Wednesday, December 23, 2020

On Lame Ducks, Christmas Trees and Pocket Vetoes

In response to COVID 19, much of America practically shut down for much of 2020.   Many Americans lost their jobs, particularly in the hospitality and restaurant industries.  Congress passed a few bills intending to funnel stimulus money as a lifeline to these economically vulnerable Americans.  But as the second wave of extreme closures hit parts of America during the holiday season, such payments from Uncle Sam to stem the financial pain are critical.

The fourth COVID stimulus were held up by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for admittedly partisan reasons.  Prior to the election, Pelosi demanded  $2.5 trillion legislation, which included bailouts of states with underfunded extravagant public pensions.  The Trump White House proposed a $1.6 trillion plan but was willing to increase it to $2 trillion to meet Democrats half way.  Still, Pelosi was intransigent until it appeared that Joe Biden (D-DE) was the presumptive President-elect. So Congressional Democrats only got serious about another COVID stimulus bill until the December rush from Capitol Hill to be home for Christmas

Lame Duck Congress sessions after an election often take a devil may care attitude since the scrutiny of the ballot box won't happen for another two years and some members are not returning to Capitol Hill. 

The Lame Duck 116th Congress was tasked with passing tardy spending bills which were supposed to have been finalized by the end of the Fiscal Year (September 30th).  It seems that the plan from leadership of both parties was to pass a couple of stop gap Federal Spending Bills to buy time from a government shutdown, then rush to pass an  $2.3 Trillion Omnibus Appropriation  Bill that is a Christmas Tree, meaning that there were all sorts of decoration of ancillary legislation which becomes a must pass bill.  

To add to the Slapdash Santa spirit, the powers that be agreed to pass a "skinny" COVID stimulus bill of ONLY $900 million of deficit spending, which earmarked a $600 check to Americans earning less than $75,000. Considering the financial insecurity of many Americans due to COVID, the Christmas rush when it was expected that people would not focus on the goings of Swamp City and the desire for President Trump to mitigate damage to his legacy, this must pass bill was expected to go through..

There were two flaws to this legislative strategy.  While Congress only had a few hours to review a five thousand page bit of legislation before passage, the details started to leak out.  Social media balked when it was discovered that only $190 million the the $900 million is set to go to needy Americans.  The rest of it was a pork Christmas tree, with expenditures for earmarks like $25 million to Pakistan for gender studies, funding for an American Womens' History Museum and an American Latino Museum on the National Mall, and nearly $90 million for Senate building maintenance. This raised the rankles of an already agitated American public. The House passed the combined COVID Relief package and Consolidated Appropriations  measure  (HR 133) by a 359-53 margin and the Senate passed the measure 92-6

The other thing impeding the typical jamming through pork barrel at the end of the year when people won't notice involves the 45th President.   President Donald Trump deems himself a disruptor from the swampy ways of the Deep State.  Even though the mainstream media has been parsing precious little time to President Trump since after the election, the Disrupter -in-Chief leveraged  his social media skills to distribute a viral video.  

President Trump demanded that every American ought to get a $2,000 stimulus check and the bill sent to him should be stripped of the other pork barrel legislation. Trump intimated that he may not sign the tripe bill that was sent to him.  Since Congress procrastinated to nearly the end of the 116th Congress, the President could have a pocket veto--meaning that by doing nothing (keeping it in his pocket) that the legislation fails. 

This puts Congress in a perilous situation.  They recognize that there constituents are really hurting and they will lose confidence in them if they fail on a stimulus, especially when their prior bill was laden with wasteful pork barrel projects that have nothing to do with COVID. While the Comprehensive COVID Stimulus and Appropriations legislation passed by veto proof majorities, a pocket veto does not require resubmission to Congress.  They let legislative time effectively run out for the customary rule of legislation.

The second problem is timing.  The Continuing Resolution only funds the government until December 28th. So if President Trump fails to sign HR 133 and uses a pocket veto, then there will be a government shutdown.  Congress may well get the blame for pushing pork barrel pet projects and giving taxpayers a pittance whereas the President wants to give every American adult $2,000.   To avoid a pocket-veto, they would have to stay in session during the week between Christmas and New Years Day.  And they could not easily do pro forma sessions because the Spending Continuing Resolution expires on December 28th. 

A third issue is populist agitation.  When the 117th Congress convenes on January 6th, they are supposed to certify the Electoral College results.  Since President Trump is positioning his Congressional forces to contest some of the election irregularities in several battleground states.  In conjunction with the Congressional vote, President Trump has called for a rally which he promised will be wild.  Imagine the animus  of a large group of "deplorables" against elected officials who won't "Stop the Steal", but due to their greed and indolence are holding back significant COVID relief packages for ordinary Americans. 

It is unclear if and when additional COVID relief payments are doled out, as well as the fate of contested election.  But because of lame ducks, Christmas trees and pocket vetoes, the next few weeks in Washington won't be as the Establishment had planned.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

On Entitlement and Narratives


Now that the mainstream media has moved on with the presumption that Joe Biden is the President-elect, the chatter is now about the trappings of his Administration.  As the public is growing accustomed to “the new normal”, there is a kerfluffel concerning honorifics attached to the First Lady, Jill Biden.  Staff surrounding the wife of the President-elect have made it clear that she be referred to as “Doctor” Jill Biden.  

Jill Biden earned her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Delaware in English in 1975.  Jill Biden earned a  Masters degree in education with a specialty of Reading from West Chester State College  in 1981 while working as a teacher.  In 1987, Jill got a Masters in English from Villanova University. Years later, she returned to school for her doctoral studies under her birth name Jill Jacobs. In January 2007, she was awarded a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) degree from the University of Delaware in “Educational Leadership”. She published  her dissertation: Student Retention at the Community College: Meeting Students’ Needs as Jill Jacobs-Biden.  The thrust of her thesis is that Delaware Technical and Community College (where she was an instructor) needed a Student Center. 

