFL . . .  which means you don’t have to tell us. “I’m boycotting the NFL” has turned into the new “An atheist, a vegan, and a CrossFitter walk into a bar.”

When Kirk Cousins signed with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason, I said he could easily be considered a disappointment at the end of his three-year, $84 million deal if the Vikings don’t win the Super Bowl. Make no mistake, the Vikings are a good, talent-laden team, and probably have as much chance as anyone of winning at least one of the next three Super Bowls.

But at least at the moment, the NFC is just full of good teams. Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t look terrific in the preseason and have some injuries, but they’re still the best team in the league until someone else proves otherwise. The Los Angeles Rams are loaded with talent, aiming to win now, and are my guess at who will represent the conference in the Super Bowl this year. The New Orleans Saints came within a fluke play of beating Minnesota in last year’s playoffs. Atlanta is just a year away from their Super-Bowl run, and Carolina had to be the quietest 11-win, two-years-away-from-a-Super-Bowl team ever.

Minnesota’s going to be good, but they played the Packers without Aaron Rodgers for seven of the eight quarters they played Green Bay last year. Winning the division is going to be much tougher with a healthy Rodgers leading the Packers and the Chicago Bears probably aren’t going to be the pushovers they once were with Mitchell Trubisky developing — and now with Khalil Mack at linebacker!

The exceptional play of Jimmy Garappalo in the last few games of last season heralds the return of the San Francisco 49ers as a serious force to be reckoned with.

In the NFC, a team like the Seattle Seahawks is technically in the “middle of the pack,” and they still have the mobile, improving quarterback that took that team to two Super Bowls. Dallas and Detroit both won nine games, although apparently the Lions looked uninspired in the preseason. According to D.C. sports radio, Alex Smith is going to lead the Washington Redskins to victory in at least the next three Super Bowls, and the trophy cases have already been built and polished. (You can color me extremely skeptical about the Redskins.)

The point is that the Vikings could easily be a very good, playoff-caliber team that just happens to fall short against tough competition in the next three years, and if that comes to pass . . . was the $84 million to Cousins worth it?

Over in the AFC, a long era of a three-team race for conference supremacy (the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Indianapolis Colts when their quarterback is healthy) is finally getting some variety, with the Jacksonville Jaguars now built to be a top competitor for years to come. The Tennessee Titans went from “on the verge” of being playoff-caliber to being capable-of-winning-a-game-in-the-playoffs caliber. The Kansas City Chiefs are either going to look like geniuses for making Patrick Mahomes the starter or fools for letting Alex Smith go after such a good season.

With Josh McDaniels suddenly turning down the Colts head coaching job to return to the New England Patriots as offensive coordinator, this means this season is probably Bill Belichick’s last year as head coach, right? And while it’s not certain that when Belichick goes, Tom Brady leaves as well . . .  what does Brady have left to prove? Rob Gronkowski reportedly contemplated retirement as well this offseason. In two years, the Patriots could look dramatically different, and different will almost inevitably mean “worse.” Perhaps the mood of “one last ride” spurs the Patriots beyond their usual superiority.

The Steelers also look like they’re on the tail end of a long dynasty — ten playoff appearances in Ben Roethlisberger’s 13 years. Rarely has a team looked so good in the regular season and then looked so stunningly hapless in their first playoff game as the 2017 Steelers, and I think that chip on their shoulder — and the sense of a ticking clock on Roethlisberger’s career — lead them to be the team that represents the AFC in the Super Bowl.

Yes, I’m optimistic about the Jets, so that translates out to about an 8-8 season. They’re in a weird situation where going 6-10 and having Sam Darnold develop into a high-quality starting quarterback is probably better for the team in the long run than a 10-6 season where Darnold gets injured or is developing slowly.

There are gripes that the league is too obsessed with quarterbacks, but the lesson of the past few decades or so is that if you have an elite quarterback, you’re almost never going to be bad, and if you have a lousy quarterback or a revolving door of journeymen and also-rans, you’re almost never going to be good. There are a few exceptions on both sides — the Jaguars more or less overcame Blake Bortles in their rise, and you could argue that Eli Manning wasn’t the main reason the Giants went 3-13 last year. But those exceptions are rare.

If Brady, Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Deshaun Watson, Marcus Mariota, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, Jared Goff, Garappalo, or Russell Wilson are healthy for 16 games, none of their teams are doing any worse than, what, 7-9 or 6-10, right? I’m sure some fans will argue that I’ve left out their favorite underrated QB like Dak Prescott or Andy Dalton on that list. I figure everyone in Baltimore is itching for the Lamar Jackson era to start. It’s fair to wonder if we’re seeing a new blueprint for team building: stink, pick a good quarterback early in the draft, hope he develops, enjoy good quarterback play on a salary-cap-friendly rookie contract, and load up on free agents in that four or five-year window.

This is a weird spot for Buffalo, isn’t it? Usually the team that gets into that sixth playoff spot is on the rise, but the Bills look awfully shaky, starting Nathan Peterman as quarterback, the guy who threw so many interceptions in his NFL debut that he appeared to be the most effective deep-cover saboteur since Nicholas Brody. Josh Allen was my least favorite of the highly touted quarterbacks in this year’s draft class, but at least he’s got the strong arm and flashes of greatness to make Buffalo football interesting to watch, deep into the season.

This is the sixth not-quite-consecutive year in Miami where the chorus among Dolphins fans is, “This is the year Ryan Tannehill is going to turn the corner and really turn into an elite quarterback.”

And Oakland . . .  man, what are they doing in the Raiders’ front office? Are they trying to make the upcoming breakup with the city and the move to Las Vegas easier on an abused fanbase?

Anyway, I’ll keep it conservative, no pun intended, and predict the AFC playoffs will feature Pittsburgh, New England, Jacksonville, and Kansas City as the division winners and Tennessee and Houston as the wild cards, and the NFC playoffs will feature Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Green Bay, and New Orleans as the division winners and Minnesota and San Francisco as the wild cards. And I predict that Super Bowl LIII will feature the Steelers beating the Rams, the same outcome as in 1979.

Other predictions: Roethlisberger wins MVP, the Rams’ Jared Goff wins Offensive Player of the Year, Jalen Ramsey of the Jacksonville Jaguars wins Defensive Player of the Year, Giants Saquon Barkley wins Offensive Rookie of the Year (Darnold comes in second), the Broncos’ Bradley Chubb wins Defensive Rookie of the Year, Bill O’Brien of the Houston Texans wins Coach of the Year, and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck edges out DeShaun Watson for Comeback Player of the Year.

