Archive for the ‘Collins’ Category

Blow, Kristof and Collins

May 26, 2016

In “Violence Is Never the Answer” Mr. Blow says it’s easy to see why young people are having a make-me-want-to-holler moment, but you don’t want to strengthen your enemies and weaken your cause.  Mr. Kristof has “Sore, Happy Feet on the Pacific Crest Trail” and says a backpacking trip provides both an escape from life’s distractions and an annual bonding experience for father and daughter.  Ms. Collins unleashes some “Memorial Day Weekend Ranting” and says she has  met the enemy, and it is the airlines.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

As I watched violence erupt on television among anti-Donald Trump protesters in Albuquerque, on Tuesday, my heart sank. This outbreak came on the heels of the chaotic scene at the state Democratic convention in Nevada and death threats against the state party chairwoman there.

I understand the frustration and the desire for change, but violence simply isn’t the way to create it. Once violence springs forth, moral authority dries up.

I understand the fear, anger and even rage that the systems that govern this country and the citizens who constitute it could allow — and even enthusiastically cheer — the ascendance of a demagogue like Trump.

It is incredibly dispiriting, because it makes one question what must lurk in the hearts of one’s neighbors. How is it that anyone could support a man who has made the assertions, both personal and political, that Trump has?

And yet, many people do support him. For many, he is giving public voice to private thought. Trump has not so much planted a sentiment as surfaced one that already existed.

How could this man become the presidential nominee of a major party? How is it that he stands an actual chance of becoming president? What does it say about us?

The answers to these questions are terrifying to contemplate, but contemplate them we must, with all their attendant anxieties, which are no doubt amplified among portions of the population who have been targets of Trump’s dangerous rhetoric.

Both Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side have run popular campaigns that have castigated the political system as rigged and unfair.

This sentiment has had greater resonance on the left, where Sanders will almost definitely fall short of securing the nomination, than on the right, where Trump will secure it.

As the Pew Research Center found in a report published in March:

“The share of Democrats expressing a positive view of the primary process has declined 22 percentage points (from 52 percent) in February 2008. Republicans views are little different than in 2000 or 2008.”

Indeed, Trump’s supporters were the only group of supporters in which a majority viewed the nominating process favorably.

I am convinced that this vise grip is squeezing young people most, particularly liberal ones, because they already have a troubled relationship with society’s systems.

A Harvard IOP poll released this year found that while there were some marginal increases of trust among young adults in some institutions, their distrust of the federal government, Congress, Wall Street and the media was still considerable.

In addition, young people are experiencing real, unprecedented strain.

Pew reported Tuesday, under the headline “For First Time in Modern Era, Living With Parents Edges Out Other Living Arrangements for 18- to 34-Year-Olds,” that “In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.”

They attribute part of this change to partnering patterns, but another part to economic stress, particularly among young men.

As the report put it:

“Employed young men are much less likely to live at home than young men without a job, and employment among young men has fallen significantly in recent decades. The share of young men with jobs peaked around 1960 at 84 percent. In 2014, only 71 percent of 18- to 34-year-old men were employed. Similarly with earnings, young men’s wages (after adjusting for inflation) have been on a downward trajectory since 1970 and fell significantly from 2000 to 2010. As wages have fallen, the share of young men living in the home of their parent(s) has risen.”

And The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that:

“About seven in 10 seniors set to graduate this spring borrowed for their educations. Along with their diplomas, they’ll carry an average $37,172 of student debt as they enter the work force, according to a new analysis by higher-education expert Mark Kantrowitz. That breaks the record set by the 2015 class, which owed just over $35,000, on average.”

Add to that the fact that this is one of their first elections — if not the absolute first — and on the one side they have a dangerous cartoon villain, while on the other they are likely to have a candidate who has performed astonishingly poorly among young voters.

It is easy to see why young people are having a make-me-want-to-holler moment, but violence only strengthens your enemies and weakens your cause.

I understand the need to take a stand and make your voices heard, to engage in the direct democracy of protest and be a visible and vocal counterpoint to people you deem unfit and systems you deem unfair.

But here is a hard truth: There are no quick and easy fixes in this country. Everything you call broken was broken bit by bit over a long time and must be fixed the same way.

Democracy is an exercise in patience and persistence, not quick corrections.

The way we fix our systems and our politics is not only with vociferous displays in the moment, but also with vigilant crusades over a lifetime.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Every spring or summer, in lieu of professional help, I ditch civilization for the therapy of the wilderness. I’ve just been backpacking with my 18-year-old daughter on the Pacific Crest Trail in California, abandoning our material world for an alternative reality in which the aim is to possess as little as possible — because if you have it, you lug it.

Our lives were downsized to 10 pounds of possessions each, not counting food and water. We carried backpacks, sleeping bags, jackets, hats, a plastic groundsheet, a tarp in case of rain, a water filter and a tiny roll of duct tape for when things break.

Few problems in life cannot be solved with duct tape.

O.K., I know I’m supposed to use my column to pontificate about Donald Trump and global crises. But as summer beckons, let me commend such wilderness escapes to all of you, with your loved ones, precisely to find a brief refuge from the pressures of the world.

This isn’t for everybody; astonishingly, some folks prefer beaches and clean sheets. But for me at least, a crazy jaunt in the outdoors is the perfect antidote to the absurdity of modern life.

In the 21st century, we often find ourselves spinning on the hamster wheel, nervously jockeying for status with our peers — Is my barbecue bigger than my neighbor’s? Is my car flashier? — even as we’re too busy to barbecue anything. We’re like dogs chasing after our tails.

That’s why I find it so cathartic to run away from home. My parents took me backpacking beginning when I was about 7, and my wife and I took our three children on overnight hikes as soon as they could toddle.

Don’t tell Child Protective Services, but when my daughter was 4, I took her on an overnight trip on Oregon’s Eagle Creek Trail, carrying her most of the first day on my shoulders, on top of my backpack. The next morning, I bribed her: If she would walk by herself all 13 miles back to the car, I would buy her a spectacular ice cream in the nearest town.

So we set off for the car. At every rest stop, we conjured that ice cream and how cold it would be, and, fortified, we trundled on down the trail beside glorious waterfalls. When we reached the car, we were both proud of her heroism, and she beamed tiredly as I buckled her into her car seat.

When we arrived at an ice cream shop 20 minutes later, she was fast asleep. I couldn’t wake her.

Thus began our hiking partnership, sometimes undertaken with the whole family, sometimes just the two of us. At home we’re all busy, but on the trail we’re beyond cellphone coverage or email reach and we’re stuck with each other.

So we talk. Even as we’re disconnected, we reconnect. And on rest breaks and at night, camping under the stars, we read aloud to each other: On this trip, my daughter and I have been reading Adam Johnson’s brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” and talking about what it means.

No self-respecting teenage girl would normally allow her dad to read to her, but out in the wilderness, it’s a bond we share.

It’s true that not everybody can get time off, the cost of equipment can add up and it can be a hassle to get to and from a trail. (When I’ve tried hitchhiking out, drivers see a bedraggled, unshaven hobo and speed up!). Still, costs are modest: While car campgrounds often charge, backpacking in the great outdoors is almost always free. And day after day, there is simply nowhere to spend money.

I can’t pretend it’s glamorous. We’ve been scorched by the sun and chilled by rain, hail and snow. Sure, in trail conversations we bare our innermost thoughts, but we also spend plenty of time whining about blisters, rattlesnakes and 20-mile stretches without water. We curse trail designers for PUDS, or pointless ups and downs.

And let’s be blunt: I stink. When you’re carrying everything on your back, you don’t pack any changes of clothing. We bathe our feet in creeks (hoping that anyone drinking downstream is using a water filter), and on this trip we luxuriated in the Deep Creek hot springs beside the trail. We commiserate together, and we exult together in America’s cathedral of the wild, our stunning common heritage and birthright.

My daughter and I have now hiked across Washington and Oregon and hundreds of miles of California, and eventually we’ll have limped the entire Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. Nothing is as different from my daily life, nor as treasured, and that is why I suggest the wilderness to friends.

For members of my family at least, these spring and summer hikes are a reminder that what shapes us is not so much the possessions we acquire but the memories we accumulate, that when you scrape away the veneer, what gives life meaning is not the grandest barbecue or the sportiest car. It’s each other.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Summer is upon us, and we are facing important travel decisions. Such as who to blame when we get stuck in interminable airport lines.

So many options. There’s the government, but how many times can you can complain about Congress in the course of a lifetime? There’s the public — air traffic up 12 percent since 2011. But really, people, don’t blame yourself.

Let’s pick a rant that’s good for you, good for me, good for the lines in security: Make the airlines stop charging fees for checked baggage.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Plus, if you do manage to make it to your flight, these are the same people who will be announcing there’s a $3 fee if you want a snack.

The largest airlines charge $25 for the first checked bag, thus encouraging people to drag their belongings through the airport, clogging the X-ray lines and slowing the boarding process as everybody fights to cram one last rolling duffel into the overhead compartment.

The idea that travelers should be hit by an extra charge for, um, having luggage began in 2008, when the cost of fuel went through the roof. We understood the airlines’ pain, sort of. Maybe. But now fuel prices have fallen into the cellar. The airlines are taking in stupendous profits — last year nearly $26 billion after taxes, up from $2.3 billion in 2010.

Yet the baggage fees are still with us. In fact, they’ve gone up by about two-thirds. Last year, the nation’s airlines made more than $3.8 billion off what I believe it is fair to call a scam. It’s also an excellent way to make your prices look lower than they really are when people surf for the cheapest ticket, a number that never includes details like the special fees for bags, food, canceling a reservation, booking by phone, sitting in a minimally more comfortable emergency row or, in some cases, requesting a pillow.

