Archive for the ‘Collins’ Category

Blow, Kristof and Collins

February 11, 2016

In “Stop Bernie-Splaining to Black Folks” Mr. Blow says history and experience have burned into the black American psyche a functional pragmatism whose existence doesn’t depend on others’ approval.  Mr. Kristof states the blindingly obvious in “The G.O.P. Created Donald Trump,” where he says the Republican establishment has itself to blame for a front-runner it loathes.  Ms. Collins considers “Hillary, Bernie and History” and concludes that Democratic women are voting their ages in the nominating contests.  Well, Gail, not this 70 year old.  I’m voting for Bernie.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Now that Iowa and New Hampshire are vanishing in the rearview mirror, the Democratic contests shift more West and South — beginning with Nevada and South Carolina, states that have significantly more Hispanic or black voters, respectively, who at this point disproportionately favor Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders.

This support for Clinton, particular among African-American voters, is for some perplexing and for others irritating.

I cannot tell you the number of people who have commented to me on social media that they don’t understand this support. “Don’t black folks understand that Bernie best represents their interests?” the argument generally goes. But from there, it can lead to a comparison between Sanders and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; to an assertion that Sanders is the Barack Obama that we really wanted and needed; to an exasperated “black people are voting against their interests” stance.

If only black people knew more, understood better, where the candidates stood — now and over their lifetimes — they would make a better choice, the right choice. The level of condescension in these comments is staggering.

Sanders is a solid candidate and his integrity and earnestness are admirable, but that can get lost in the noise of advocacy.

Tucked among all this Bernie-splaining by some supporters, it appears to me, is a not-so-subtle, not-so-innocuous savior syndrome and paternalistic patronage that I find so grossly offensive that it boggles the mind that such language should emanate from the mouths — or keyboards — of supposed progressives.

But then I am reminded that the idea that black folks are infantile and must be told what to do and what to think is not confined by ideological barriers. The ideological difference is that one side prefers punishment and the other pity, and neither is a thing in which most black folks delight.

It is not so much that black voters love Clinton and loathe Sanders. Indeed, in The Nation magazine, the estimable Michelle Alexander makes a strong case in an essay titled “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.” For many there isn’t much passion for either candidate. Instead, black folks are trying to keep their feet planted in reality and choose from among politicians who have historically promised much and delivered little. It is often a choice between the devil you know and the one you don’t, or more precisely, among the friend who betrays you, the stranger who entices you and the enemy who seeks to destroy you.

It is not black folks who need to come to a new understanding, but those whose privileged gaze prevents them from seeing that black thought and consciousness is informed by a bitter history, a mountain of disappointment and an ocean of tears.

There is a passage by James Baldwin in his essay “Journey to Atlanta” that I believe explains some of the apprehension about Sanders’s grand plans in a way that I could never equal, and although it is long, I’m going to quote it here in full.

Of all Americans, Negroes distrust politicians most, or, more accurately, they have been best trained to expect nothing from them; more than other Americans, they are always aware of the enormous gap between election promises and their daily lives. It is true that the promises excite them, but this is not because they are taken as proof of good intentions. They are the proof of something more concrete than intentions: that the Negro situation is not static, that changes have occurred, and are occurring and will occur — this, in spite of the daily, dead-end monotony. It is this daily, dead-end monotony, though, as well as the wise desire not to be betrayed by too much hoping, which causes them to look on politicians with such an extraordinarily disenchanted eye.

This fatalistic indifference is something that drives the optimistic American liberal quite mad; he is prone, in his more exasperated moments, to refer to Negroes as political children, an appellation not entirely just. Negro liberals, being consulted, assure us that this is something that will disappear with “education,” a vast, all-purpose term, conjuring up visions of sunlit housing projects, stacks of copybooks and a race of well-soaped, dark-skinned people who never slur their R’s. Actually, this is not so much political irresponsibility as the product of experience, experience which no amount of education can quite efface.

Baldwin continues:

“Our people” have functioned in this country for nearly a century as political weapons, the trump card up the enemies’ sleeve; anything promised Negroes at election time is also a threat leveled at the opposition; in the struggle for mastery the Negro is the pawn.

Even black folks who don’t explicitly articulate this intuitively understand it.

History and experience have burned into the black American psyche a sort of functional pragmatism that will be hard to erase. It is a coping mechanism, a survival mechanism, and its existence doesn’t depend on others’ understanding or approval.

However, that pragmatism could work against the idealism of a candidate like Sanders.

Black folks don’t want to be “betrayed by too much hoping,” and Sanders’s proposals, as good as they sound, can also sound too good to be true. There is a whiff of fancifulness.

For instance, Sanders says that his agenda will require a Congress-flipping political revolution of like-minded voters, but so far, that revolution has yet to materialize. Just asin Iowa, in New Hampshire there were more voters — or caucusgoers — making choices in the Republican contest than in the Democratic one. That, so far, sounds more like a Republican revolution. If that trend holds for the rest of the primary season and into the general election, not only would Democrats not be likely pick up congressional seats, they could lose more of them.

That’s a stubborn fact emerging — a reality — and it is one that all voters, including black ones, shouldn’t be simply told to discount.

This is not to say that Clinton or Sanders is the better choice for Democrats this season, but simply that the way some of Sanders’s supporters have talked down to black voters does him a disservice, and makes clear their insensitivity to the cultural and experiential political knowledge that has accrued to the black electorate.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The betting markets now say that the most likely Republican nominee for president is a man who mocks women, insults Latinos, endorses war crimes like torture, denounces party icons and favors barring people from the United States based on their religion.

He’s less a true-believer conservative than an opportunist, though, for he has supported single-payer health insurance, abortion rights and tighter gun measures. Lindsey Graham says he’s “crazy,” Jeb Bush says he would be worse than President Obama, and the conservative National Review warned that he is a “menace to American conservatism.”

It’s Donald Trump, of course. He’s smarter than critics believe — he understood the political mood better than we pundits did — but I can’t think of any national politician I’ve met over the decades who was so ill informed on the issues, or so evasive, or who so elegantly and dangerously melded bombast and vapidity.

So how did we get to this stage where the leading Republican candidate is loathed by the Republican establishment?

In part, I think, Republican leaders brought this on themselves. Over the decades they pried open a Pandora’s box, a toxic politics of fear and resentment, sometimes brewed with a tinge of racial animus, and they could never satisfy the unrealistic expectations that they nurtured among supporters.

Perhaps it started in 1968 with Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” recruiting white segregationists infuriated by the civil rights movement. It then expanded to encompass immigration and the three G’s — God, guns and gays.

Of course, Democrats also sometimes campaigned outrageously, and some Republicans scorned the politics of hate. There was a marvelous scene in 2008 when John McCain was running against Obama, and a woman at a McCain rally suggested that Obama was an Arab who couldn’t be trusted. McCain corrected her and then praised his rival: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”

Political nastiness and conspiracy theories were amplified by right-wing talk radio, television and websites — and, yes, there are left-wing versions as well, but they are much less influential. Democrats often felt disadvantaged by the rise of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, but in retrospect Limbaugh and Fox created a conservative echo chamber that hurt the Republican Party by tugging it to the right and sometimes breeding a myopic extremism in which reality is irrelevant.

A poll released in September found that Republicans were more likely to think that Obama was born abroad than that Ted Cruz was. That poll found that Trump supporters believed by nearly a three-to-one ratio that Obama was born overseas.

The Republican establishment profited from the insinuations that Obama is a Muslim, that he’s anti-American, that his health care plan would lead to “death panels.” Rick Perry has described Trump as a “cancer on conservatism” and said his movement is “a toxic mix of demagoguery and meanspiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition” — indeed, but it was a mix that too many Republican leaders accepted as long as it worked for them.

This echo chamber deluded its believers to the point that it sometimes apparently killed them. During the 2009-10 flu pandemic, right-wing broadcasters like Limbaugh and Glenn Beck denounced the call for flu shots, apparently seeing it as a nefarious Obama plot.

The upshot was that Democrats were 50 percent more likely than Republicans to say that they would get flu shots, according to a peer-reviewed article in The Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. So when the pandemic killed up to 18,000 Americans, they presumably were disproportionately conservatives.

The Republican strategy also nurtured expectations at the grass roots that could never be met. “The Republican Party created Donald Trump,” said Erick Erickson, the conservative radio host, “because they made a lot of promises to their base and never kept them.”

This is a theme of a smart new book by E.J. Dionne Jr., “Why the Right Went Wrong,” who argues that Republican leaders repeatedly made unrealistic pledges — of smaller government, preservation of bygone values and an end to demographic change. “The history of contemporary American conservatism is a story of disappointment and betrayal,” he writes, and that helps explain the disenchantment with the Republican establishment.

Maybe Trump’s campaign will fall apart, but he has a huge lead in the polls in the South Carolina primary coming up, and he has already done enormous damage to the G.O.P. establishment.

So today the leading candidate for president in the party of Lincoln is an ill-informed, inexperienced, bigoted, sexist xenophobe. And he’s not a conservative at heart, just a pandering opportunist.

Donald Trump is the consequence of irresponsible politicking by Republican leaders, the culmination of decades of cultivating unrealistic expectations within the politics of resentment. It’s good to see leading Republicans standing up to him today, but the situation recalls the Chinese saying, qi hu nan xia — when you’re riding a tiger, the hard part is getting off.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

It’s a sad time for Hillary Clinton’s fans. Well, I guess that’s obvious, since she got clobbered in New Hampshire. But it’s the way she went down that was particularly painful. Bernie Sanders got more than half the women’s vote, mainly because younger women raced off to his corner in droves.

That triggered a generational cross-fire. “I’m frustrated and outraged by being constantly attacked by older feminists for my refusal to vote according to my gender,” a college sophomore told CNN.

Women tend to vote for candidates who support a strong social safety net, which is not exactly a problem in the current Democratic race. Historically, they’ve been less likely to show a particular preference for other women. I’ve always generalized that they won’t vote for men who yell. However, it appears that is totally inaccurate when the man in question is shouting, “Medicare for all!”