ADDENDUM: We had a few technical hiccups, but Mickey and I managed to record a special experimental video version of our pop-culture podcast yesterday. I hear some people prefer the podcast version; I understand you can simulate the audio-only podcast experience by not looking at the screen. Mickey’s dog Shiloh has a cameo!

White House

Life before the Internet

(REUTERS/Kacper Pempel )

Making the click-through worthwhile: How the modern era of social media has expanded our exposure to horrible antisocial people, how a lunatic and baseless theory about secret white-supremacy hand gestures rocketed around lefty Twitter yesterday, and what Bob Woodward’s past books about the White House tell us about his newest one about the Trump administration.

Were Things Better before the Internet?

If you’re old enough to have experienced life before the Internet, I’d like you to think back to those years.

In the course of a day, you probably interacted with significantly fewer people offline than you do online today. If you spend just a few minutes on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll see the short messages and thoughts and comments of dozens of people.

In pre-Internet life, if you found someone to be a jerk, you subsequently tried to avoid the jerk. Maybe they were in your class or workplace, and you couldn’t avoid them, but you certainly wouldn’t choose to hang around with the jerk. You wouldn’t invite him into your house and ask him to intermittently blurt out a jerky opinion whenever one popped into his head. You certainly wouldn’t want a device that would automatically inform you when a new jerky opinion popped into his head.

Last night, I watched a video about “toxic fandom” that pointed out that almost all pop-culture offerings that are now super popular mainstream Hollywood mega-hits were once considered geeky, nerdy, or somewhat socially undesirable: Star Wars, Star Trek, comic books, Lord of the Rings. Being a fan of a pop culture phenomena in the pre-Internet era — say, from the 1960s to the mid 1990s — was a completely different experience. If there was a fan magazine, it arrived by mail. There was nothing like the modern giant, glitzy San Diego Comic-Con; comic-book conventions were sad, small affairs at the local Holiday Inn.

If you were a superfan of a particular movie, television show, or comic book, you probably only had a small group of other superfans in your town or neighborhood. Chances are you and your friends shared some common interests, maybe subjects such as football, or trading baseball cards, or comic books, or Dungeons and Dragons. (Yes, I know that’s a very teenage-boy frame of reference; I was a teenage boy in those last years before the rise of the Internet!) You and your little group of friends formed a mini-community, and if someone’s personality clashed too much with the rest of the group, you probably wouldn’t choose to spend time with that person again.

Fast forward to today, where suddenly being a Star Wars fan doesn’t just mean getting together with a small handful of like-minded buddies and watching the movies on VHS in their family room or den and debating how cool it would be if they ever made a movie about the Clone Wars or Jedi-fighting Mandalorians. Since the late 1990s, Star Wars fans have been constantly interacting with each other online, almost all the time, dissecting every new rumor and trailer and bit of casting news. And this applies to just about every other interest on earth — every sport, every television show, almost every movie (including a slew of cult hits), every conspiracy theory, you name it. Whatever you’re into, you can find an impassioned group of enthusiasts on the Internet.

The best thing about the Internet is that it connects us to so many other people! The worst great thing about the Internet is that it connects us to so many other people — including a lot of people who we probably would not invite into our homes or choose to be around. We are constantly informed about, and exposed to, behavior that would instantly repel us if it occurred offline. If you and your friends were griping about a Star Wars movie that disappointed you, and one of your buddies said, “Hey, let’s send the director death threats!” you would probably, at minimum, cut him off from the excessive caffeine from Jolt Cola forever.

The problem is, the Internet and social media do not weed out and help you avoid the lunatics. One way or another, they end up in your presence without you ever seeking them out. For example, if you’re on Twitter, you probably don’t follow any of the people who concluded, without any evidence, that Zina Bash, a Mexico-born, half-Jewish Latina former clerk of Judge Brett Kavanaugh and a member of his confirmation team, was making a white-supremacist hand gesture during Tuesday’s hearing. No less an authority than the Anti-Defamation League has declared that the “okay” hand gesture is not a subtle signal of “white power.” They note that online communities such as 4Chan enjoy creating hoaxes and taking “innocuous items, symbols or gestures and falsely attribute white supremacist meanings to them in order to fool liberals and get them to spread such false messages.”

But the baseless accusation was so outlandish and outrageous that many Kavanaugh defenders understandably went to DefCon One to dispel it and defend Bash’s good name. If you checked political Twitter on Tuesday, you witnessed an ongoing debate about that lunatic theory, whether you wanted to hear more about it or not. And it mostly took the form of sane people trying to persuade insane people that their theory about Bash was insane.

We gripe about the old gatekeepers that would limit who appeared on television and radio, who wrote for newspapers and magazines, and what arguments were considered “beyond the pale.” And indeed, the old system could be insular and clubby and connected and narrow-minded. But that system did have an upside: It generally kept the lunatics out. (Insert your favorite exception here. Popular suggestions: Dan Rather, Herblock, Stephen Glass, Janet Cooke, Walter Duranty.)

Dan McLaughlin recently asked the tough question of how much our society still wants civil, reasoned debate. You can’t have a reasoned debate with someone who makes arguments that are unhinged or blatantly bad faith, such as, “Your seemingly innocuous hand gesture is a secret signal of allegiance to white supremacists.” This is Son-of-Sam-my-dog-is-telling-me-to-kill-people-level stuff.

If you met someone, face to face, and one of the first things they told you was that they believed that anyone who used the “okay” hand gesture was a secret white supremacist — including members of minority groups! — you might nod politely and then back away slowly, concluding that this person was wildly paranoid and quick to accuse others of horrific beliefs with no real evidence.

Sadly, avoiding those types of people was easier before the birth of the Internet.

The Lessons of Bob Woodward’s Past Books

A couple of things to keep in mind when you hear about the new Bob Woodward book and the jaw-dropping anecdotes about chaos within the Trump administration. First, Woodward operates by a well-known if unwritten rule: Individuals who talk to him are portrayed better than individuals who don’t. This means a lot of White House sources over the years talked to him, if only to protect their own reputations. He gets a lot of “if only they had listened to me” anecdotes.

Second, this is pretty much his brand; he’s written similar books about every White House since Clinton’s presidency, and they’ve all had the same theme: “Despite the placid, carefully managed image, this White House is deeply divided between warring factions, each convinced that the president is being led down the wrong path.” They always create a stir, but it’s fair to point out that few of his recent books have had lasting consequences for the administration he covered.

