Archive for the ‘Kristof’ Category

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.

Blow and Kristof

April 21, 2016

Mr. Blow asks “What Is Sanders’s Endgame?”  He says what he has accomplished is miraculous. But having a meaningful impact does not necessarily create a sustainable movement, let alone a revolution.  Mr. Kristof, in “Obama in Saudi Arabia, Exporter of Oil and Bigotry,” says the Islamophobia festering in the U.S. is fed by extremism fostered by the Saudis.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Hillary Clinton’s commanding victory in New York on Tuesday put yet another nail in the coffin of Bernie Sanders’s candidacy.

As The Upshot’s Nate Cohn put it:

“New York, like every contest at this stage, was a state he needed to win. The result confirms that he is on track to lose the pledged delegate race and therefore the nomination.”

At this pace, Clinton will finish this nomination cycle having won more votes, more states and more pledged delegates than Sanders. Furthermore, Clinton has also won six of the nine general election swing states that The New York Times listed in 2012.

And yet Sanders soldiers on, as is his right.

But Tuesday, Sanders’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told MSNBC that if Clinton doesn’t clinch the nomination by pledged delegates alone, even if she has won the most popular votes, pledged delegates and states, Sanders will still take his fight to the convention. Sanders will “absolutely” try to turn superdelegates, who overwhelmingly support Clinton, and win the nomination that way.

First, barring something unforeseen and unimaginable, there is no way I can see that this strategy stands a gnat’s chance in hell of coming to fruition. It’s a fairy tale written in pixie dust.

But still, stop and consider what this means: The purist-of-principle, anti-establishment Sanders campaign would ask the superdelegates — the Democratic Party establishment — to overturn the will of the majority of participants in the Democrats’ nominating process.

The whole idea is outrageous coming from anyone, but coming from Sanders it seems to undermine the very virtues that make him attractive.

Power — even the proximity to it and the potential to wield it — is truly an intoxicant that blurs the vision and the lines.

Let’s back up and say this: What Sanders has accomplished is nothing short of miraculous. He has gone from a little-known senator from a little state to being a formidable opponent to Hillary Clinton, a person who Gallup called in 2014 “the best known and best liked of 16 potential 2016 presidential candidates.”

And he has done it largely by hewing to a well-worn set of principles and values that he has followed his whole life. This has buttressed his aura of authenticity, particularly among young people jaded by institutions and establishments.

But miraculous feats do not necessarily make messianic figures, and having a meaningful impact does not necessarily create a sustainable movement, let alone a revolution.

That said, Sanders has tapped into a very real populist sentiment on the left, particularly among young people, that shouldn’t be denied. And he has made space for a similar candidate in the future to be more seriously considered from the outset.

He has also shined a light on how differently young people view our democracy, compared with previous generations.

Protests, rallies, marches and, yes, even caucuses, can feel more like direct democracy, where there is no remove between the people and their power. These expressions also offer a crowd-fueled adrenaline rush. This can be particularly attractive to people who have grown up in a social media world of viral videos, where collective outrage or adoration can yield nearly instant results.

Traditional voting is just the opposite. When you vote, you are alone with your ballot, even if your polling place is packed. The vote is private, not a public display of behavior to be instantly liked, disliked or commented on. Voting makes you part of the system, the representative democracy system, on which this country was founded and still operates.

This is not to say that young people don’t vote. They do. But the energy you see at Sanders’s impressive rallies, like those he held in New York, doesn’t always translate into electoral success. There seems to be a bit of a falloff.

While Sanders was campaigning in New York as a movement candidate, Clinton was campaigning as a micro-targeted candidate, appealing individually to each important demographic and burning something into supporters’ memories that they would recall when they were alone with their ballots.

That’s how elections are won. That’s how lasting change is made. It’s not by careening from one movement to the next, spawning of-the-moment hashtags for your activism.

Still, many of these young people have put their trust and faith in Sanders, who may well be a once-in-a-generation candidate, and he and they are loath to wake from the dream of his possible election. But, sadly, every day it feels more and more like a dream, and they will inevitably have to wake up.

Sanders has to figure out how he lands this doomed plane — does he set it down easy so that everyone walks away relatively unscathed, or does he go out in a blaze of glory?

Whatever he chooses to do will say quite a bit about his allegiance to his adopted Democratic Party and about his character. At the end of the day, is his ethos greater than his ego?

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

A college senior boarded a flight and excitedly called his family to recount a United Nations event he had attended, but, unfortunately, he was speaking Arabic. Southwest Airlines kicked him off the plane, in the sixth case reported in the United States this year in which a Muslim was ejected from a flight.

Such Islamophobia also finds expression in the political system, with Donald Trump calling for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country (“Welcome to the U.S.A.! Now, what’s your religion?”) and Ted Cruz suggesting special patrols of Muslim neighborhoods (in New York City, by the nearly 1,000 police officers who are Muslim?). Some 50 percent of Americans support a ban and special patrols.

Such attitudes contradict our values and make us look like a bastion of intolerance. But for those of us who denounce these prejudices, it’s also important to acknowledge that there truly are dangerous strains of intolerance and extremism within the Islamic world — and for many of these, Saudi Arabia is the source.

I’m glad that President Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia, for engagement usually works better than isolation. But let’s not let diplomatic niceties keep us from pointing to the insidious role that Saudi Arabia plays in sowing instability, and, for that matter, in tarnishing the image of Islam worldwide. The truth is that Saudi leaders do far more to damage Islam than Trump or Cruz can do, and we should be as ready to denounce their bigotry as Trump’s.

Americans are abuzz about the “missing 28 pages” — unsupported leads suggesting that Saudi officials might have had a hand in the 9/11 attacks. But as far as I can tell, these tips, addressed in a still-secret section of a congressional report, were investigated and discredited; Philip Zelikow of the 9/11 Commission tells me the 28 pages are “misleading”; the commission found there was “no evidence” of the Saudi government or senior officials financing the plot.

The much better reason to be concerned with Saudi Arabia is that it has promoted extremism, hatred, misogyny and the Sunni/Shiite divide that is now playing out in a Middle East civil war. Saudi Arabia should be renamed the Kingdom of Backwardness.

It’s not just that Saudi women are barred from driving, or that when in cars they are discouraged from wearing seatbelts for fear of showing their contours, or that a 19-year-old woman who was gang-raped was sentenced to 200 lashes (after protests, the king pardoned her). It’s not just that public churches are banned, or that there is brutal repression of the Shiite minority.

As the land where Islam began, Saudi Arabia has enormous influence among Muslims worldwide. Its approach to Islam has special legitimacy, its clerics have great reach, its media spread its views worldwide and it finances madrasas in poor countries to sow hatred.

From Pakistan to Mali, these Saudi-financed madrasas have popped up and cultivate religious extremism — and, sometimes, terrorists. A State Department cable released through WikiLeaks reported that in Pakistan these extremist madrasas offered impoverished families a $6,500 bounty for turning over a son to be indoctrinated.

To be blunt, Saudi Arabia legitimizes Islamic extremism and intolerance around the world. If you want to stop bombings in Brussels or San Bernardino, then turn off the spigots of incitement from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

“Saudi Arabia is not an enemy of the U.S., but it is an enemy of itself,” a Kuwaiti once told me.

A new survey finds that young Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa want to modernize, with 52 percent saying that religion plays too big a role in the Middle East. That’s true of many, many Saudis as well, and some have tried to start a desperately needed conversation about tolerance. One of them, Raif Badawi, a blogger, was arrested and sentenced to 1,000 lashes.

In the past I sometimes defended Saudi Arabia on the basis that it was at least moving in the right direction. But in the last few years it has been backtracking while also starting a brutal war in Yemen. Obama’s biggest mistake with Saudi Arabia was providing arms for that war, implicating America in what Human Rights Watch says may be war crimes.

In short, as a Saudi father named Mohammed al-Nimr says, “Saudi Arabia is now going in the wrong direction.” He should know: His brother, a prominent Shiite religious figure, was executed in January, and his son, Ali al-Nimr, has been sentenced to death for participating in protests when he was a minor.

“Americans should care, because what happens here can affect the world,” the father told me, and he cautioned that Saudi repression destabilizes the entire Middle East. He’s right.

Bill O’Reilly has denounced me as a “chief apologist” for Islam, and I’ll continue to decry what I see as Islamophobia in the West. But at the same time, let’s acknowledge that Saudi Arabia is more than our gas station; it is also a wellspring of poison in the Islamic world, and its bigotry fuels our bigotry.

Blow, Cohen, and Kristof

April 14, 2016

In “Campaigns of Ultimate Disappointment” Mr. Blow says this country wasn’t designed to facilitate change. It took centuries to arrive at its current condition and will need time to shift away from it.  Mr. Cohen is wringing his hands and weeping over “The Death of Liberalism.”  He moans that authoritarianism is ascendant and with it anti-rational bigotry. History does not end. It eddies, he says.  Mr. Kristof reminds us of the glaringly obvious in “The Real Welfare Cheats.”  He says the tax code is rigged to give America’s biggest corporations a free ride.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I’m already completely exhausted by this presidential campaign season. The candidates seem to share that fatigue. Nerves are fraying as story lines grow stale.

There is the demagogic, megalomaniac Republican front-runner who simply appears to be winging it, just as surprised as the rest of us that he has duped enough people to position himself to have a strong chance of securing the nomination.

There is Ted Cruz, a power-hungry extremist who never learned how to play well with others, who wears other folks’ hatred of him as a badge (or many badges), and whose policies in many cases are even more strident and worrisome than those of the front-runner.

There is John Kasich, the mealy-mouthed “other option” who won only one state — his own — and whose primary pitch is that he is not the front-runner or Cruz and therefore stands the greatest chance of beating the eventual Democratic nominee.