So Jill Jacobs-Biden earned a BA, a MA in Reading, a MA in English, and a Ed.D in Educational Leadership. That is a bit of sheepskin to hang on the walls. The specialty education in reading probably was quite instructive as Jill acted as a reading specialist.  Dr. Jill prowess as an Education Leader combined with her intimate connection to a 34 year senior Senator from Delaware likely scared up funding for the Community College’s student centers (as there are multiple campuses). 

That being said, it seems a bit presumptuous to demand that the public and the pliant press refer to her as Doctor Jill Biden.   Being a political junky, I’m reminded of when former Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) dressed down a polite General testifying on Capitol Hill for calling her “Ma’am”, as she had worked so hard to get that title of Senator.  Of course, who can forget Dr. Evil from Austin Powers demanding his honorific after six years in evil medical school.

Not all public figures choose to preen their pedigrees.  Even though Bill Cosby also earned a Doctor of Education degree, he did not insist on being addressed with the honorific “Doctor”.  Then there is Ben Carson, a world wide renowned brain surgeon who served as President Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  In his many media appearances, how often was he called Doctor (despite his medical degree) or did he insist on being addressed by that title? 

America’s incoming Gaffer in Chief Joe Biden once explained why his wife sought higher degrees: 

“She said, ‘I was so sick of the mail coming to Sen. and Mrs. Biden. I wanted to get mail addressed to Dr. and Sen. Biden.’ That’s the real reason she got her doctorate.” 

 It is unclear if Joe Biden followed that up with his patent “I’m not joking.”   In some senses, the quote  might have been intentional deprecation to charm a lunch bucket audience.  Still, Joe often says uncomfortable off scripted things which reveal truths so judge for yourself. But Joe does not seem impressed by the aura of Dr. Jill’s status.

When a Wall Street Journal opinion writer penned a piece mocking Jill’s people insisting that she be called Dr. Biden, it created some controversy. Those prone to support a nascent Biden Administration defended Doctor Jill, claiming that calling her anything less was misogynistic. 

Tucker Carlson bothered to read her thesis and found it riddled with typos, creative math and extremely awkward phrasing, which seems striking considering her Master’s in English.  

Some parts sound slapdash and poorly edited.  Still the University of Delaware awarded her a Ed.D. 

Tucker Carlson rejected inevitable claims of sexist and affirmatively asserted that Jill was much smarter than her husband Joe.  Carlson’s conclusion was that the controversy swirls around classism, that there are expectations of a certain sort of person that they have the right credentials, be they academic or accorded by a prestigious professional position, not to create but to lord over you.   They have the presumption that their titles and status gives them “gravitas”.

While I can appreciate Tucker Carlson’s populist points, I believe that is only part of the story.  Culture plays some part in the application of honorifics.  In Latin countries, there is the tendency to address someone with a degree as “doctor” to lend credence to their arguments.  In Poland, they are sticklers in demanding the use of honorifics for doctors, academicians and professors.  But America was founded in an egalitarian environment which eschewed peerages and fancy titles.  

Generally, in our culture we reserve the honorific Doctor to those with medical degrees. In academic circles, they may apply doctor to give their dissertations distinction.  For some clergy who have garnered advanced degrees, such as the Dr. Martin Luther King, we accord that honorific. If one sought to be accurate, lawyers who have earned a Juris Doctor would be lawyers, but calling them Doctor would seem pretentious (especially after receiving their bills).  Even attorneys would insist on signing with Esquire or JD are deemed kind of pretentious.

Following George Washington’s wishes, even the US Chief Executive is given a diminished honorific “Mr. President”, although we accord it much more prestige due to the power he (or she) wields.  

But the presidential honorific is tempered with the esteem of the occupant.  Many feel that President Trump did not receive “all due respect” from a contemptuous press.  And after the shenanigans of the electoral Compromise of 1877, many referred to President Rutherford B. Hayes as “His Frauduency”.  I fear that unless the questions about election irregularities are cleared up before Biden’s inauguration, that mocking title may make a revival.

Being a denizen of the District, it is easy to see most things through a political lens.  Thus I believe that narrative is another important element of entitlement.  More than just Tucker Carlson’s assertion that people of a certain class are expected to have certain trappings, political opinion makers can spin them to give additional gravitas to those with whom they give favor.  President Barack Obama was portrayed as being a Constitutional because he taught at The University of Chicago.  But if one digs deeper into that assertion, Obama was only an instructor and his curriculum was more about Saul Alinsky and being a community activist. 

Defying Biden’s bumbling reputation, Joe Biden is esteemed in academia.  Joe Biden has honorary degrees from the University of Scranton (1976), St Joseph’s University (LLM 1981), Wiedener University Law (2000), Emerson College (2003), Delaware State University (LLD 2004), Suffolk University Law (2005), Syracuse University (LLD 2009), Wake Forest Univeristy (LLD 2009), the University of Pennsylvania (LLD 2013), Miami Dade College (2014), University of South Carolina (DPA 2014), Trinity College, Dublin (LLD 2016), Colby College (2016), and Morgan State University (DPS 2017).  See how smart you can look giving commencement speeches.  

But Joe Biden’s academic prowess does not stop there.  For years, Joe Biden co-taught a political science course at Wiedener University on Saturdays.  Joe Biden raised enough money under his name for the University of Pennsylvania to create the The Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.  Joe also joined the University of Pennsylvania Annenburg School of Arts and Sciences as Ben Franklin Presidential Practice Professor, but it is unclear if he actually taught anything there or if he served in other ways. 