Still, the idea of a woman as president is a very important marker for people who grew up in a time when medical schools had tiny quotas for female students, newspapers had “help wanted” ads that divided everything by sex and half the population could get credit only in their husband’s or father’s name. Younger women don’t seem to share that yearning, and there are wounded feelings on both sides.

This is hardly the first time progressive women have had a generational conflict. Once women won the right to vote, the older suffragists wanted to keep battling for equal rights, while many of their juniors felt they had other things to do. “‘Feminism’ has become a term of opprobrium to the modern young woman,” wrote Dorothy Dunbar Bromley in a famous 1927 essay that suggested militants of the old school had a demoralizing tendency to wear unflattering shoes.

In the modern era, whenever cross-generational sniping occurred, younger women always had a champion in Gloria Steinem. “Their activism is fantastic,” she told me in a post-New Hampshire phone interview. Steinem, a Clinton supporter, was drawn into the fray when, during a TV appearance, she seemed to be suggesting that younger women were supporting Sanders because they wanted to meet boys. She says she misspoke, that she was talking about issues of power, not sex: “The person who’s being written about is not me.” Garbling a message is something that can definitely happen on the umpteenth leg of a book tour, and if anybody has earned the right to be taken at her word, it’s Steinem.

It’s easy to see why Sanders is attracting the youth vote. His events are electric. When he demands free tuition at public colleges and universities, the audience is practically orating with him, calling out their student loans (“Over 200,000, Columbia University graduate school!”). When he goes into his Medicare-for-all health care system, they shout their insurance deductibles (“5,000 … for a single person!”).

On the other hand, he hasn’t grown much as a candidate. All politicians tend to give the same stump speech over and over, but Sanders is practically in the Marco Rubio category when it comes to repetition. Clinton is nowhere near Sanders’s class as an orator, but there can be something compelling in her willingness to just dig in and trust the audience to follow.

Listening to Sanders wow a crowd in New Hampshire, I remembered a 2007 speech Clinton made in her first New Hampshire primary campaign. She called for an end to a tax loophole known as “carried interest” that’s beloved by hedge fund managers. Clinton wasn’t the first candidate on that particular bus, but what struck me was the time she took to explain how the system worked and how she was going to change it. She was totally fearless when it came to risking boredom in pursuit of an issue.

Strong as the emotions are in the Clinton and Sanders camps, both sides have to feel sort of chipper when they look over at the Republicans, who are engaged in something between professional wrestling and Godzilla Versus Rodan.

Plus, that generational divide has a positive side. The women who grew up in Clinton’s time thought of a female president as a distant, glorious achievement, like going to the moon. Then the moon landing happened, but they still couldn’t get a car loan in their own names.

It took almost 40 more years before a woman won a major presidential primary. That was, of course, Clinton in 2008 in New Hampshire. She didn’t win the election, but she was so credible, and finished so strong, that the nation came away believing a woman in the White House was a completely normal idea.

If the younger voters who are flocking to Bernie Sanders don’t share their elders’ intense feelings about needing to elect a woman president right now, it’s partly because Hillary Clinton helped create a different world. So no matter what comes next, everybody’s a winner.

Collins, solo

February 6, 2016

In “The Things We Love to Loathe” Ms. Collins says as New Hampshire goes, so goes everybody.  Here she is:

When it comes to bringing us all together, I don’t think anybody is better at it than Martin Shkreli.

Shkreli is a 32-year-old former hedge fund manager — see, I just said “hedge fund manager” and already masses of readers are shuddering in unison. He’s the one who bought rights to a drug needed for H.I.V. patients and then hiked the price 5,000 percent. He later appeared, wearing a hoodie, before a Forbes Healthcare Summit to say his only regret was that he had not raised it higher.

Yes! That guy! Naturally, all this drew a lot of congressional critics, and Shkreli expressed a yen for an honest exchange of opinions. (“I would berate them. I would insult them.”) He got his chance this week when he was called before the House oversight committee, where he took the Fifth, while smirking and twiddling a pencil.

This was the committee whose Democrats and Republicans kept shrieking at each other during the Benghazi hearings. Now, every member was united in a bipartisan desire to leap over the table and strangle the witness. Nobody has brought forth so much shared emotion since the video of Nora the Piano Cat.

The point here is that there really are a few things we can agree on, even in these troubled times. In the spirit of Shkreli, let’s look for some others on the campaign trail:

Rick Santorum is the worst friend in the world. Santorum, a former senator, was running for president until this week, when he reminded the nation that he was in the campaign by resigning from it. He then announced he was endorsing Marco Rubio.

That won Santorum an invitation to appear on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to talk about his big decision. Asked what it was about Rubio’s performance as a senator that impressed him, he said: “I guess it’s hard to say there are accomplishments.” Pressed on that interesting take, Santorum continued helpfully: “The first four years he was in the minority and nothing got done. And by the way, what happened this year under the Republicans that he got done?”

Recovering from that bout with sentence structure, Santorum closed by noting that the public was “looking not at someone with accomplishments and a track record but someone who had a — who was considered someone who was an outsider.”

We are enjoying the idea that Donald Trump screwed up the deal. If he fades in New Hampshire, will it be because he hasn’t been able to master the business side of the game — direct mail, polling, organization? If so, was he possibly too cheap to pay for it? The campaign says absolutely no, but it’s a lot of fun asking.

Hillary Clinton should not have given those speeches for Goldman Sachs. Clinton did very well at a Democratic forum and debate this week. Except when she was asked, during the forum, why she accepted $675,000 for giving three speeches for the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs. (“That’s what they offered.”) She had a somewhat less awful response at the debate, but then was unable to say whether she’d ever release the speech transcripts. (“I will look into it.”) The situation here is clear. Clinton is never going to say she’s sorry, release transcripts or announce that she’s decided to clear everything up by donating $675,000 to charity. It is what it is, and you’re going to have to take it or leave it.

It’s kind of pathetic they’re not letting Carly Fiorina into the Republican debate. True, she’s irritating, but she’s the only real candidate who was excluded. You’ve already got seven guys on the stage, so what the heck. However, the world is probably not universally in agreement with Fiorina’s theory that she was the victim of a plot by ABC and the Republican National Committee to disempower New Hampshire voters because the other candidates are so afraid of her.

Marco Rubio gets really good jobs. We have heard a lot already about Rubio’s $800,000 advance for a very modest memoir about his formative years. And the billionaire auto dealer who donated $100,000 to Florida International University, where Rubio was hired as a visiting professor for $69,000. This week, NBC News reported that he worked less than 10 hours a week during his first semester at the teaching gig, missing three of his 10 classes.

Jeb Bush is the worst campaigner in the history of campaigns. New Hampshire is his kind of state, and this should be his resurrection moment. What do we have? A video of Bush delivering his zinger line to a silent room and telling the audience: “Please clap.” A campaign video of the candidate putting on a hoodie. Plus, I believe I speak for many people when I say that it is not a good sign when you have to drag in your 90-year-old mother.

And now he’s running an ad featuring C+ Augustus during the super bowl…  If there’s anything that should bury his campaign it should be that.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

February 4, 2016

In “White America’s ‘Broken Heart'” Mr. Blow says the urgency of inequality as an issue is really about how some white Americans are now experiencing what many minorities here have long experienced.  Mr. Kristof has fallen into lock step with the Times and is asking Bernie Sanders questions nobody asks Clinton.  In “2 Questions for Bernie Sanders” he says an  admirer could use some reassurance.  Well, Nick, why don’t you ask for the same “reassurance” from Hillary?  (Who, by the way, isn’t all that much younger than Bernie despite what you imply.  And he seems to have more energy.)  Ms. Collins, in “And Now, the Marco Memo,” says he’s still giving much the same speech but not the same stances.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Sunday, at the Corinthian Baptist Church in Des Moines, former President Bill Clinton, looking frail and sounding faint, stumped for his wife, working through her qualifications with a husband’s devotion and a Svengali’s facility.

But one thing he said stood out to me for its clear rhetorical framing.

He attributed much of the anger that’s present in the electorate to anxiety over a changing demographic profile of the country, but then said: We are going to share the future. The only question is: What will be the terms of the sharing?

This idea of negotiating the terms of sharing the future is an expansive one, on both ends of the ideological spectrum, but it also seems to me to be an internal debate white America is having with itself.

Much of the energy on both the left and the right this cycle is coming from white Americans who are rejecting the direction of America and its institutions. There is a profound disappointment. On one hand, it’s about fear of dislocation of supremacy, and the surrendering of power and the security it provides. On the other hand, it’s about disillusionment that the game is rigged and the turf is tilted. It is about defining who created this country’s bounty and who has most benefited from it.

White America is wrestling with itself, torn between two increasingly distant visions and philosophies, trying to figure out if the country should retreat from its present course or be remade.

The results from the Iowa caucuses revealed that Republican caucusgoers gave roughly even support to the top three finishers — Ted Cruz, a much-loathed anti-institutional who has shown a pyromaniac’s predilection for wanting to torch Washington rather than make it work; the real estate developer spouting nativist and even fascist policies with the fervor of a prosperity preacher; and Marco Rubio, a too-slick-to-be-trusted stripling who oozes ambition with every obviously rehearsed response.

On the left, the white vote was nearly evenly split in Iowa between Hillary Clinton, a pragmatist who believes that the system can be fixed, and Bernie Sanders, a revolutionary who believes that system must be dismantled. At least on the Democratic side, age, income and liberalism seemed to be the fault lines — older, wealthier, more moderate people preferred Clinton and younger, less wealthy and “very liberal” people preferred Sanders.

Clinton won the support of nonwhites in Iowa 58 percent to Sanders’s 34 percent. This gap also exists — and has remained stubbornly persistent — in national polls, and in some polls is even wider. For instance, according to a January Monmouth University Poll, nationwide black and Latino support for Clinton was 71 percent as opposed to 21 percent for Sanders. At this point, this is a settled issue for nonwhite voters, and those voters are likely to be Democratic primary king- or queen-makers.

During Bill Clinton’s speech on Sunday, he brought up the recent reportabout the rising death rate among some white people in America.