Speaking of Democratic nominees: You have Hillary Clinton, whose greatest strength is pragmatic reality — a message that doesn’t exactly sizzle — and whose saving grace is strong support from minorities, without which her candidacy would have long ago tanked. And yet she is surrounded by people, like her husband, who seem to be working assiduously to damage that minority support. Just last week, Bill Clinton launched into an awkward, rambling defense of the 1994 crime bill and his wife’s use of the term “superpredator.” This week her supporter Bill de Blasio, New York City’s mayor, made a cringe-worthy joke (with which she happily played along!) about running on “C.P. time,” which I have always understood to be “colored-people’s time,” a corrosive stereotype of the perpetual lateness of black people.

And then there’s Bernie Sanders, the pied piper of pipe dreams, who articulates a noble set of principles but outlines unworkable and, in some cases, outlandish policies that will never see the light of day with the next Congress, which is not likely to be dissimilar from the existing Congress. The New York Daily News was brutal in its endorsement of Clinton this week: the paper’s editorial board referred to Sanders as “a fantasist who’s at passionate war with reality” who has “proved utterly unprepared for the Oval Office while confirming that the central thrusts of his campaign are politically impossible.” Ouch.

And the truth is that very little about this race has changed in the last month, though some might argue that Cruz has a gust of wind in his sails and Sanders’s string of recent victories is impressive. But what largely gives the appearance of change is that contests have been held in states that favor a particular candidate over others. This gives the impression of momentum, when in fact it is simply a function of the map.

The basic foundation of support remains relatively unchanged, and if those dynamics persist until all the contests have been completed, simple math tell us that the front-runners now will be the front-runners then.

We are just watching cars crash in slow motion.

That’s boring. There is a tremendous political media infrastructure whose job it is to make this sound like it’s still interesting, fascinating even, but it’s just not. It’s boring.

It won’t truly be interesting again, at least not for me, until we reach the potential chaos of the conventions, and after that, move into the general election, where the contrasts in visions for the future of this country will likely be as stark as they’ve ever been.

But that said, this whole political season seems to me rife with profound disappointment. Too many people are making too many big promises that they know full well they can’t deliver, but the individual voters believe that they can and the media establishment is doing far too little to disabuse voters of those notions.

Last month the president spoke at the Toner journalism prize ceremony, saying:

A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone. It is to probe and to question, and to dig deeper, and to demand more. The electorate would be better served if that happened. It would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they can’t keep.[Applause.] And there are reporters here who know they can’t keep them. I know that’s a shocking concept that politicians would do that. But without a press that asks tough questions, voters take them at their word. When people put their faith in someone who can’t possibly deliver on his or her promises, that only breeds more cynicism.

I fear that the cynicism the president describes is inevitable because this country, in its founding documents, wasn’t designed to easily facilitate change, let alone revolutionary change.

It took centuries for this country to arrive at its current condition and will take time to shift away from it.

That isn’t what people want to hear in an anti-establishment, revolutionary change cycle, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

I fear that we are going to move from the race’s current banality to an eventual, and most assured, sense of betrayal in which armies of voters see promises of radical change come crashing to earth. That to me is unfortunate and even frightening.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Liberalism is dead. Or at least it is on the ropes. Triumphant a quarter-century ago, when liberal democracy appeared to have prevailed definitively over the totalitarian utopias that exacted such a toll in blood, it is now under siege from without and within.

Nationalism and authoritarianism, reinforced by technology, have come together to exercise new forms of control and manipulation over human beings whose susceptibility to greed, prejudice, ignorance, domination, subservience and fear was not, after all, swept away by the fall of the Berlin Wall.

As Communism fell, and closed societies were forced open, and an age of rapid globalization dawned, and the United States earned the moniker of “hyperpower,” it seemed reasonable to believe, as Francis Fukuyama argued in 1989, that, “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.” Therefore, per Fukuyama, the end point of history had been reached with “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

This was a rational argument. It made sense. Hundreds of millions of people enslaved within the Soviet imperium had just been freed. They knew — everyone knew — which system worked better. The problem is that the hold of reason in human affairs is always tenuous.

Looking back at human history, the liberal democratic experiment – with its Enlightenment-derived belief in the capacity of individuals possessed of certain inalienable rights to shape their destinies in liberty through the exercise of their will — is but a brief interlude. Far more lasting have been the eras of infallible sovereignty, absolute power derived from God, domination and serfdom, and subjection to what Isaiah Berlin called “the forces of anti-rational mystical bigotry.”

Such anti-rational forces are everywhere these days — in Donald Trump’s America, in Marine Le Pen’s France, in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, throughout much of the Middle East, in North Korea. Representative government under the rule of law has proved to be insipid fare for an age that traffics in heady images of power and violence through solipsistic social media and online games.

Berlin, well before Fukuyama, identified a potential weakness of liberalism. In “The Crooked Timber of Humanity,” he wrote: “A liberal sermon which recommends machinery designed to prevent people from doing each other too much harm, giving each human group sufficient room to realize its own idiosyncratic, unique, particular ends without too much interference with the ends of others, is not a passionate battle-cry to inspire men to sacrifice and martyrdom and heroic feats.”

No, but as the framers of the U.S. Constitution knew, machinery of such liberal inspiration is the best hope to afford citizens a lasting defense against tyranny.

Liberty, however, requires certain things. Liberalism demands acceptance of our human differences and the ability to mediate them through democratic institutions. It demands acceptance of multiple, perhaps incompatible truths. In an age of declamation and shouting, of polarization and vilification, of politics-for-sale and the insidious submersion of politics in fact-lite entertainment, the emergence of Trump is as unsurprising as it is menacing.

No wonder Putin admires him. Russian authoritarianism is all about the muscular trappings of power and popular adulation cultivated through fawning media for a Czar-like figure. Berlin noted there was “some truth” to the conservative writer Joseph de Maistre’s view that “the desire to immolate oneself, to suffer, to prostrate oneself before authority, indeed before superior power, no matter whence it comes, and the desire to dominate, to exert authority, to pursue power for its own sake” are forces that are “historically at least as strong as desire for peace, prosperity, liberty, justice, happiness, equality.”

And so history does not end. It eddies back and forth.

The broad failure of the Arab Awakening — the greatest liberation movement since 1989, an attempt by Arab peoples to empower themselves — had many causes, but a central one was the absence of any liberal constituency in societies from Egypt to Libya. Even a country with a large middle class like Egypt was not ready to accept the mediation of multiple truths through democratic institutions. So power went back to the generals, and the Islamists — even the moderates among them — were condemned to prison or worse.

In Russia, and now in countries from Hungary to Poland, and in China, forms of authoritarianism are ascendant and liberalism (or even modest liberalization) are in retreat. In the Middle East, the Islamic State casts its long, digitized shadow. In Western societies beset by growing inequality (neo-liberal economics has also sapped the credentials of liberalism), political discourse, debate on college campuses and ranting on social media all reflect a new impatience with multiple truths, a new intolerance and unwillingness to make the compromises that permit liberal democracy to work.

The threat for liberal Western societies is within and without. Liberalism may be feeble as a battle cry, but nothing is more important for human dignity and decency.

Geez, Roger… Take a pill, or get a stiff drink…  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

We often hear how damaging welfare dependency is, stifling initiative and corroding the human soul. So I worry about the way we coddle executives in their suites.

A study to be released Thursday says that for each dollar America’s 50 biggest companies paid in federal taxes between 2008 and 2014, they received $27 back in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.

Goodness! What will that do to their character? Won’t that sap their initiative?

The study was compiled by Oxfam and it comes on top of a mountain of evidence from international agencies and economic journals underscoring the degree to which major companies have rigged the tax code.

O.K., O.K., I know you see the words “tax code” and your eyes desperately scan for something else to read! Anything about a sex scandal?

But hold on: The tax system is rigged against us precisely because taxation is the Least Sexy Topic on Earth. So we doze, and our pockets get picked.

John Oliver has a point when he says, “If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.” The beneficiaries of tax distortions are counting on you to fall asleep, but this is a topic as important as it is dry.

It’s because the issues seem arcane that corporate lobbyists get away with murder. The Oxfam report says that each $1 the biggest companies spent on lobbying was associated with $130 in tax breaks and more than $4,000 in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.

And why would a humanitarian nonprofit like Oxfam spend its time poring over offshore accounts and tax dodges? “The global economic system is becoming increasingly rigged” in ways that exacerbate inequality, laments Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.

One academic study found that tax dodging by major corporations costs the U.S. Treasury up to $111 billion a year. By my math, less than one-fifth of that annually would be more than enough to pay the additional costs of full-day prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds in America ($15 billion), prevent lead poisoning in tens of thousands of children ($2 billion), provide books and parent coaching for at-risk kids across the country ($1 billion) and end family homelessness ($2 billion).

The Panama Papers should be a wake-up call, shining a light on dysfunctional tax codes around the world — but much of the problem has been staring us in the face. Among the 500 corporations in the S.&P. 500-stock index, 27 were both profitable in 2015 and paid no net income taxglobally, according to an analysis by USA Today.

Those poor companies! Think how the character of those C.E.O.s must be corroding! And imagine the plunging morale as board members realize that they are “takers” not “makers.”

American companies game the system in many ways, including shifting profits to overseas tax havens. In 2012, American companies reported more profit in low-tax Bermuda than in Japan, China, Germany and France combined, even though their employees in Bermuda account for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of their worldwide totals.

Over all, the share of corporate taxation in federal revenue has declined since 1952 from 32 percent to 11 percent. In that same period, the portion coming from payroll taxes, which hit the working poor, has climbed.

Look, the period of the Oxfam study included the auto and banking bailouts, which were good for America (and the loans were repaid); it’s also true that the official 35 percent corporate tax rate in the U.S. is too high, encouraging dodging strategies. But we have created perverse incentives: C.E.O.s have a responsibility to shareholders to make money, and tax dodging accomplishes that. This isn’t individual crookedness but an entire political/economic system that induces companies to rip off fellow citizens quite legally.

It’s now widely recognized that corporations have manipulated the tax code. The U.S. Treasury, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, theEuropean Union and professional economic journals are all trying to respond to issues of tax evasion.