Thirdly, there’s a difference between disputing the accuracy of an anecdote and denying that any version of the events occurred. The president, unsurprisingly, is calling it the “already discredited Woodward book, so many lies and phony sources.”

Yes, there’s dispute about whether Woodward ever got to former CIA Director Bob Casey’s bedside and heard a deathbed confession about the diversion of Iran arms-sale money to the Contras. But beyond that, Woodward’s reporting in book after book has held up — at least in the sense that his sources exist and he’s quoting them accurately. Whether they’re offering a version of events that flatters themselves to the point of inaccuracy is a separate question.

The excerpts reported by the Washington Post yesterday paint an ugly portrait of a president who barely understands the job he’s taken, who constantly rages and fumes in furious rants, and who staffers are constantly trying to save from himself.

Trump denies calling Attorney General Jeff Sessions “mentally retarded” or a “dumb Southerner,” as Woodward’s book claims.

Still, look back at the contemptuous tweets the president has thrown Sessions’s way over the past year and a half, calling the attorney general “disgraceful,” and  “very weak,” and saying that he “doesn’t understand what is happening underneath his command position,” that he’s “very disappointed” in Sessions so far, and that he should have picked someone else for the job.

In light of that publicly expressed blistering disdain, is it really so unthinkable that Trump would mock Sessions’s accent or insult him in the ways Woodward describes?

This morning, the editors of National Review write, “Nothing good can come from Trump’s campaign against his own attorney general, and if he understood the role of the Justice Department — or his own long-term political interest — he’d immediately cease and desist.”

But he doesn’t, and thus, he won’t.

ADDENDUM: Tech permitting, the long-dormant pop-culture podcast will return in a new form around 3 p.m. this afternoon. That’s . . .  tech permitting. Think of this as an experiment.

Sports

Colin Kaepernick’s Controversial Nike Campaign

San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold (58), quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) and free safety Eric Reid (35) kneel in protest during the playing of the national anthem before a NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, October 6, 2016. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Nike figures out how to monetize the woke Social Justice Warrior crowd, Brett Kavanaugh gets his big day in front of the television cameras, and Donald Trump offers a strange thought on the criteria for indicting members of Congress.

Nike Was the Name of the Greek Goddess Who Personified Sports-Marketing Victory

If you ever wondered what it would take to get the woke Social Justice Warrior crowd to loudly support a multinational corporation with nearly $35 billion in revenue in 2017; that pays its assembly line workers about 2.5 percent of production costs; that faces accusations that its factories bar independent inspections of working conditions; whose workers frequently faint from heat and exhaustion, and suffer wage theft, forced overtime, restrictions on their use of toilets, exposure to toxic solvents, and padlocked exit doors . . . well, apparently Colin Kaepernick is all that it takes.

Apparently the “it” in “just do it” is not urination, at least for those stuck on the assembly line making the sneakers, hats, and apparel. But very few people will be thinking of that sort of scandal when they hear the word “Nike” these days, thanks to this news:

Colin Kaepernick, the former N.F.L. quarterback who inspired a player protest movement but who has been out of a job for more than a year, has signed a new, multiyear deal with Nike that makes him a face of the 30th anniversary of the sports apparel company’s “Just Do It” campaign, Nike confirmed on Monday.

. . . Nike will produce new Kaepernick apparel, including a shoe and a T-shirt, and if the merchandise sells well, the value of the deal will rival those of other top N.F.L. players, according to people close to the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because Nike had not formally announced it. Nike will also donate money to Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights” campaign.

That “Know Your Rights” campaign for America’s youth features statements such as, “You have a right to be free,” “You have a right to be healthy,” “You have a right to be safe.” Those are all noble sentiments that deserve to be honored, but you’ll have a harder time standing for those values when you wear a Fidel Castro shirt and publicly defend the Cuban dictator.

If only the poor folks stuck on the assembly line making that Kaepernick apparel for Nike had someone who was standing up for their rights!

You almost have to admire the audacity of Nike; for decades they’ve cemented their position as The Man by marketing an image of fighting The Man. Don’t let anyone tell you that they’re a group of daring, iconoclast rebels. They’re a massive publicly traded corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of athletic shoes, sporting equipment, and apparel, and their chairman is worth about $22 billion. They’re getting sued for “pay discrimination and limited opportunities for women to win promotions” and failing to address sexual-harassment complaints. They’ve settled class-action racial-discrimination lawsuits for millions of dollars. They operate a political-action committee that gives to both parties (although more to Democrats) and are quite active in Oregon state politics.

They are the kind of big, powerful corporation with a long history of documented exploitation of overseas labor that is usually the villain in leftist narratives. Staunch progressives who proudly wear the Nike swoosh are like impassioned environmentalists wearing Exxon Valdez t-shirts.

And now, for the cost of a few million — remember Nike had nearly $10 billion in revenue last quarter — the company bought the loyalty of the woke Social Justice Warrior crowd. Sure, some folks on the right will announce they’re boycotting, but nobody collects and analyzes marketing research data like Nike. They’ve no doubt run the numbers on this and concluded that the controversy was worth it. In fact, the controversy is the whole point of the marketing campaign. (It sure as heck isn’t Kaepernick’s performance on the field!) The aim is to get every Kaepernick-hater in the country publicly raging about it — the president, conservative-talk radio, sports-talk radio — so that everyone who agrees with Kaepernick feels almost obligated to go out and buy the Kaepernick sneakers, shirt, hat, etcetera.

And one day into the campaign, they’ve largely accomplished their mission. Former CIA director John Brennan is singing Kaepernick’s praises on Twitter. (I guess we shouldn’t be shocked that a guy who voted for the Communist Party’s candidate for president in 1976 would find much to admire in a Fidel Castro fan.)

Oh, and the “Just do it” slogan was apparently partially inspired by the last words of a convicted murderer before a firing squad.

It’s Confirmation-Hearing Day for Brett Kavanaugh!

The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court now feels like a slow-motion chase . . . and one where we know how it’s all going to end. Kavanaugh will probably have the support of all or just about all of the Republican senators, and a handful of red-state Democratic senators will vote to confirm as well.

As of August 30, 47 Senate Republicans have already either expressed explicit support for Kavanaugh’s nomination or praised him in a manner that suggests they’re likely to confirm him. On the other side, 41 Senate Democrats who have either already said they’re voting “no” or struck notes of supreme skepticism (no pun intended). That leaves just eleven senators publicly undecided, and we’re waiting for Arizona governor Doug Ducey to name the replacement for John McCain.