Shouldn’t the airlines offer up the baggage fee as a token of solidarity with their miserable passengers? The idea has come up. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson asked the airlines to “consider possibly” this modest bow to air travel sanity. Two U.S. senators, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, wrote a letter to the airlines asking them to just drop the fees during the high-traffic summer months.

We pause now for the sound of silence and crickets chirping.

The airlines have maximized profits by making travel as miserable as possible. The Boeing Company found a way to cram 14 more seats into its largest twin-engine jetliner by reducing the size of the lavatories.Bloomberg quoted a Boeing official as reporting that “the market reaction has been good — really positive.” We presume the market in question does not involve the actual passengers.

But the industry is so powerful that it seems to be able to get away with squishing people into smaller and smaller spaces. Last month, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York offered an amendment to a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration that would have imposed a moratorium on reductions in seat size and space between rows. It failed, 54 to 42.

Nobody spoke out against the proposal, but only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted for it. We salute Susan Collins, who has been, for a number of years, virtually the entire population of the Moderate Republican Caucus.

When Schumer flies, his first move is to empty the seat pocket in front of him. “I take out the magazine and the airsickness bag so I have an extra eighth of an inch,” he said in a phone interview. It’s a matter of some passion — when the presidents of three airlines visited Schumer’s office for discussion of a totally unrelated issue, he moved the coffee table so it was an inch from their knees. “I said: ‘O.K., now you know how it feels.’”

But about the bags.

Rather than reducing the number of bags in security lines, the airlines would like the government to deal with the problem by adding more workers to screen them. And the perpetually beleaguered Transportation Security Administration is going to spend $34 million to hire more people and pay more overtime this summer. Which, it assured the public, is not really going to solve much of anything.

(Who, you may ask, pays for the security lines anyway? For the most part you the taxpayer do. Also you the passenger pay a special security fee on your tickets. Which Congress tends to grab away from the T.S.A. for use in all-purpose deficit reduction. I know, I know.)

A spokesman for Delta Air Lines, which took in more than $875 million on baggage fees last year, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that bowing to the extremely modest Markey-Blumenthal request for a summer suspension of the baggage fee wouldn’t “really help alleviate a lot.” It would also, he said, require a “considerable change to the business model.”

Heaven forfend we mess with the business model.

Collins, solo

May 21, 2016

In “Meet Deadeye Donald” Ms. Collins says we should beware Trumps bearing arms.  Here she is:

Donald Trump has a permit to carry a gun.

“Nobody knows that,” he told a gathering of the National Rifle Association on Friday. Well actually, it’s pretty hard to not know since he brings it up all the time.

“Boy, would I surprise somebody if they hit Trump,” he told the audience. People, have we ever had a president who spoke about himself in the third person? Something to consider. But more important, what would that surprise entail? Was Trump trying to say that he’d quickly draw his concealed weapon and take the gunman out of circulation?

“If I wasn’t — if I wasn’t surrounded by, like the largest group of Secret Service people,” he began, and it did sound as if we were about to get a description of his shooting prowess. But then Trump veered off to demand a standing ovation for police officers and never did get back to the original point.

Chances are he couldn’t hit the side of a barn. (If he could, don’t you think we’d have been forced to watch videos of Trump taking that barn out of commission?) Last summer, an NBC interviewer asked if he ever used his weapon on, say, gun ranges. Trump replied that it was “none of your business.”

This is a more important matter than just the ability to make fun of Donald Trump for bragging, although that’s pretty enjoyable. The entire mythology of the N.R.A. and its supporters is based on the idea that if a person is armed, he or she will be capable of shooting accurately. That the big problem is lack of gun availability, not gun owners who are sloppy, inept and occasionally psychotic.

If we required that anyone who wants to buy a gun first demonstrate the ability to hit a target, sales would plummet overnight.

In his speech, which came after he received the N.R.A.’s enthusiastic endorsement, Trump bragged about his sons’ marksmanship. “They have so many rifles and so many guns, sometimes I even get a little bit concerned,” he said, to rather uncertain laughter from the audience — the N.R.A. theory is that you cannot possibly have too many guns. But give credit to Donald Jr. and Eric — they apparently spend a lot of time practicing. We are not going to revisit the day they killed the elephant.

The myth of the masses of skillful shooters is also central to Trump’s much-repeated claim that terrorists would be deterred if they thought they were going to run into an armed citizenry. He’s described the way ISIS gunmen in Paris would have been undone if people at the Bataclan theater had been able to get up and start firing back — an image that presumes Europeans bearing arms would have the capacity to stand up in a dark, hysterical auditorium and take out the villains without mowing down the rest of the audience.

“I can tell you that if I had been in the Bataclan or in the cafes, I would have opened fire,” Trump told a French magazine. “I may have been killed, but I would have drawn.”

More likely, he’d have hit the waiter. It’s very, very hard to shoot accurately when you’re scared or under stress. Police officers generally can’t do it. There was an armed security officer at the Columbine shootings, and he couldn’t do it. There was an armed bystander at the shopping center mass shooting that nearly killed Representative Gabby Giffords. He said later he was “very lucky” not to have shot the wrong man.

However, the N.R.A. vision of the world is one where every shot is true. “Americans use guns to defend themselves against violent crime more than a million times a year,” said Trump. This is a fantasy, based on one phone survey conducted in 1992, and frequently debunked.

And nobody in the presidential race wants to prevent law-abiding people from keeping guns in their homes. Certainly not Hillary Clinton, who has been known to brag about her previous hunting triumphs. She’s probably not very proficient now, but she could probably still beat Trump in a shoot-off.

At the N.R.A. gathering, where Clinton was depicted as a near-maniac intent on freeing criminals, confiscating guns and repealing the Second Amendment, Trump claimed that “Heartless Hillary” wants to disarm the nation’s grandmothers, leaving them defenseless against murderers and rapists. He’s had great success tacking unflattering adjectives on his opponents’ names. Since we’re having so much trouble keeping track of his own evolving positions, let’s try referring to the candidate’s prior incarnations as “Previous Donald.”

Previous Donald told TMZ that he was surprised his sons liked hunting and that he himself was “not a believer.” He favored banning assault weapons and expanding the waiting time for gun purchases. Beyond that, the Second Amendment didn’t seem to be a big issue in his pre-campaign life. Except for a snide reference to Republicans who “walk the N.R.A. line and refuse even limited restrictions.”

So Previous.

There isn’t a word that comes out of his piehole that isn’t a bald-faced lie at this point.

Collins, solo

May 19, 2016

In “Subtract One Clinton” Ms. Collins says Hillary should stop talking about leaning on Bill.  Here she is:

Bill Clinton should go home.

It’s easy to see why his wife’s campaign is giving him a major role. His political skills are legendary. And he’s the spouse, for heaven’s sake. Presidential candidates always rely on their families to fill out the schedule, show up where they can’t, spread good cheer.

But we all know this is different. Campaigning in Kentucky — where her husband is more popular than she is — Hillary Clinton told voters that Bill would be “in charge of revitalizing the economy” in her administration. At another stop she promised that if they returned to the White House, “I’ll expect him to go to work … to get incomes rising.”

She presented herself as part of a duo that knows “a little bit about how to create jobs. I think my husband did a heck of a job.”

Hillary wants to be the first woman ever elected president of the United States. The economy is the central issue in the campaign. The fact that she’s assuring voters that Bill will take care of it is … totally wrong.

It would be better if he wasn’t on the scene at all. Let us count the ways:

— Implanting a husband in the center of White House policy-making is just a bad idea. All other advisers, from the vice president to the chief of staff to the cabinet members, fade in authority when there’s one person sitting at the table who happens to be married to the boss. It didn’t work very well when the Clintons were offering “two for the price of one” in the 1990s. Turn the marital partner into a former president and it’s like adding a blue whale to the goldfish bowl.

If Hillary wants Bill in her administration, she can give him one of the useful-but-largely-symbolic roles a first spouse traditionally plays. The Clinton Foundation, for all its messes, has done good work in developing countries. Let him be international ambassador to the poor.

— The sex scandal issue isn’t really central, since Americans have a long record of voting for the candidates they think can deliver, regardless of private peccadilloes. And Donald Trump has a history of boorish public behavior that could even overshadow the marital baggage Hillary has to tote. However, she’d be in a much stronger position if she was toting on her own.

— It’s not surprising that the first serious female presidential contender would be someone attached to a famous male name. For most of our history, women who rose in American politics were generally filling in for a deceased (or sometimes indicted) husband. But some still rose to do fantastic things on their own. Margaret Chase Smith got into Congress as a replacement for her late husband, but she became the foremost opponent of McCarthyism in the Senate all by herself. That’s the spirit the Clinton campaign needs. Not running as part of a team with your male predecessor.

Our country is now full of women who’ve become senators, governors, C.E.O.s, diplomats without familial assistance. If they have spouses, they’re off doing their own thing. Or — yes! — taking care of the family. It’s a new world order Hillary has always championed. But the way she’s running her campaign isn’t doing the new world any favors.

Bill isn’t the only man overshadowing her political life. Hillary has also been campaigning as a sort of Barack Obama surrogate who’ll carry on the president’s legacy for another term or two. During a debate in South Carolina, she brought up Obama 10 times — more than the other two candidates on the stage combined. In another debate, she laced into Bernie Sanders for disloyalty. (“The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans.”)

All this identifying with the last two Democratic presidents has left her own political image fuzzy. She’s pledged to do more to crack down on Wall Street, but she hasn’t really said whether the deregulation during her husband’s administration was a mistake. She’s disagreed — briefly — with Obama on matters like immigration, trade and Arctic drilling, but the details are very hard to pin down.

What we haven’t gotten is a vision of how a Hillary Clinton administration would be different from either of her predecessors’. That’s been the great weakness of her campaign from the start. She’s become the opposite of change. (Continuity You Can Believe In?)

Even if she keeps going the way she’s been going, voters may be so horrified by Donald Trump that she’ll win in November. But you don’t want the first woman president elected by default.