Bravo to the Obama administration for cracking down on corporations that try to move abroad to get out of taxes. Congress should now pass the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, and it should stop slashing the I.R.S. budget (by 17 percent in real terms over the last six years).

When congressional Republicans like Ted Cruz denounce the I.R.S., they empower corporate tax cheats. Because of I.R.S. cuts, the amount of time revenue agents spend auditing large companies has fallen by 34 percent since 2010. A Syracuse University analysis finds that the lost revenue from the decline in corporate audits may be as much as $15 billion a year — enough to make full-day pre-K universal.

Meanwhile, no need to fret so much about welfare abuse in the inner city. The big problem of welfare dependency in America now involves entitled corporations. So let’s help those moochers in business suits pick themselves up and stop sponging off the government.

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.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

March 31, 2016

Mr. Blow says that “‘Bernie or Bust’ Is Bonkers,” and that elections are not always between a dream candidate and a dreaded one. Sometimes they’re between common sense and catastrophe.  Mr. Kristof considers “Trump and Abortion” and comes to the conclusion that he’s poorly informed even on his own position.  In “The Republican Gun-Free Zone” Ms. Collins says if you want to be safe from being shot by a well-armed Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, go to the G.O.P.’s convention.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Bernie Sanders’s surrogate Susan Sarandon went on MSNBC’s “All in With Chris Hayes” earlier this week and said something that made folks’ jaws drop.

When Hayes asked Sarandon whether Sanders’s supporters would vote for Hillary Clinton if Clinton won the Democratic nomination, this exchange followed:

SARANDON: I think Bernie probably would encourage people because he doesn’t have any ego. I think a lot of people are, sorry, I can’t bring myself to do that.

HAYES: How about you personally?

SARANDON: I don’t know. I’m going to see what happens.

HAYES: Really?

SARANDON: Really.

HAYES: I cannot believe as you’re watching the, if Donald Trump…

SARANDON: Some people feel Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in then things will really, you know, explode.

HAYES: You’re saying the Leninist model of…

SARANDON: Some people feel that.

(I don’t generally use the Republican front-runner’s name in my columns, but I must present the quote as transcribed. Sorry.)

What was Sarandon talking about with her coy language? “Bring the revolution”? Exactly what kind of revolution? “Explode”? Was the purpose to present this as a difficult but ultimately positive development?

The comments smacked of petulance and privilege.

No member of an American minority group — whether ethnic, racial, queer-identified, immigrant, refugee or poor — would (or should) assume the luxury of uttering such a imbecilic phrase, filled with lust for doom.

But I don’t doubt that she has met “some people” with a Bernie-or-bust, scorched-earth electoral portentousness. As The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, “A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll indicates one third of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ supporters cannot see themselves voting for Hillary Clinton in November.”

Be absolutely clear: While there are meaningful differences between Clinton and Sanders, either would be a far better choice for president than any of the remaining Republican contenders, especially the demagogic real estate developer. Assisting or allowing his ascendance by electoral abstinence in order to force a “revolution” is heretical.

This position is dangerous, shortsighted and self-immolating.

If Sanders wins the nomination, liberals should rally round him. Conversely, if Clinton does, they should rally round her.

This is not a game. The presidency, particularly the next one, matters, and elections can be decided by relatively small margins. No president has won the popular vote by more than 10 percentage points since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

When Al Gore ran against George W. Bush in 2000, some claimed that a vote for Gore was almost the same as a vote for Bush and encouraged people to cast protest votes for Ralph Nader. Sarandon supported Nader during that election. Bush became president, and what did we get? Two incredibly young, incredibly conservative justices, John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., who will be on the court for decades, and two wars — in Afghanistan and Iraq — that, together, lasted over a decade.

In addition to setting the tone and direction of the country, the president has some constitutional duties that are profound and consequential. They include being commander in chief, making treaties and appointing judges, including, most importantly, justices to the Supreme Court. Bush demonstrated the consequences of that.

The real estate developer is now talking carelessly about promoting nuclear proliferation and torture (then there’s Ted Cruz’s talk of carpet bombing and glowing sand).

And, there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Not only that, but as of Tuesday, there were also 84 federal judiciary vacancies with 49 pending nominees.

The question of who makes those appointments matters immensely.

As Jeffrey Toobin pointed out in The New Yorker in 2014:

“When Obama took office, Republican appointees controlled ten of the thirteen circuit courts of appeals; Democratic appointees now constitute a majority in nine circuits. Because federal judges have life tenure, nearly all of Obama’s judges will continue serving well after he leaves office.

Furthermore, Toobin laid out the diversity of the Obama transformation, writing:

“Sheldon Goldman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a scholar of judicial appointments, said, ‘The majority of Obama’s appointments are women and nonwhite males.’ Forty-two percent of his judgeships have gone to women. Twenty-two percent of George W. Bush’s judges and 29 percent of Bill Clinton’s were women. Thirty-six percent of President Obama’s judges have been minorities, compared with 18 percent for Bush and 24 percent for Clinton.”

And beyond war and courts, there is the issue of inclusion.

Take Obama’s legacy on gay rights. He signed the bill repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And in 2012, Obama became the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage. Last year, Obama became the first president to say “lesbian,” “transgender” and “bisexual” in a State of the Union speech.

Of more substance, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute:

“To date, the Obama-Biden Administration has appointed more than 250 openly LGBT professionals to full-time and advisory positions in the executive branch; more than all known LGBT appointments of other presidential administrations combined.”

There is no reason to believe that this level of acceptance would continue under the real estate developer’s administration. In fact, the Huffington Post Queer Voices editor at large Michelangelo Signorile wrote an article in February titled, “No, LGBT People Aren’t Exempt from Donald Trump’s Blatant Bigotry,” responding to a trending idea that the Republican front-runner wasn’t as bad for queer people as other Republican candidates:

“It’s absolutely false — he’s as extreme as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and will do nothing for LGBT rights — and it’s time to disabuse the media and everyone else of this notion once and for all.”

Then there are all the other promises — threats? — the real estate developer has made. He has said he would deport all undocumented immigrants, build a border wall between the United States and Mexico, end birthright citizenship, dismantle Obamacare and replace it with something “terrific” (whatever that means), defund Planned Parenthood and temporarily ban most foreign Muslims from coming to this country, among other things.

There is no true equivalency between either of the Democratic candidates and this man, and anyone who make such a claim is engaging in a repugnant, dishonorable scare tactic not worth our respect.

It is unfortunate for Sanders, who seems infinitely sober and sensible, that some of his surrogates and supporters present themselves as absolutist and doctrinaire. As Sanders himself has said, “on her worst day, Hillary Clinton will be an infinitely better candidate and president than the Republican candidate on his best day.”

The New York Times Upshot even pointed out last May that Sanders and Clinton “voted the same way 93 percent of the time in the two years they shared in the Senate” and in many of the cases in which Clinton voted differently from Sanders, “she voted with an overwhelming majority of her colleagues, including Republicans.”

That doesn’t mean that those differing votes weren’t significant. They were. As the Upshot put it, the 31 times they disagreed “happened to be” on some of “the biggest issues of the day, including measures on continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an immigration reform bill and bank bailouts during the depths of the Great Recession.”

And yet those differences hardly bring either candidate anywhere close to being as frightening as the specter of the real estate developer assuming the office of president of the United States.

Elections are about choices, not always between a dream candidate and a dreaded one, but sometimes between common sense and catastrophe. Progressives had better remember this come November, no matter who the Democratic nominee is.

Amen.  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Just when you thought Donald Trump couldn’t say anything more shocking, he suggested that women who get abortions should be punished.

On MSNBC, he said abortion must be banned and then “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who manage to get abortions.

He declined to say what the punishment should be, dodging a question about whether it should be “10 years” in prison or something milder. But his comment raised the possibility of following the lead of countries like El Salvador, where women can be dragged off from a hospital to prison for getting an abortion. Indeed, rights groups say that women were wrongly imprisoned in El Salvador simply for having miscarriages.

Trump doesn’t seem to have thought deeply about the issue — what a surprise! — and he departed from the mainstream anti-abortion position of targeting not women but abortion providers. As one person said on Twitter: “He’s a walking cartoon parody of every leftist accusation against Republicans.”

After the TV interview was over and the backlash had begun, Trump tried to back off his comment, saying in a statement, “The doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.”

Who knows where that leaves us!

One lesson is that Trump is an uninformed opportunist, but the episode does highlight two basic problems for the anti-abortion movement.

First, as long as the focus is on the fetus or on the claim of “protecting women,” many in the public are sympathetic to the anti-abortion view. The moment the focus shifts to criminalizing women, sympathy shifts.

Anti-abortion activists have generally taken a savvy approach over the years by concentrating on extreme situations — such as late-term so-called partial-birth abortions — and on legislating obstacles that in practice reduce access: Of the 1,074 state restrictions on abortion put in place after Roe v. Wade in 1973, more than one-quarter were enacted since 2010, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Many Americans are ambivalent on abortion. But Trump has now turned the attention back from the fetus to the woman. And remember that three in 10 American women get an abortion at some point in their lives.

Second, the data suggests that one of the most effective ways to reduce the number of abortions would be to increase the availability of publicly funded family planning. In 2013, publicly funded family planning prevented two million unintended pregnancies, including almost 700,000 abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Yet Republicans try to defund Title X, the traditional family planning program in the United States. After inflation, its funding level is less than one-third what it was in 1980.

In truth, Trump’s stance — whatever it is — would matter only if a more conservative Supreme Court revisited Roe v. Wade and some states were allowed to ban abortion altogether.

Moreover, medical abortion, achieved by taking two kinds of pills, is gaining ground on surgical abortion and is much more difficult to stop. In particular, one of the pills, misoprostol, is very cheap, has other uses and is at least 80 percent effective on its own in inducing an abortion early in pregnancy. The upshot is that early abortions will be increasingly difficult to prevent.

Trump’s comments about punishing women are worth pondering because they reflect the logical conclusion of equating a fetus with any other human being.