In one of the weekends funnier, and more brutally honest statements, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar says she regrets her party’s decision to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominees back in 2013.

“I would’ve liked to see 60 votes, no matter what the judge is. I don’t think we should’ve made that change, when we look back at it. But it happened because we were so frustrated, because President Obama wasn’t able to get his nominees.” Yes, it’s a shame the way Republicans made you take that action, senator.

Mitch McConnell, back in 2013: “I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you will regret this, and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.” Cocaine Mitch warned you!

Portions of Kavanaugh’s opening statement are already out:

“A good judge must be an umpire — a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy. . . .  I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences. I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge. I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge. I am a pro-law judge,” he says in the remarks.

One line that is likely to get some attention, and or response from Democrats on the panel:

“I have served with 17 other judges, each of them a colleague and a friend, on a court now led by our superb chief judge, Merrick Garland.”

Check with Ed Whelan and the gang at Bench Memos throughout the day for the inside scoop. Ed’s already assembled a great collection of Kavanaugh’s writings on various legal topics, decisions, and figures.

‘Two Easy Wins Now in Doubt Because There Is Not Enough Time.’

President Trump on Twitter yesterday afternoon: “Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff……”

You can read the indictment of Chris Collins on charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud, and wire fraud here.

You can read the indictment of Duncan Hunter Jr. on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, falsification of records related to campaign finance, and prohibited use of campaign contributions here.

Despite the claims of the defendants and the president, neither indictment appears political, as each indictment lists the crimes in detail. Each congressman will have his day in court to deny the charges and provide exculpatory evidence.

Rarely do you see a president explicitly argue that members of Congress suspected of crimes should not be indicted because of how it would hurt his political interests. If, after the midterms, Trump stops merely berating Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Twitter and actually fires him, we can expect this tweet to come up in the confirmation hearing of any replacement.

Democrats — and perhaps some Republicans — will ask, justifiably, “Can any Trump nominee for attorney general be trusted if the president explicitly believes and says that politicians should not be indicted if it hurts his own political interests?”

ADDENDUM: Scott Mason and the good guys over at Turn On the Jets were kind enough to invite me on for another New York Jets–focused podcast this weekend, this time to guest judge an edition of their debate show “What’s Your Point?” with Dalbin Osorio and Paulie Bruzzese. Thursday’s Morning Jolt will feature my “big” NFL preview. Look for it on their site sometime soon.

Elections

All Betos Are Off

Rep. Beto O’Rourke campaigns in Houston, Texas, November 11, 2017. (William Philpott/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Even after his passing, John McCain offers one last hard lesson about loyalty to a trio of his former aides; Texas Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke hits a tough news cycle, which ought to generate some tough questions about his hype-to-results ratio; and a revelation about how NBC News managed to miss some of the year’s biggest stories.

John McCain’s Final Lesson: Always Stab From the Front

Our old friend Eliana Johnson writes about a surprising omission from the John McCain memorial service guest list beyond Sarah Palin: “Three of the most prominent members of [McCain’s] 2008 presidential campaign — campaign manager Steve Schmidt, senior adviser Nicolle Wallace and longtime strategist John Weaver — were not invited to any of McCain’s services, according to three people familiar with the guest list.”

The article includes this golden quote:

“That cathedral will be filled with people who stabbed McCain in the front. Schmidt and Nicolle and Weaver stabbed him in the back and you can’t find a single McCain loyalist who will say different or feels different,” said one of the people familiar with the guest list and funeral arrangements.

Some of the lingering animosity stems from Schmidt and Wallace cooperating with Mark Halperin and John Heilemann on their 2009 book Game Change, which turned into an HBO movie. The movie portrayed Schmidt as the principled hero, McCain as craven and desperate to win, and Palin as Frankenstein’s monster, oblivious to basic facts such as the fact that World War II was fought against Germany. Other McCain staffers who were in the room during those purported moments said those scenes in the film are pure fiction.

Johnson dryly notes that all three are now affiliated with MSNBC, Wallace as a host of its 4 p.m. weekday show Deadline: White House and Schmidt and Weaver as network contributors.

The celebration and elevation of former McCain staffers who are willing to tell all and denounce their old boss and admit their ticket’s victory would have been a national disaster — a low-key version of a Maoist “struggle session”? — is pretty unique in our national politics. You don’t see former Mitt Romney staffers on MSNBC talking about what a terrible pick Paul Ryan was.

In 2007, longtime Democratic consultant Bob Shrum wrote an entertaining tell-all of his unsuccessful campaigns over the years, with some unflattering anecdotes of his past candidates. But that book more or less ended Shrum’s role in politics, it didn’t elevate him; Fox News Channel didn’t give him his own show to tell its viewership that Democrats are every bit as bad as they think.

In 2010, Andrew Young wrote a tell-all about John Edwards’s campaign and the effort to cover up the Rielle Hunter affair. Young does not appear to be involved in politics anymore. Joe Trippi wrote a mostly but not entirely flattering account of the Howard Dean 2004 campaign, and he continued to work in Democratic politics.

Did any staffers write an embarrassing tell-all about the Obama campaign? (Maybe nothing embarrassing happens if you win.) Or John Kerry’s campaign? Or Hillary Clinton’s campaign? Some undoubtedly cooperated with Shattered, the Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes book from 2017, but we haven’t seen any Hillary staffers reinvent themselves as high-profile outspoken critics of their old party the way Schmidt, Weaver, and Wallace have.

You can blame the media for setting up this wildly imbalanced system and lucrative-incentive structure encouraging Republican staffers to switch sides. Or you can recognize that just about every high-level presidential campaign staffer sees embarrassing moments, ugly fights, potential scandals, and other dirty laundry. (This is why most people who have worked in politics say the incompetence and infighting depicted on the comedy cut of Veep is much more realistic than the Machiavellian secret-plots-within-other-secret-plots of House of Cards.) Most campaign staffers understand that a big part of the job is trust. If your boss and coworkers can’t trust you . . . what good are you?

And if the candidate couldn’t trust you . . . why should you be invited to the funeral?

What Makes Beto O’Rourke So Special?

I’m not so sure that Texas, a state that elected George W. Bush governor twice and for president twice, will find a long-ago driving-under-the-influence conviction disqualifying. But Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke can expect at least one uncomfortable news cycle over this:

Although the arrest has been public knowledge, police reports of the September 1998 incident – when the Democratic Senate candidate had just turned 26 – show that it was a more serious threat to public safety than has previously been reported.