This is one of the most qualified people ever to run for the office, and she doesn’t need to hold on to anybody’s coattails. It’s time for Hillary to stand alone.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

May 12, 2016

In “As West Virginia Goes…” Mr. Blow says if Trump has a path to the presidency, it will likely be because of the Democrats’ weakness among voters who look a lot like the voters in this state.  Mr. Kristof, in “Congress to America: Drop Dead,” says Republicans played politics two years ago with the Ebola epidemic, and now they’re stalling on the president’s funding request to fight Zika.  Ms. Collins says “Bring Hillary and Bernie Together” and that Democrats could turn his standard speech into the party’s platform.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

West Virginia turned on Hillary Clinton.

In 2008, when running for the Democratic nomination against then-Senator Barack Obama, Clinton won every county in the state, carrying it by a whopping 41 points.

Clinton said in 2008 during her West Virginia victory speech that no Democrat had won the White House since 1916 without taking West Virginia. What she didn’t say was that they all could have won without it. The margins of victory in those races ranged from 23 to 515 electoral votes. West Virginia has five.

That is precisely what Obama did. He won the election in 2008 without winning West Virginia, and he was re-elected in 2012 without winning even a single county in the state.

The Hill reported this week that, according to a political-science professor at a West Virginia college, West Virginia voters were so “fiercely anti-Obama that they voted in large numbers in 2012 for his primary opponent, who was a jailed felon in Texas.”

This cycle, a major part of Clinton’s strategy has been to so closely align herself with President Obama that there is very little light between them. This helped her secure and retain some minority voters, but most likely distanced her from many white ones.

On Tuesday, Clinton lost every county in the state and trailed Bernie Sanders by nearly 16 points.

So what’s going on in West Virginia? First, it is one of the whitest states in the country, and the absolute whitest in the South. It is also the least educated state and one of the poorest.

As of 2014, almost 94 percent of its citizens are white, only 18.7 percent have attained a bachelor’s degree and 17.2 percent fall below the poverty threshold.

West Virginia is the only state wholly contained in Appalachia, a collection of counties that stretches from Mississippi to New York and covers portions of swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina. This region has been trending away from Democrats in recent elections. Obama won fewer than 30 of Appalachia’s 420 counties in 2012; he won 44 in 2008; John Kerry won 48 in 2004; and Al Gore won 66 counties 2000.

West Virginia is also heavily reliant on the coal industry, which is at odds with liberal clean-energy initiatives.

In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle in 2008, Obama said of his proposed energy plans:

If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted. That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel, and other alternative energy approaches.

Bankruptcies aside, the Obama years saw a steep decline in coal production in the state. According to a report published by West Virginia University, “After climbing to nearly 158 million short tons in 2008, the state’s coal mine output has tumbled in each successive year to an annual total of approximately 115 million short tons in 2014 ─ or a cumulative decline of 27 percent.”

This was the right long-term clean-energy approach, but it hit a sour chord in West Virginia.

True to her Obama-emulating form, Clinton took a similar tack this cycle when she said during a CNN town hall:

I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?

And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories.

Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.

Again, smart long-term policy, but doesn’t sit well in West Virginia. Clinton recently apologized for the “misstatement,” saying, “I don’t know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context for what I meant because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time.”

But the apology was too little, too late for voters in West Virginia.

West Virginia illustrates the danger that accompanies the Clinton strategy of closely aligning with President Obama and his policies: Many white voters, particularly white men, detest him. Many on the right think he went too far and many on the left don’t think he went far enough. The populist movements at both ideological extremes are to some degree anti-Obama movements.

As ABC News reported Tuesday about preliminary exit polls in the state, “the highest level of economic concern in any Democratic primary this year and greater-than-usual turnout among men, whites, political independents and critics of President Obama characterized Hillary Clinton’s challenges in the West Virginia primary.”

In 2014, Gallup reported on the depths of this problem for Democrats in general:

President Barack Obama’s job approval rating among white non-college graduates is at 27 percent so far in 2014, 14 percentage points lower than among white college graduates. This is the largest yearly gap between these two groups since Obama took office. These data underscore the magnitude of the Democratic Party’s problem with working-class whites, among whom Obama lost in the 2012 presidential election, and among whom Democratic House candidates lost in the 2014 U.S. House voting by 30 points.

These white non-college graduates are a strong base of support for Donald Trump, who exclaimed in Nevada, “I love the poorly educated.” Apparently, the feeling is mutual.

If Trump has a path to the presidency, it will most likely be because of Clinton’s — and Democrats’ — weakness among people who look an awful lot like the voters in West Virginia.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

In a moment, we’ll get to the Zika virus.

First, remember how scathing Republicans were about President Obama’s handling of Ebola in the fall of 2014? They lambasted his reluctance to ban travelers from affected nations, with Paul Broun, a House member from Georgia then, even wondering if Obama had a “purposeful” plan to use Ebola to harm America.

Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative gadfly, suggested that Obama didn’t care if Ebola devastated the United States: “He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too.”

A Fox News contributor, Dr. Keith Ablow, suggested in a radio broadcast that Obama perhaps wanted America to suffer from Ebola because “his affiliations” are with Africa rather than with America.

Then there was Donald Trump. After a New York physician, Craig Spencer, returned from treating Ebola patients in West Africa and showed symptoms of the disease, Trump tweeted that if the doctor developed Ebola (he did), “Obama should apologize to the American people & resign!”

Trump added: “President Obama, you are a complete and total disaster, but you have a chance to do something great and important: STOP THE FLIGHTS!” That was a reference to what appeared to be the G.O.P. strategy at the time: Let Ebola destroy Africa and much of the rest of the world, but try to seal off the United States from infection.

In the 2014 elections, Republican candidates ran hundreds of ads denouncing the Obama administration’s handling of Ebola.

Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey forcibly confined Kaci Hickox, a nurse returning from West Africa, as she passed through Newark’s airport on her way to Maine. By quarantining her in a tent though she tested negative for Ebola, he complicated initiatives to send health workers to fight the disease in Africa.

In contrast, Obama’s approach was spectacularly successful. With crucial support from Britain and France, and heroic efforts by groups like Doctors Without Borders and Samaritan’s Purse, Obama deployed troops to West Africa and was able to pretty much extinguish the virus there, averting a global humanitarian and economic catastrophe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had calculated that without an intervention there might be 1.4 million cases of Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone by January 2015. From there it could have catapulted around the world, killing millions, entering the United States, devastating the global economy and becoming impossible to eradicate in some places.

That might have happened if someone like Trump or Christie had been in charge. It’s tragic that 11,300 West Africans died from Ebola, but the toll would have been incomparably higher — in Africa and in America — if not for Obama’s actions.

Hey, Mr. Trump, do you still think that President Obama should resign for his handling of Ebola?

All of that is worth reviewing because congressional Republicans are now again trying to block a sensible effort to address a public health crisis, this time a Zika virus outbreak that is steadily moving to the continental U.S., bringing with it calamitous birth defects.

In February, Obama urgently requested more than $1.8 billion to address Zika, and Congress since then has done nothing but talk. Republicans have protested that the administration doesn’t need the money, that they have questions that haven’t been answered or that the request is vague. These objections are absurd.

Even Senator Marco Rubio laid into his fellow Republicans a few weeks ago, saying: “The money is going to be spent. And the question is, Do we do it now before this has become a crisis, or do we wait for it to become a crisis?”

Rubio is right. It’s always more cost-effective and lifesaving to tackle an epidemic early.

“I’m very worried, especially for our U.S. Gulf Coast states,” said Dr. Peter Jay Hotez, a tropical diseases expert at Baylor College of Medicine. “I cannot understand why a member of Congress from a Gulf Coast state cannot see this train approaching. It’s like refusing emergency preparedness funds for an approaching hurricane.”

We don’t know how badly Zika will hit the U.S. But, the first American has just died of it, and federal health professionals are debating whether to counsel women in Zika areas to avoid pregnancy — and to me, that sounds serious.

The larger mistake is that budget cutters have systematically cut public health budgets that address Zika, Ebola and other ailments. The best bargain in government may be public health, and Republicans have slashed funding for it while Democrats have shrugged.

“Special funds for public health preparedness have been cut by more than 30 percent over the last decade and hospital preparedness by more than half,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener of Columbia University and its National Center for Disaster Preparedness. “All of this leaves the country far more vulnerable than people realize to threats like a Zika outbreak — or whatever else the future has in store.”

He added, “We will pay a steep price for this particular shortsightedness.”

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Bernie Sanders is not going away. And why should he? The weather is nice, the crowds are enormous and he keeps winning primaries. Hillary Clinton has what appears to be an insurmountable lead in delegates, but hope springs eternal.

“It is a steep hill to climb,” he admits.

Actually, probably harder to surmount than Gangkhar Puensum. (Which is the world’s highest unclimbed mountain. I am telling you this to distract you from the subject of delegate counts.)

But about Sanders: Democrats, what do you think he should do?

A) Convention floor fight. “Game of Thrones”! Jon Snow is alive!

B) Go away. When Clinton lost, did she torture Barack Obama over who was going to be on the platform committee? No, she sucked it up and gave an extremely nice endorsement speech.

C) Why can’t we all just get along?

Personally, I think that last one is possible. Although it would probably be a good idea to avoid saying a Clinton nomination could be a “disaster simply to protect the status quo,” as Sanders’s campaign manager did in an email on Wednesday.

In an ideal world the Democrats would nominate a presidential candidate who’s got an inspiring vision of change and the competence to run the country from Day 1. This person is not going to be on the ballot this year. So let Hillary Clinton have the nomination and give Bernie Sanders the party platform.

He deserves a role. Sanders has spent the last year speaking about narrowing the gulf between the rich and the bottom 99 percent, fighting climate change and keeping special interests out of government. He’s inspired millions. It’s pretty much always the same speech, but he’s the one who can bring the music.