This penalizing approach has been tried before and failed. A dozen years ago, I went to Portugal to cover such an effort. The police staked out women’s health clinics, looking to arrest women who appeared likely to have just had abortions based on being pale or seeming upset. Some 48 women and a 16-year-old girl were prosecuted, along with accomplices such as husbands, boyfriends, parents and even a taxi driver who drove a woman to a clinic.

The women were humiliated on trial, their most intimate gynecological history revealed to the public. And the public was revolted. The women were all acquitted, and the public turned decisively in favor of abortion rights, by a majority of 79 percent to 14 percent.

“Forbidding abortion doesn’t save anyone or anything,” Sonia Fertuzinhos, a member of the Portuguese Parliament, told me at the time. “It just gets women arrested and humiliated in the public arena.”

The episode left many Portuguese both anti-abortion and pro-choice. They were distressed by abortion, especially late in pregnancies, but they were aghast at the idea of prosecuting young women for making wrenching personal choices. I think many Americans feel the same way.

So maybe Trump, in his flip-flopping wavering about women’s issues, can at least remind us of a larger truth. Whatever one thinks of abortion, criminalizing it would be worse.

Let’s all consider that if men had babies abortion would be a sacrament.  And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Latest in the long, long line of Controversies We Weren’t Really Expecting: the right to bear arms at the Republican National Convention.

A petition calling on the Republicans to allow people to carry their pistols when they assemble this July collected more than 50,000 signatures rather speedily this week. The Secret Service instantly turned thumbs down. The presidential candidates, who are normally so rapturous about all things gun-related, refused to get involved.

The author of the petition later told CBS that he was just trying to point out that Republicans’ enthusiasm for weaponry does not necessarily extend to large, potentially rancorous gatherings at which they are personally present. This gives us an excellent opportunity to talk about guns and politics.

There was a time when Americans seemed O.K. with a middle-of-the-road approach to guns. The public tended to regard them as things you used for hunting or household defense, and favored laws that regulated them accordingly. But no more. The National Rifle Association is beginning to run out of places to demand that people be allowed to bring their pistols, having already thrown down the gauntlet on bars, kindergartens, airports and college campuses.

The theory is that once everybody is armed 24/7, no matter what bad thing occurs, there will always be good guys on hand to shoot the evildoer. In the real world very few people — including police officers — are skilled enough to aim accurately during a scary emergency. But if you want to win the Republican presidential nomination, it’s important to pretend otherwise. After the terrorist mass murders in France, Donald Trump argued that if only Parisian concertgoers had been packing heat, the outcome would have been much different.

“You know what? If I’m in that room and let’s say we have two or five or 40 people with guns, we’re going to do a lot better because there’s going to be a shootout,” he said.

Two important points here: Even in the confines of Second Amendment aficionados, you don’t normally hear the term “we’re going to do a lot better because there’s going to be a shootout.” Plus, note the suggestion that people would be safer with an armed Donald Trump in the building.

Trump does not appear to know anything much about firearms. Do you remember back in January, when he boasted that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters”? No one took him literally, possibly because no one believed that Trump could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and actually hit anything. While he says he owns a gun, when asked if he ever uses it, he replied, “none of your business.” Mainly, he brags that his sons are crack hunters, and you can see the proof of that if you Google Donald Trump Jr. and “dead elephant tail.”

Do you think Hillary Clinton could beat Trump at a firing range? Clinton actually meets the basic political standard for marksmanship, which involves being in possession of one anecdote about having gone hunting and shot a bird. Hers goes back to her days in Arkansas when she was with a group of friends who didn’t believe she knew how to handle a gun, then watched as she downed a duck on the first try. The dead-fowl tradition is sort of silly, but it does hark back to the good old days when people thought about shooting in terms of sport and scaring off burglars.

Clinton has been talking a lot about gun regulation lately, because it’s one of the very few issues on which she can attack Bernie Sanders from the left. Sanders, who appears to have no personal interest in guns whatsoever, has been historically weak when it comes to voting on things like background checks. Their debate would be much more useful if it carried on into the general election. But it won’t. The sad truth is that Democrats don’t believe gun control is a winning issue. And the Republicans are so completely in bed with the N.R.A., the mattress is buckling.

The one candidate in this year’s race who actually has some skill as a marksman is Ted Cruz. He shot two pheasants while campaigning in Iowa, which is perfectly reasonable. He also carried out the tradition that calls for ambitious right-wing politicians to put on camouflage and face paint and go hunting with someone from “Duck Dynasty,” which is really embarrassing.

But if you want to know where Cruz stands on a reasoned approach to handling weapons, I suggest you take a look at the video in which he demonstrates how to cook bacon by wrapping it around the barrel of an assault rifle. (“Mmmm, machine gun bacon.”) The mantra is pretty straightforward. Nobody wants to think about armed convention delegates. But otherwise guns belong everywhere. Tomorrow morning, brew the coffee and shoot the breakfast.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

March 17, 2016

In “A Bernie Blackout?” Mr. Blow says you could argue that Sanders has been starved of much of the positive coverage — or that he has been saved from much of the negative.  Mr. Kristof is in Unity State, South Sudan.  In “‘Big Government’ Looks Great When There Is None” he says what Republican candidates consider an American weakness seems like a strength when viewed from South Sudan.  Ms. Collins wants us to “Take the Trump Quiz.”  She says as Donald Trump is very likely going to be the Republican nominee for president, here’s a quiz to ease the transition.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Tuesday night, after Hillary Clinton trounced Bernie Sanders in state after state, Sanders took to a podium before throngs of thousands in Arizona and delivered a stirring speech for nearly an hour.

You didn’t see it? Understandable. It wasn’t covered live by any of the major cable news channels. At all. Not even a couple of minutes.

Why? As the Huffington Post reported:

“Fox News, CNN and MSNBC all declined to carry Sanders’ speech, instead offering punditry about the evening, with the chyrons promising, ‘AWAITING TRUMP’ and ‘STANDING BY FOR TRUMP.’ ”

This episode again drew cries about what has become known as the “Bernie Blackout,” a failure of news organizations, particularly television networks, to seriously cover the Sanders candidacy.

I must say that the numbers back this up, but I want to put more of the focus here on the disparity between the Democratic candidates.

Clinton’s coverage on television has dwarfed Sanders’s. As a New York Times Upshot report this week pointed out, Clinton has received more than twice the “news and commentary” about her campaign “on television, in newspapers and magazines, and on social media” as Sanders has.

(The demagogic real estate developer who leads the Republican field has received more than twice that of Clinton, but Sanders has received more than any of the other Republican candidates.)

In December, the Sanders campaign complained in a news release titled “Why the Bernie Blackout on Corporate Network News?” As the news release put it:

“The insurgent campaign that has drawn the biggest crowds on the presidential campaign trail has been all but ignored on the flagship television network newscasts, according to Tyndall Report, which tracks nightly news coverage by NBC, CBS and ABC.”

The Tyndall Report’s annual totals for 2015 found that Clinton received 121 minutes of campaign coverage on the networks while the “noticeably under-covered” Sanders received only 20 minutes.

The bulk of the Sanders campaign’s complaint seemed to be aimed at the coverage of the Republican front-runner, whom the campaign accused the networks of “wildly overplaying,” “while at the same time wildly underplaying Sanders.”

(It should be noted that liberal outlets/entities like AlterNet have alsoaccused this newspaper of being part of the Bernie Blackout. The Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, weighed in in September:

“The Times has not ignored Mr. Sanders’s campaign, but it hasn’t always taken it very seriously. The tone of some stories is regrettably dismissive, even mocking at times. Some of that is focused on the candidate’s age, appearance and style, rather than what he has to say.”)

A strong argument could be made by all candidates — Democrat and Republican — that there has been some level of media malpractice as it relates to the amount of coverage received by their campaigns and that of the Republican front-runner, and they would be right. If any candidate had received the huge media coverage of the current G.O.P. front-runner, they would likely be in a stronger position now.

But the more consequential distinction for Democrats at this point is coverage between Clinton and Sanders.

There appear to be two parallel universes of Democratic voters this season — one disproportionately older, the other disproportionately younger — whose habits make them almost invisible to each other.

Clinton’s voters may be less likely to show up to rallies, or post on social media or be serial commenters who commandeer comments sections, but they do show up to vote. But these are the same voters who are less likely to hear much news about Sanders.

In a February Pew Research Center survey, a plurality of people 18 to 29 years old said that the social media was their most helpful source for learning about the 2016 presidential election. A plurality of those 30 and over cited cable news as the primary source. Network news was the second most popular source for those 65 and older.

The Sanders campaign and its supporters have a right to be unhappy about the disparity. But the Clinton campaign has its own view of Sanders’s supporters media grousing, and, as to be expected, it isn’t kind. As The Times reported last month:

“The Clinton campaign, however, argues that Mr. Sanders has benefited from the superficial horse-race journalism he scorns, and that coverage has largely focused on his avuncular style and cross-generational appeal rather than thorough inspections of his proposals or record. In the Vermont senator’s continual discrediting of the news media, the Clinton campaign sees an effort to inoculate himself from critical coverage.”

There is probably a kernel of truth to those suspicions — people forget that Sanders is a shrewd politician, and not just a curmudgeonly crusader — although I believe the Sanders campaign is legitimately flummoxed by the lack of coverage.

Indeed, the Tyndall Report pointed out that nearly as much coverage of Clinton was about controversies as about her candidacy. In addition to the 121 minutes of campaign coverage Clinton received on the nightly network newscasts in 2015, she also received “88 minutes devoted to the controversy over her emails as secretary of state and 29 minutes to the investigations into the Benghazi Consulate attack.”

Media coverage of Sanders has by no means been robust, but neither has it been withering. Coverage can be a double-edged sword, and it has most likely cut for and against Clinton. You could argue that Sanders has been starved of much of the positive or that he has been saved from much of the negative. But some of his supporters fear he has gotten the worst of both scenarios.