State and local police reports obtained by the Chronicle and Express-News show that O’Rourke was driving drunk at what a witness called “a high rate of speed” in a 75 mph zone on Interstate 10 about a mile from the New Mexico border. He lost control and hit a truck, sending his car careening across the center median into oncoming lanes. The witness, who stopped at the scene, later told police that O’Rourke had tried to drive away from the scene.

It is rather revealing, however, that Texas Monthly could write an 8,500-word profile of O’Rourke and spend one half of one sentence on it.

Rereading that lengthy Texas Monthly profile of O’Rourke earlier in the year, I’m struck by how the candidate’s life seems . . . well, ordinary. He has no rags-to-riches story; his father was a well-connected former judge and entrepreneur and his mother ran a furniture store. He went to Columbia and formed a punk-rock band. He spent his initial post-college years “holding down a series of entry-level and temp jobs.” Unhappy with life in New York City, he moved back to El Paso and eventually formed a company that managed websites. He ran for city council and won in 2005 and promoted an ambitious redevelopment plan for certain neighborhoods, garnering accusations of gentrification. The redevelopment plan was only partially enacted, in part because of the Great Recession. In January 2009, the city council took up a purely symbolic resolution pertaining to cross-border relations, and O’Rourke offered a purely symbolic amendment encouraging an “honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.” This generated a stir, and in 2012, O’Rourke took on Silvestre Reyes, the local Democratic congressman in a district where winning the Democratic primary all but assures a general-election victory. O’Rourke was helped by a comfortable incumbent taking things for granted and a report by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington thst questioned Reyes’s payment of $600,000 in campaign funds to himself and his family members. O’Rourke won a narrow victory in the primary.

And since then, O’Rourke’s been a generally reliable Democrat in Congress, at least by Texas standards. He votes with President Trump’s position about 29 percent of the time; note that while Trump won Texas overall, he got clobbered in O’Rourke’s district. He’s been pretty active on veterans issues and a loud critic of his local VA office.

And that’s it. No military service, no tales of heroism, no rescuing a cat stuck in a tree. No remarkable or groundbreaking legal work. (Before being elected to the Senate, Ted Cruz had argued before the Supreme Court nine times and won five cases.) The only thing he’s run is the website company. The work on the El Paso city council is . . . fine, but hardly revolutionary or a role-model renaissance that other cities are studying and aiming to emulate. His record in Congress is tough to distinguish from almost any other House Democrat.

Oh, and to the extent it matters, Beto O’Rourke is not Latino. He has no Hispanic heritage. “Beto” is a nickname for Alberto. He’s as Irish-American as I am, but that doesn’t stop NBC News from running headlines like, “In Texas, Beto O’Rourke’s rise fuels hope for Latino Democrats.”

No doubt, he’s got charisma and a pithy way of summarizing his arguments, like, “If Juárez is thriving, El Paso is thriving. And vice versa. So we have a selfish interest in what happens in Juárez economically, and we have a human interest because it’s who we are.”

And that’s apparently all he needs! Peter Hamby is writing in Vanity Fair that O’Rourke should be discussed as a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate:

 Whether he wins or loses his race — and yes, even if he loses — O’Rourke should be included in every conversation about the 2020 Democratic primary. That’s because, unlike most of the paint-by-numbers politicians in his party, O’Rourke actually understands how politics should be conducted in the Donald Trump era: authentic, full of energy, stripped of consultant-driven sterility, and waged at all times with a social-media-primed video screen in mind.

Okay, but . . . is being good at running for president what the country actually needs in a president? Do we learn nothing from cycle to cycle?

Remember when this country used to elect governors? You know, folks who had built legislative coalitions, signed or vetoed legislation, made appointments, activated National Guard personnel, balanced budgets, granted commutations and pardons, gone on trade missions, and given state of the state addresses — all of the sorts of things a president does?

ADDENDUM: It sounds like if you’re a reporter at NBC News, some of the biggest stories are going on in the next cubicle:

Rich McHugh, [Ronan Farrow’s] producer, who recently left his job in the investigative unit of NBC News, is the first person affiliated with NBC to publicly charge that the network impeded his and Mr. Farrow’s efforts to nail down the story of Mr. Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct. He called the network’s handling of the matter “a massive breach of journalistic integrity.”

NBC denied his characterization on Thursday, saying Mr. Farrow’s work was not broadcast-ready when the reporter decided to take his reporting to The New Yorker.

Also, the Morning Jolt will return on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

Elections

Florida’s Gubernatorial Race Is Now Both Costly and Controversial

(REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry/)

Never mind what actually happened in the world today; this morning, the president tweeted that the media is “the Enemy of the People” again, and so now everyone is apparently contractually obligated to spend at least one news cycle expressing their outrage about that, even though we’ve already done this several times this year. The media hates being called it. The president loves doing things they hate. Almost everyone shrugs as the term “enemy,” once more properly applied to ISIS and North Korea’s regime, becomes a synonym for “person I don’t like.” And the cycle continues, lather, rinse, repeat . . .

Making the click-through for this newsletter worthwhile: the true costs of the Florida governor’s race, Silicon Valley stops looking quite so appealing to the tech community, and two cases where Hollywood’s decision making is just baffling.

The Governor’s Race in Florida Just Got More Interesting . . .  and Expensive

Democrats have high hopes for their new nominee for governor of Florida, Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum. The New York Times acknowledges that his long-shot win in a hard-fought primary might be the easy part, even after his GOP opponent, Congressman Ron DeSantis, used the term “monkey this up” in describing the consequences of electing Gillum.

The full quote from DeSantis:

[Gilllum] is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views, and he’s a charismatic candidate. I watched those Democrat debates, and none of that is my cup of tea, but he performed better than the other people there. So we’ve got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let’s build off the success we’ve had with Governor Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state. That is not going to work.

Democrats charge that DeSantis’s use of the term “monkey” was a racial slur. Our Charles Cooke finds it an appallingly unfair and unsupported accusation.

The Times acknowledges that Gillum’s campaign needs a massive infusion of cash, quickly:

Gillum used the tussle to get airtime on Fox News himself, seeking to harness the publicity he received from his surprise win into the sort of major fund-raising that previously eluded him. He enlisted a handful of well-known Democrats, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, to send out fund-raising emails on his behalf. By Wednesday night, he had raised more than $800,000 online since his victory.