As Gina Kolata reported in November in The New York Times:

“Something startling is happening to middle-aged white Americans. Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling.”

He rattled off the reasons for this rise — suicide, alcoholism and drug overdoses — and then concluded that these white Americans were dying of “a broken heart.”

It was, again, an interesting framing: that these people dying of sadness and vice were simply the leading edge of a tragic, morbid expression of a disappointment and fear shadowing much of white America.

America has a gauzy, romanticized version of its history that is largely fiction. According to that mythology, America rose to greatness by sheer ruggedness, ingenuity and hard work. It ignores or sidelines the tremendous human suffering of African slaves that fueled that financial growth, and the blood spilled and dubious treaties signed with Native Americans that fueled its geographic growth. It ignores that the prosperity of some Americans always hinged on the oppression of other Americans.

Much of America’s past is the story of white people benefiting from a system that white people designed and maintained, which increased their chances of success as it suppressed those same chances in other groups. Those systems persist to this day in some disturbing ways, but the current, vociferous naming and challenging of those systems, the placing of the lamp of truth near the seesaw of privilege and oppression, has provoked a profound sense of discomfort and even anger.

In Sanders’s speech following the Iowa caucuses, he veered from his position that this country “in many ways was created” on “racist principles,” and instead said: “What the American people understand is this country was based and is based on fairness.” Nonwhite people in this country understand that as a matter of history and heritage this simply isn’t true, but it is a hallowed ideal for white America and one that centers the America ethos.

Indeed, the current urgency about inequality as an issue is really about how some white Americans are coming to live an experience that many minorities in this country have long lived — structural inequity has leapt the racial barrier — and that the legacy to which they fully assumed they were heirs is increasingly beyond their grasp.

Inequality has been a feature of the African-American condition in this country since the first black feet touched this ground.

Last month, the MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes tweeted: “This campaign is starting to feel more and more like a long, national nervous breakdown.” For white America, I believe this is true.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof, who’s starting to annoy me:

When Bernie Sanders won election as mayor of Burlington, Vt., in 1981, I called his office to see if there was a story there about a socialist elected official. I was interning at The Washington Post (I didn’t mention the intern part!) and spoke at length to some assistant who answered the phone in the mayor’s office.

I asked about Sanders’s plans, and the aide kept answering with “we” — which I thought a nice glimpse of contagious office socialism. After half an hour, I had enough to check with my editor, so I asked the aide’s name. “Oh,” he said a bit sheepishly, “actually, I’m Bernie Sanders.”

Sanders’s lack of political airs has helped catapult him forward in the presidential race, overcoming a 50-point deficit to just about tie Hillary Clinton in Iowa. He comes across as winningly uncalculated: Other candidates kiss babies; Sanders seems to fumble for a baby’s “off” switch so he can tell you more about inequality in America. Most politicos sweet-talk voters; he bellows at them.

I admire Sanders’s passion, his relentless focus on inequality and his consistency. When he was sworn in as mayor of Burlington, he declared: “The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the millions of families in the middle are gradually sliding out of the middle class and into poverty.” That has remained his mantra across 35 years. And yet, I still have two fundamental questions for Sanders:

Can you translate your bold vision into reality?

On that, frankly, I’m skeptical. I’m for Medicare for All, but it won’t happen. And if it did, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan group, found that Sanders’s sums come up short by $3 trillion over a decade.

Likewise, Sanders says he would prod America’s allies in the Middle East to lead the charge to defeat the Islamic State. Yes, but how? The United States has already been trying unsuccessfully to get these allies to do more against ISIS. What new leverage does he bring?

The Washington Post last month published a scathing editorial headlined “Bernie Sanders’s Fiction-Filled Campaign.” It derided his “fantastical claims” and added: “Sanders is not a brave truth-teller. He is a politician selling his own brand of fiction.”

I think that’s too harsh, for Sanders panders less than other politicians (a very low bar), and he has often staked out lonely positions that turned out to be correct—such as his opposition to the Iraq war. But there remains this open question of how he could achieve his ambitious agenda.

I also wonder if his age may be relevant here: Sanders would be 75 when he took office, by far the oldest person to become president (Reagan was 69; Clinton would be a slightly younger 69). Sanders now is indefatigable, but people often slow down in their late 70s and their 80s.

Another reason for skepticism is his congressional record. In 25 years in Congress, Sanders has been primary sponsor of just three bills that became law, and two were simply to rename post offices in Vermont; he did better with amendments. Clinton wasn’t particularly effective as a legislator, either, but to me Sanders’s record suggests that his strength is as a passionate advocate, not as a deal-maker who gets results.

Can you get elected? Or would your nomination make a President Cruz more likely?

When voters are polled today about how they would vote in a general election, Sanders does pretty well. For example, he beats Ted Cruz in the RealClearPolitics average, while Clinton loses to Cruz. But at this stage that’s almost meaningless: Republicans are blasting Clinton while ignoring Sanders. If he were the nominee, he would be savaged.

One particularly sobering item for Sanders supporters: A Gallup poll last year asking voters what kind of person they would be unwilling to consider voting for. Six percent of Americans say they wouldn’t vote for a Catholic, and 7 percent wouldn’t support a black or a Jew. Some 24 percent wouldn’t vote for a gay candidate, and more than a third would refuse to vote for a Muslim or an atheist.

However, the most objectionable kind of person by far was a socialist. Fifty percent of Americans said they would be unwilling to consider voting for a socialist.

Maybe Sanders could convince them that a “democratic socialist” isn’t exactly a socialist, or maybe he could charm some voters into rethinking their beliefs. He has done just that very successfully in Vermont, a state where he now wins elections by overwhelming margins, and skeptics have been underestimating him for 35 years. But if a Democratic nominee starts off with half the voters unwilling to consider someone like him, that’s a huge advantage for the Republican nominee.

So can he accomplish his goals, and is he electable? Lots of us admire Sanders and we would like reassurance.

Bite me, Nick.  And if Cruz winds up with the nomination he’ll have to confront the “uncanny valley” impression he oozes.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Here we are, in the Marco Rubio Moment.

The Republican establishment is thrilled: A moderate-sounding Gen X senator from a swing state! And one so good at spin he managed to give a victory speech in Iowa after he came in third. No wonder all the other candidates are jealous.

“This isn’t a student council election, everybody. This is an election for president of the United States. Let’s get the boy in the bubble out of the bubble,” snarked Chris Christie. He was referring to Rubio’s tendency to be rather scripted in his appearances — one New Hampshire reportercompared him to “a computer algorithm designed to cover talking points.”

Christie, pressing further — and when does Chris Christie not? — has also been saying that the speech Rubio sticks to is the same one he’s been giving since 2010. It’s true that there’s always the part about his parents, the striving Cuban immigrants. And you do get the feeling you’re supposed to vote for him because his dad and mom believed in the American dream.

As a young man, Rubio himself was not particularly hard working. In fact, in his memoir he admits he could be “insufferably demanding.” But he did sympathize with his parents’ struggles, and when his father, a bartender, went on strike in 1984, young Marco became “a committed union activist.”

And then — American dream! — the bartender’s son became a senator, who opposes raising the minimum wage and wants to eliminate “rules that empower unions.” You know, you grow.

Rubio was a slow starter, education-wise, but he eventually graduated from law school, saddled with a load of student debt. This is, as he always points out, a familiar American story. The next part, where he instantly runs for office and acquires a billionaire benefactor who helps him out by underwriting low-stress jobs for Rubio and his wife, is slightly less average.

The $800,000 advance he got for his memoir — the one that fails to explain his trajectory on the union issue — is also not exactly typical. But he’s been a terrible money manager, which he explains by saying that “I didn’t inherit any money.”

On the issues, Rubio says he has a new generation’s answers to the nation’s economic problems. The answers are mainly about reducing business taxes and regulations, but he says it in a much more youthful way.

He’s anti-choice, even for victims of rape and incest. Lately, he’s taken to pointing to instances when he supported legislation that did include an exception. This is true. As long as a bill makes it harder for women to have access to abortion rights, he’s there.

And then there’s the great Immigration Switcheroo. Follow the timeline:

2010 — Running for the U.S. Senate, Rubio is against giving people who are in the country without documentation any path to citizenship. That’s “amnesty,” and it’s just wrong, like failing to enforce the speed limit.

2013 — Marco is a senator, and he’s totally changed his mind about that path-to-citizenship matter. Why do you think that happened? Uncharitable observers thought he wanted to cozy up to big Republican donors who like the idea. But maybe he was just … growing.

He becomes one of the famous bipartisan “Gang of Eight” pushing for immigration reform. Rubio is a valuable partner for the Gang, and he makes them pay with repeated concessions, including a very strong provision for additional border security. Finally, the path-to-citizenship bill passes the Senate 68 to 32. “We are a compassionate people,” he says on the Senate floor.

2013 — Fast forward a few weeks. The Tea Party is enraged, the House is unenthusiastic and Rubio is backtracking wildly. “Look,” he tells Fox News, “it’s not the most important issue facing America. Obamacare is more important, for example.”

2015 — Marco Rubio is a candidate for president. He hates “amnesty.” And he says you can’t have immigration reform until you have additional border security.

In the competition with the other super-conservative Cuban-American contender, Ted Cruz, Rubio is regarded as more likable. This is not a heavy lift. He is also competing with Cruz for the affection of Christian conservatives, and while Rubio has always mentioned God in his political speeches, lately he’s been ramping things up. One of his ads in Iowa was about “the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ.”

Rubio himself goes to two churches. Sometimes the family attends a Baptist-affiliated service on Saturday night and a Catholic Mass on Sunday.

Quick question: How would you feel about a presidential candidate who’s both Protestant and Catholic?

A) That’s great. Maybe it’s a sign he’s open-minded. B) That’s O.K., unless it’s just another way to fudge his positions. C) I am strongly against bringing a person’s religion into the political arena. Which is why I wish Marco Rubio would stop telling us about his.