The University of Delaware named their School of Public Policy after him as he donated his nearly half century of papers to them.  Some scholars wanted access to Senate paperwork during the campaign but they were off limits.  Enquiring minds want to know why. 

 In the minds of opinion makers, one has respectability with lots of degrees or holding diplomas from prominent schools, which can elicit the cynical retort:  “Oh sure, but he went to Harvard”.  

However, such  respect is not accorded to those on their political naughty list. Consider President George W. Bush.  As a Republican, one is typically typecast as evil or stupid.  In the case of “W”, it was the latter.  Bush was painted as being stupid, despite being an alum of Yale and earning a Masters in Business Administration from Harvard.  He went to the “right” schools but Bush isn’t a Democrat so he was demeaned as a dummy.  In fact, while occupying the Oval Office, President Bush read a book a week.  But that did not go with the prevailing narrative.

Ronald Reagan did not have storied academic career, earning a BA from Eureka College.  Reagan was typecast in critical conventional wisdom as an amiable actor who knew how to read his script in “B” movies, the TV teleprompter and on the radio.  Yet after his death, it was discovered that his weekly scripts which delved deep into political conservatism was written by his own hand.  But that contradicted the narrative foisted upon the public by elitist opinion makers.

This shaping of narrative is not limited to intellectual perceptions. Opinion makers can shape public perceptions of First Ladies too.   When she was First Lady, Michelle Obama was a fashion plate, adorning the covers of numerous magazines which glowed about her stylings, despite having a more muscular figure.  Then there is Melania Trump, who truly was a fashion model prior to coming to the White House, yet she has not been in one fashion magazine photo shoot or cover.  Some critics have criticized how the Slovenian immigrant can’t speak English well.  Of course that naysayer omitted that she speaks five languages. But pushing the narrative is more important.

To be fair with First Ladies, this narrative is not just shaped by the press or conventional wisdom. Pat Nixon did not want to be in the spotlight and wanted to support her husband’s middle class public persona.  So as early as the Checkers speech of 1952, she was content to wear that cloth coat and steer clear from fashion coverage.   President George Herbert Walker Bush’s wife Barbara cultivated the nickname “The Silver Fox” because of her grandmotherly demeanor. “Bar” was happy to play up the perception that her wardrobe mainly consisted of clothes from the Sears catalog.  Those narrative nuggets demonstrate how some choose to deprecate themselves rather than emphasize entitlement. 

Normally, narrative is entitlement in action by opinion makers.  I suspect that Jill’s insistence at being called "Doctor Jill" may be more than just an ego message.  Considering her degree in Educational Leadership and her numerous side-by-side appearances with her husband at their sparing 2020 campaign appearances, the public may be being set up for a more active role in a presumptive Biden Administration.  Doctor Jill may seek to have a guiding hand publicly as well as privately, for educational policy. There has been Democrat talking points about making Community College free to students and the pandering promise to wipe out student debt.

To paraphrase Dr. King, I personally wish for a world in which people are judged by the content of their character rather than the title of their honorific. And what a wonderful world it would be.

Monday, December 14, 2020

"Biden Did You Know?"--An Advent of Truth?

For many Christians, Advent is a a time anticipation for our ultimate salvation via the incarnation of our Messiah Jesus the Christ.  To get to that point, the faithful are asked to prepare by contemplating the end times and final judgment.  That is why the liturgical readings are prophetical and often tinged with a sense of calamity. This preparation exposes hard ultimate truth and raises questions as to how we comport ourselves in the here and now.

In our culture we prefer the unbridled joy of Christmas Carols rather than the brooding meditations of Advent hymns, like "Wake, Oh Wake" and "Veni Emmanuel".  One of the new contributions to the Advent repertoire is "Mary Did You Know?",  a Protestant carol written by Mark Lowry 1984 and later set to music in 1991 by Buddy Green of the Gaither Vocal Band.   The lyric were written as reflections between acts of a Christmas play which posed hard questions as to whether the Blessed Virgin Mary understood everything that would be implicated by her fiat, her assent to what God asked for in the Annunciation. 

In the wake of the instances of election irregularities and accusations of coordinated voter fraud in Election 2020,  Eric Metaxas did a a filk written by by John Zimrak  and produced by Chris Hines of the contemporary Christmas-tide classic in "Biden Did You Know?

This video could be dismissed as a piece of propaganda from a Trump supporter blowing off steam at the victory of his opponent former Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE).  More sympathetic listeners might find it hard to hear as Mr. Metaxas is not a natural soloist.  But the video raises some uncomfortable questions that the presumed President Elect must address as nearly half of Americans are under the impression that Election 2020 was stolen. Metaxas combined pop cultural film references, graphics which illustrated his points along with video evidence indicated election night Malarkey (sic), such as the Fulton County Georgia suitcase of hidden ballots, the Detroit TCF Cobo Center  hidden vote count center and CNN's chyron of over a hundred thousand ballots instantly switching columns. 

Even though Election 2020 was conducted during the COVID19 pandemic, the Biden presidential campaign was conducted in an extremely unorthodox fashion.  During the General Election campaign, Biden basically hid in his basement with a message of  defeating Trump and COVID19  using a wholesale campaign strategy. Biden ads ran heavily, along with allies like the Lincoln Project.  Other campaign events included poorly attended Zoom calls and scripted "interviews" with friendly media (and Biden reading off a teleprompter or being corrected by his wife DOCTOR Jill Biden--sic).    