For what it’s worth the NYT’s public editor was raked over the coals in the comments to her piece on Sanders coverage, with comments citing chapter and verse of the NYT’s sins.  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

After hearing Republican presidential candidates denounce big government and burdensome regulation, I’d like to invite them to spend the night here in the midst of the civil war in South Sudan.

You hear gunfire, competing with yowls of hyenas, and you don’t curse taxes. Rather, you yearn for a government that might install telephones, hire a 911 operator and dispatch the police.

From afar, one sees the United States differently. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz seem to think that America’s Achilles heels are immigration and an activist government. But from the perspective of a war zone, these look more like national strengths.

Indeed, take what Trump is clamoring for: weaker government, less regulation, a more homogeneous society. In some sense, you find the ultimate extension of all that right here.

No regulation! No long lines at the D.M.V., because there is no D.M.V. in the conflict areas. In practice, no taxes or gun restrictions. No Obamacare. No minimum wage. No welfare state to breed dependency. No sticky rules about eminent domain. And certainly no immigration problem.

Yet it’s a funny thing. In a place that might seem an anti-government fantasy taken to an extreme, people desperately yearn for all the burdens of government and tolerance of social diversity that Americans gripe about.

In a country where to belong to the wrong tribe can be lethal, South Sudanese watch American aid workers arrive — a mixed salad of blacks and whites, Asian-Americans and Latinos, men and women — with some astonishment. These Americans come in all flavors of faith: Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists and more. And while they may snap at one another, they don’t behead one another.

One lesson of South Sudan is that government and regulations are like oxygen: You don’t appreciate them until they’re not there.

Two political scientists, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, argue that America’s achievements rest on a foundation of government services but that we Americans suffer from “American Amnesia” (that’s also the title of their book coming out this month) and don’t appreciate this.

“We are told that the United States got rich in spite of government, when the truth is closer to the opposite,” they write. Every country that journeyed from mass illiteracy and poverty to modernity and wealth did so, they note, because of government instruments that are now often scorned.

These instruments also create a sense of national identity that eclipses tribal identities, even if this process is still incomplete in America.

I came across a group of homeless women and girls in the South Sudan swamps, hiding from soldiers who would have killed or raped them. One teenager was wearing a castoff T-shirt that read “Obama Girl,” so I asked her if she knew who Barack Obama was.

She was confused; there are no functioning schools in the area, so she can’t read and didn’t know what her shirt said. But I explained. That didn’t help, for she had never heard of Obama. I asked her friends if they knew, and finally I found one woman who did. She said shyly that Obama is president of the United States.

These women and girls are all members of the Nuer tribe, which the army of South Sudan has often targeted and which remains to some degree marginalized in the central government. And the Nuer are related to the Luo tribe, which is the tribe of President Obama’s father. So a Nuer now cannot in practice become president of South Sudan, but someone of similar ancestry can be president of the United States.

That’s an inclusiveness that enriches America and that should be a source of pride. Yet Trump sunders that unity and divides us by heritage: He turns us from Americans into people of many tribes.

What we Americans excel at are our institutions. We have schools, laws, courts, police, regulators, bureaucracies, safety nets — arms of a government that is often frustrating but always indispensable. These institutions are the pillars of our standard of living.

From the perspective of a South Sudanese war zone, our greatest challenge isn’t big government or immigration, but the threat to those pillars from those who miscalculate our national strengths and weaknesses.

It’s odd that some conservative candidates should be so anti-government when an intellectual forerunner was Thomas Hobbes, the 17th-century philosopher who rightly warned that life in the natural state is “nasty, brutish and short.” Trump and Cruz would do well to remember his point:

Government, laws and taxes are a burden, indeed, but they are also the basis for civilization.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Donald Trump is very likely going to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States. Take three deep breaths. I know we’ve been on this path for a long time, but it’s still hard getting your head around the idea, isn’t it? Just to ease the transition, our first-ever exclusively Donald Trump quiz:

1   After his big string of victories this week, Trump appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” where he was asked who his foreign policy advisers were. He said:

  • “I’m speaking with a lot of generals. Very impressive people. All winners.”

  • “I’m speaking with myself.”

  • “I have a long list. It’s a good list. Vladimir Putin said it was the best list he’d ever seen.”

2   After making his surprise endorsement, Ben Carson said that there were “two different Donald Trumps” and that the private one was “very cerebral.” Asked about that comment, Trump replied:

  • “I think there are two Donald Trumps.”

  • “I don’t think there are two Donald Trumps.”

  • “I think there are two Donald Trumps … I don’t think there are two Donald Trumps.”

3   Trump claimed on “Good Morning America” that there was “nobody that’s done so much for equality as I have.” As an example he pointed to:

  • His endorsements by Mike Tyson and Dennis Rodman.

  • The black guy who won “The Apprentice” in 2005.

  • His $100,000-membership club, Mar-a-Lago — “totally open to everybody.”

4   After a protester rushed the stage at one of his rallies, Trump claimed the man was associated with ISIS, and retweeted a video of him holding a gun in front of the ISIS flag. When NBC’s Chuck Todd pointed out that it was a hoax, Trump said:

  • “Whoops.”

  • “All I know is what’s on the Internet.”

  • “As Kierkegaard said, ‘The truth is a trap.’”

5   One of the groups that’s been opening Trump rallies is USA Freedom Kids, little girls who sang about “President Trump” who “knows how to make America great …

  • “… And give us schools that really rate.”

  • “… Teach us to love and not to hate.”

  • “… Deal from strength or get crushed every time.”

6   Trump defended the supporter who sucker-punched a protester being led away by security forces. He said the attack was justified because the protester:

  • Had violently attacked an elderly woman.

  • Had tried to grab one of the officer’s guns.

  • Was “sticking a certain finger up in the air.”

7    House Speaker Paul Ryan scored a great triumph at the end of 2015 when the House passed a compromise spending bill that keeps the government running through the fall. Trump has been loudly critical, and at a recent rally in North Carolina, he said the bill was bad because:

  • “The appropriation for infrastructure repair is inadequate.”

  • “It fails to address the really critical Puerto Rican oil export issue.”

  • “It funds ISIS.”

8   Sarah Palin had to leave the Trump campaign to be with her husband, who had a serious snowmobile accident. Before her departure she said Todd’s multiple injuries made her appreciate:

  • “The skill of Alaskan emergency treatment centers.”

  • “The time that we have to spend in doing something so worthy, and that’s to get Donald J. Trump elected president.”

  • “The stress my family has undergone due to my unflagging pursuit of celebrity.”

9   After Trump defended the use of torture against suspected terrorists, his son Eric, who was campaigning for him, pointed out that waterboarding:

  • “Is no different than what happens on college campuses in frat houses every day.”

  • “Has real efficacy when employed as a last resort in isolated incidences.”

  • “Is no worse than what China’s doing to our manufacturing base.”

10   Since he threw his support behind Trump, Gov. Chris Christie has been humiliated on a daily basis for everything — from his slavish stare at the candidate’s press conferences to widespread criticism of his absence from New Jersey while he toils on the campaign trail. To pay him back, at a pre-primary event this week, Trump:

  • Made fun of Christie for the absentee thing.

  • Announced he was indeed planning to make Christie secretary of transportation.

  • Invited Christie to tell the audience about all the things he went through on 9/11.

11   Trump has endlessly complained about the way immigrants steal jobs from American workers, but he’s used loopholes in federal law to hire foreign workers himself. At a recent debate he argued that voters wouldn’t care about that seeming contradiction because:

  • “Everybody would like a Romanian helper.”

  • “Nobody knows the system better than me.”

  • “What happens in Mar-a-Lago stays in Mar-a-Lago.”

And here’s the answer key:

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

I got 10/11.  I missed the one about the little girls.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

March 10, 2016

In “Sanders Surprises” Mr. Blow says Michigan strengthened the candidate’s argument that he is a very real and viable alternative to Clinton.  Mr. Kristof, in “‘Every Parent’s Nightmare’,” says a popular website runs ads used to arrange child rape, and we as a society allow it.  Ms. Collins, in “Hillary! Bernie! Debate!,” says we’ve gone from complaining that the Democrats wouldn’t meet enough times to wondering when the talking will stop.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Jaws dropped Tuesday night as Bernie Sanders defied the embarrassingly incorrect polls and shocked election watchers with a narrow but important upset of Hillary Clinton in Michigan.

The two candidates are likely to roughly split the delegates from the state, and Clinton actually increased her delegate lead for the evening because of her crushing victory in Mississippi. But there is no denying that Michigan is an enormous loss for the Clinton campaign, and a major psychological and momentum-gaining win for the Sanders campaign.

Sanders benefits greatly from the passage of time — which he’s running out of — and the electorate’s growing familiarity with him, his platform and his history that it allows.

Neither of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination, who debate tonight, provides the bombast and sensationalism of the Republican candidates, especially the Republican front-runner, so ratings-hungry, shock-addicted television networks give them little coverage. They have to make their cases more the old-fashioned way: in person, on the ground, or by fanning out an army of surrogates.

As I have been saying on social media, both Clinton and Sanders had electoral hurdles that they had to clear. Clinton’s was to win by large margins in states not in the Deep South that are reliably Democratic or that are swing states in the general election. Sanders’s hurdle was to demonstrate that he could win in states where the portion of nonwhite Democratic primary voters was greater than a quarter of the whole.

Only one person cleared his hurdle Tuesday: Bernie Sanders.

The nonwhite portion of voters in Michigan’s Democratic primary, according to exit polls, was 30 percent. Furthermore, 21 percent was African-American. This is much smaller than the majority black vote in some Southern Democratic contests, but still sizable. More important, Sanders won a larger share of the black vote in Michigan than he had won in any of the Southern states for which there were exit polls.

For instance, Sanders won just 11 percent of the black vote in Mississippi, but he won 28 percent of it in Michigan.

Northern blacks and Southern blacks are most likely processing Sanders quite differently. As I wrote in a February column:

There isn’t one black America, but two: The children of the Great Migration and the children of those who stayed behind in the South. (Black immigrants are another story.) Having spent the first half of my life in the South and the second in Great Migration destination cities, I can attest that the sensibilities are as different as night and day.