Collins, solo

January 30, 2016

In “An Iowa To-Do List” Ms. Collins says Republicans have a choice of so many good targets to send packing.  Here she is:

Iowa Republicans have a lot of choices on Monday, none of whom bear any resemblance to the second coming of Abraham Lincoln.

They’re not going to pick a paragon. But maybe they could at least get rid of somebody awful. Ted Cruz? Please, Iowa, if you could do anything to knock Ted Cruz out of the race, the country would be grateful. I know he has supporters. But the intensity of loathing among the rest of the population is very strong.

In Iowa, Cruz has been attempting to overcome his personality handicap by visiting every single one of the state’s 99 counties. That’s a sort of tradition, among candidates who don’t know how to prioritize. It didn’t even work on television for Alicia Florrick’s husband on “The Good Wife.” Who, admittedly, was under the handicap of having gone to jail for using public funds to hire prostitutes.

Probably Cruz felt that since he had failed to endorse Iowa’s most beloved government subsidy — the ethanol program — the least he could do was make his way to the town of Fenton, population 279.

Cruz spent most of this week’s debate sniping at Marco Rubio — and Iowa, if you could get rid of both these guys, it’d be appreciated. I know that’s a lot to ask.

But Rubio, who used to be sort of the Boy Scout of the pack, has been getting more and more irritating with every passing day. He’s been trying to glom onto Cruz’s religious constituency, although he sounds less like a young evangelist than Eddie Haskell on “Leave It to Beaver.” During Thursday’s debate, Rubio was asked about a magazine cover that called him the “Republican savior,” and he quickly announced that the only savior was “Jesus Christ who came down to earth and died for our sins.”

Cruz and Rubio are both the offspring of immigrants, and both have a stupendous record of duplicity when it comes to the issue of what to do with more recent arrivals. First Cruz loved all legal immigrants, then some not so much. He offered an amendment to allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the country, then claimed it was only a ploy to destroy immigration reform. Rubio went from immigration hard-liner to bipartisan reformer — cynics say because he wanted to cozy up to Republican donors. Then he changed his mind entirely when the Tea Party got steamed.

Donald Trump, of course, was not around for that debate. We are not going to spend one more second discussing him except to point out that at the counter-event he staged for veterans, he introduced his daughter Ivanka, who is very pregnant. If the baby came over the weekend in Iowa, that really would be a kind of coup. Even better than the time Senator Christopher Dodd tried to win Iowa by enrolling his child in a kindergarten there.

So many worthy targets for political elimination, but is there a Republican we’d want to see Iowa keep in the game? I do look forward to future Republican debates when we could play a drinking game based on every time Chris Christie mentions 9/11 or says “… as a former federal prosecutor.”

Probably not Ben Carson. Granted, he’s a candidate who’s easy to listen to, since it’s hard to hear anything he’s saying. But Carson probably hurt his chances when he responded to a question about Russia by saying “Putin is a one-horse country.”

How about Jeb Bush? Bush really picked up some steam when Trump vanished from the stage this week. And he seems to have made peace with the family-dynasty problem by simply embracing it. At the debate he described George I as “the greatest man alive” and George II as “my brother, who I adore.”

There was also the requisite bouquet to his mother, although nothing weird, like Jeb’s recent announcement in New Hampshire that he loved his mother more than his dad. Who tells a room full of strangers that you like one parent better? Remember the rule about always saying that you love each of your children equally? Works both ways. Even if it’s not true, you stick to the code.

How about Rand Paul? He can be a little strange — we never did get past that day in the Senate when he ranted on about environmentalists ruining his toilet. But at least he’s interesting. And he does do a lot of free eye surgery for the poor. Plus he cuts his own hair. And he’s pretty good at making fun of Ted Cruz.

Or John Kasich? He’s the only candidate who brings up religion and then suggests that God might like to see our government spend money on the sick and the mentally ill. And if you wake up on Tuesday and read “IOWA PICKS KASICH” you’d know that there was a genuine miracle.

The truth, of course, is that someone awful will win, and nobody will go away. There’s still hope. And New Hampshire! Equally cold, but only 10 counties.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

January 28, 2016

In “Hillary Clinton’s Crucible” Mr. Blow says at the town hall, her back was against the wall, and she was brilliant. That seems to be when she gives her best performances.  It isn’t often that I disagree violently with Mr. Kristof, but today’s one of those days.  He gives us “Compassionate Conservatives, Hello?” in which he whines that Democrats are too quick to assume they have a monopoly on caring. He then says bravo to efforts by some Republicans to disprove them.  The “some Republicans” are headed up by the Zombie Eyed Granny Starver — Paul Ryan, of all people.  In the comments “JABarry” from Maryland had this to say:  “I’m sorry Mr. Kristof, but “Compassionate Conservative” is an oxymoron. Republicans have shown over many decades that their pretense of compassion is misleading advertisement…you must read the small print. For instance, you say Republicans “were right that the best way to spell aid is often j-o-b.” Progressives agree, a job is a pathway out of poverty, BUT what do Republicans say in the small print? They say that you must give the wealthy class more tax cuts, then jobs will trickle down. They say, NO to raising the minimum wage because they don’t believe in a living wage; they are quite satisfied that people work for slave-pay. Republicans don’t believe in labor unions, they don’t believe in employment benefits such as healthcare, maternity leave, childcare leave, or equal pay for women. They don’t believe in social security, which is earned based on work. The bottom-line is Republicans actually spell aid: s-e-r-v-i-t-u-d-e. Servitude fits in with their vision of serfs serving the interests of the privileged wealthy class–that is the small print Republican definition of “Compassionate Conservative.””  Amen.  Ms. Collins is “Deconstructing Hillary and Bernie” and says let’s look at how the two Democratic candidates — Martin who? — differ.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Monday night’s presidential town hall provided the best format and platform yet for the Democratic candidates. Each was able to play to his or her strengths without the back-and-forth conflict-baiting that debate moderators seem to demand.

Even so, Hillary Clinton stood out.

Not only did she seem completely at ease in this environment, but she was also confident and wide-ranging in her answers, delivering many in an assertive tone that was one tick below yelling, and displaying a depth and breadth of knowledge that few can match.

She was at the top of her game.

She had to be. Senator Bernie Sanders is breathing down her neck in Iowa with a message that’s increasingly popular among dissatisfied liberals and that she hasn’t been able to counter sufficiently. Furthermore, at the previous debate, she made a huge tactical error by attacking Sanders’s motives and integrity, a move that made her appear smaller, desperate and hostile.

At the town hall, Clinton’s back was against the wall, and she performed brilliantly. Indeed, that seems to be when she gives her best performances — when her back is against the wall. But she is often in that position because of her own doing, her own lapses in judgment, her own miscalculations.

It is an odd, cyclical exercise to continue to praise her for climbing out of holes she digs for herself. There almost seems to be a self-destructive, self-defeating impulse at play, a need to be perpetually down so that she can perpetually fight her way back up, a sort of crisis dependency.

It is hard to see how this seesawing can produce a winning campaign or a successful presidency, should she win it. She’s going to have to stay at or near the top of her game for the duration.

Then there is the strange reality that the ritual of her fighting her way back, even with strong showings like Monday’s, can take on air of disingenuousness in and of itself.

The cynical read is that these command performances are calculated, the maneuvering of a purely political being with a gift for guile.

That assessment isn’t particularly fair, but it is quite real. I believe it happens in part because there can be an animatronic plasticity present in her comportment and conveyance that raises questions of ambition versus authenticity. She is hands down the most broadly qualified and experienced among the candidates. But there remains an intangible quality that eludes her: connectivity. Even many people who admire her simply don’t trust her.

This is the same problem that, to varying degrees, Mitt Romney, Al Gore and Bob Dole had. It’s not fixable. Indeed, attempts to fix it feel even more forced and phony.

Another part of this problem stems from something far more tangible: the taint of scandal that has trailed her and her husband much of their lives.

One of the questions she got Monday night cut to the quick of this issue for her.

A young man rose and asked the following:

“It feels like there is a lot of young people like myself who are very passionate supporters of Bernie Sanders. And I just don’t see the same enthusiasm from younger people for you. In fact, I’ve heard from quite a few people my age that they think you’re dishonest, but I’d like to hear from you on why you feel the enthusiasm isn’t there.”

These are Clinton’s biggest weaknesses: people’s sense of her trustworthiness, and the relative lack of excitement she engenders, particularly among young voters.

Perceptions of honesty and trustworthiness are bad and getting worse, even among Democrats. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday, among Democrats and independents leaning that way:

“Sanders now leads by 12 points, 48-36 percent, in being seen as more honest and trustworthy, vs. 6 points last month and an even split in October.”

Then there is Clinton’s mounting younger-voter problem.

According to a USA TODAY/Rock the Vote poll conducted this month, Sanders leads Clinton among millennial Democrats and independents (those age 18 to 34) 46 percent to 35 percent. Among millennial Democratic and independent women, Sanders’s lead in the poll was even greater: 50 percent to Clinton’s 31 percent. Sanders’s strength, and Clinton’s weakness, is mostly driven by the youngest millennials. According to the paper:

“Among both genders, Sanders has 57 percent backing in the 18-25 age group, according to the USA Today/Rock the Vote poll. That drops to 36 percent for those ages 26-34. For Clinton, the opposite is true. She gets 44 percent of those ages 26 to 34 and 25 percent of those 18-25.”

Sanders has become the cool uncle and Clinton has become the cold aunt.

Although many of Sanders’s plans appear on their face to be unworkable and, if they were workable, would cause a massive, possibly unprecedented, expansion of government in this country, I don’t think young people think about it that way. I believe that many of them see Sanders as someone committed to dismantling a broken system and its component broken institutions — financial, political and educational.

Millennials are notoriously distrusting of institutions. Sanders is anti-institution. The Clintons are an institution.

Clinton answered the question at the town hall mostly by evading it, and turning her attention to the constant in her life: her enemies and their attacks on her. She said at one point:

“You know, look, I’ve been around a long time. People have thrown all kinds of things at me. And you know I can’t keep up with it. I just keep going forward.”

Survival doesn’t excite, and it’s not proof of moral rectitude. But it is evidence of a certain kind of I-will-survive resilience and an I-know-how-to-survive savvy.