During the normally intense two months before the November 3rd vote, the Biden campaign called "lids" (no news today) at nine am for a fortnight. Biden's running mate, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) did not try to outshine the top of the ticket on the hustings.  When Joe Biden deigned to be seen in public, he mostly appeared in Delaware or within even driving distance of Philadelphia.  Such "rallies" were more media events, with basely a score of attendings sitting in COVID correct socially distanced circles. 

By the end of the General Election campaign, Trump counter-protesters were overshadowing the curated Biden/Harris campaign events, so much so that Joe Biden, the candidate calling for unity, called them
chumps and ugly folks.  Harris held "rallies" in secret locations and may have employed body doubles at events. These do not seem like tactics of a campaign which supposedly won 80 million votes, 10 million more than President Barack Obama. 

 This Biden/Harris unorthodox campaign conduct sharply contrasted with President Trump, who help scores of rallies which attracted  tens of thousands of attendees per event, many unruly off the cuff pressers.  Donald Trump definitely won 10 million votes more than 2016, with marked increases of support from African American and Hispanic voters.  Trump had coat tails, with Republicans winning 27 of 27 key House races and the GOP only losing two Senate seats when they had 23 races to defend.  Trump won 18 of 19 bellwether counties.  Yet supposedly Trump lost by six million Popular Votes and lost several battleground states by small margins bolstered by midnight ballot drops thusJoe Biden wins 306 Electoral Votes.  In the abstract, that doesn't make sense, but these facts may be derided as  sour grapes.

In retrospect, there were several odd remarks from Democrats about the Biden campaign the post election aftermath that when they are juxtaposed with the election anomalies that give a skeptical body politic cause for pause as to "Biden did you know?".

One of Joe Biden's persistent traits is being a gaffe maker  So often, his off the cuff remarks seem blunderously off-message,  wrongfully boastful,  and actually quite odd (e.g. "Corn Pop").  I was willing to consider those moments as being the Biden gaffe machine, which has been heighted due to obvious cognitive challenges and overplaying his "aw-shucks Uncle Joe" persona.  But sometimes these gaffes reveal uncomfortable truths, albeit in a clumsy manner.  A pithy maxim in the District of Calamity is that a gaffe is a politician telling the truth.  Joe Biden has said: "A gaffe in Washington is someone telling the truth and telling the truth has never hurt me."  OK, let's test that premise.

One of the most striking verbal blunders was when Joe Biden actually said that [Democrats] had put together the biggest and most extensive voter fraud organization in history. Wow, what a gaffe!


Perhaps he meant to say "Get Out the Vote" organization.  But let's examine this gaffe with the facts.  In the 116th Congress of 2019, Speaker Nancy Pelosi put forth HR1, which was a measure that sought to imposes mail in voting nationwide. Note this was a year BEFORE the Wuhan Flu reached the shores of America.  When that measure did not pass, a couple of COVID relief bills were held up in reconciliation bills because Speaker Pelosi insisted that liberal mail in voting laws be imposed nationwide.  The Democrat National Committee spent considerable resources shepherding mail in voting laws in the states, despite the fact that the Carter/Baker Commission concluded in 2004 that mail in voting was prone to fraud. So was it a Biden gaffe or Joe telling an inconvenient truth?

Prior to November 3rd, there were warnings from Democrats and the media that because of COVID19 that we would not know the results of the election immediately.  In fact, I recall some Democrats warning that it might appear that they would be down but in the end they would be victorious.  Former Democrat Presidential candidate First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton implored Joe Biden not concede if the election is close, perhaps ruing her concession which complicated "The Resistance" after the 2016 Trump victory.  

What is more likely is that Democrat leaders realized that when then Vice President Albert Gore, Jr. conceded and then retracted the concession after the 2000 election that they lost some of the narrative which impeded their victory in the contested election coverage. I believe that there was so much pressure on President Trump to promise to abide by the election results, and after November 3rd to extract a concession is to give the psychological impression that the cake is baked and to normalize the presumptive Biden/Harris Presidency.  But true to character, President Trump is a fighter and chooses to brawl in the legal system for what he believes was a wrong result due to illegitimate votes.

Three days before the election, in a prominent rally in the Motor City along with Barack Obama, Joe Biden said something truly strange:  "I don't need you to get me elected, I need you once I'm elected...".  Sure, a candidate might long for support for his policies (whatever the actually are) once in office, but at a Get Out The Vote Rally affirmatively saying "I don't need you to get me elected"--Huh? It's hard to explain that away as a simple verbal blunder.

One other rhetorical oddity which makes one wonder "Biden did you know?" is how readily Biden publicly sees his departure from the Oval Office.  Quite understandably, it is prudent for a frail, gaffe prone 78 year old to announce that he was chary about running for a second term.  But towards the end of the campaign in Tampa, Biden referred to the Harris/Biden Administration. Politicians tend to be ego driven so juxtaposing your running mate as top of the ticket might be telling the public something. That theme was echoed by Kamala Harris proclaiming "The Harris Administration under Joe Biden as President."  It's it's kind of presumptive or is it a plan.  Then there was a the post election Biden/Harris CNN interview when Joe claimed that if we ever really disagree, then I'll develop a disease and resign. 


Biden was comparing his relationship with President Biden and applying it to the Harris Administration with President Biden (sic).  One would expect such action with a subordinate.  But isn't Biden supposed to be Chief Executive of the United States?  In and of itself, this might have been another one of Joe being Joe.  Yet a month before Election 2020, Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced a bill to create a commission to study applying the 25th Amendment to Presidents unable to carry out their duties?  Coincidence or messaging? 

Advent carols are all about anticipation of a messiah as an ultimate truth. Thus we ought apply  Advent principles to our own age.  The truth is that  regardless of who prevails in the Election 2020 overtime, certainly we won't find a messiah.