Sanders’s early, Northern activism for racial equality is likely to have more resonance with Northern blacks, and so is his largely urban and non-Southern roster of black surrogates. For instance, more Michigan primary voters said they trusted Sanders more than Clinton to handle race relations in this country. The opposite was true in Mississippi.

Part of this also has to do with what I call the political provincialism of the South: The favoring of regional candidates and the shunning of outsiders. Because of the time Clinton spent in the South, she has a Southern advantage.

(It should be noted that this Southern provincialism crosses racial boundaries. Sanders won 31 percent of white vote in Mississippi, and 56 percent of it in Michigan.)

But there was probably more at play in Michigan than just race.

In the states where Sanders has campaigned hard, he has generally done well. He really committed time and resources in Michigan, and it paid off. Furthermore, his anti-trade deals position is likely to have held a particular resonance for that state, which was particularly hard hit by manufacturing job losses.

And there’s still more.

Michigan had slightly more voters under 30 and slightly more male voters than the Southern states. This is an advantage for Sanders.

The question now is what the Michigan results might portend for other Rust Belt states with large baskets of delegates, like Ohio and Illinois, and beyond that, what it might portend for the major delegate prizes of Florida, California and New York.

Predictions are perilously dangerous this season, so I’ll avoid them. Pundits keep getting this cycle wrong. But I will say this: The Michigan win put a new gust of wind into Sanders’s sails and strengthened his argument that he is a very real and viable alternative to Clinton — and that he shouldn’t feel one iota of pressure to leave the race before all the contests are finished.

Clinton is a force, but Sanders is a phenomenon. They both bring a seriousness and gravitas to the presidential discussion that is sorely lacking on the Republican side. In that, Democrats can take some pride regardless which of them wins the nomination, because either would probably soundly defeat the current Republican front-runner. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this week, both Clinton and Sanders would handily defeat the real estate developer in a general election matchup.

Now, with that in mind, we can all sit back and enjoy a Democratic nominating ride that just got infinitely more complicated and more interesting.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

We as a society derided the Roman Catholic Church as an accessory to child sexual abuse, and we lambasted Penn State for similar offenses.

Yet we as a society are complicit or passive in a similar way, by allowing a popular website called Backpage.com to be used to arrange child rape. Consider what happened to a girl I’ll call Natalie, who was trafficked into the sex industry in Seattle at age 15.

“It was every parent’s nightmare,” Natalie’s mother, Nacole, told me. “It can happen to any parent. Fifteen-year-olds don’t make the best choices. I dropped her off at school in the morning, I was expecting to pick her up after track practice in the afternoon, and then I didn’t see her for 108 days.” The girl ran off to a bus station, was found by a pimp, and within days was being sold for sex on Backpage.

Backpage has classified ads for everything from antiques to boats, but it makes its money on escort ads. It has about 80 percent of the U.S. market for online sex ads in America, mostly for consenting adults but many also for women who are forcibly trafficked or for underage girls. Children in at least 47 states have been sold on Backpage, by one aid group’s count.

“We were an everyday, average family,” Nacole said. “Our children were involved in sports. She played the violin. She was on the soccer team. And she made a stupid decision one day that forever changed her life. And Backpage facilitated it.”

The girl was eventually rescued by the police, but by then she had been beaten and threatened by her pimp and endured innumerable rapes. “She’s forever changed,” her mom said. “Her siblings are forever changed. Today she struggles with life.”

If there were a major American website openly selling heroin or anthrax, there would be an outcry. Yet we Americans tolerate a site like Backpage.com that is regularly used to peddle children. We avert our eyes, and the topic tends not to come up in polite society.

“I had no idea how much juvenile trafficking goes on until my family became a victim of it,” Nacole said.

Thousands of children are trafficked for sex each year in the United States, but there are no solid numbers. What is clear is only that it’s a big problem that gets minimal attention; it’s essentially never mentioned in the current political campaign.

Yet a few forces are coming together to put pressure on Backpage. One is alawsuit in Washington State against Backpage by Natalie and two other girls who at age 13 were also sold on the website; one of the 13-year-olds said that she was raped 20 times a day.

Another is decisive action by credit card companies to stop processing fees for sex ads on Backpage, disrupting its business model.

Then there is the prospect that the Senate this month will adopt a Contempt of Congress resolution, the first by the Senate in 21 years (the last involved the Whitewater investigation), and this time it’s bipartisan and the target is Backpage. The aim is to force Backpage to comply with subpoenas from the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which is looking into the company’s role in sex trafficking.

Senator Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican who leads the panel, told me that he expects the Senate to vote next week on the resolution and he doesn’t know of anyone planning to vote against it.

At a time when Congress seems gridlocked and dysfunctional, it’s nice to see the Senate moving in a bipartisan way to address an issue that affects America’s most vulnerable.

The subcommittee has already uncovered disturbing information about Backpage, including the way it edits ads to reduce law enforcement scrutiny and does not retain photo data that could be used to find missing children. And Senate investigators uncovered an instruction to the Backpage staff that seemed to suggest erring on the side of letting girls be sold: “only delete [ads] if you really very sure person is underage.”

The Senate panel found that Backpage was worth hundreds of millions of dollars and in 2014 had an Ebitda margin, a measure of profitability, of 82 percent, compared with an average of 9.3 percent for online services companies.

Yiota Souras of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children notes that the issue is not adult prostitution or sex among consenting adults: “That’s totally removed from what we’re focusing on here, which is children sold to be raped.”

Whatever we think about the presidential race, whatever our political party, we should be able to agree to act to stop the exploitation of children. It’s wrong when the Catholic Church hierarchy looks the other way, when Penn State averts its eyes, and also when we as a society do the same thing.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Let’s give a hand to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. After all we’ve been through with the Republicans, it’s nice to hear presidential candidates go at each other’s throat while they’re talking about where they stood on immigration issues in 2007.

This was Wednesday’s Democratic debate — the second one in a week, not counting the back-to-back town halls in between. People, do you remember when we used to complain that there weren’t going to be enough debates? Ah yes, long ago. Dinosaurs roamed the earth and Marco Rubio was a hot ticket.

Clinton held up well, given that her first three questions involved why she lost the Michigan primary, her emails and whether she’d drop out if she was indicted. (“Oh, for goodness — that is not going to happen. I’m not even answering that question.”) It was a tough evening. Sanders accused Clinton of cruelty to Honduran children. She claimed he had sided with the Minutemen.

Since the debate was on Univision, there was a strong emphasis on immigration, which provided a kind of mirror image of the Republican debates. Clinton and Sanders bickered long and hard about who had been less in favor of deportation, going back more than a decade. (“Madam Secretary, I will match my record against yours any day of the week!”)

In truth, immigration is not an issue that actually separates these two people. The real gulf is between the grand vision and the practical plan. Sanders thinks he can provide free public college tuition and Medicare-like health coverage for all. “My dad used to say, If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Clinton rejoined.

And then there’s the auto industry bailout. One of the biggest moments in the Democrats’ Week of Endless Debates came Sunday when Clinton caught Sanders off guard by accusing him — in Michigan! — of refusing to support Detroit during the economic crisis.

“He voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry,” Clinton claimed while Sanders looked stunned.

What followed was the most quoted moment of the encounter:

Sanders: “If you are talking about the Wall Street bailout, where some of your friends destroyed this economy ——”

Clinton: “You know ——”

Sanders: “Excuse me, I’m talking.”

Audience: “Oooooh”

It’s certainly a tribute to the general decorum with which the Democrats have conducted themselves that this was enough to draw a gasp from the crowd. The bar is so high on the Republican side that to get a real response one of the candidates would have had to hit the other with a hammer.

But let’s look at the bailout issue for a minute. Sanders did vote for a bill to lend money to the auto industry. But it got blocked in the Senate. Then during the stupendously complex end-of-the-Bush-administration negotiations, the bailout got mooshed into a huge, messy bill that did indeed involve helping Wall Street. When the only choices were nothing or a big, unappetizing legislative stew, he refused to bite.

That pretty much sums up his career in Congress. Sanders stood up for his principles, but he didn’t play any real role. At one point he offered an amendment to raise taxes on high-income individuals, which was basically ignored. He was marvelous, but symbolically marvelous.

He was in no way like Ted Cruz, who just tries to get attention by stopping things. Nobody hates Bernie Sanders. But he’s a maverick legislator, a man without a party. That’s a way, way different kind of life than being the person who has to run the country.

“You have to make hard choices when you’re in positions of responsibility,” Clinton said.

Clinton is a stupendous debater, and she’s developed smooth and sensible-sounding answers to sticky matters like the State Department emails and Benghazi. But she still hasn’t been able to handle Sanders’s attacks on her $225,000 speeches to finance industry insiders. She shrugs and says she’ll release the transcripts when “everybody else does,” which generally involves mentioning that President Obama “took a lot of money from Wall Street.”

“I don’t have any comment,” she said when she was questioned earlier in the week about campaign donations. “I don’t know that. I don’t believe that there is any reason to be concerned about it.”

This is the stuff that makes Democrats want to send a message. Hillary Clinton is by far the best qualified candidate for president. But at this point in the campaign, you can understand why some people feel that voting for her against Bernie Sanders is like rewarding Washington for its worst behavior.

In the end, Clinton is the one who knows how to make the system work. But she’s just got to be clearer on how she can work against the system.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

March 3, 2016

Well.  The NYT columnists are all in a state of panic over Trump.  In “Demagogue for President” Mr. Blow says a nativist, sexist, arguably fascist and racist liar is the front-runner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.  He’s right, but at least it’s not Ted Cruz.  Mr. Kristof has a conversation with an imaginary voter in “After Super Tuesday, Bracing for a President Trump.”  He says Donald Trump is a demagogue who has damaged America’s reputation, insulted women and minorities — and has a decent chance of being our next president.  And again, at least it’s not Ted Cruz.  Ms. Collins, in “Call Me Mr. Trump,” says back during “The Apprentice” and now when being introduced by a new sidekick, the gold-plated candidate has had no first name.  I do wish Mr. Kristof had managed to speak to two elderly (one’s 88, the other 76) ladies in my church, both staunch Republicans.  They’re HORRIFIED by what’s going on and would NEVER vote for Trump.  What they also understand, and will tell anyone who listens, is that while Trump is crazy Cruz is evil.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Sometimes you have to simply step back from the hubbub and take stock, with cleareyed sobriety, at a moment in history to fully appreciate its epochal import. Now is such a time.