And that informs the choice Democrats have to make in choosing a nominee: Do they want to put forth a survivor in chief, of whom many are suspicious and about whom few are truly excited, or a dream in chief (in the candidacy of Sanders) who says all the things they want to hear but that they quietly know he’ll never be able to deliver?

Now here’s the oh-so-wrong Mr. Kristof:

Back in 2000, George W. Bush did something fascinating: On the campaign trail he preached “compassionate conservatism,” telling wealthy Republicans about the travails of Mexican-American immigrants and declaring to women in pearls that “the hardest job in America” is that of a single mother.

Those well-heeled audiences looked baffled, but applauded.

That instinct to show a little heart helped elect Bush but then largely disappeared from Republican playbooks and policy. Yet now, amid the Republican Party’s civil war, there are intriguing initiatives by the House speaker, Paul Ryan, and some other conservatives to revive an interest in the needy.

Liberals like myself may be tempted to dismiss these new efforts as mere marketing gestures, meant to whitewash what one of the initiatives acknowledges is “the longstanding view of a meanspirited conservatism.”

Maybe the liberal skeptics will be proved right. But we should still all root for these efforts, because ultimately whether the poor get help may depend less on Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders than on Republicans at every level. Whether Medicaid is expanded, whether we get high-quality pre-K, whether we tackle addiction, family planning and job training, whether lead continues to poison American children — all these will depend mostly on Republicans who control Congress and most states.

Moreover, Democrats are too quick to assume that they have a monopoly on compassion. President Bush, for example, didn’t govern nearly as compassionately as he campaigned. Yet his program against AIDS saved millions of lives. He did a stellar job battling malaria and pressing the fight against sex trafficking.

This will be even harder for Democrats to accept, but Republicans have also sometimes been proved right on poverty issues. They were right that the best way to spell aid is often j-o-b. They were right on the importance of strong two-parent families: We now know that children in single-mother families are five times as likely to live in poverty as those in married households.

So I’d be thrilled if Republicans participated in debates about poverty, rather than forfeited the terrain. A real debate would also elevate issues that now are largely neglected, and it would create an opening to hold politicians’ feet to the fire: If Ryan cares, then why did he try to slash budgets for evidence-based programs that help children?

One of the new initiatives is “Challenging the Caricature,” based on a document that will be presented at an event at Stanford’s Hoover Institution next week. Written by Michael Horowitz, Michael Novak, John O’Sullivan, Mona Charen, Linda Chavez and other prominent conservatives, it calls on the right to tackle human rights issues so as to shatter “the caricatures that define conservatives as uncaring.”

“Our values are regarded by millions of Americans as inconsistent with theirs and with America’s inherent decency,” the document warns.

Ryan moderated a forum this month on poverty that drew six Republican presidential hopefuls and tried to frame a G.O.P. perspective on the issue. “We now have a safety net that is designed to catch people falling into poverty,” Ryan said, “when what we really need is a safety net that is designed to help get people out of poverty.”

One reason for skepticism that any of this will get traction: Among the candidates who skipped the forum were the front-runners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Neither seems interested in this arena.

A final initiative is an excellent plan to reduce poverty put together by a team from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Brookings Institution. The report pushes work requirements for government benefits, but also a modest rise in the minimum wage. Instead of increasing public funds for higher education, it suggests taking financial assistance that now goes to higher-income families and redirecting it to the neediest.

This report emphasizes that one way to bridge the political divide is to focus on evidence. We now have robust results showing that vocational programs like career academies help disadvantaged young people get jobs and raise their marriage rates.  Parent-coaching programs improve disadvantaged children’s outcomes so much that they save public money.

If you’re a liberal, you may be rolling your eyes. You’re sure that Republicans are just layering compassion camouflage over policies meant to benefit billionaires. Sure, be skeptical. But at least now there can be a debate about how to help, about what the evidence says, about whether Ryan and others act the way they speak.

The parties see each other as the root of all evil. But when they have cooperated on humanitarian efforts, real progress has been made: on AIDS, on prison rape, on the earned-income tax credit.

The sad truth is that neither party has done enough to address the shame of deep-rooted poverty in America. So let’s hope for a real contest in this area, because everybody loses — above all, America’s neediest — when most of the time one party doesn’t even bother to show up.

I’ll believe that ZEGS and the rest of the mole people give a crap about the poor when pigs fly.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

The Democratic presidential race hasn’t been getting as much attention as the Republican side. This is for the same reason that professional wrestling gets more viewers than “Book TV.” There’s something compelling about a lot of grunting and body slams.

Let’s get focused. Time to discuss how Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton differ on the issues.

You forgot to mention Martin O’Malley.

No, I didn’t.

About Clinton and Sanders. Their positions on most things are similar. They both favor universal prekindergarten and support gay marriage, reproductive rights and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. They both want to raise the minimum wage, but Sanders is shooting for $15 while Clinton says $12. They both have ambitious plans to fight climate change. Clinton wants to see more than half a billion solar panels in operation by 2020; Sanders has called for 10 million.

Ha! Who’s the transformational thinker there, Bernie?

Well, his campaign says it meant solar roofs. The more important point is that Sanders also wants a major tax on businesses that keep using fossil fuels. As we go along here, you will note that his proposals are almost all much bolder and that practically everything on his shopping list includes new or higher taxes on somebody. Occasionally everybody, although Sanders would argue that the little people will get their money back through things like free health care and generous family leave policies.

Clinton doesn’t want to raise taxes?

Some, but mainly on the superrich. Nothing on couples making less than $250,000.

I vote the person, not the platform. Who would I like more?

You’d like them both. These are politicians. They spend their lives trying to please people. You don’t get to this level if nobody can stand being around you. Unless, of course, you’re Ted Cruz.

Do you think Sanders has so many young supporters because he’s transformational or because he wants to make college free?

That’s certainly a big applause line. This is another good way of looking at the candidates’ differences. Sanders has a sweeping plan: free tuition at public colleges and universities, period. Clinton has a similar goal, but her plan is more complicated because she wants to screen out kids whose parents could afford to pay the freight themselves.

So his is easier to understand, while she avoids the problem of having to explain in the final election why the taxpayers should be underwriting chemistry class for Donald Trump’s grandchildren.

Are you going to talk about Wall Street? Preferably briefly. Without mentioning the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

Very, very basically, Bernie Sanders has a dramatic plan to regulate the big banks, tax the speculators and punish Wall Street evildoers. Clinton would argue that the banks have been pretty well taken care of by the Dodd-Frank law and that what you really need to do is focus on the hedge funds. This is so oversimplified, I’m kind of ashamed. Maybe we should go back and …

That’s plenty. Really! So Clinton isn’t in the pocket of big special interests who paid her millions of dollars to give speeches?

Many people think her Wall Street reform plan is O.K. But on a personal level, it was inexcusable of her to give those $200,000 speeches for investment bankers and the like when she knew she was going to be running for president. Not good at all.

You’d better say something positive about Hillary Clinton now or I’m going to call this quits.

She’s stupendously smart. She has a lifetime record of fighting for good causes, particularly children and women’s rights. She would almost certainly be a lot better at working with Congress than President Obama has been.

What about a President Sanders? Could he actually do any of the stuff he’s talking about?

It’s hard to imagine getting Congress to upgrade Obamacare to a single-payer system — what he describes as Medicare for all. You remember what an enormous lift it was to get any health care reform at all passed. But Sanders’s theory is that by electing him, the people will be sending a message so strong even Congress can’t ignore it.

Wow, do you think that could happen?

That’s the bottom line of the whole contest. Vote for Bernie: Send a message. Vote for Hillary: She knows how to make things work.

I would like to elect someone who can make things work while simultaneously sending a message.

Do you ever watch those house-hunting shows where people make the list of what they want in their next home, and it’s always a place in the heart of the city that’s quiet and has green space for the dog and four bedrooms so guests can come visit, for no more than $500 a month?

You’re saying I can’t have everything.

Hey, wait until I ask you to choose between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Collins, solo

January 23, 2016

Well, Ms. Collins says she is “Coming to Terms with Donald.”  She says Trump doesn’t look so bad when the alternative is Ted Cruz.  Well, I certainly can’t argue with that.  Here she is:

Americans of all races, creeds and political persuasions are united today in the realization that, good grief, Donald Trump actually could become the Republican presidential nominee.

It hits different people different ways. Jeb Bush’s path toward acceptance was probably different from that of a civics teacher who has to explain it to his advanced placement seminar.

I keep thinking about the time, years ago, when I worked for The Daily News and was summoned back from vacation because Donald was splitting with his first wife, Ivana. I swear to you, that was not my normal beat. But for the Trump divorce it was all hands on deck. The whole city was sort of nuts on the subject. (The cardinal expressed hope that the unhappy couple would pray for guidance.)

Everyone assumed — correctly as it turned out — that Trump’s next stop would be Marla Maples, an actress who was made immortal when The New York Post emblazoned its front page with her alleged quote: “Best sex I’ve ever had.”

Did you ever fantasize about being able to go back in time and tell people from the past what’s going to happen in the 21st century? I like to envision telling Vincent van Gogh how much his paintings will be selling for. Or I inform George Wallace that he never gets to be president, but a black guy does.

Right now, I’m imagining going back to 1990 and telling my colleagues on the Donald desk that they are chronicling the love life of a future presidential front-runner. They were a pretty cynical crew, but still.

Trump has been ahead in the polls for a long time, but until recently it didn’t seem serious. It felt like one of those TV talent shows where the audience decides to vote for the most spectacularly awful singer in the competition, just for the hell of it.

That goes on for three or four weeks, but then at the end, when it’s getting down to who’s going to be the next American idol, they drop the game and vote for the pretty girl who can belt out country-and-western.

But here in real life, it hasn’t happened yet. And the serious Republicans are starting to abandon hope that it will.

“Let’s get to be a little establishment,” Trump told a recent rally. He’s been basking in the way Republican honchos are “warming up” to him.