I may be more like in Monty Python's Life of Brian:  "There's a mess here alright but there's no messiah."

Alas, to shift pop metaphors,  I fear that it may be more of a dark winter and winter is coming.

Monday, December 7, 2020

A Day that Will Live in Infamy

Rescue operations on the U.S.S. West Virginia after the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941

December 7th 1941, a date that will live in infamy.    Those words uttered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his address to Congress have resonated in the 70 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Hawaii.

Americans were shocked out of their inclination to isolationism during the 1930s by what was understood as being a sneak attack by Japanese forces.

Recent scholarship calls into question how much of a surprise the Japanese strike was to the American government.  In his new book December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World, Craig Shirley points to a recently declassified FBI on Franklin Roosevelt.  On December 4, 1941, a memo from the Office of Naval Intelligence warned the President that:

In anticipation of open conflict with this country, Japan is vigorously utilizing every available agency to secure military, naval and commercial information, paying particular attention to the West Coast, the Panama Canal and the Territory of Hawaii.

Unlike Loose Change 9/11 conspiracy mongers, Shirley does not purport that FDR knew of the attack and did nothing or blew the response. Instead, the author of December 1941 suggests that there were more pieces to the puzzle.

This was certainly true on the diplomatic end.  American and Japanese diplomats  had been engaged in a tense series of negotiations over a US embargo of oil shipments to Japan in the three months prior to December, 1941.  FDR’s Secretary of State Cordell Hull had presented Tokyo with a 10 point ultimatum on November 26, 1941 which stunned Japanese diplomats who had just suggested a 90 day cooling off period.

Most American history books key on the difficulty of translating the Japanese cable that delayed delivery of the demarche, which was supposed to have been handed over just as the attack on Pearl Harbor began. But American sources had intercepted a Japanese Foreign Ministry draft memorandum that was tantamount to a declaration of war. But FDR saw nothing new in the message and took no further preparations.  In addition, Japanese researcher Takeo Iguchi debunks the myth that war was caused by a misunderstanding, as internal Japanese government documents indicated that Japanese Army and Navy prevailed over the Foreign Ministry to keep their war aims secret.

Another interesting angle of the Day of Infamy is why President Roosevelt only asked Congress for a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan.  On the evening of December 7th, FDR was shaken as he expected America to be hit but not hurt in any conflict with Japan. Historian Shirley pointed out that FDR and his War Cabinet considered declaring war against all three Axis powers, Japan, Germany and Italy.  But in the end, FDR only chose Japan, as America was still healing from the Great War and isolationism.  Oddly enough, it was German Führer Adolph Hitler who declared war against America in self written speech before the Reichstag on December 11, 1941. There might have been a markedly different outcome had America kept its attention towards the Pacific and Europe had to fight for itself aside from Lend Lease with the British Empire.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

If Election 2020 Political Football Goes Into Overtime


As a political junkie, I have jested with friends and family that Presidential Elections are kind of a Superbowl for me.  Usually, the sturm und drang of a political campaign ends on election day.  In rare occasions, not so much.  Election 2000 stretched out through Thanksgiving that year due to the Florida recount. 

So when my beloved asked me how long would it be until we know who will be President next year, she was shocked when I suggested that it might be until January 4th.  What a fitting way to close out the annus horribilis of 2020.  I think that the field has been prepped for overtime in Political Fantasy Football resulting in a contested election scenario.

Granted, information may change by the hour, but on the evening after Election Day, the Democrat candidate Joseph Robinette Biden is thought to have 264 Electoral College votes, and Nevada is poised to surrender its six Electoral College votes, giving him a squeaker of a victory in the only metric which constitutionally matters.  Incumbent President Donald Trump is disputing an early call of Arizona’s 11 Electoral College votes.  

If Trump carries North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania (battleground states where he is leading) and Arizona then Trump would win 274 votes and be re-elected.  Notwithstanding an outright victory, the Trump campaign has vowed to litigate against many instances of alleged voting irregularities, canvassing violations and potential fraudulent ballots for unvetted late mail in votes. Trump’s legal team has vowed to fight these violations, possibly even petitioning the US Supreme Court. 

This has the potential to impact results in key battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arizona.   If there are substantial cases, this may take time to litigate, which may delay or sway the official reporting of results.   Regardless of judicial outcome, if these violations are compelling, they may sway the process.

To refresh our civics knowledge, we do NOT live in a democracy but a Republic.  So when one casts a vote on election day for President, you are actually not voting for a Presidential candidate per se, you are voting for a slate of electors who then votes for the winning candidate in each state in the Electoral College, the ultimate party school. That’s how it normally works.  But technically, according to Article II Section 1 Clause 2 of the US Constitution, the power to name electors lies with state legislatures.  

Note well, this is a state legislature’s responsibility under federalism, which does not include input from a state Governor.  It is important to note that several battleground states with alleged voting irregularities, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, have Republican majorities in their legislatures, despite having liberal Democrat Governors.   

It would be extraordinary, but not inconceivable, that Republican Legislatures may be convicted that voting irregularities which do not follow their legislation and would have be addressed when naming Electors for the Electoral College.  Obviously, Democrats would object to having their win overturned, so more than likely an alternative slate of Electors would attempt to be presented to the Electoral College.  And political mayhem ensues.

Presuming that the Constitution is followed, the legislature endorsed delegates would participate in the Electoral College vote on December 14th and that result would be sent to the US Senate. 

On January 3rd, the second duty of the Senate in the 117th Congress after their swearing in would be to ratify the Electoral College vote.  First vote decides the Vice President among the top two vote getters. Then the EC vote for President among the top three candidates. 