(Question: Will the Republicans have a fight about their platform? Nah — Donald Trump will let his opponents put in anything they want. Look, the man has convention entertainment to plan. Given the option of choosing the party position on health care or the dance numbers, you know which way he’s going to go.)

The Democrats could just make the Sanders speech into a platform, then join hands and march into the future. There actually aren’t a lot of areas of disagreement. Clinton thinks his call for free public college tuition is … well, let’s not say dumb. Dumb is not going to get you a united convention. Let’s just say too much of a good thing. But she does want free community college tuition. Did you know that? She announced it on the very first official stop of her campaign. Since then not, um, frequently. Feel free to remind her.

They both believe in universal health care coverage. Sanders wants “Medicare for all.” Clinton’s campaign says she does, too, in theory, but just doesn’t believe anything like that could get through Congress. This week she proposed a new option for 50-somethings that The Times’s Alan Rappeport and Margot Sanger-Katz called “Medicare for more.”

And you know, if Clinton could actually deliver on those two promises, it would be stupendous. This is an excellent example of the Democratic bottom line: On many, many issues, her platform is what the Sanders platform would look like if it actually got through the congressional wringer.

On other matters, the Democrats’ current policy divisions are just about doubting Hillary Clinton’s intentions. Sanders wants to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, which bars commercial banks from going into the investment banking business. Clinton says she can crack down on Wall Street better with more recent legislation. Sanders followers don’t believe she means it.

I say, be impressed that there’s a party full of young voters for whom “Glass-Steagall” is a big applause line. You can’t not want to encourage that. Put Glass-Steagall in the platform. Even if Clinton is right, all you’d have is duplication of effort, and it would be an excellent gesture of solidarity.

Finally, there’s the influence of big-money donors on American politics. In theory, Sanders and Clinton are pretty much in the same place. But in practice, he’s built his entire campaign around the concept of throwing out special interest money, while Clinton’s barely provided lip service.

“One of the four pillars of her campaign was going to be democracy issues,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of the reform group Democracy 21. “Well, the pillars haven’t been around too much.”

Wertheimer had his heart broken by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who both promised to make campaign finance a top priority, then didn’t. Hillary Clinton, he thinks, ought to promise something more specific that she could implement right away. “Set up a task force in the White House whose job it is to pursue this reform. Of top staff people,” he suggested.

Or a blue-ribbon committee featuring Bernie Sanders. Who would certainly never let her hear the end of it if she failed to deliver. Put that in the platform and smoke it.

Blow and Collins

May 5, 2016

Mr. Blow, in “Black Men, Violence and ‘Fierce Urgency’,” says yes, personal choice plays a role, but people make choices within an environmental context — which is affected by state and federal policy.  In “The Donald Trump New Normal” Ms. Collins considers that maybe there will be a reality TV contest to pick a running mate.  Here’s Mr. Blow, writing from Birmingham, Alabama:

On a picture-perfect Wednesday morning, mayors, city leaders and advocates huddled in unremarkable hotel conference rooms in here, to discuss something disturbing and seemingly intractable: violence among — and the violent deaths of — young black boys and men.

It was the third annual convening of Cities United, the group President Obama praised in the 2014 announcement of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative as “a bipartisan group of mayors” who have made improving the lives and outcomes of young black men a “priority in communities across the country.”

And they continue to do so, this year meeting under the mantra “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” a phrase made famous decades ago by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And yet the ferocity and urgency for this cause among the broader public and the news media remain elusive.

In the wake of the incredible level of attention garnered last year by citizens who were rightly outraged by state violence — often at the hands of law enforcement, directed disproportionately at black citizens — the issue of community violence receded.

When it did surface, it was often used as a cudgel against activists like those supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

The message was invariably some version of: If black lives really mattered, activists would focus on black-on-black violence instead.

The implication being that there is something pathologically broken about blackness that makes black people prone to self-destruction, and that attention to anything else is a minor diversion from a larger truth.

But in fact, this argument is the diversion.

Both state violence and community violence are problems, and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One exacerbating factor of community violence is the present and historical factors that helped form the communities and created the conditions for violence.

It is not hard to explain, as many have, how every level of government, and by extension society itself, used every possible lever of power for centuries to create the conditions in black communities that now make fertile ground for violence.

This is not to say that personal choice plays no role, but rather that human beings make choices within an environmental context, which at its base level is affected by state and federal policy.

Our society treated black bodies as disposable, if not bound for eradication. Generations of educational, employment, housing, lending and criminal justice policies form the substrata roots of this problem, and they are deeper and more complex than the visible weed of community violence that is so tall and tangled.

Even urban infrastructure like highways were used as a tool to distance and destroy black neighborhoods, as Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx explained in March at the Center for American Progress. As Foxx put it, “The growing gaps between the wealthy, the poor and the middle class have been exacerbated by our transportation system,” and “Attitudes about race and the poor have been embedded in our infrastructure for far too long.”

The roads to America’s prosperity either plowed through black and poor communities or were literally designed to pass them by.

It is easy to argue that these policies took centuries to carve their scars and will likely take a long time to heal (that is, once the country truly decides to begin that healing, instead of plunging the shiv deeper into the wound).

But that is the long view. What do we do now, in the short term, about the disproportionate number of black lives caught in a vortex of violence? What do we do in the meantime? In the space between where we are and where we must arrive, how do we stop filling the cemeteries with the bodies of ever more young black men?

At the Cities United meeting, I discussed this dilemma with Mayor Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis, a city recently caught up in a storm of protests over the shooting death of Jamar Clark, a young black man, by police officers who were not charged in his killing.

That case drew national attention. What drew less attention are numbers supplied to me by a senior policy aide in Mayor Hodges’s office: a 78 percent rise so far this year in gunshot wound victims, with a 153 percent rise in the Fourth Precinct alone, the precinct in which Jamar was killed.

Mayor Hodges talked passionately about addressing “universal issues” and treating violence as a “public health issue.” She advocated dealing with “upstream issues” like stable housing and trauma. But the more she spoke, the more I was reminded of the enormity of the problem we as a society have created and continue to face.

Our policies, disinvestment and avoidance have created a sort of perpetual motion machine in which violence has become increasingly difficult to stanch.

That dilemma encapsulates both the fierce urgency of now and the plodding monotony of it.

Maybe the only way to think about this is bifurcated: on the one hand, in small, doable first steps; and on the other, in grand philosophical truths. As Mayor William Bell of Birmingham stressed to me, we have to talk across differences — ideological and generational — to find the center of our collective moral authority. From that point progress, and the path to it, becomes clearer.

Possibly.

But for me, in this moment, it’s important to first find a way of accepting that we can both protest state violence and detest community violence — and not let either discussion deprive the other of oxygen.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

This morning we woke up in a nation where Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States. No “Game of Thrones” analogies. This is the real thing.

“We’re going to start winning again and we’re going to win bigly, believe me,” he said on primary night. It had been quite a day. His chief opponent held a press conference to announce that Trump was an “utterly amoral” narcissist and friend to rapists who was “proud of being a serial philanderer.” Armed with that information, Indiana voters raced off to the polls and awarded Donald a huge win.

In his victory speech, Trump spoke in the much-promised “presidential” style, and the big news is that when Donald Trump is being presidential he is incredibly boring. Also pretty incoherent:

“We have great relationships with many foreign countries, but they have to respect us and they have to understand where we’re coming from. And you know it is a two-way street. And the two-way street means that we’re going down one side and they’re coming up the other.”

Or:

“Now, we can keep things going and we’re going to keep things going very nicely. But we owe, soon, $21 trillion. … And we’re just not in the position that we were in 30 years ago, 40 years ago, 50 years ago, when a lot of these things took place and began taking place.”

His family assumed the same vacant-eyed aspect we’ve seen so many times when Chris Christie is in the background. This is not going to work over the long run. Trump can’t deal with an unresponsive audience. His entire platform is constructed around big applause lines. Last year when he announced his candidacy, the crowd roared when he brought up Mexican rapists. If they’d gone crazy when he mentioned leaf removal, his campaign would have been all about mulching.

Meanwhile, the Republican Trump challengers packed up and went home. Farewell, John Kasich — things could have been worse. You could have been Ted Cruz, who began his week by failing to respond when Carly Fiorina fell off the stage. Who concluded his bowing-out speech by bopping his wife on the nose.

In between, he learned that Trump was connecting his father with John Kennedy’s assassination. Now, Rafael Cruz is a really terrible person, who claims gay marriage is a socialist conspiracy and suggested Barack Obama be sent “back to Kenya.” But there is nothing tying him to Lee Harvey Oswald except a picture run in The National Enquirer. It showed Oswald handing out pro-Castro literature in the company of several other unidentified people, one of whom looked a little like the elder Cruz. Except there was no evidence the two men knew each other, were ever in the same place at the same time, or … well, you know. National Enquirer.

“That was reported, and nobody talks about it,” Trump said indignantly.

People, this is the point at which I’m supposed to make you feel better by pointing to all the terrible presidential campaigns of the past. I could remind you that the first Republican presidential candidate, John Charles Frémont, was accused of being a cannibal. Or that poor Grover Cleveland was tortured by newspaper stories claiming he was “a boon companion to Buffalo harlots, a drunken, fighting, roistering roué.”

We have had a lot of crazy, scandalous charges in presidential races, some from sources even more unreliable than The National Enquirer. But not by the candidates themselves. You didn’t have James Buchanan strutting around the podium saying, “Oh yeah, I know Frémont. Tasty Bits John, we call him.” Or James Blaine taunting: “Ho, ho, ho, it’s Grover the Rover. “

Trump has a lot to do before the convention in July. He has to put the finishing touches on his financial plan — it currently includes big tax cuts, hiking military spending and paying off the national debt in eight years. Which would leave us with a budget of pretty much zero for everything else. No need to fight about shutting down the government! The government would vanish on its own.