Under normal conditions, if a party was confronted with a candidate who had never held any public office, whose political activism consisted mainly of trying to prove Barack Obama was born in Africa, and whose platform consisted of whatever stuff was getting good crowd response at the last rally, everybody would race to get behind the alternative.

So if Trump does win this thing, he’ll owe it all to the terribleness of Ted Cruz.

Cruz is the No. 2 every politician dreams of being stacked up against in a contest where the road is long and, sooner or later, everybody needs a friend. It’s fascinating how much his fellow Republicans hate this guy.

This week, even as National Review launched a roundup of conservatives saying, in effect, Donald Trump, oh God, no, party leaders were sending out signals that he was someone they could live with if the other choice was Cruz.

Policywise, Cruz isn’t much different from every other Republican running around Iowa and New Hampshire. So it’s just him. Even in a world full of egotists, the senator from Texas is regarded as off the charts.

When John McCain was running for president and ran into controversy about being born outside the United States, his colleagues passed a bipartisan resolution stating that, in their opinion, he met all the constitutional requirements. When the Canada thing came up with Cruz, there was dead silence. You could sort of imagine the entire Senate sitting, twiddling their thumbs and smirking.

Besides his talent for not being Ted Cruz, Trump’s other strong suit for Republican leaders is the suspicion that he doesn’t particularly believe anything he says. It’s not that he disbelieves it. His positions are more like thoughts of the moment, or opening bids. “He’s got the right personality, and he’s kind of a deal-maker,” Bob Dole told The Times’s Jonathan Martin.

In one way, Trump’s campaign pitch is a little like Hillary Clinton’s. She’s less about a new vision than about the ability to take care of the government, wring some long-awaited changes out of Congress and handle foreign affairs. His is about getting things done through the miracle of genius negotiating. (“We’ve got to get things done folks, O.K.? Believe me, don’t worry. We’re going to make such great deals.”)

Really, they’re very similar in that sense. Except that she’s been a senator and secretary of state, and he’s got his name on a ton of golf courses.

We live in strange times, people. Strange times.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

January 21, 2016

In “The Poisoning of Flint’s Water” Mr. Blow says it is hard to imagine such a thing happening in a city that didn’t have this particular demographic profile — mostly black and disproportionately poor.  In “America the Unfair?” Mr. Kristof says we need to leverage populist frustration into constructive postelection policy. He says it’s been done before.  In “Palin, Trump, Cruz and Corn” Ms. Collins says Sarah surfaces and Ted gets trounced for the wrong reason.  Well, whatever trounces him is good, doncha know…  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In November, I was the guest speaker at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s annual dinner. Before I spoke, the group called to the stage a longtime investigative journalist who had done tremendous work bringing the Flint water crisis to light. His name was Curt Guyette. He, in turn, recognized the scientists, doctors, politician, lawyers and activists who had helped in that quest.

I was embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard about this crisis before that night, but the details they laid out hit me with the force of a train.

Local officials made the decision to switch the city’s water supply in 2014 from its longtime source supplied by the city of Detroit, which contained corrosion-control chemicals, to the Flint River, which did not contain those chemicals. It was billed as a cost-saving measure for a city facing financial distress.

But the Flint River water corroded the city’s pipes and leached poisonous metals into the city’s water supply, including lead, which is particularly dangerous if consumed by children or pregnant women.

Some of the water tested so high for lead contamination that it was “more than twice the amount at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies water as hazardous waste,” according to Guyette.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body. Because lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized.”

The residents of Flint consumed this poisonous water, knowing that something was wrong because of its changing colors and smells, but mostly unaware of just how dangerous it was.

An entire American city exposed to poisoned water. How could this be?

It is hard to imagine this happening in a city that didn’t have Flint’s demographic profile — mostly black and disproportionately poor.

And, it got worse: Officials apparently kept assuring residents that things were under control, even though many residents knew intuitively that they were not.

As The New York Times reported in October:

“All along, through months of complaints from residents of this city about the peculiar colors and odors they said were coming from their faucets, the overriding message from the authorities here was that the water would be just fine.”

And not only did the city not respond quickly, according to Guyette’s reporting, it artificially suppressed finding on lead levels, and when the federal Environmental Protection Agency offered to help remedythe problem, city officials apparently declined the help.

The damage done by this misguided decision, and the callous apathy on the part of officials to quickly admit their error and work expeditiously to correct it, displays a staggering level of ineptitude, if not criminal negligence.

Lawsuits are sure to spring up by the thousand. It’s not clear whether anyone will be held criminally responsible, but it is highly likely that civil suits for damages could be successful, so much so that they could bring the state to its knees.

The possible damage seems almost incalculable and one can imagine that a jury would find that the monetary damages should match.

I have not stopped thinking about Flint since November, and now the story has gained new urgency as it has become a cause celebre and entered the national political debate.

Bernie Sanders has called for the resignation of Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, saying in a statement:

“There are no excuses. The governor long ago knew about the lead in Flint’s water. He did nothing. As a result, hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed to potential brain damage from lead. Governor Snyder should resign.”

Hillary Clinton has condemned the Snyder administration, called for the federal government to “step up” in the crisis and dispatched two top campaign aides to meet with Flint’s mayor.

(On Tuesday that mayor, Karen Weaver, endorsed Clinton for president.)

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday of the situation that the city should have tape around it “because Flint is a crime scene.”

Celebrities, including P. Diddy and Magic Johnson, have expressed their outrage, and some, like Cher and Meek Mill, have pledged large donations of water to the city.

The Flint native Michael Moore, in an online petition, demanded that President Obama visit the city when he went to Michigan on Wednesday,writing:

“This week, you are coming to Michigan to attend the Detroit Auto Show. We implore you to come to Flint, less than an hour’s drive north of Detroit. Do not ignore this tragedy taking place every day. This may be Gov. Snyder’s Katrina, but it will become your Bush-Flying-Over-New Orleans Moment if you come to Michigan and then just fly away.”

(Obama did not go to Flint during his visit to the state, but did address it while there, and met with the mayor of Flint in Washington the day before.)

Snyder conceded Monday that the Flint water crisis wasindeed his Katrina and on Tuesday, during a State of the State address, apologized for the crisis.

But Moore tweeted a response Tuesday that might well capture the outrage many feel about this story:

“On Sat, I called Flint ‘Governor Snyder’s Katrina.’ Today he said he accepts that comparison. Except Bush didn’t cause the hurricane. #Jail

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders don’t agree on much. Nor do the Black Lives Matter movement, the Occupy Wall Street protests and the armed ranchers who seized public lands in Oregon. But in the insurgent presidential campaigns and in social activism across the spectrum, a common thread is people angry at the way this country is no longer working for many ordinary citizens.

And they’re right: The system is often fundamentally unfair, and ordinary voices are often unheard.

It’s easy (and appropriate!) to roll one’s eyes at Trump, for a demagogic tycoon is not the natural leader of a revolution of the disenfranchised. But the populist frustration is understandable. One of the most remarkable political science studies in recent years upended everything rosy we learned in civics classes.

Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University found that in policy-making, views of ordinary citizens essentially don’t matter. They examined 1,779 policy issues and found that attitudes of wealthy people and of business groups mattered a great deal to the final outcome — but that preferences of average citizens were almost irrelevant.

“In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule,” they concluded. “Majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.”

One reason is that our political system is increasingly driven by money: Tycoons can’t quite buy politicians, but they can lease them. Elected officials are hamsters on a wheel, always desperately raising money for the next election. And the donors who matter most are a small group; just 158 families and the companies they control donated almost half the money for the early stages of the presidential campaign.

That in turn is why the tax code is full of loopholes that benefit the wealthy. This is why you get accelerated depreciation for buying a private plane. It’s why the wealthiest 400 American taxpayers (all with income of more than $100 million) ended up paying an average federal tax rate of less than 23 percent for 2013, and less than 17 percent the year before.

Conversely, it’s why the mostly black children in Flint, Mich., have been poisoned by lead coming out of the tap: As Hillary Clinton noted Sunday in the Democratic debate, this wouldn’t have happened in an affluent white suburb. Lead poisoning permanently impairs brain development, but it’s not confined to Flint. Some 535,000 children across the country suffer lead poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those kids never have a chance — not just because of the lead, but also because they don’t matter to the American political system. American politicians are too busy chasing campaign donors to help them.

There are solutions — more about that in a moment — but a starting point is to recognize that this public mood of impotence and unfairness is rooted in something real. Median wages have stalled or dropped. Mortality rates for young white adults are rising, partly because so many self-medicate with painkillers or heroin. Blacks have been protected from this phenomenon by another unfairness: Studies indicate that doctors discriminate against black patients and are less likely to prescribe them painkillers.

America’s political and economic inequalities feed each other. The richest 1 percent in the U.S. now own substantially more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

Solutions are complex, imperfect and uncertain, but the biggest problem is not a lack of tools but a lack of will. A basic step to equalize opportunity would be to invest in education for disadvantaged children as the civil rights issue of the 21st century.

“I think any candidate seriously aiming to reduce inequality would have a mild increase in tax on the rich to fund higher school spending,” says Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford expert on inequality. I would add that investments in education should begin early, with high-quality prekindergarten for at-risk children.

We also need political solutions to repair our democracy so that ordinary citizens count along with the affluent. “There is no magic bullet that will set things right, but meaningful campaign finance reform must be at the center of a reform agenda,” Gilens says. “States and cities are leading the way. Arizona, Maine and Connecticut have had statewide, publicly funded ‘clean election’ systems for some time with varying degrees of success.”

One step toward transparency: President Obama could require federal contractors to disclose political contributions.

Right now, the bitterness at America’s grass roots is often channeled in ways that are divisive and destructive: at immigrants, say, or at Muslims. The challenge will be to leverage the populist frustration into constructive postelection policy. But it has been done before.

“Reforms were adopted in the first Gilded Age, an era similarly plagued by government dysfunction, political corruption and enormous economic inequality,” Gilens notes. “Perhaps they will be again.” For the sake of our country, let’s work for an encore.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Sarah Palin is really falling apart.