Normally, this is a pro forma vote and there is polite applause for whoever won the Election.  But in this scenario, Senators would challenge state slates of Electors.  This should be determined by a majority vote, with a tie being decided by the sitting Vice President (who is in office until January 20th).  If slates are thrown out and neither candidate gets a majority of Electors, then the contested election moves to the House of Representatives.

Even though Democrats have maintained their majority in the House, voting in a contested election is done by Representatives en banc via state.  Republicans have a 26 to 24 state majority in Congress, thus it would point to re-election of President Trump.  If there is not a majority of state delegations electing a President or Vice President by January 20th, then the Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 11th) or whoever is Speaker of the House at that time,  Acting President until the succession is determined. 

 Historically, there have been a few contested elections. In 2000, the Florida recount was settled by a Supreme Court decision in favor of George W. Bush.

 While the 1960 Presidential election was not formally disputed, the popular vote was only decided by 0.14% in favor of John Kennedy.  It is said that if 10,000 votes switched in four states, Richard Nixon would have become President in 1961. There were allegations of shenanigans in Texas and Illinois.  Moreover, there were 14 unpledged delegates in Mississippi and Alabama cast for Harry F. Byrd.  But Nixon did not want to divide the country so he did not fight. 

The 1876 Presidential Election was a quintessential case of a contested election.  Democrat Samuel Tilden won the Popular Vote but there were difficulties in the  Electoral College.  One of Oregon’s Electors was deemed ineligible as he was an elected official.  But Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana had competing Electors as each party sent slates, amounting to 19 more unresolved Electors.   To resolve this matter, Congress adopted an informal agreement known as the Compromise of 1877 which gave all 20 unresolved electoral votes to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, thereby making him President.  In exchange, the federal government under Hayes withdrew Reconstruction troops that had been propping up carpet bagging state governments in Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana.  

Prior to the 2020 Elections, Democrats ran an election war game of a close election.  In this simulation Democrat activist John Podesta refused to concede and extracted political promises by threatening that West Coast states, such as California, Oregon and Washington would leave the Union unless they got their way.   This obstinate political modus operandi seems to echo the extracted promises from the Compromise of 1877. 

A hypothetical overtime in political football seems pretty theoretical but strange things have happened in 2020. We may be suffering from the Chinese curse of “May you live in interesting times”, even without  Joe Biden assuming the Oval Office.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Do VP Debates Matter?

 Being an inveterate political junkie, I always watch debates during a Presidential Election cycle.  Of course, take-aways from these contests are often less about substance and more about style or catch phrases.  Experience has taught that impressions are even more the case with Vice Presidential debates.

Before one dismisses the significance of the Election 2020 Vice Presidential debate between Democrat Senator Kalama Harris (D-CA) and Republican Vice President Mike Pence (R-IN), it is incumbent on a conscientious voter to consider the top of the ticket.   Pence is the running mate of a 74 year old incumbent Chief Executive who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19.  Harris is the bottom of a ticket with a 78 year old challenger who many believe is displaying cognitive decline and  has engaged  in what can charitably called  a laid back general election campaign,  These VP nominees may not just be virtue signaling for identity politics or geographical balance to a ticket, but may well inherit the Oval Office.

To prepare for the future, it helps to look back at the recent past to discern tips and tricks for Vice presidential debates.

For me, the most memorable zinger from a VP contest was in 1988, when George Herbert Walker Bush's VP nominee Senator Dan Quayle (D-IN), tried to answer moderators' pushback on his qualifications if he were to become President.  Qualye, who many believe was chosen in part for his youthful vigor to balance one of the last Greatest Generation Presidential candidates, tried to give vague assurances of continuity.  To support his credentials, Quayle compared himself to Democrat icon President John F. Kennedy, who had the same amount of elected experience before becoming President. Democrat Vice Presidential candidate Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX), overcame his debate jitters to utter the ultimate deflating repartee 

"Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."



 As spontaneous as that sounded, the jibe came from debate prep.  According to Dukakis campaign advisor Susan Estrich in 2004, the stand in for Quayle kept making this JFK comparison, which stunned Bentson.  The Democrat VP nominee asked his advisors if he could say something and they agreed.  The rest was history and comedic fodder for years.  Not that it really helped the Dukakis/Bentsen ticket, which got crushed in the Electoral College in 1988.

For the most part, people rarely remember the VP debates.  Honestly, some political pundits strain to think of losing VP nominees four years later, such as Senator Tim Kaine, (D-VA) First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's choice in 2016.   At the time, I covered the debate blow by blow.  But it made little impact and Kaine slunk into faded memories, even despite retaining his Senate seat.

Despite being quite occupied with the Romney/Ryan ticket in 2012, I struggle to recall any take away moments from the VP debate between Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI 1st) and Obama Vice President Joseph Robinette Biden.  Some commentators note that Biden smirked and interrupted the Congressman, which seems to be part of Biden's toolbox.  This non-verbal strategy does not accord gravitas to one's opponent; however, depending upon the post debate spin, it risks making the perpetrator look like a jackass.

Sometimes, it helps for a candidate to draw from his or her biography to score points.  Biden is famous for invoking his familial tragedies to draw empathy during a debate, as he did during the dust up with Senator John McCain's (R-AZ) maverick VP choice Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) in 2008.

For the 2020 Vice Presidential debate, Senator Kamala Harris  should be well experienced, as she participated in six monthly Democrat Presidential Primary debates before dropping out before the Iowa Caucus with virtually no support.  

Harris made the most of her first debate appearance by going after the jugular of front runner Joe Biden by indirectly accusing him of being a racist for opposing school bussing in the 1970s.


 Harris' verbal hit must have been preplanned, because the next day her campaign store was ready to roll with "That little girl was me" t-shirts and stylized social media posts.  