Plus, there’s the veep selection. “I think that, you know, a lot of people are talking about certain names, and certainly those are the names that we’re thinking of,” said Trump. As only he can. Once you eliminate all the people who have already announced they’d rather be kidnapped by manatees, there’s a pretty short list. Maybe Chris Christie? Never in modern America have we had a presidential ticket composed entirely of guys who specialize in insulting people and yelling at the top of their lungs.

Maybe Ted Cruz? Personally I would really enjoy having a vice-presidential candidate who is on the record as calling the head of the ticket a “pathological liar.” And he does need cheering up.

Brooks and Krugman from 4/29 and Collins from today

April 30, 2016

Sorry about missing yesterday, but I had some eye surgery on Thursday that left me a bit under the weather yesterday, and seeing is still a bit of a challenge.  Bobo on Friday gave us “If Not Trump, What?” and Prof. Krugman addressed the “Wrath of the Conned.”  Today Ms. Collins considers “The One Thing Worse Than Trump.”  Here’s Bobo’s offering:

Donald Trump now looks set to be the Republican presidential nominee. So for those of us appalled by this prospect — what are we supposed to do?

Well, not what the leaders of the Republican Party are doing. They’re going down meekly and hoping for a quiet convention. They seem blithely unaware that this is a Joe McCarthy moment. People will be judged by where they stood at this time. Those who walked with Trump will be tainted forever after for the degradation of standards and the general election slaughter.

The better course for all of us — Republican, Democrat and independent — is to step back and take the long view, and to begin building for that. This election — not only the Trump phenomenon but the rise of Bernie Sanders, also — has reminded us how much pain there is in this country. According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century.

This declinism intertwines with other horrible social statistics. The suicide rate has surged to a 30-year high — a sure sign of rampant social isolation. A record number of Americans believe the American dream is out of reach. And for millennials, social trust is at historic lows.

Trump’s success grew out of that pain, but he is not the right response to it. The job for the rest of us is to figure out the right response.

That means first it’s necessary to go out into the pain. I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable. But this column is going to try to do that over the next months and years. We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the chasms of segmentation that afflict this country.

We’ll probably need a new national story. Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.

I don’t know what the new national story will be, but maybe it will be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.

We’ll probably need a new definition of masculinity, too. There are many groups in society who have lost an empire but not yet found a role. Men are the largest of those groups. The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore. It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal.

We’ll also need to rebuild the sense that we’re all in this together. The author R. R. Reno has argued that what we’re really facing these days is a “crisis of solidarity.” Many people, as the writers David and Amber Lapp note, feel pervasively betrayed: by for-profit job-training outfits that left them awash in debt, by spouses and stepparents, by people who collect federal benefits but don’t work. They’ve stopped even expecting loyalty from their employers. The big flashing lights say: NO TRUST. That leads to an everyone-out-for-himself mentality and Trump’s politics of suspicion. We’ll need a communitarianism.

Maybe the task is to build a ladder of hope. People across America have been falling through the cracks. Their children are adrift. Trump, to his credit, made them visible. We can start at the personal level just by hearing them talk.

Then at the community level we can listen to those already helping. James Fallows had a story in The Atlantic recently noting that while we’re dysfunctional at the national level you see local renaissances dotted across the country. Fallows went around asking, “Who makes this town go?” and found local patriots creating radical schools, arts festivals, public-private partnerships that give, say, high school dropouts computer skills.

Then solidarity can be rekindled nationally. Over the course of American history, national projects like the railroad legislation, the W.P.A. and the NASA project have bound this diverse nation. Of course, such projects can happen again — maybe through a national service program, or something else.

Trump will have his gruesome moment. The time is best spent elsewhere, meeting the neighbors who have become strangers, and listening to what they have to say.

Next up we have Prof. Krugman from yesterday:

Maybe we need a new cliché: It ain’t over until Carly Fiorina sings. Anyway, it really is over — definitively on the Democratic side, with high probability on the Republican side. And the results couldn’t be more different.

Think about where we were a year ago. At the time, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were widely seen as the front-runners for their parties’ nods. If there was any dissent from the commentariat, it came from those suggesting that Mr. Bush might be supplanted by a fresher, but still establishment, face, like Marco Rubio.

And now here we are. But why did Mrs. Clinton, despite the most negative media coverage of any candidate in this cycle — yes, worse than Donald Trump’s — go the distance, while the G.O.P. establishment went down to humiliating defeat?

Personalities surely played a role; say what you like (or dislike) about Mrs. Clinton, but she’s resilient under pressure, a character trait notably lacking on the other side. But basically it comes down to fundamental differences between the parties and how they serve their supporters.

Both parties make promises to their bases. But while the Democratic establishment more or less tries to make good on those promises, the Republican establishment has essentially been playing bait-and-switch for decades. And voters finally rebelled against the con.

First, about the Democrats: Their party defines itself as the protector of the poor and the middle class, and especially of nonwhite voters. Does it fall short of fulfilling this mission much of the time? Are its leaders sometimes too close to big-money donors? Of course. Still, if you look at the record of the Obama years, you see real action on behalf of the party’s goals.

Above all, you have the Affordable Care Act, which has given about 20 million Americans health insurance, with the gains biggest for the poor, minorities and low-wage workers. That’s what you call delivering for the base — and it’s surely one reason nonwhite voters have overwhelmingly favored Mrs. Clinton over a challenger who sometimes seemed to dismiss that achievement.

And this was paid for largely with higher taxes on the rich, with average tax rates on very high incomes rising by about six percentage points since 2008.

Maybe you think Democrats could and should have done more, but what the party establishment says and what it does are at least roughly aligned.

Things are very different among Republicans. Their party has historically won elections by appealing to racial enmity and cultural anxiety, but its actual policy agenda is dedicated to serving the interests of the 1 percent, above all through tax cuts for the rich — which even Republican voters don’t support, while they truly loathe elite ideas like privatizing Social Security and Medicare.

What Donald Trump has been doing is telling the base that it can order à la carte. He has, in effect, been telling aggrieved white men that they can feed their anger without being forced to swallow supply-side economics, too. Yes, his actual policy proposals still involve huge tax cuts for the rich, but his supporters don’t know that — and it’s possible that he doesn’t, either. Details aren’t his thing.

Establishment Republicans have tried to counter his appeal by shouting, with growing hysteria, that he isn’t a true conservative. And they’re right, at least as they define conservatism. But their own voters don’t care.

If there’s a puzzle here, it’s why this didn’t happen sooner. One possible explanation is the decadence of the G.O.P. establishment, which has become ingrown and lost touch. Apparatchiks who have spent their whole careers inside the bubble of right-wing think tanks and partisan media may suffer from the delusion that their ideology is actually popular with real people. And this has left them hapless in the face of a Trumpian challenge.

Probably more important, however, is the collision between demography and Obama derangement. The elite knows that the party must broaden its appeal as the electorate grows more diverse — in fact, that was the conclusion of the G.O.P.’s 2013 post-mortem. But the base, its hostility amped up to 11 after seven years of an African-American president (who the establishment has done its best to demonize) is having none of it.

The point, in any case, is that the divergent nomination outcomes of 2016 aren’t an accident. The Democratic establishment has won because it has, however imperfectly, tried to serve its supporters. The Republican establishment has been routed because it has been playing a con game on its supporters all along, and they’ve finally had enough.

And yes, Mr. Trump is playing a con game of his own, and they’ll eventually figure that out, too. But it won’t happen right away, and in any case it won’t help the party establishment. Sad!

And now here’s Ms. Collins from today:

Ted Cruz continues to astound. Every time it appears he can’t get more awful, he finds a new avenue, like a ground mole sniffing out a beetle. Right now, he’s in Indiana, trying to save his presidential career by ranting about transgender people and bathrooms.

“Even if Donald Trump dresses up as Hillary Clinton, he shouldn’t be using the girls’ restroom,” Cruz declaimed at a rally. It’s his new favorite line. He is constantly reminding Republican voters that Trump, when asked which bathroom transgender people should use, simply replied the one that they felt most appropriate.

That was possibly the most rational moment of the Trump campaign, and of course he has since started fudging on it. But not enough for Cruz, who has earned the distinction of being a presidential candidate who can make Donald Trump look good. “I get along with almost everybody, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life,” said the former House speaker, John Boehner. He also called Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh.”

If this has become a battle between fear and loathing, it appears that Republicans who know both candidates are deciding they’d rather be afraid.

Tuesday’s Indiana primary is critical for Cruz, and he scored a coup when Gov. Mike Pence endorsed him. Perhaps Pence, an extreme social conservative, felt he had to go with the only candidate who opposed allowing rape victims to seek abortions. But you have heard more enthusiastic announcements from flight attendants demonstrating the proper use of seatbelts.

Pence praised Trump for taking “a strong stand for Hoosier jobs” while blandly commending Cruz for his “knowledge of the Constitution.” We all know that as a youth, Ted memorized that document, and you can imagine him reciting Article II for the edification of his classmates. Which is both commendable and a possible explanation for why his former college roommate told The Daily Beast that he’d rather vote for a name picked randomly from the phone book.

It was a week in which Cruz made headlines with his disastrous attempt to connect with Indiana sports fans, in which he referred to a basketball hoop as a “ring.” That was a terrible moment, although certainly not as bad as Trump’s boastful announcement that he’d gotten the backing of the ex-boxer Mike Tyson. (“I love it … Iron Mike. You know all the tough guys endorse me. I like that, O.K.?”) Tyson has strong ties to Indiana, having served three years in prison there for raping a beauty pageant contestant in 1992.

Cruz made a desperate play for attention by picking Carly Fiorina as his ticket’s vice-presidential candidate. While he’s still way behind in delegates, the senator from Texas now leads the pack in anointed running mates.