“Trump’s candidacy, it has exposed not just that tragic, the ramifications of that betrayal of a transformation of our country, but too, he has exposed the complicity on both sides of the aisle that has enabled it, O.K.?” Palin told the crowd at her big announcement endorsing Donald Trump.

The man himself was standing next to her, with a half-smile. Hard to tell if it was self-satisfaction or the look someone might get when trapped at a dinner party next to a stranger who’s describing how she met President William Henry Harrison in a past life.

Even though Palin seemed to have a script, it didn’t help. “He is from the private sector, not a politician. Can I get a hallelujah? Where in the private sector you actually have to balance budgets in order to prioritize, to keep the main thing, the main thing, and he knows the main thing,” she continued.

Got that? It’s been quite a while since the world outside the Tea Party has checked in on Sarah Palin, but I think it’s safe to say there hasn’t been a whole lot of personal growth. The absolute high point of her rather long, rambling address was the moment when she complained that the United States pays for Middle Eastern “squirmishes.”

The next day, Palin spoke at another Trump rally, where she appeared to blame Barack Obama’s veterans policy for her son’s domestic violence arrest this week. Republicans seem currently O.K. with blaming the president for anything, including sunspots. But even some of them must have found it a little creepy.

Still, Trump has been having a super week. Palin wasn’t even the high point. That came when Iowa’s six-term Republican governor, Terry Branstad, urged voters to reject Trump’s main competitor, Ted Cruz.

“Ted Cruz is ahead right now. But what we’re doing is, we’re trying to do is educate the people of Iowa. He is the biggest opponent of renewable fuels,” Branstad told a press conference.

“Renewable fuels” is code for the government ethanol program, which has been stupendously profitable for the Iowa corn industry. Cruz has broken one of the great traditions of the Iowa caucus (First in the Nation! Forever!), which is that every major presidential candidate falls down to worship Big Corn.

Iowa’s many, many corn farmers have always gotten lots of government aid — the Environmental Working Group says that between 1995 and 2012, they received more than $15 billion in subsidies. On top of that, we’ve got the ethanol program, which requires gasoline to be mixed with biofuel, usually corn. This causes corn prices to soar and creates environmental problems due to overplanting. “A triple-layer subsidy cake,” said Scott Faber of the E.W.G.

All this is the opposite of fiscal conservatism, but generally, politicians find a way to evolve on the subject when they get to Iowa. This year Cruz has hung tough. Perhaps it’s because he’s close to Big Oil, which wants the gas tanks for itself. But whatever the reason, he’s paying the price. A pro-ethanol group, which happens to be led by the governor’s son, ran a mess of ads against him. Cruz seemed to waver, then stiffened. Out charged Branstad with his warning. A popular governor’s antipathy could be a big deal.

Let’s take a minute to feel sympathy for Ted Cruz. Poor guy.

O.K., time’s up.

“Dear Friend,” wrote Cruz to his mailing list on Wednesday. “I literally have no time to explain. … The longest-serving Republican career politician in the nation and his politically connected family is coordinating with establishment politicians and super PACs to lead an 11th-hour attack against us and sink our campaign.”

Ted said he is responding with “everything I have.” But that would be much easier if he had another $265,000 in donations posthaste.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is supremely happy. “The governor just made a very big statement that was appreciated by many,” he told a gathering of — yes! — the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association before going on to announce that he was not only in favor of requiring corn in every tankful of gas, but he wanted to see the proportion go higher.

“As president I will encourage Congress to be cautious in attempting to … change any part of the R.F.S.,” he continued. That would be renewable fuel standard. Trump was reading this speech, which he claimed he had written himself. It was deep into ethanol-speak. All of you who think he’s still just a free spirit flying around the country saying whatever the hell comes into his mind, be aware. This is now an increasingly careful politician.

Cruz, he said, without actually mentioning any names, is a tool of the oil companies. “He goes wherever the votes are,” Trump said contemptuously.

None of that here, God knows.

Collins, solo

January 16, 2016

In “Hillary and Bernie, Punching” Ms. Collins says the Democrats may have strayed off the high road, but they’re a long way from Trump-Cruz territory.  Here she is:

There’s a Democratic debate Sunday night! The party honchos scheduled it in the middle of a three-day weekend, obviously in a bid to ensure maximum attention. The American public, perky from eight straight hours of football playoffs, will totally be in the mood for a serious policy dialogue.

So far, the Democratic encounters have been mildly informative but not riveting. We don’t wait expectantly for Bernie Sanders to snap, “You already had your chance, Hillary, and you blew it,” the way Chris Christie did to Marco Rubio in the Republican debate Thursday. But tensions are mounting.

Clinton and Sanders had generally been taking the high road. This is in part because they have a basic level of respect for each other. (It’s very likely that they respect Martin O’Malley, too, although no one’s keeping track.)

Also, there was a widespread feeling that the outcome was preordained. You cannot believe how gracious that can make people.

Now, it seems possible Sanders could stage an upset in Iowa and New Hampshire. Can you imagine what a Groundhog Day nightmare this is for Clinton? The uber-qualified woman who believes she knows how to make the real world better, stuck with another opponent promising transformational change. True, this one is a 74-year-old white guy. But still.

Until recently, Clinton attacked just the Republicans, while occasionally pointing out that Sanders has a very weak history when it comes to gun control. But as the polls got more and more scary, things escalated. This week she connected him — legislatively — to the Charleston church shooting and then suggested that his health care plan might endanger Medicare.

Not taking this lying down, Sanders … made a negative ad.

I know, this doesn’t sound heart-stopping. There’s a Ted Cruz ad suggesting that while ISIS prepares to destroy America, Marco Rubio plays fantasy football. Sanders’s ad doesn’t even mention Clinton by name.

Still, Hillary for America officials called a news conference to discuss the “Sanders Attack Ad.” They pointed out the many, many times Sanders had said he’d never go there. They quoted a campaign strategist boasting that Bernie ”rejects the status quo of politics. … If we do a classic comparative ad, it’s over.”

This is one of the problems with being Bernie Sanders. His whole point is to be outside the political norm. He’s the principled maverick whose most famous moment in the Senate was his eight-and-a-half-hour speech against the compromises President Obama made in 2010 to get a tax deal. We expect him to stick to his standards, even if they’re somewhat irrational.

Hillary is the former first lady who survived her husband’s impeachment, became a senator, then lost a presidential bid and then became secretary of state. We expect more in the way of can-do and less in the way of elevated campaign tactics from her.

As negative ads go, Sanders’s is not exactly a body blow. Maybe a little soft poke. With one finger. While wearing mittens. “There are two Democratic visions for regulating Wall Street,” he tells the camera. “One says it’s O.K. to take millions from big banks and then tell them what to do.”

That’s the attack part. Do you think Sanders is saying it’s unfair to take money from big banks and then regulate the heck out of them? Or that you shouldn’t take their money in the first place? Probably the latter, but it’s not exactly an attention-grabber when Republicans are running spots calling each other a “bully” or a “jerk.” (Both of those were aimed at Donald Trump, and I believe I speak for much of the nation when I say, “Why not?”)

Sanders has been stressing his war on Wall Street, but now Clinton is lacing out at his health care plan, which is basically universal Medicare. The details are vague. Although he has cheerfully explained how he wants to pay for free public college tuition (tax Wall Street speculators) and expand Social Security (stop capping the payroll tax), Sanders is mum on who’ll pick up the health care bill. A staff member says they’re still tinkering “with the details.”

Clinton’s response, however, seemed wildly overblown. One of the first shots came from — of all people — Chelsea, who claimed that “Senator Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the CHIP program, dismantle Medicare, and dismantle private insurance.”

Sanders wants to keep all those services in a different program. Except the private insurance. He does want that to go, and Clinton doesn’t. An excellent topic for a discussion. Hillary, explain what’s so great about health insurance companies. Bernie, tell us how you’d get your grand plan through Congress.

They ought to be perfect debate partners. She has about as much detailed knowledge of the way American government works as anybody breathing. He has great dreams and the confidence that everything is possible. But it’s harder for Clinton, who has to argue that everything’s not.

Kristof and Collins

January 14, 2016

In “In Myanmar, A Wife’s Wrenching Decision” Mr. Kristof says a woman in a camp for Rohingya was forced to weigh what her son should sacrifice for her to save her husband’s life.  Ms. Collins, in “Politics: Everything’s Relative,” offers rules for dealing with family members showing up in the presidential race, like when to give them a break and when to go for the jugular.  Here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Sittwe, Myanmar:

How much should you sacrifice to save your husband’s life?

And how much hardship do you inflict on your son to rescue your husband?

Those are the questions Jano Begum faced. Jano, 22, and her husband, Robi Alom, 30, are among the more than one million Muslims who belong to the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, subjected to an ethnic cleansing that a Yale study suggests may amount to genocide.

I’ve written several times over the years about the brutalization of the Rohingya, but I know that for some readers it seems obscure and remote. Why worry about a distant people when there are so many crises in our own backyard? But put yourself in Jano’s situation, as she sits in a hut in a concentration camp here, and think how far you would go to save your spouse.

Jano, Robi and other Rohingya have been confined since 2012 to concentration camps or isolated villages, stripped of citizenship and denied education, jobs and adequate food and health care. The conditions are calculated to induce despair. Sure enough, Robi proposed to his family that he join the wave of Rohingya boat people fleeing to Malaysia.

“I wouldn’t let him go,” Jano recalled. “We were arguing. He said, ‘Even if I die in the ocean, it’s better than being here.’”

Then one evening in October 2014 Robi disappeared. A friend passed a message to Jano: He had hopped on a human trafficker’s boat. He hadn’t dared to say goodbye for fear that Jano would stop him.

Jano was wounded and angry, but she also understood. “Here we live in something like a prison,” she said. “No jobs. No nothing. So that’s why he left.”

The Rohingya feel abandoned. The United Nations system, with the exception of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has downplayed the problem. Western embassies and governments have been too complacent. And Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner whose party just won elections in Myanmar, has been silent.