In some senses, Harris' hardball did not politically hurt her ambitions,  as Joe Biden chose her to be his running mate (or is that vice versa?).  But in a more intangible sense, that attack leads to a perception of unlikeability and phoniness amongst even  diehard Democrats.  

Mike Pence's style is certainly less confrontational than President Trump's demeanor. Pence has a well earned reputation as an Evangelical Christian, so don't expect bombast or invective.  But before successfully being elected to Congress in 2000, Pence hosted a syndicated daily radio talk show for seven  years.  Pence branded himself "Rush on decaf", meaning that he was just as conservative as Rush Limbaugh but without the bombast.  Pence also hosted a weekend public affairs television program.  Skill sets developed from these experiences, such as being comfortable on camera, calmly discussing issues and controlling time, might be quite helpful during a debate.

One of the distinctive qualities of the Biden/Harris campaign is controlling the media narrative, as both candidates eschew taking unscripted questions from the press and have extremely limited campaign events which are meant for television. The mainstream media has not hidden their support for the Democrat ticket.  Thus this might be the opportunity for Republicans to impeach candidate Harris by posing hard questions. For example: "Senator Harris, how did you reconcile Joe Biden's opposition to school bussing with your hurt feelings  over racism?"   On the one hand, if Pence fails to propose such pointed questions, it is a lost opportunity.  On the other had, would soft spoken challenges get ignored and make the interrogator inept?

One of the major criticisms of the first Election 2020 Presidential debate was the disrespectful over-talking and insults between the participants.  There is little danger of those traits from Mike Pence.  That is not as sure of a bet with Kamala Harris.  Harris played the adult in the room for the second 2020  Democrat primary debate, which is easy to do with a crowded stage, but that may come off differently one-on-one.

It seems that the Biden/Harris campaign is banking on a visual perception to sell a major component of their campaign.  Due to COVID-19, Harris insisted that the daises be placed at a safe 12 apart.  In addition, the Democrat debater and the moderator will be surrounded by a plexiglass barrier.  This staging may draw attention to the Biden/Harris contention that the Trump Administration has been inept in handling the viral pandemic.  In marked contrast, Vice President Pence declined the see thru cage, which also may be sending a message.

For those that eat, sleep and breathe politics, the Vice Presidential debate will be of temporary great import.  But my visceral instinct is that it will have little impact, aside from confirming impressions of the candidates. In this cycle, that impression may not be a good thing. 


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Debating the Debate Take Aways

Presidential debates are not like Oxford Union style debates, which can be scored on points and form. Often, the policy points do not matter.  What often is the take away from a presidential debate is a zinger (usually pre-planned) or some canned ham (scripted witticism).  Occasionally, the demeanor or appearance of a participant is what is long remembered.  Then there are the blunders, both verbal and non verbal.

To give an example of how seemingly superficial factors sway voters, consider the dichotomy of perceptions that people had about the Kennedy/Nixon debate in 1960.  Those who listened to the debate on radio generally thought that Vice President Richard Nixon won on points and substance.  People watching on television, however, thought that Senator John F. Kennedy (D-MA) won the day as he looked collected as well as tan and rested. 

[L] Vice President Richard Nixon (R-CA)  & [R] Senator John Kennedy (D-MA) during 
1960 Presidential Debate, Sept. 22, 1960

 The rest of the story touches upon Nixon’s demeanor, health, and appearance.  Television viewers opined that Nixon looked nervous.  Despite being a ground breaker for long form televised ads (the “Checkers” speech from 1952), the camera did not love Nixon.  He had nervous demeanor which did not display well. Nixon came to the debate coming from a campaign appearance, whereas Kennedy had polished talking points which he rehearsed with aides the weekend before.

 On top of that, Nixon refused television make up as he heard that Kennedy had declined TV make up.  Instead, Nixon tried to  his five-o-clock shadow with “Lazy Shave”, which melted off under the hot television lights during the debate. That contrasted with the clean shaven Democrat challenger. 

[L] 1960s Lazy Shave Ad [R]Button of New York Review caricature by David Levine

Nixon also looked in pain, green and sallow.  This is attributable to being hospitalized for 12 days during the general election campaign due to a Staph infection.  These deficiencies really came across to the television audience.

Zingers are common during presidential debates, as they are the source of post debate water cooler humor and can crystalize a perception of a candidate.  Take President Barack Obama’s quip to ex Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) in 2012 when Romney opined that America’s major foreign policy concern should be the Russians.  Obama joked: “The eighties called and wants their foreign policy back.”.  This painted challenger Romney as out of touch with a sardonic smile on his face. 

Sometimes zingers have some substance to them.  After President Ronald Reagan had a shaky first debate in 1984, there were concerns that the 73 year old President might not be up to a second term.  But in the second debate, Reagan was prepared for this issue and said: “I will not make age an issue in this campaign.  I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”  Everyone laughed, including Reagan’s opponent ex Vice President Walter Mondale (D-MN).  That charming canned ham dispelled any doubts and Reagan went on to win in a landslide. 

An awkward phrase tossed out during a debate can come back to haunt a candidate.  During the 1976 presidential debate, incumbent President Gerald Ford was attempting to fend off a challenge by then Governor Jimmy Carter (D-GA).   President Ford asserted that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. The moderator was incredulous at this answer and Ford offered examples of how the people of Yugoslavia, Romania and Poland do not feel dominated by the Soviet Union. 

This incredible response was given at a time that there were Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain and within Soviet hegemony of the Warsaw Pact.  Later, Ford’s campaign tried to spin that the spirit of Eastern Europe was never dominated by the Russians. But that blunder was a stand out blunder and may have tipped the scales of an election.