Tom Steyer, the California-based donor who helped Mr. Gillum secure his primary victory, said he would consider spending more than the $5 million he had already allocated for the governor’s contest here.

That sounds like a lot, but Gillum will probably need a lot more.

As I said earlier this week, political race winners are rarely determined on spending alone, but Florida is a deceptively difficult state to run in, with at least ten major media markets: Pensacola, Panama City, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Orlando, Tampa Bay, Palm Beach, Fort Myers, and Miami/Fort Lauderdale. In 2014, Rick Scott spent nearly $68 million on television ads and Charlie Crist spent more than $35 million, the highest totals in any state gubernatorial race. Gillum, the current mayor of Tallahassee, is unusual for a modern Democratic statewide candidate in that he isn’t from central or southern Florida. An advertising disadvantage can’t be easily overcome by more vigorous campaigning. People forget how big the state is; driving from Pensacola to Miami takes almost ten hours.

The Times notes that the “well-funded Republican Governor’s Association intends to spend upwards of $20 million overall in Florida, according to officials with the group, and have pre-booked $10 million worth of advertising that is to start in September.”

Silicon Valley Loses Some of Its Shine

The editors of The Economist notice that tech entrepreneurs are growing less convinced that living and working in Silicon Valley is worth the cost and aggravation.

 Last year more Americans left the county of San Francisco than arrived. According to a recent survey, 46 percent of respondents say they plan to leave the Bay Area in the next few years, up from 34 percent in 2016. So many startups are branching out into new places that the trend has a name, “Off Silicon Valleying”. Peter Thiel, perhaps the Valley’s most high-profile venture capitalist, is among those upping sticks. Those who stay have broader horizons: in 2013 Silicon Valley investors put half their money into startups outside the Bay Area; now it is closer to two-thirds.

The article laments “rising anti-immigrant sentiment and tighter visa regimes of the sort introduced by President Donald Trump” but barely glances at the quality of local government. The Bay Area Rapid Transit system recently announced they need $150 million to $200 million to replace their fare gates, because it’s too easy to skip over the turnstiles. They have 600 total fare gates in the system. This means each new fare gate will cost between $250,000 and $333,333.33 each.

I Don’t Understand You, Hollywood: Part One

First, color me rather skeptical that a movie about the Joker, separate from Batman, will work.

Yes, Joaquin Phoenix is a good actor, but movies with a villain protagonist are difficult to enjoy unless everything works out just right. The Usual Suspects works because we belatedly realize the villain was sitting in front of us the whole time. The world around Patrick Bateman in American Psycho bristles with shallow, materialistic, selfish social climbers, so he seems like some sort of retribution for their sins. Neither of those ideas can really work as a concept for the movie about the Joker, as the audience knows he’s the villain going into the movie and the character . . .  really isn’t supposed to be sympathetic.

The Joker is the comic-book character who needs to be explored and reinterpreted the least, after the performances of Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Mark Hamill’s voice-over work in the animated versions, and (sigh) Jared Leto. (One of the few things that the Suicide Squad movie got right was the idea that everyone in the DC universe’s criminal underworld, even the ones with superpowers, feared “the clown.”) As a character, the Joker is supposed to combine the mystery of the Zodiac killer, John Wayne Gacy’s faux-jovial persona, Charles Manson’s ability to inspire followers, and Son of Sam’s ability to manipulate the media and terrorize the public.

But they’ve decided to go forward with the story of the Joker as some frustrated comedian, and for a few days Alec Baldwin was supposed to play Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s father, although “this being a movie project that will veer off-center from the traditional Batman canon, sources say the script paints Thomas Wayne as a cheesy and tanned businessman who is more in the mold of a 1980s Donald Trump.” (Baldwin said yesterday he wouldn’t be able to be in the film because of scheduling issues.)

Reimagining Bruce Wayne’s father as a showboating tycoon isn’t merely “veering off-center from traditional Batman canon”; that’s veering off the road like Toonces the Cat. The entire core of the Batman story is his desire to avenge the murder of his parents — and that his parents were kind and loving, the last people in the world who deserved to be gunned down during a mugging gone wrong. Making Thomas Wayne unsympathetic undermines . . .  well, everything.

Maybe the final product will be a masterpiece, but the little details we’re hearing suggest a weirdly morally inverted story, one where the character that we know has to become an insane mass killer will be portrayed somewhat sympathetically, and the slain father won’t.

I Don’t Understand You, Hollywood: Part Two

Christian Toto reminds us that Sasha Baron Cohen’s new television series on Showtime has finished its first season . . .  and it never aired the segment that was taped with Sarah Palin.

Seems like an odd choice, doesn’t it? The network insisted Cohen “did not present himself as a disabled veteran” and that he “never presented himself as a veteran of the U.S. military to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin during the booking process or during the filming of her interview, and contrary to her claims he did not appear in a wheelchair.” And whatever the segment showed, it almost certainly would have been good for ratings.

The tape must either confirm or refute Palin’s accusation. And yet they chose to never show it. If the tape always contradicted Palin’s account, why not release it, even separately from the show, on YouTube? And if it verified Palin’s account, why did the network put out the adamant denial?

ADDENDUM: I’m scheduled to appear on HLN this afternoon, discussing race and the midterms, and am scheduled to join my friend Cam Edwards on NRATV at 2 p.m.

U.S.

America Was Meant to Overcome Identity Politics

Kerron Stewart, 10, sits with demonstrators on the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol building in Baton Rouge, La., July 10, 2016. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why identity politics, so in style across the political spectrum right now, are what the American experiment was meant to overcome; a key question for Democrats in the aftermath of John McCain’s passing; and Facebook faces an internal rebellion.

“What Are You?”

Despite our Founding creed, throughout our history, America has had a pretty inconsistent record at overcoming our identity-politics divisions.

The New York Times recently reviewed a new book by Kwame Anthony Appiah titled “The Lies That Bind.” The author is a London-born Ghanian of interracial parents educated at Cambridge University, who has taught all around the Ivy Leagues and is now teaching at NYU and writing the Ethicist column for the Times. Appiah begins his book by saying that he is constantly asked, “What are you?” and the review says he explores “why people feel a need to pin identities down — to essentialize — and how to escape the pinning.”

No doubt we’ve all had some experience where someone learned some aspect of ourselves and jumped to some conclusions that were unfair or unsupported. (“Oh, you’re from the South? I’ll talk slower, ha-ha-ha.”) Or for those whose ethnic background isn’t, er, “as plain as the nose on your face,” the inevitable sporadic interaction:

“Where are you from?”