Fiorina was obviously chosen after long and careful consideration. But who do you think the other finalists were? He clearly needed a woman whose best career option was joining the Ted Cruz ticket. I am thinking the possible contenders were:

A) That State Board of Education candidate in Texas who claims Barack Obama used to pay for his drug habit by working as a prostitute.

B) Mrs. Cruz

C) The House member who made the impassioned speech denouncing government regulation of ceiling fans.

D) Wendy who delivered pizza to the campaign headquarters during the Ohio primary.

The woman from Texas is an actual person. The one from the House is Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. (“First they came for our health care. Then they took away our light bulbs … now they are coming after our ceiling fans.”) She’d be perfect, really. But unfortunately, she’s leaning toward Trump.

Cruz says that as the former head of a Fortune 500 company, Fiorina knows “where jobs come from.” (And where jobs go — she laid off 30,000 Hewlett-Packard employees.) She also ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in California — who can forget that campaign commercial where her opponent was depicted as a satanic sheep? The California connection might at least help him out in the state’s June primary, except that Fiorina decamped for Virginia after she lost the election, leaving behind memories and unpaid campaign debts.

The whole political world tuned in to watch Cruz announce Fiorina’s elevation, then wandered off to dust some bookshelves as he orated on for half an hour before turning over the stage. Fiorina then mesmerized the remaining viewers by singing a song, which she claimed she used to entertain Cruz’s daughters on bus rides, in a little-girl voice.

Cruz has been dragging the children, 5 and 8, into his campaign a lot. It appears they now spend their days on a bus with Carly Fiorina and being trotted onstage by Dad — before he gets to the part about Donald Trump cross-dressing in the girls’ restroom. They’ve also starred in a TV campaign ad reading from a mock Christmas book called “The Grinch Who Lost Her Emails.”

Free the Cruz Kids.

Never fear, America.  After DefeaTED loses Indiana he’ll announce his transition team.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

April 28, 2016

In “Bernie Sanders’s Legacy” Mr. Blow says it’s over, but the cause lives. The issues his campaign has raised are likely to resonate with the progressive left for decades, if not forever.  Mr. Kristof, in “Candidates, Let’s Talk About Women’s Health,” says a crucial issue — a matter of life or death — is missing from the presidential race.  In “Trump Deals the Woman Card” Ms. Collins says that he  doesn’t get that Hillary Clinton has spent her life championing women and their issues.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

At this point, Bernie Sanders is the figurehead of a living idea and a zombie campaign.

The issues his campaign has raised are likely to resonate with the progressive left for decades, if not forever, but his path to becoming the Democratic nominee is now narrower than a cat’s hair.

It’s over. He knows it and we know it. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Sanders “is planning to lay off ‘hundreds’ of campaign staffers across the country and focus much of his remaining effort on winning California.” And yet he continues to carry the torch and keep the flame alive so that his supporters — or more appropriately, the supporters of the causes he has advanced — have an opportunity to cast protest votes in the few remaining contests.

He has gone from leading a revolution to leading a wake.

I think people have mischaracterized the choice being made between Sanders and Clinton. It is not necessarily a clean choice between idealism and pragmatism, between principle and politics, between dynamism and incrementalism — though all those things are at play to some degree.

But to me, it is more about where we peg the horizon and how we get from here to there. The ideals are not in dispute. What’s in dispute is whether our ideals can be reasonably accomplished by a single administration or a generation.

Sometimes you have to cut deals to reach ideals. That’s politics.

Now, you could argue that our politics are broken, as Sanders has, and you would be right. Moneyed interests — that of industries and individuals — have far too much influence. Our two-party system is heavily skewed to favor establishment candidates, although Sanders’s success and Donald Trump’s offer strong evidence that the party apparatuses are not inviolable.

(Yes, I’m using Trump’s name again. I didn’t for months as my own personal protest against the inexcusable and embarrassing degree to which media abetted and enabled his ascendance. But now, regardless of who helped make the monster, the monster is made — he seems on track to become the Republican nominee — and we have to deal with him as a direct threat, by name.)

What requires less debate is the often-repeated refrain that Sanders’s supporters are the future of the Democratic Party. In state after state, often whether he won it or not, he carried youth vote by wide margins.

Part of this is a generation coming into political awakening in the wake of the Great Recession, in the shadow of America’s longest war and saddled with ballooning student loan debt.

But another part of it is what Harry Enten pointed out on FiveThirtyEight on Friday:

The Democratic electorate turning out in 2016 has been a lot more liberal than it was in the last competitive Democratic primary, in 2008.”

Enten explained:

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the moderate/conservative portion of the Democratic primary electorate become a minority in the next 10 years. It’s the youngest Democrats who are more likely to identify as “very liberal.” It could very well be that someone matching Sanders’s ideological outlook will be more successful down the road.

First we have to see what comes of the general election, in a contest that at this point seems to pit Clinton against Trump. Although current polling shows Clinton with an overwhelming edge, making political predictions seven months in advance is a fool’s errand. If that could be done, Ben Carson would still be tied with Trump for front-runner status.

And while current polling favors Clinton, history does not. The last time a Democratic president succeeded a multiterm Democratic president was when Harry Truman succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.

However the election breaks in November, the Sanders coalition — largely young, liberal and white — will not likely be satisfied. Either Clinton will win, and it will simply feel like a lesser of two evils, a subsuming of a righteous cause into a waffling contrivance; or Clinton will lose, and the Sanders coalition will feel vindicated that the wrong Democratic candidate won the nomination.

Either way, the cause lives.

Universal health care becomes no less attractive. Neither does free public college, or campaign finance reform, or a more pacifist foreign policy.

The Democratic Party, for better or worse, is likely to move further toward progressive purity in Sanders’s wake. This may backfire, and encourage a nominating process that pushes otherwise moderate and widely attractive candidates to adopt increasingly extreme policies that make them nearly unelectable, as has happened with the Republican Party.

That, to me, seems to be at least part of the Democratic Party’s future. Whether that is a utopian or dystopian future, only time will tell, but the reckoning is coming. This, I believe, will be a fixture of the Sanders legacy: Drag a center-left party further left — whether one calls that True Left or Extreme Left.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

What if we talked about gun violence, and discussed only bullet size?

To me, that seems akin to the presidential campaign discussion of women’s health. Somehow in nine Democratic debates, not a single question was asked about women’s health, and when the issue came up elsewhere it was often in the narrowest form, about abortion: Democrats proclaim a woman’s right to choose, and Republicans thunder about the sanctity of human life.

Women’s health goes far beyond that. It should be a national scandal that a woman dies of cervical cancer almost once every two hours. That about 70 percent of pregnancies to young, unmarried women are unplanned. That a woman dies every eight hours from domestic violence.

In each case, we know how to address these problems. But we’re not doing it urgently enough.

It may seem, er, odd for a man to be raising the topic, but the lives of women shouldn’t be a priority for women alone. Mark Twain once mused about where men would be without women: “They would be scarce, sir — almighty scarce.” Twain is right that we men have a stake in the status of women, for we are sons, husbands and fathers to women we love.

The shortcomings in women’s health parallel those of men’s health and children’s health, and include a myopia about the importance of preventive and reproductive health. It’s a tragedy that nearly a dozen women die a day of cervical cancer in the United States, many of them young women in the prime of life. This is utterly unnecessary, for cervical cancer can be detected early with screenings and then defeated, but many women just don’t get screenings.

Likewise, the HPV vaccine prevents most cases of cervical cancer, but even now, 40 percent of adolescent girls don’t get the vaccination, along with 58 percent of boys (the vaccine protects boys from other, rarer cancers and can benefit their partners).

When nearly a dozen women die a day of something so preventable — far more than are killed by, say, terrorism — you’d think we’d be urgently trying to save lives. In some ways we have made progress: Kudos to President Obama for making HPV vaccinations and cervical cancer screenings typically free.

But we’re going backward when states close Planned Parenthood clinics that perform the screenings, without even ensuring that there are alternatives in place.

A second under-addressed area of women’s health is family planning. A slight majority of American women will have an unplanned pregnancy at some point in their lives, and surveys show that American kids have sex about as often as European kids but have babies about three times as often as Spanish kids and eight times as often as Swiss kids. That’s partly because of meager U.S. sex education, and partly because of a lack of access to contraception, particularly LARCs — long-acting reversible contraceptives, like implants and IUDs.

The Title X national family planning program provides LARCs, cancer screenings and much more, and an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute found that Title X-supported clinics prevent three women a day from dying of cervical cancer — and also prevent one million unplanned pregnancies a year and 345,000 abortions. That makes Title X one of the most successful anti-abortion programs, yet Republicans regularly try to defund it. After inflation, Title X now has less than one-third as much money as in 1980.

“Women’s health” goes beyond the pelvis, so the conversation should include domestic violence. A woman is assaulted in the United States every nine seconds, and 20,000 calls a day are placed to domestic violence hotlines. When millions of women are beaten, threatened or stalked by current or former boyfriends or husbands, what is that but a women’s health issue?

I’ll never forget hearing from women in shelters about the gut-wrenching fear for themselves and their children that they constantly face — often with little help from the authorities.

In each of these areas, we have solutions. Screenings and HPV vaccinations prevent deaths from cervical cancer. Ready access to LARCs hugely reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Cracking down on domestic violence offenders, mandating treatment and taking guns from those under protection orders — all these help. But we’re not doing enough.

So let’s broaden the conversation about women’s health this political season, for the benefit of women and the men who love them.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

And it came to pass, barely seconds after he became the near-inevitable Republican presidential nominee, that Donald Trump began a gender war.

“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the women’s card,” Trump said in the aftermath of his five-state primary sweep on Tuesday. “And the beautiful thing is, women don’t like her.”