Body language can deliver debate body blows to a campaign.  During the 1992 Town Hall Presidential Debate between incumbent President George H.W. Bush, challenger then Governor Bill Clinton (D-AR) and Reform Party candidate H. Ross Perot, there were timed questions and answers between the three candidates and the audience.  The camera caught President Bush “41" looking at his watch.  

[F] President George H.W. Bush & [B] H. Ross Perot at
Richmond Townhall Debate, 1992

 He may well have been figuring out what portion of the debate they were in to switch tones or emphases.  But the spin from this Richmond Town Hall debate was used as a cudgel later in the campaign to show that President Bush was bored and out of touch.

With this background in mind, we need to consider the expectations game and the later spin.

[L] President Donald Trump and [R] ex Vice President Joseph Biden 
at the Presidential Debate in Cleveland, OH Sept. 29, 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE) spent the better part of a week putting an early lid on campaigning, supposedly doing campaign prep.  Cynical sorts have suggested that the Biden campaign may have been adjusting the candidate’s clock to avoid “sunsetting”, which would not have Joe at his best.   Many Republicans questioned the vigor of Biden’s campaigning and though he might not be physically or mentally up to the job.    However, expectations had been set so low, that a sympathetic news media could proclaim Joe Biden’s debate performance as a triumph if he merely appeared.   

The first (and possibly only) Election 2020 Presidential Debate in Cleveland was a food fight between an incumbent street brawler and “Lunch Bucket” Joe who on prior occasions has threatened to beat up his opponent in back of the school.  Let’s not forget the third debater in this supposedly mano-a-mano imbroglio, moderator Chris Wallace. 

In the first minutes of the debate, Wallace lost control.  But instead of letting the principle fighters duke it out, Wallace seemed to tag team with Biden, asking candidates questions pointedly rooted from a progressive perspective (climate change, racial justice, COVID-19 and “science”), interrupting Trump when he was on a roll, not allowing retorts to obvious distortions, prompting Biden when he answered the wrong question and not allowing pressure when Biden refused to answer.

Biden’s performance of surviving the Cleveland debates may give him the ability to avoid sharing the stage with President Trump for the remainder of Election 2020 because of the unpresidential atmosphere.  But calling his opponent a clown, a perpetual liar and a racist had nothing to do with this so c’mon man (sic).  Such a strategy would align with a campaign which has been critiqued for “Hidin’ Biden”, giving structured pressers with preplanned questions and responses typed out on a teleprompter.  Biden’s staff may feel like they got the credibility which they needed, the debate cast Trump in a negative light and further debates might cause unforced errors.  But in the post debate hubris, Biden’s staff promised to do all of the scheduled debates.

President Trump did not do much debate prep but seemed to wing it. He lived up to his reputation of counter punching and raring for a fight. Honestly, it was not pretty. Trump used sarcasm, redirection and interrogatories to verbally attack his opponent.  For those who liked Mr. Trump’s scrappy style, they may have been pleased. Those who are anti-Trump were not going to be won over.  The unstated objective may not have been to sway undecided voters, but to convict the base while dividing the opposition.

For instance, “Moderator” Wallace asked the question about race, Trump keyed in on Biden’s 1994 lead on the crime bill when he kept referring to Super Predators, which still rankles the Black community. Then he shifted his answer to law and order.  This has elements of answering the question that a debater wants, painting the opposition and playing to your strong suits.  Trump could have touted his Administration’s success in the 2019 prison reform bill, which aided disproportionately impacted African Americans, but he did not.  Was this a missed opportunity? Perhaps.  But Trump wanted to do a quick hit on his opponent and then segue to a prominent campaign theme of law and order, which is a sharp contrast to Biden.  Despite making inroad in polling African American men (presumably from economic opportunity), it is likely that Trump was trying to depress Black turnout for Biden, which has been taken for granted by Biden (e.g. “You ain’t black if you aren’t voting for me” from the Breakfast Club).

Trump’s pivot on the question to law and order plays well with communities that peaceful protests caused burnt out small businesses.  In instant polling on Telemundo, Latinos disproportionately thought that Trump won the debate, which seemed linked to law and order. This was further cemented when Trump pressed Biden on which law enforcement groups endorsed the Democrat, and there was no reply at all.

When the topic shifted to public health and insurance, Biden wanted to tout the virtues of Obamacare and paint President Trump as heartless. Trump wanted to show that Democrats want to wipe out private insurance and pointed to the Bernie Sanders manifesto which Biden supposedly had bought into towards the end of the primaries.  Biden insisted that the manifesto was not his plan and distanced himself from Sanders.  Trump chimed in that Biden just lost the left. Obviously, Bernie bros will not be happy that they were pushed to the side.  That might dampen some turn out on the left, even if was a “necessary evil” so Biden might triumph.

The debate in Cleveland did not feature a spin room, but that did not really matter because the mainstream media had their narratives already established.  Biden survived so he thrived.  Trump acted “unpresidential”.  In addition, it echoes the Biden campaign’s narrative that “this clown lies all the time”.   More establishment Republicans tsk tsk the street brawl flavor of the debate.  Some commentators on the right lament missed opportunities. It certainly did not look pretty.

In rereading the debate transcript, Trump was able to strongly reinforce his law and order message, offer negative news about Biden family corruption which the “fake news media” has ignored, and shown that Biden is a politician who is light on accomplishments in 47 years of public life and lacks leadership now.   If Trump did not have to debate Chris Wallace, there were some instances which Biden’s ramblings might have shown that he’s lost some steps, but Trump’s challenges redirected the contentious conversation.

Time will tell if there will be more presidential debates in Election 2020 and what messages will resonate among the electorate.