“New Brunswick.”

“No, I mean, what country?”

“America.”

“No, I mean, where did your parents come from?”

Americans — led in large part by their media, and well beyond their political media — are constantly sorting, categorizing, and ranking their fellow citizens. They’re led away from the mentality that everybody in every group might have some value, something they bring to the greatness of the country.

Identity politics in the American context almost inevitably carries an undercurrent of “we, in this group, are the good Americans; those, in that group, are the bad Americans.” Whether we like to admit it or not, that’s a near-dominant theme in our modern politics and our arguments on social media.

Xenophobes conclude that the immigrants are the bad ones, and some don’t make much distinction between the legal or illegal. Occupy Wall Street and its successor groups contended that the richest 1 percent are, ipso facto, greedy, selfish, and deserving of punishment.  Activists who have never held a gun conclude that NRA members are enablers of mass murder. Black Lives Matter activists certainly look at police officers with, at best, great skepticism and suspicion; and indisputably some white Americans look at that movement as being pro-violence and pro-criminal. Some argue that the “Make America Great Again” hat is morally equivalent to the Klan hood. Young, self-professed “incels” seethe with jealousy and rage against women; outspoken feminists insist “yes, all men” are oppressive threats to women and should be treated as such; political analysts on the left gleefully assure themselves that the Republican-base voters are “dying off.” Some conservatives  boast that they hate Hollywood, choosing to either forget or ignore the Gary Sinises and Patricia Heatons of the world. The alt-right hates . . .  well, everybody.

It’s not always explicitly political; sometimes its cultural, such as the sneering at those who live in rural America, and those living in the cities as dysfunctional decadent hellholes, and the dismissal of the suburbs as boring bourgeois. (It’s fine to not like any of those places, but we drift into dangerous territory when it curdles into contempt for any human being associated with those places.)

The point of the American experiment, fueled in large part by Europeans fleeing a continent full of rigid class roles, limited opportunities, political and religious repression, was to create a country where you could be whatever you wanted to be, and your group identity didn’t matter. You didn’t have to be born a nobleman, it didn’t matter if your faith wasn’t the same as the majority’s, and we didn’t have a king who could toss you in a dungeon if you criticized him. (Okay, Woodrow Wilson and the Sedition Act came close.) Yes, the Founding Fathers fell well short of equal opportunity for all, but this was still a radical concept for its time, and we’ve gradually — admittedly, far too slowly — expanded legal equality and greater opportunity for all citizens.

Identity politics almost inevitably leaves its practitioners tied in knots, like the Democratic National Committee recently voting that that all of its committees will be divided evenly between men and women . . . but also officially recognizing that gender is non-binary and declaring that individuals can identify their gender as they wish and gender non-binary members will count as neither male nor female. Theoretically, a committee of men and others who were born men but who identify as women would be divided evenly in the DNC’s eyes. I think their ideal would be to have the committees one-third men, one-third women, and one third identifying as neither.

And in one of the great but predictable ironies, heated discussions of identity politics probably make the political environment tougher for women and minorities.

For what it’s worth, University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket did an experiment and found that discussions of identity politics make Democratic primary voters “less comfortable with the idea of Democrats nominating someone other than a white male in 2020” — with the most notable shift being a slight drop in support for Elizabeth Warren. No doubt, this is some lingering aftershock of the 2016 results — Democrats believe that excessive focus on identity politics ended up hurting Hillary, and are wary of repeating the same mistakes against Trump in his reelection battle.

Why Are There No Celebrated ‘Mavericks’ Among Democratic Lawmakers?

Michael Graham with the point that is important, but few political observers outside of the Right are willing to admit: Democrats loved John McCain, but none of them want to be him —  that is, none are even remotely interested in building their careers on defying party orthodoxy the way he did — or they know that defying party orthodoxy too frequently will end their careers.

Yes, there are a handful of Democrats in red states who occasionally vote with Republicans — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota come to mind. But they’re not “mavericks” bucking their party’s ideology. They’re just Democrats in Trump Country trying to figure out how Democratic they can be and still get re-elected.

McCain represented ruby-red Arizona, land of Barry Goldwater, so he rarely had anything to fear from the voters back home.

“The media can’t stop admiring the many times Sen. McCain took to the floor of the Senate to criticize Republican positions on issues like immigration or campaign finance reform.  OK, fine. So where is the Democrat who’s done the same?” Graham asks.

The closest we could find would probably be Joe Lieberman, who publicly ripped into Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal (although he opposed impeachment) and he supported the Iraq War when almost every other Senate Democrat who had voted for the war had abandoned their past positions. And he represented Connecticut — a reliably Democratic state that nearly didn’t reelect him in 2006. But Lieberman retired after the 2012 elections, and he had no real successor as the Republicans’ favorite Democrat.

Speaking of relentless groupthink . . .

Facebook’s Internal Rebellion

A good sign . . . but now the question is how these frustrated Facebook employees are treated in response:

The post went up quietly on Facebook’s internal message board last week. Titled “We Have a Problem with Political Diversity,” it quickly took off inside the social network.

“We are a political monoculture that’s intolerant of different views,” Brian Amerige, a senior Facebook engineer, wrote in the post, which was obtained by The New York Times. “We claim to welcome all perspectives, but are quick to attack — often in mobs —  anyone who presents a view that appears to be in opposition to left-leaning ideology.”

Since the post went up, more than 100 Facebook employees have joined Mr. Amerige to form an online group called FB’ers for Political Diversity, according to two people who viewed the group’s page and who were not authorized to speak publicly. The aim of the initiative, according to Mr. Amerige’s memo, is to create a space for ideological diversity within the company.

The Times reports, “The new group has upset other Facebook employees, who said its online posts were offensive to minorities.” Is it that any non-Left view is, ipso facto, deemed offensive to minorities?

ADDENDA: What? An NPR review of Department of Education data found that more than two-thirds of these reported school-related shootings “never happened”!? Bad government statistics fuel hysteria on one side and conspiracy theories on the other.

Thanks to Jay Nordlinger for the kind words about my family. Whoever invented the kids’ fountain in the street of Richard Mayr-Gasse is a genius.

White House

President Trump: The Fairest ‘Authoritarian Dictator’ of Them All

President Donald Trump arrives for a Make America Great Again rally at the Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia, August 21, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Paul Krugman play-acts joining the Rebel Alliance against the Evil Empire, Trump’s refusal to play by any rules creates needless problems for himself, a ninny in Wisconsin looks like a fool while protesting Scott Walker, and a question about sports seasons and preseasons.