Observers felt they discerned a distinct eye roll on the part of Chris Christie’s wife, Mary Pat, who was standing onstage behind the triumphant Trump. Her husband maintained his now-traditional demeanor of a partially brainwashed cult member.

People, why in the world do you think Trump went there?

A) He analyzed Clinton’s entire public career and decided her weakest point was the possibility of being the first woman president.

B) He felt his unimpeachable record on feminist issues gave him the gravitas to bring the matter up early.

C) The remarks were a self-censored version of an initial impulse to comment on her bra size.

Maybe all of the above. The man evolves.

Ted Cruz may have seen an opportunity, because he suddenly announced that Carly Fiorina would be his vice-presidential nominee. Fiorina, of course, was the candidate who Trump once made fun of for her looks. (“Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”) It would have been quite a coup if Cruz were not coming off a quintuple-trouncing in the Tuesday primaries, as well as a failed attempt to woo Indiana sports fans in which he referred to a basketball hoop as a “ring.” The idea of being named his running mate was a little like being named second in command of the Donner Party.

Trump has actually used the “women’s card” line before, and his handlers do not seem to have made any serious attempt to dissuade him, perhaps being preoccupied with prepping him for that big foreign policy speech in which he mispronounced “Tanzania.”

Clinton loved it. “Well, if fighting for women’s health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the ‘woman card,’ then deal me in,” she said during her own victory speech.

Trump, in return, sniped at Clinton for “shouting.” Chatting with the hosts on “Morning Joe” post-primary, he said: “I know a lot of people would say you can’t say that about a woman, because of course a woman doesn’t shout. But the way she shouted that message was not — oh, I just — that’s the way she said it.” He also proudly announced that he was about to get an endorsement from “the great Bobby Knight,” former Indiana coach who once told an NBC interviewer that his theory on handling stress was, “I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”

We would not be bringing up Bobby Knight’s checkered history today if it had not been for the gender comments. Trump is the former owner of a deeply unsuccessful football franchise. (Make the New Jersey Generals Great Again!) He is going to be endorsed by a trillion sports stars, and if we vetted all of them for sexism, we really would have no time for anything else.

But back to the woman card. “She is a woman. She’s playing the woman card left and right. … She will be called on it,” Trump told CNN. The interviewer, Chris Cuomo, reasonably asked how “you call someone on being a woman” and Trump retorted that “if she were a man and she was the way she is she would get virtually no votes.”

Do not ask yourself how many votes Donald Trump would get if he were a woman and he was the way he is. Truly, you don’t want to go there.

The bottom line on Hillary Clinton is that she’s spent her life championing women and their issues. She began her career with the Children’s Defense Fund, fought for better schools in Arkansas, for children’s health care as first lady and for reproductive rights as the senator from New York. As secretary of state she spent endless — endless — days and weeks flying to obscure corners of the planet, celebrating the accomplishments of women craftsmen, championing the causes of women labor leaders, talking with and encouraging women in government and politics.

It is true that politicians have a tendency to get carried away when it comes to hyping convenient details in their biographies. (Listening to Marco Rubio talk about being Cuban-American, you almost got the impression he had personally participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion.) But Trump is a white, male offspring of an extremely rich New Yorker of German descent. He’s had an unusual lack of charitable causes for a guy that wealthy. The problem suddenly becomes very clear.

The poor guy hasn’t got anything to talk about except real estate. He’s suffering from a severe lack of cards.

Collins, solo

April 9, 2016

In “Hillary and Bernie Meet New York” Ms. Collins says there’s a glamour candidate and, uh, a former secretary of state.   Here she is:

Democratic presidential campaign news: Hillary Clinton just visited the Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum. Meanwhile, Bernie Sandersannounced he is going to the Vatican, where he hopes to meet with the pope.

Have you noticed how Senator Sanders, former mayor of Burlington, Vt., is the glamour candidate while Clinton, former first lady, senator from New York and secretary of state, seems to follow an itinerary fit for a county commissioner? Welcome to the New York primary.

Yes! It’s New York’s turn! Everyone here is very excited — it’s been a quarter century since anybody paid attention to us during a big election year. Even then it was only for about two minutes, when we had a minor role in ending the presidential prospects of Jerry Brown. But on April 19, New York voters will crown, um — the candidates who get to go on to Pennsylvania.

Actually, it’s a bigger deal than that. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have to win their home state. If John Kasich can do it, it’s the least you can expect.

When Clinton moved to New York in 1999 and announced she was running for the Senate, it sounded thrilling. While we like to pretend New York politics is exciting, it’s mainly just one indictment after another. But a first lady who was a central figure in the most famous sex scandal in American history, running for the Senate in a place where she had never lived? Wow.

Some people — O.K., many people — were suspicious of the most famous woman in the world parachuting in to claim the best political job in the state. But Clinton wore everyone down by having the humility to be stupendously boring. She invented her “listening tour” self, marching through upstate New York, having intense conversations with dairy farmers or small-business people about Internet access and rural redevelopment until the cows literally came home.

It seemed to cast a spell on her opponents. Mayor Rudy Giuliani revealed he had prostate cancer, then told reporters he was leaving his wife without giving her a heads-up, and acknowledged he had a “good friend” who would later become his third spouse. Meanwhile, Clinton announced she had visited all 62 New York counties.

Giuliani dropped out of the race and was replaced by a Long Island congressman, Rick Lazio, a good-natured moderate. By the fall, Lazio had turned into a political disaster, stomping across the stage at the senatorial debate, thrusting a campaign finance pledge under Clinton’s face and bellowing “Sign it! Right now!”

Perhaps there’s something about Clinton that makes her opponents go crazy. It obviously didn’t happen with Barack Obama, but then exceptions make the rule.

Lately, Bernie Sanders seems to have been acting a little … off. There was the terrible interview with The Daily News. (“I don’t know … It’s something I have not studied … I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.”) Then there was the strange series of claims that Clinton is not qualified to be president, the most improbable description he could pick short of “lazy.”

That Senate race defined Clinton as a candidate — someone who balanced her stupendous fame and celebrity with down-home, low-key campaigning. The “Listening Tour” was so stuffed with worthy, headline-free discussions that members of her press corps developed twitches, drinking problems or a sudden yearning to be transferred to the culture desk. But voters loved it.

Then in 2008, after a terrible start, presidential candidate Clinton started listening again, with many variations on the Zanesville Economic Summit. She won the Ohio primary and came very close to beating Obama.

This time around, she launched off in a van that was unfortunately named “Scooby,” meeting at an Iowa auto mechanics classroom, then holding a small-business round table at a family-owned fruit company. The biggest drama came in Maumee, Ohio, when she visited a Chipotle and failed to leave money in the tip jar.

What can we learn from all this? First, that Clinton will come out of this year’s campaign better informed about the concerns of everyday Americans than she was when she went in. Her events may be sloggy and staged, but nearly every day she gets some little insight into the woes of preschool teachers, peach farmers with irrigation problems or parents of children with autism.

Second, she isn’t exactly causing hearts to flutter in the process.

Sanders, who doesn’t have to prove he’s down to earth, should be showing us his policy range and depth. Instead, he just keeps giving the same speech. But it’s a wowser, and it’s about change.

Clinton’s not great on full-throated oratory, and she’s about improvement.The very things that have turned her from a political celebrity into a serious presidential candidate are the ones that give her problems in a high-pitched, melodramatic race for the nation’s attention.

We’ll find out soon who her former constituents prefer. Whichever way it goes, you can blame it on Buffalo.

Kristof and Collins

April 7, 2016

In “So Little to Ask For: A Home” Mr. Kristof says President Obama’s plan to end family homelessness is a bargain.  Ms. Collins, in “The Bible Meets the Salamander,” says Tennessee has an idea for a new entry on its list of State Things.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

One of the people I greatly admire is Khadijah Williams, a young woman who was homeless for much of her childhood.

Khadijah bounced from home to home, shelter to shelter, from the time she was 6. “I can’t count how many times I’ve been forced to move,” she recalls.

“Though school was my salvation, my test scores suffered as a result of missing so much school and having no place to study,” she adds. “I stopped trying to make friends because I was so tired of crying about losing friends.”

Ultimately, Khadijah found a home — because she won a scholarship to Harvard, enabling her to move into a dormitory. Now 25, she’s working for the city government in Washington, D.C., and one of her tasks is helping homeless kids.

But Khadijah’s trajectory is exceptional. The United States has 64,000 families who are homeless, including 123,000 children, and many will be permanently harmed by the experience. We have growing evidence that traumas like homelessness can flood a child’s brain with a stress hormone, cortisol, and impair brain development.

In a year in which there finally is serious talk about inequality, the ultimate poverty is lack of shelter. And the good news is that in the last decade or so, we’ve figured out what works to address it; the problem is not inevitable. The Housing First approach, which gets people quickly into permanent housing and then offers support services to keep them there, seems particularly cost-effective.

Family homelessness is down almost one-fifth since 2010, and veteran homelessness is down much more — two states say they have functionally ended homelessness of veterans.

Another reason for optimism: With almost no fanfare, President Obama’s budget proposal includes $11 billion over 10 years, which he says would end family and youth homelessness. This is a step to end a level of homelessness that just isn’t tolerated in other developed countries.

So if we can have a robust national debate about the way Donald Trump’s campaign manager grabbed a reporter’s arm, let’s also muster a debate about whether candidates will help end family homelessness in America. This goes to the heart of American poverty — and values.

You think addressing family homelessness sounds worthy but unaffordable? To put this Obama budget request in perspective, the average annual sum is only about 1 percent of what we were spending in Afghanistan at the peak.

I’ve been thinking about housing after reading a superb new book, “Evicted,” by Matthew Desmond, a sociologist at Harvard. Desmond lived as a researcher in impoverished sections of Milwaukee and tells of his neighbors there struggling to find places to live.