A nativist, sexist, arguably fascist and racist demagogue who twists the truth is the front-runner in the race to become the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, over the protestations of the party’s establishment, who rightly view his ascendance as an existential threat to an already tattered brand.

He is odd and entertaining, vacuous and vain, disarming and terrifyingly dangerous.

And, according to The New York Times, he “could lock up the nomination in May” if he “keeps winning by the same margins.” Furthermore, the Republican Party is seeing record turnout on its way to this end. There is a political revolution in this country but, so far at least, it appears to be one driven in large part by the Republicans.

Let this sink in, America.

Stop thinking that it’s all a joke, a hoax, a game. It’s not. Maybe he began this quest as a branding exercise, but it has morphed into something quite real: a challenge to the collective moral character of the republic. The success of his candidacy so far calls into question the very definition and direction of America.

Later we can condemn the media for its complicity in his rise, the way we and the candidate operated in a symbiotic relationship, exchanging cheap ratings for free publicity, but it can’t be undone now. The candidate has now risen.

This is a guy who began his presidential bid by branding Mexican immigrants as drug mules, criminals and rapists.

This is a guy at whose rallies minorities have been shouted down and even manhandled — like the University of Louisville student Shiya Nwanguma— with little or no condemnation from the candidate.

This is a man who refused to immediately and unequivocally denounce and disavow the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, who said on his radio program that voting against the turgid real estate developer was tantamount to “treason to your heritage.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that we can safely assume that Mr. Grand Wizard emeritus meant white heritage.

Again, America, let that sink in: America’s white heritage candidate, according to the illustrious David Duke, is the person so far winning a plurality of votes in the Republican contests and collecting a large share of that party’s delegates.

Indeed, his candidacy is providing a refuge for, and giving voice to, white fear and anger over the inevitable changing demography of the country, the erosion of the center and the rewarding of whiteness as a commodity.

Anger, not policy, is in fact the cornerstone of his candidacy. His policies are carpaccio-thin. He feeds his followers vague, morning-mirror affirmations like “make America great again” and endless “winning,” while largely avoiding particulars and parrying fact-checkers and his own history of inconsistencies.

And yet, the people who support him, angry at the establishment, their own party, America itself, don’t really care. He has touched their frustration and they feel reflected in his brutishness.

But even beyond the troubling racial realities of his candidacy is the misogyny of it.

This is a man who has called various women “disgusting,” “a slob,” “grotesque,” “a dog.” And he says that he cherishes women.

His candidacy also promotes what would surely be characterized as war crimes — interrogation tactics “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” and killing the families of terrorism suspects.

Not only does he want to build a wall on the border, he wants to round up and deport those undocumented in this country, stop Muslims from entering and send back Syrian refugees.

One last time, America: Pause and let all that sink in.

I don’t want anyone to say, when we look back at this moment, that they didn’t see the signs. I don’t want anyone to feign surprise. I don’t want people to say that they didn’t take it all seriously because they had faith that their fellow citizens would somehow see the light and not allow this candidate to rise.

No. You don’t get that option. He has risen and continues to rise. Most smart money is on him becoming the Republican nominee, unless party leaders can devise some last-minute plan to blunt him.

And, it is not at all clear to me that, whoever the Democratic nominee is, she or he would have a cakewalk to an easy victory in the general election.

Say this out loud: The leading candidate for president on the Republican side is a demagogue. He is on track to be that party’s nominee. He is attracting record numbers of voters to the polls. If he wins the nomination, he could also win the presidency.

Scared yet? Good! Stop laughing this off. It’s not a joke. It’s quite real. And you need to remember the moment that you woke up and realized just how real it was.

And now we get to Mr. Kristof and his imaginary friend:

The general election campaign may have already begun.

In the aftermath of Super Tuesday election results, betting markets show Hillary Clinton with more than a 90 percent chance of becoming the Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump with at least a 75 percent chanceof emerging as the Republican nominee.

This is the most astonishing presidential election since at least 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War. The G.O.P. front-runner is reviled not only by Democrats, but also by many prominent Republicans, and has less government experience than any president in history.

Only two presidents — William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover — lacked background in major elective office or in the military, and both had held cabinet posts. In short, a Trump presidency would be unprecedented not only for his bizarre policy positions and propensity to insult women and minorities, but also because of his staggering lack of relevant experience or knowledge.

Trump has shrewdly manipulated the news media and has proved a much more accurate reader of the electorate than we pundits. Yet I’ve never met a national politician so ill informed, so evasive, so bombastic and, frankly, so puerile.

According to Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, most Republican candidates spoke at a high-school or middle-school level in the last G.O.P. debate, based on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Index. Meanwhile, Trump spoke at a third- or fourth-grade level. After the Nevada caucuses, Ted Cruz spoke at a ninth-grade level, Clinton at a seventh-grade level — and Trump at about a second-grade level! (I checked Trump’s victory speech on Super Tuesday evening, a more moderate speech that seemed to reach for the center, and Trump had raised his rhetoric to a sixth-grade level.)

So let me engage a (imaginary) Trump voter:

Me: How can you possibly support a demagogue with less experience than any president in history?

Voter: You media know-it-alls are so patronizing! Trump has experience where it matters, making things happen in the business world. Anyway, what have experienced politicians brought us? A corrupt and broken system. Let’s try something new — and at least he’s a straight shooter.

Me: He has a reputation as a straight shooter, but he lies. When PolitiFact was choosing its “lie of the year,” it found that all its real contenders were Trump statements — so it collectively awarded his many campaign misstatements the “lie of the year” award. And in backing him, you’re pretty much guaranteeing a Hillary Clinton presidency. Indeed, because of Trump, the betting markets are now predicting a Democratic Senate as well.

Voter: Come on! Trump proved all of you pundits wrong again and again, and he’ll do so again. And even those betting markets you like to cite — they show Trump with at least a one-in-four chance of being our next president, and that’s while other Republicans are trying to rip him apart. Just wait until the party rallies around Trump.

Me: But how can you support a candidate who is so hateful? This is a man who calls Mexican immigrants rapists, who is slow to denounce the Ku Klux Klan, and who is mulling a registry for Muslims. You’re O.K. with a racist in the White House?

Voter: Give me a break. You media guys always roll out the race card, but we’re fed up with political correctness. I don’t agree with everything Trump says, but at least he isn’t pussyfooting around. He’ll make America strong again. As for his wilder statements, take them with a grain of salt. He probably doesn’t believe them himself, but he’ll use them to negotiate. His history is as a deal maker, not an ideologue.

Me: But Trump is already damaging America’s reputation worldwide bycommenting sympathetically about Putin and the Chinese massacre of protesters from the Tiananmen democracy movement. More than 580,000 Britons have signed a petition to ban him from British shores. And Larry Summers warns that just the prospect of a protectionist demagogue as president could tip the United States into recession or trigger an international financial crisis.

Voter: Take a deep breath. I don’t care whether foreigners like us, as long as they fear us.

Me: And you don’t have a problem with a candidate who demeans women as sexual playthings, who critiques women based more on busts than brains (in his words: “A person who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10”), who insults or leers at half the population?

Voter: In the past, Trump was an entertainment personality, so he said outrageous things. From now on, he’ll be more presidential and more moderate, reaching out to Democrats — which he can do better than Cruz or Rubio, because he’s not so conservative. And for all your naysaying, he’ll be elected president, and he’ll show that all your anxieties are as imaginary as I am. Get used to the phrase: President Trump.

Nick, give up the “imaginary friend” stuff.  MoDo’s better at it than you.  Now we get to Ms. Collins:

What do you think we should call Donald Trump?

Now stop that. This is a serious question. It came up on Super Tuesday night, when Chris Christie introduced the triumphant candidate in Florida.

“Since June 16, when Mr. Trump declared his candidacy, he has shown himself to be tough and strong and bold,” the phantom governor of New Jersey began. Remember when Christie was supposed to be tough and strong and bold? Now he’s just Donald Trump’s sidekick — his Robin, or maybe more appropriately, his Chewbacca.

Trump and his helper made their Super Tuesday appearance at Mar-a-Lago, his gold-plated Florida club where the chandeliers are as high as an elephant’s eye and the membership fee is $100,000. Recently, Trump said it represents his championship of equality.

Seriously. When Trump was asked about the Ku Klux Klan controversy on “Good Morning America,” he once again “disavowed” the former K.K.K. leader David Duke, and then added: “There’s nobody that’s done so much for equality as I have. You take a look at Palm Beach, Fla. I built the Mar-a-Lago Club totally open to everybody.”

On Super Tuesday night in the ballroom of equality, Christie stood behind Trump appearing totally miserable. As a number of commentators noted, he looked like a person who had just been informed that his family was being held hostage and would be released only if he kept quiet and stared straight ahead.

Most of us can live with the possibility that he has not found happiness in his new role as Donald Trump’s most prominent supporter. Instead, let’s consider the fact that in his introduction, Christie called the candidate “Mr. Trump.” To which Trump responded, “Chris, thank you very much.” Then he congratulated “Ted” for winning Texas and looked forward to taking on “Hillary.”

Why is Donald Trump always “Mister”? True, since he has absolutely no record of public service, he lacks a title like Senator or Governor. But this goes way back — on his reality show, all the would-be apprentices, including the celebrity ones, called the host “Mr. Trump,” even when he wasn’t in the room. “It’s this underlying power,” an ex-contestant explained to Cosmopolitan.

Just remember that this will be an administration where all millionaires, whatever race, creed or color, will be given equal opportunity. As long as they don’t call him Donald.