Could We Keep Our Criticisms of the President Tied to Reality?

Paul Krugman: “If Republicans retain control of both houses of Congress in November, we will become another Poland or Hungary faster than you can imagine.” He means “Poland or Hungary” in the sense of being undemocratic, quasi-authoritarian, and beyond the rule of law, not in the sense of hearty foods.

Krugman writes that the ruling parties in those countries have “destroyed the independence of the judiciary, suppressed freedom of the press, institutionalized large-scale corruption and effectively delegitimized dissent . . .  we’re suffering from the same disease — white nationalism run wild — that has already effectively killed democracy in some other Western nations. And we’re very, very close to the point of no return.”

Does it seem like Trump has “destroyed the independence of the judiciary”? Do authoritarian dictators often find their proposals halted by the judicial branch, on issues such as a excluding transgender individuals from military service, limiting the power of federal worker unions, ending DACA, stopping grants to sanctuary cities, or even blocking Twitter users? Whether you agree with these decisions or not, don’t they dispel Krugman’s claim that the judiciary is losing its independence under Trump?

“Appointing judges that I don’t like and disagree with” is not a synonym for “destroying the independence of the judiciary.”

Does it seem as if Trump has “suppressed freedom of the press”? Have you noticed any lack of criticism of Trump in the media? Does it seem as if people are afraid to publicly criticize the president? If you pick up the Washington Post or New York Times, aren’t the pages full of articles lambasting the administration for all kinds of sins and foolishness, both real and imagined?

One can argue that Trump “institutionalized large-scale corruption” if one completely averts one’s eyes from the scandals of the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton, and/or ignores the fact that the Trump administration’s worst offenders . . . tend to resign in disgrace after a series of humiliating headlines. Would I prefer that the wild spending habits and shamelessness of Tom Price, David Shulkin, and Scott Pruitt never happened? Sure. But they all paid a price in losing their jobs. Perhaps not enough of a price, but it demonstrates that at least in some circumstances — such as generating enough bad headlines that even this nearly shameless president gets irritated — “large-scale corruption” is not institutionalized but shown the door.

Does it seem as if Trump has “effectively delegitimized dissent”? Trump’s job approval has consistently been in the low 50s in public polling.

Do authoritarian dictators have their campaign managers convicted by juries? Do authoritarian dictators have their personal lawyers raided by the FBI, get indicted on multiple charges, and plead guilty to serious crimes?

Do authoritarian dictators often deal with a special counsel investigating their election campaign, potential ties to foreign governments, alleged payments to mistresses, and so on?

Do authoritarian dictators have their major legislative priorities, like a full repeal of Obamacare or border-wall funding, denied to them by the national legislature? Do authoritarian dictators find themselves frustrated by a filibuster?

Trump generates plenty of his own genuine scandals, problems, and embarrassments. Is it too much to ask that the public discussion stick to that, and not play-acting “the Resistance” against a fascist regime?

‘Everyone Knows We Don’t Like Each Other.’

Here’s the explanation for the White House’s bare-minimum response to the passing of John McCain:

Trump told advisers over the weekend that lavishing praise on McCain would not be genuine because he did not feel that way. “Everyone knows we don’t like each other,” the president said, according to one White House official who spoke with him.

Must you like someone to say a kind word upon their death? Was there nothing about McCain that Trump could find appealing or relate to? He couldn’t even muster something like, “Everyone said John McCain was stubborn, but in my world, that’s a virtue — that shows grit and determination, even when everyone says the odds are against you” or something similar?

The Washington Post declares, “Trump has rejected the norms of his office and, increasingly, has been rejected in turn.” This is probably how the president likes it; if he wanted to live a life full of courtesy, grace, and decorum, he could do so.

But Trump defies “the rules” even when doing so provides no tangible benefit to himself, and he has no sense of perspective or any real awareness of how his actions will appear to others. He steps on rakes and creates problems for himself where just doing the normal thing would have avoided problems — like, say, national veterans organizations publicly calling on him to continue standard and traditional actions of the presidency:

The American Legion, a veterans organization, issued a sternly worded statement calling on Trump to treat McCain with more reverence.

“On the behalf of The American Legion’s two million wartime veterans, I strongly urge you to make an appropriate presidential proclamation noting Senator McCain’s death and legacy of service to our nation, and that our nation’s flag be half-staffed through his [interment],” said Denise Rohan, the group’s national commander.

As Julian Sanchez observes, Trump is “somehow both insanely obsessed with optics and seemingly unable to foresee hilariously obvious scenarios.”

In the Protester’s Defense, that Sand Looks Heavy

There’s flooding in downtown Madison, Wisc. On Saturday, Governor Scott Walker joined volunteers and the Wisconsin National Guard as they filled and distributed sandbags at Oneida Park in Monona. Some winner went out and protested Walker as he filled sandbags. The protester held a sign saying, “[No] Photo Ops, Climate Change.”

Walker can’t buy publicity this good. When people are in trouble, and the flood waters are rising, Wisconsin’s leftists will always be there . . .  to protest, instead of actually doing something useful.

ADDENDA: This may be the sort of thing that only I notice or care about, but the NFL alone has a weird way of dragging out the space between its preseason and the regular season.

No other sport puts much time between the end of its practice period and the start of meaningful games. This year, Major League Baseball’s spring training ended for most teams on March 27 and opening day was March 29 (the earliest in league history). The National Hockey League season ends September 30 and the regular season begins October 4.  In the National Basketball Association, the preseason ends October 12 and the regular season begins October 16.

But the NFL leaves a long gap between the return of practice and the return of meaningful games. Most teams don’t use their starting players at all in the final preseason game out of fear of injuries, so last Friday and Saturday’s games were the last ones that were even remotely watchable for a few quarters. (For what it’s worth, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he doesn’t think the league really needs four weeks of preseason games.)

The NFL season kicks off with a Thursday night game on September 6, and most teams begin play September 9. This means that for most teams, 14 or 15 days will have gone by between when the preseason ended for the starters and the regular season starts. If your team played on Friday night and opens the season on Monday night, as the Jets, Lions, and Rams do, 17 days pass between games for the starters! (One advantage for college football: no preseason games; every game counts.) Kind of odd to announce the return of your sport with nationally televised primetime games that are sloppy and meaningless, and then say, “Hey, we’ll be back with the real thing in a few weeks.”

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World

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Law & the Courts

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