“Every year in this country, people are evicted from their homes not by the tens of thousands or even the hundreds of thousands but by the millions,” Desmond notes. About one-fourth of all moves by Milwaukee’s poorest renters were involuntary, and such moves disrupt children’s education, make it harder to hold onto jobs and damage the fabric of entire neighborhoods.

“Without stable shelter, everything else falls apart,” Desmond says.

The system is also dysfunctional. A renter who calls 911 too many times will be evicted, which puts battered women in an impossible situation: They can summon help when they are beaten or strangled, but that may land them out on the street.

Liberals who write about poverty sometimes ignore self-destructive behaviors, while conservatives sometimes see nothing else. To his credit, Desmond acknowledges that people on the edge periodically abuse drugs or squander money — he writes about one woman who devoted her entire monthly allocation of food stamps to a grand lobster dinner. But he also emphasizes that it’s not so much irresponsibility that causes poverty as the other way around.

And Desmond notes the generosity among the neediest: The woman who bought the lobster used her food stamps in a different month to buy food for a neighbor who was even more desperate.

The United States does allocate immense resources to housing. But they go mostly to benefits for homeowners, like the mortgage interest tax deduction. These benefits aren’t particularly effective: Homeownership rates are lower in the U.S. than in Canada, which doesn’t have the deduction.

In comparison to the mortgage deduction, Obama’s request to end family and youth homelessness would cost a pittance.

“Compared to the cost of so many things out there, and to the cost of inaction, this is a great deal,” Julián Castro, the secretary of housing and urban development, told me.

My friend Khadijah managed to overcome her lack of shelter as a child, but most of the 123,000 kids who are homeless won’t be so lucky.

“Housing was once the forefront of the progressive agenda,” Desmond told me, but then it fell off. Today the problem isn’t a lack of solutions, but a lack of political will and a failure to fund programs that work. So let’s ask the candidates: Will you back the president’s budget request and try to end family homelessness?

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Amid all the truly awful things state legislatures do, one of the rare bright spots has been the naming of official symbols. Who was ever made unhappy by the designation of a state rock?

Tennessee, alas, is screwing up the record. The governor is currently trying to decide whether to sign a piece of legislation that would put the Bible on the list of State Things, alongside the salamander (amphibian), milk (beverage), honeybee (agricultural insect), raccoon (wild animal), several variations on the theme of state tree and flower, and nine — nine! — official state songs. The last of which, adopted in 2011, was “Tennessee.”

The next question you’re probably asking is why it took nine tries for Tennessee to get a song named “Tennessee,” and the answer is that it actually has two. You have to admit that’s pretty inclusive. On the other hand, picking the Christian holy book as a state symbol seems simultaneously divisive and unnecessary. Not to mention sort of disrespectful to the Bible, which doesn’t usually get included on the same list as the salamander and the smallmouth bass.

“It’s been a hard year for diversity and inclusion in Tennessee,” said Senator Lee Harris, a Memphis Democrat, in a phone interview. Harris is the Senate minority leader, which means he heads a hearty band of five out of 33 members, an all-time low for his party. Besides the Bible bill, the Legislature recently passed a new Confederate heritage measure, and on Wednesday the House approved a bill aimed at allowing counselors and therapists to deny services to gay or transgender patients. Meanwhile, one member left a DVD in her colleagues’ mailboxes titled “America’s Mosques Exposed! Video Evidence They Are War Factories.”

Feel free to blame this all on Donald Trump.

In the great scheme of things, making the Bible the state book may be the least of Tennessee’s problems. But it’s sad to see the state messing with a time-honored, cheerful tradition. For generations, middle-school civics classes have studied how a bill becomes a law by petitioning their legislature to honor the otter as state animal, or the blueberry muffin as the official … state muffin. (Here’s looking a you, Minnesota.)

Then, jovial hearings take place. Serious-minded colleagues complain that the House and Senate are wasting valuable time. This is true only if you labor under the assumption that the lawmakers would otherwise be busy reforming the contract procurement process.

Years ago, when I was covering the Connecticut state legislature, a fight between the deer and the whale forces went on for so long that the Senate went into a brief rebellion and voted to name the human being as the official state mammal. It was at that moment that I decided I wanted to spend my life covering politics.

The point of the symbol-naming has always been amity and good citizenship. But recently, the cultural wars have intruded. In 2011 Utah became the first state to pick an official state gun, an automatic pistol called the Browning M1911. (“This firearm is Utah,” said the sponsor.) Hot on its heels came Arizona and the Colt revolver, a gun that won the West or — as a few legislators noted — drove out the Native Americans.

The momentum kept gathering. Erin McCoy, the executive director of State Symbols USA, a website dedicated to — well, you know — says she misses the days when the only weapon-related designations involved retired battleships and war memorials. Now firearms may be the fastest-growing category. “I don’t enjoy doing pages for them,” she admitted.

There are now seven states with official guns, although to be fair, some are so extremely old and inefficient they really might count as historic artifacts. The exceptions include — yes! — Tennessee, which recently honored a .50-caliber rifle, the Barrett M82/M107. Critics pointed out that the designee has the power to knock down a commercial aircraft, although the debate in the State Senate seemed to suggest that might be a good thing. One supporter noted proudly that witnesses had “seen this thing go a mile and a half through a cinder block to take out its target.”

The lone senator to speak against the bill, Jeff Yarbro of Nashville, complimented the weapon maker, a local boy, on his ingenuity. But, he added, when “our elementary school kids are going through looking at the mockingbird, the raccoon, the purple iris, I’m not sure that the Barrett sniper rifle is a necessary addition.“

This is not what symbols were made for. Skip the guns and save the state dance. Books seem to be dicey territory, although we can all rally around Massachusetts’ choice of “Make Way for Ducklings.”

The next time your state legislators try to stick religious preference into the designations, tell them everybody would be much happier with another rock, legume or fossil. Or they could follow Utah in one of its happier days, and pick an official state cooking pot. Nobody was ever made unhappy by a nod to the Dutch oven.

Collins, solo

April 2, 2016

I’m sparing us all MoDo.  In “Trump, Truth and Abortion” Ms. Collins tells us that you can learn things from a candidate who has no idea what he’s talking about.  Here she is:

Maybe Donald Trump did everyone a favor with his famous jail-the-women comment. When he blurted out that “there has to be some form of punishment” for anyone who has an abortion, he blew the cover off the carefully constructed public face of the anti-choice movement.

Let’s take a look.

There’s no reason to imagine Trump ever gave a millisecond of thought to the details of abortion policy until he got trapped in that merciless interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC. There are certain right-wing tropes that he just grabbed onto when he started his presidential run. One is that whenever the topic comes up, he’s supposed to announce he’s “pro-life.”

“I know,” Matthews followed up, adding, “But what should be the law?”

Trump babbled about totally unrelated topics, but Matthews, cruel man, pressed onward: “If you say abortion is a crime or abortion is murder, you have to deal with it under law. Should abortion be punished?”

“Well, people in certain parts of the Republican Party and conservative Republicans would say yes, they should be punished,” the candidate replied.

Wow. Trump both passed the buck and smashed the anti-abortion movement’s most basic sales pitch: that their war is about protecting fully developed fetuses from being murdered in the womb. The fact that more than 90 percent of abortions happen in the first trimester, that shutting down Planned Parenthood clinics robs low-income women of health care and family planning services, is beside the point. You’re not supposed to admit that stopping abortions limits women’s choice, and heaven knows you don’t say you’re punishing them.

“You never blame the woman, you paint her as a victim.” said Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor and Trump supporter who was one of the very, very few anti-abortion public figures who didn’t cringe and demand that Trump walk back his comments. “That conservative orthodoxy has been born out of political expediency rather than logic.”

The rest of the religious right howled in denial. A woman who chooses to have an abortion is, apparently, not taking responsibility for herself. She’s … misled, poor thing.

“On the important issue of the sanctity of life, what’s far too often neglected is that being pro-life is not simply about the unborn child; it’s also about the mother — and creating a culture that respects her and embraces life,” said Ted Cruz. “Of course we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world.”

Remember, people, that Ted Cruz does not believe that a 12-year-old rape victim should be allowed to have an abortion. But that’s all part of affirming women’s dignity.

In reality, the anti-abortion movement is grounded on the idea that sex outside of marriage is a sin, and the only choice a woman should have is between abstinence and the possibility of imminent parenthood. It may be politically unwise to say that the sinner ought to pay, but she should at minimum have to carry an unwanted child to term.

Look at it this way and it’s easy to understand why abortion opponents have shown virtually no interest in working to make contraceptives and family planning universally available. It’s the sex, at bottom, that they oppose, and the politicians they support feel no pressure — or even any freedom — to try to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies through anything but high school abstinence lectures. Contraception may not be illegal, but it’s certainly not something you want to treat with respect.

(In honor of that last thought we will revisit the response Ted Cruz made to a question about family planning during the campaign: “Last I checked, we don’t have a rubber shortage in America. Look, when I was in college, we had a machine in the bathroom; you put 50 cents in and voilà. So, yes, anyone who wants contraceptives can access them, but it’s an utterly made-up nonsense issue.”)

Since Donald Trump has no real positions on almost anything except deals, you’d think he could have put his remarkable intellectual neutrality to some advantage on this issue. It would have been great if he’d told Matthews that he wanted to fight abortion by giving women easy, low-cost access to contraceptives.

Instead, of course, he babbled and evaded, at one point demanding to know if Matthews was a Catholic. It was a little like the moment at the Washington Post editorial board interview when he was being pressed on whether he’d use tactical nuclear weapons against ISIS and responded: “I’ll tell you one thing. This is a very good looking group of people here. Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?”

There was, however, one moment of shining clarity. It came when he was asked whether the man who created an unwanted pregnancy should be punished, too.

“I would say no,” Trump quickly decreed.

I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again — if men had the babies abortion would be a sacrament.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167 other followers