In the same camp where I spoke to Jano I also met Arafa Begum, a 27-year-old widow who arranged with human traffickers last year to travel with her five children on a different ship to Malaysia. Arafa knew that she was at risk of being sold to a brothel, along with her daughters. But, not knowing how her children could survive if she stayed in Myanmar, she boarded a human trafficker’s ship in July. “There was almost no food or water,” she remembered — and conditions were hellish in the hold.

The ship sailed for 50 days, trying to sneak past the Thai Navy, but finally gave up. Arafa and her children are now back in the concentration camp, but she’s thinking of trying again.

As for Robi, two and a half months after he disappeared, Jano received a message from a human trafficker in Thailand. He was holding her husband, and he demanded $1,200 for her husband’s life.

Jano sold belongings, borrowed from relatives and pawned her food ration card, managing to raise $500 and transfer it to the traffickers’ bank account. In phone calls, the traffickers pressed for more money. Sometimes they put Robi on the line and beat him with sticks, so the family could hear his screams.

But Jano told them she had nothing left. She didn’t quite tell me so, but she hinted that perhaps she could have raised a little bit more, but feared that their 5-year-old son, Muhammad — already hungry — would starve. I got the sense that she also thought the traffickers would capitulate and eventually release Robi.

If that’s what she thought, she miscalculated. She received a final call from the traffickers: Robi had died in the jungle.

“I didn’t raise the money, so they killed him,” Jano told me. After a long, aching pause, she added: “I blame myself. I didn’t save my husband.”

It’s not clear what happened. Maybe the traffickers beat Robi to death or killed him to sell his kidneys. Perhaps he died of malaria. Or perhaps they sold him to a Thai fishing boat on which he is enslaved.

Jano hasn’t told Muhammad that his father may be dead. The boy is losing weight, from either worry or malnutrition. The family owes $200 to get back its ration card, so food is scarcer than ever. Jano washes clothes for neighbors, earning 20 cents a day to eke out an existence. (A human rights group called Fortify Rights is trying to help her.)

Multiply Jano’s tragedy by a million and you get the tapestry of the Rohingya suffering today. The horror arises not just from the savagery of human traffickers, but also from a government’s systematic effort to destroy a particular ethnic group, one met by global indifference.

Genocide? I don’t know. A stain on our collective humanity? Absolutely.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Have you noticed how often family members are turning up in the presidential campaign?

Consider the irony of that Ted Cruz-Canada debate. Cruz was born in Calgary and Donald (“People Are Saying”) Trump has raised the question of whether that makes him ineligible to be president. We’ll let constitutional scholars figure it out. But, meanwhile, we can enjoy recalling that Cruz’s father, Rafael, once told a Texas Tea Party group that he’d like to send President Obama “back to Kenya.” Hehehehe.

Even noncrazy relatives are popping up all over. This week Chelsea Clinton set off a major battle over Bernie Sanders’s health care plan. There’s been reporting on Marco Rubio’s brother-in-law, who was once a rather high-level drug dealer in Florida. Ted Cruz’s little daughters popped up in a political cartoon.

Remember Jeb? He was going to run as his own man, but people on the campaign mailing list are getting requests for donations from George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Barbara Bush, George P. Bush and Columba Bush. The family that fund-raises together stays together.

And how are we supposed to react to all this? Let’s review a few rules:

Forget family members who aren’t in politics — unless they hijack a plane or something. Don’t hold it against Marco Rubio that his brother-in-law, Orlando Cicilia, served 12 years in prison on drug charges. Perhaps in a perfect world, when Rubio was a leader in the Florida Legislature and sent a letter recommending that the newly released Cicilia be given a real estate license, he might have mentioned that the ex-convict in question was something more than a typical constituent. But still.

In his memoir Rubio wrote about the trauma of the arrest, and coming home as a teenager to find his pregnant sister sleeping on the family sofa with her little boy. The image, Rubio wrote, “has remained with me all my life.” This is the only part of the story I would like us to consider a little bit, since the chapter does not end with Marco offering his sister his own bed for the night. Maybe he was too modest to mention it. But inquiring minds want to know.

Never make fun of children. Not even if Ted Cruz puts his small daughters in a campaign ad in which the 7-year-old reads from a mock Christmas book called “The Grinch Who Lost Her Emails.” A Washington Post cartoon portrayed them as trained monkeys and that was out of line. Leave the kids alone. When they’re teenagers, they’ll figure out their own ways to get revenge.

Adult relatives should generally get a break. Right now there are dozens of spouses, siblings and offspring of candidates staggering around Iowa shaking hands, thanking people for coming and recounting homey anecdotes about the time Dad or Mom flew a thousand miles to get to the school play. They’re tired and they just discovered they’ve gained seven pounds since that raccoon roast in Arkansas. Have mercy.

However, there’s a limit. We hardly need note that Bill Clinton gets no family-member slack, ever. Chelsea Clinton is a little different. In the past she’s been superdisciplined. I remember back in 2000 watching her trot after her parents to the New York State Fair, looking dutifully at a life-size refrigerator carved out of butter, and thinking this is a whole new level of being a good daughter.

But Chelsea made news this week in New Hampshire where she told an audience that “Senator Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare … dismantle Medicare and dismantle private insurance.” This is a whole new line of attack, and you’d at least expect it to come first from the candidate. “Chelsea Clinton is as policy-obsessed and as smart and as attentive to the details as both her parents when it comes to policy,” said a Clinton spokesman. That’s campaign-speak for “it was an accident.”

Go for the jugular if the relative is saying something the candidate wants to say without being held responsible.This takes us back to Rafael Cruz, an evangelical minister who has claimed, among other things, that gay rights advocates want to “legalize pedophiles” and that if America had no abortions it would also have no national debt. His son is currently trying to court the far right without sounding quite that loopy in person.

Cruz talks a lot about his hyper-patriotic father, who came to the United States from Cuba on a student visa, worked his way through college and then began climbing up in the world. Actually, most of the climbing occurred in Canada, where Dad worked and became a citizen in 1973. The family came back to the United States, but Rafael didn’t get around to becoming an American for 30 years.

The delay was due to “I guess laziness, or — I don’t know,” he once told David Welna of NPR.

Just saying.

Collins, solo

January 2, 2016

In “Our New Year Quiz” Ms. Collins is here to test how well we blocked out parts of the last political year.  Here she is:

Happy New Year! We’re going to have an exciting 2016 — including, of course, the finale of a presidential race that seems to have been underway since Woodstock. So much to look back on, so little time. Take this quick quiz and see how much of political 2015 you haven’t already managed to repress:

1  In her final statement of the last 2015 debate, Hillary Clinton concluded …

  • “May the Force be with you.”

  • “We need to discuss the restroom issue.”

  • “Have I mentioned I’m a grandmother?”

2  The Democratic National Committee tried to ensure maximum TV ratings for that debate by …

  • Inviting Adele to ask the first question.

  • Running a “Star Wars Lotto” for listeners who turned in early.

  • Scheduling it for the Saturday night before Christmas.

3  Donald Trump said it was “a great honor” to be praised by Vladimir Putin. When the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough claimed Putin was a brutal thug, Trump said …

  • “On his birthday I saw thousands of Russians celebrating on the rooftops in New Jersey.”

  • “Our country does plenty of killing.”

  • “At least he didn’t announce the wrong winner at the Miss Universe pageant.”

3Donald Trump said it was “a great honor” to be praised by Vladimir Putin. When the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough claimed Putin was a brutal thug, Trump said …

  • “On his birthday I saw thousands of Russians celebrating on the rooftops in New Jersey.”

  • “Our country does plenty of killing.”

  • “At least he didn’t announce the wrong winner at the Miss Universe pageant.”

5  Jeb Bush told CBS that he’s happy with his current standing in the presidential race, but that he “really hated” it when …

  • He was in front.

  • He had to stand next to Donald Trump at two debates.

  • People made fun of him for saying Margaret Thatcher’s picture should be on the 10-dollar bill

6  Ben Carson recently …

  • Compared Social Security to slavery.

  • Acknowledged that the skill sets needed for running the country and for doing brain surgery are entirely different.

  • Released a map showing the states in the wrong positions during Geography Awareness Week.

7  During one debate, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was asked about his apparent inability to balance his household budget despite having received an $800,000 advance on his memoir. Rubio defended himself by pointing out …

  • “I didn’t inherit any money.”

  • “I’m just not a numbers kind of fellow.”

  • “Eight hundred grand isn’t what it used to be.”

8  On the campaign trail, Ted Cruz enjoys quoting from …

  • “The Princess Bride.”

  • “So You Want to Be Canadian.”

  • “How to Be Your Own Best Friend.”

9  Bernie Sanders once had an animated computer game in which players could rack up points by helping the senator avoid …

  • Underwear jokes.

  • The Democratic National Committee firewall.

  • Fat cats in top hats.

10  In Texas, the much-discussed Jade Helm military exercise took place this summer. When it was finished …

  • The federal government had taken over the state, shredded the Constitution and confiscated everybody’s guns.

  • Life continued apace.

  • Representative Louie Gohmert, who had raised concerns that the Army might be “preparing for modern-day martial law,” apologized for being such a jerk.

11  In Michigan, two state representatives’ political careers ended when their adulterous affair became public. In an attempt to cover up the affair, the male lawmaker had …

  • Announced he and his ex were opening a summer camp for “recovering swingers.”

  • Tried to divert attention by starting a rumor that he had been caught having sex with a male prostitute.

  • Staged a 50-hour filibuster on behalf of naming the Bible the official state book.

12  A Constitution Day survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center revealed that …

  • Only half the respondents could name all three branches of the U.S. government.

  • More than 10 percent believed the Bill of Rights guarantees the right to own a pet.

  • One-third believed that Abraham Lincoln was one of the founding fathers.

13  Public Policy Polling reported that nearly a third of Republican primary voters responding to its survey said they would support the bombing of …

  • Agrabah, a fictional city in the Disney movie “Aladdin.”

  • Halifax.

  • “Any place that gives us attitude.”

The answer key follows:

1A, 2C, 3B, 4B, 5A, 6C, 7A, 8A, 9C, 10B, 11B, 12B, 13A


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