Is there anybody who can beat him? The only candidate who seemed discouraged by Super Tuesday was Ben Carson, although so far he’s only announced he will not be in Thursday’s debate. We will certainly miss him complaining that nobody ever asks him a question. And his answers! At about the same time Carson made his semi-news, a website posted a video in which he avers: “We have a process, an electoral process. That is a process that I am in the process of following, and will continue to follow.”

There’s still Ted Cruz, who won Texas, where he lives, plus Oklahoma and Alaska. Three states that are really, really into oil. If there’s a derrick on the horizon, Cruz can’t lose.

And Marco Rubio won the Minnesota caucus. His first state! “We are so excited about what lies ahead for our campaign,” the junior senator from Florida said. He’d better be, since once this is over Rubio won’t even have a job. He’s vacating his Senate seat, which he never seemed to sit in all that much anyway. His other family income is mainly from people who’ve believed he had a presidential future worth investing in.

The last time he was in terrible financial trouble, Rubio solved the problem by writing a memoir, “An American Son,” for which he got $800,000. I am wondering what the bidding will be for “An American Also-Ran,” the inspiring story of the man who won the Minnesota caucus.

If we lost Marco Rubio, I’d really miss his fund-raising emails. Late on Super Tuesday, I got one asking for a donation on the basis of his spectacular performance.

“Friend” (Marco always calls me Friend) “In the days leading up to tonight, a lot of the media had written us off. … I’m happy to be an underdog. We’re a country of underdogs. I come from a community of underdogs, too, as I said in Miami tonight. I’ve been an underdog in the past — and once again, we’re going to be an underdog campaign that WINS.”

Wow, a lot of underdogs. A little bit later I got a letter from the campaign, just checking to make sure I got Marco’s note. “There’s no doubt he feels like an underdog now, but it’s important to recognize what he accomplished last night, and one sign he’ll win this thing: He picked up a whole bunch of delegates from all across the country.”

Well, at least they didn’t call him “Mister Rubio.”

Wee Marco looks like he belongs in short pants.

Kristof and Collins

February 25, 2016

In “The Party of No Way!” Mr. Kristof points out the blindingly obvious, that the G.O.P. used to be serious and prudent, but today it’s less about governing than about obstructing.  Ms. Collins, in “The Secret Side of Donald Trump,” considers a never-ending search for the least-bad Republican.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Perhaps the most important thing Washington will do this year is decide whether to approve President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. But Republicans have already announced their decision: “No way!”

It’s rich for Republicans to declare pre-emptively that they will not even hold hearings on an Obama nominee, considering that they used to denounce (while their party held the White House) the notion that judges’ nominations shouldn’t proceed in an election year.

“That’s just plain bunk,” Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican,said in 2008. “The reality is that the Senate has never stopped confirming judicial nominees during the last few months of a president’s term.” His sense of reality has since changed.

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said in 2008, “Just because it’s a presidential election year is no excuse for us to take a vacation.”

In fairness, Democrats have also been hypocritical. In 1992, when George Bush was president, then-Senator Joe Biden said an election-year vacancy should wait to be filled the next year.

A pox on all their houses!

Let’s tune out politicians’ rhetoric in both parties and look at the merits of the arguments. Supreme Court justices rarely die in office, and in recent decades they have mostly chosen to step down before election years. But despite what Republican senators would have you believe, there have been a number of Supreme Court vacancies filled in election years.

In the 20th century we had six:

■ In 1912, the Senate confirmed Mahlon Pitney, nominated by William Howard Taft.

■ In 1916, the Senate confirmed both Louis Brandeis and John Clarke, nominated by Woodrow Wilson.

■ In 1932, the Senate confirmed Benjamin Cardozo, nominated by Herbert Hoover.

■ In 1940, the Senate confirmed Frank Murphy, nominated by Franklin Roosevelt.

■ In 1988, the Senate confirmed Anthony Kennedy, who had been nominated by Ronald Reagan the previous November.

A counterexample is Abe Fortas, whose nomination to be elevated from associate justice to chief justice in the summer of 1968 was killed by a filibuster by Republicans and Southern Democrats. But that’s a horrifying bit of history for Republicans to rely upon, because the main reasons for opposition to Fortas were that he favored civil rights and was Jewish. His ethical lapses mostly emerged later.

Republicans suggest that it’s standard for a Supreme Court vacancy to be held over when it occurs during an election year. Since 1900, I can find only one example of something close to that happening: In the fall of 1956, after Congress had adjourned and Senate confirmation was impossible, William Brennan received a recess appointment, then in 1957 was nominated and confirmed.

It’s ironic that this tumult should bedevil a replacement for Antonin Scalia, who emphasized the constitutional text. The Constitution gives no hint that the Senate’s “advice and consent” for nominations should operate only in three out of four years.

If Republicans block Obama’s nomination, Scalia’s vacancy will last more than a year, compared with a historical average of resolving nominations in 25 days. To date, the longest Supreme Court nomination in American history lasted 125 days, and it looks as if we will easily break that record this year.

The larger issue here is obstructionism. When I was growing up, the G.O.P. was the serious, prudent, boring party, while the Democrats included a menagerie of populists, rascals and firebrands. Today it’s the G.O.P. that embraces the George Wallace demagogues, and its aim is less to govern than to cause gridlock. That’s not true of everyone — the House speaker, Paul Ryan, seems to have genuine aspirations to legislate. But to be a Republican lawmaker today is too often to seek to block appointments, obstruct programs and shut down government. Politics becomes less about building things up than about burning them down.

Both parties are open to expanding the earned-income tax credit, to early childhood programs, to better approaches to heroin addiction, to supporting women with obstetric fistula, to reducing violence against women worldwide. Yet practical measures to address these issues stall in Congress. The party of Lincoln is now the party of “No,” refusing even to invite the president’s budget director to testify on an Obama budget, as is customary. Congress is expected to accomplish next to nothing this year.

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are the apotheosis of this disregard for governing. Cruz’s entire congressional career has involved antagonizing colleagues and ensuring that nothing gets done. And Trump barely bothers with policies, just provocations.

All this is ineffably sad. I expect politicians to exaggerate and bluster. But I also expect them to govern, and that is what many in the Grand Old Party now refuse to do.

In that case, should they really be paid? Just as we have work requirements for some welfare recipients, maybe it’s time to consider work requirements for senators.

Now we have Ms. Collins:

Sometimes in a particularly awful presidential race you’re forced to take the most bleak and cynical view of the candidates running for the most powerful job in the world. And then you discover you’re overestimating.

Today we will consider the upside of Donald Trump.

O.K., it was never huge. Possibly not even nugget-size. But people, wasn’t there a moment when you thought that he could think outside the normal conservative box? True, his riff against the power of big political donors was just another way to brag about being rich. And he was awful on … so very many things.

But once in a while, as Trump ranted about the Republican insiders, some actual outsider remarks did pop up. Don’t mess with Social Security. Planned Parenthood is a good thing. And everybody ought to have health care.

Earlier in the campaign, he seemed to support a single-payer health care plan, sort of like Bernie Sanders. Wow.

“I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody is going to be taken care of,” he told Scott Pelley on CBS.

Now it was pretty clear Trump had not actually thought things through. This happens so very frequently, you have to wonder what he talks about on all those plane rides. Schedules? Golf scores? Dinner plans?

This month, Trump still seemed to be moving in the same general health care direction. In a CNN town hall, Anderson Cooper mentioned the Obamacare mandate that everybody must have insurance. The Republicans hate this idea. They believe all Americans have a God-given right to refuse to get health coverage and throw themselves on the mercies of extremely expensive hospital emergency rooms if they get ill.

“Well, I like the mandate,” said Trump. “O.K., so here’s where I’m a little bit different. I don’t want people dying on the streets and I say this all the time.”

This is how far we have fallen. The leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination keeps bragging that he does not want people dying in the streets.

“Now some people would say, ‘That’s not a very Republican thing to say,’” he told Cooper.

Wow, Trump clearly has a very low opinion of Republicans. As well as insurance companies. Do you see why a desperate citizen might think he’s the lesser of three front-running evils? Remember, right now the party’s sensible establishment candidate is a person who does not want to allow abortions for rape victims and who basically believes that the only people who should have to pay taxes are the ones who worked for the money.

Trump said the poor people could be taken care of “through maybe concepts of Medicare. … That’s called heart.”

Fast forward three days. Trump is back at CNN talking with Jake Tapper, denying that he wants any mandate.

Pop quiz. After Donald Trump said he did not want a health care mandate after all, he added that he also did not want:

A) Any more hard questions.

B) People dying in the streets.

You’re right! The answer is B, and in case anyone missed his big-heartedness, Trump added that people would not be “dying on the sidewalks” either.

One of the most universally popular parts of Obamacare is the requirement that insurance companies can’t discriminate against people who have pre-existing conditions like diabetes or a prior bout with cancer. The problem is how to keep everybody from waiting until they get sick to insure themselves. You can just create a kind of Medicare for all. Or you can require people to buy insurance, and help the low-income pay the cost.

“I don’t like the term mandate, personally, because that sort of means mandatory,” Trump explained.

So what the heck does he want? Well, I checked with his campaign. He wants people to be able to establish health savings accounts. He is also looking into the possibility of letting the states run Medicaid with federal block grants, and making health insurance premiums tax-deductible.

People will not die in the streets because there are, you know, emergency rooms.

We will skip over the part where Trump is this far down the road and still working on a basic plan. The more important point is that he’s coming down to a health care policy that is the same as Marco Rubio’s and Ted Cruz’s.

“If most Republicans didn’t agree on most of the features of reform then you’d have a story. The fact that they agree should not be a surprise to anyone,” said Sam Clovis, the campaign’s senior policy adviser, in a phone interview.

The bottom line is that once you really pin him down, Donald Trump is a mail-order conservative Republican, except more trash-talking about Muslims and Mexicans. Surrender hope and be careful not to die in the streets.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

February 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baldwin continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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