Sunday, May 29, 2016

JFK's Birthday

Today would have been John F. Kennedy's 99th birthday. I doubt he would have seen it, even if he had lived out his natural days. He was never in good health. But I grew up with a huge JFK poster in my childhood bedroom, and a little bronze bust of him, the kind banks used to give away, on my shelf. I was born Catholic in Massachusetts in the 60s; Kennedy loomed large in my childhood.

Today is also the end of my 25th college reunion at Harvard. I have been having a great time with my classmates, and it's ending before I'm ready. I feel like I've only spoken to half as many people as I'd like, and only for half as long as I'd like. But at least I got to come; JFK did not live to his 25th. I've been joking that I will soon have achieved two things John Kennedy never managed: going to my 25th Harvard reunion and turning 47. But it's not funny. It's just true.

Fifteen of my classmates are already gone, all too soon. Some I knew and some I didn't. And two of the seven people I roomed with over those years have already passed away. I wasn't in touch with them as much as I would have liked. I wish I had taken the chance while I had it.

Mortality has been on my mind, because of my mother's passing a few months ago. Some of my college classmates knew about her death before this weekend, because of social media. Some old friends didn't know, and I told them over the last few days when there seemed like a reasonable moment to tell them. Others I didn't tell, because the time was never right or because we have never been more than casual friends.

I've grown obsessed over the last few years with the Grant Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal study of human aging that tracked 268 Harvard boys over the rest of their long, complicated lives, trying to assess their mental and physical health and growth. They are the worst social science sample possible, so over privileged that they can't be representative. I mean, the guys in that study had a 1 in 268 chance of actually being JFK. But I think about them a lot, because the study illustrates so much about growth in the second half of life, and I am coming to the second half of life. And the Grant Study promises that there is a continuing process of maturation and growth after, for example, a 25th reunion. It is at once comforting and challenging to think that I still have a chance to grow, and to become a better man.

Whether I like it or not, my life is in transition. This week, before I left for Boston, we had a visit from my father and brother at our new house. And I was sitting at my dining room sharing a meal with my family, and Mom wasn't there. It's a new place, and the same old family, but not the same old family. My family changes, and my place in my family changes. There is so much left to do between the middle of life and the end.

The Grant Study also emphasizes the crucial importance of relationships and emotional connections. And perhaps that's why my reunion seems like such a gift. But it is bittersweet to see all these faces for such swift moments, when I want to sit them all down for long, open-ended conversations. And so I guess that's my lesson this Memorial Day weekend: how it all goes by so very, very soon.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hillary's E-mail Dilemma

Let's get one thing straight: people are not out to get Hillary Clinton because of her private e-mail server. Hillary Clinton used a private e-mail server because people are out to get her. Yes, she apparently bent and broke the rules, and everyone,  including Clinton, has said how stupid this was. I don't think it's stupid. I think it was the best of several bad choices.

You see, Hillary Clinton doesn't have the option of doing the right thing and not getting attacked. She has not been allowed that option in twenty years.

If Clinton had used a government e-mail address, she would be getting hammered, right now, for using her government e-mail address for political purposes. Count on it. Because try as she might, some personal and political e-mail would have been sent to her address, and this would be treated as a huge scandal.

Really? Would people really make an objection to that? Sure. Let's not forget the big, terrible Al Gore scandal where he was raked over the coals for "illegally fund-raising on federal property" because he made some phone calls from his office. This is the Vice-President of the United States, who not only worked but lived on federal property, and was only occasionally off federal property. The press went right along with that scandal, and it became a major Bush talking point in the 2000 election. This is all on record. If you've forgotten, well, you're lucky. Hillary Clinton does not have the luxury of forgetting. In fact, the luxury of forgetting is part of her problem, in that it frees the rest of us -- the press, the Republicans, the voters -- from any obligation to even basic consistency in how we treat her.

But come on, you say. How hard is it to keep two e-mail accounts separate? Can't everyone do that? as someone who uses multiple e-mail accounts, let me say: no. You can't. It's impossible. Or rather, YOU can keep your work and personal accounts strictly separate, and only send the appropriate messages from each one. What you can't do is make everyone else keep your e-mails separate. You will, I promise you, get some e-mail sent to the wrong address every week, That is inevitable. So Secretary Clinton would have been exposed every time one of her political connections forgot to type "" and typed "" instead. Every piece of misrouted polling data, unsolicited political advice, or personal gossip would have exposed Clinton to trumped-up charges of using federal resources for political ends.

(That would have been the play: she misused government property, the State Department's web server and routers, for campaign purposes. And everyone would have nodded very solemnly about how terrible that was.)

And of course, anything sent to her government account would have been ripe for leaking, including embarrassing personal tidbits and actual political strategy (which no longer works if the opposition knows it, yes?). If you feel any doubt that people would actually leak that stuff, you're allowing yourself the luxury of amnesia again. Because things like that just got leaked in this investigation. It was in all of the papers: this e-mail with Sidney Blumenthal, that e-mail with Huma Abedin, all of the things that Clinton had an interest in keeping private and the public had no legitimate security interest in knowing. And all of that was illegally leaked by sworn government agents who were allegedly investigating e-mail security.

You may have forgotten, but Clinton can't, that she and Bill have been pummeled for years by leaks of material that is illegal to disclose to the press. The impeachment days sailed on a daily tide of sealed grand jury testimony leaked by the investigators. The people investigating Bill in search of a crime actually committed the crime of violating grand jury secrecy on a weekly basis. Why would Clinton think this time would be different? Looking back over the last year, it is clearly not different.

Chew on this: our politics have gotten to a place where the Secretary of State could not trust her e-mail to a government server because she could not trust other government officials, including law enforcement officials, to keep it secure. She had to take as granted that federal law enforcement officials would illegally leak confidential material to cause her harm. Confidential material was held on a private server because the Secretary of State believed -- quite rightly -- that her fellow government officials would not keep it safe. Think about that one for a while.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog

Friday, May 20, 2016

Bill Weld Goes Rogue

So, William F. Weld, former Republican governor of Massachusetts, is running for Vice-President on the Libertarian ticket. That's a ridiculous thing, but it's a ridiculous year, and I'm less interested in this trivial fringe campaign than in what it says that Weld, who was once seen as a real comer in national politics, would even bother with this.

Now, let's get one thing out of the way: Weld has a very old connection to Hillary Clinton. They worked together as lawyers for the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate. Later, Bill Clinton appointed Weld to be US Ambassador to Mexico, an appointment sabotaged by Weld's fellow Republican Jesse Helms. (This after Weld had already resigned his governorship, so some real intraparty payback. Did I mention that Weld got his start in politics going after Nixon?)

So a conspiracy-minded type might see Weld's move as an attempt to help Clinton. Which, you know, it is. The whole goal here is to leach a few votes from Trump in the general election. But, like most conspiracy theories, it doesn't really make sense when you do a cost benefit analysis. Weld could probably help Clinton more by defecting to the Democrats outright, or by starting some Republicans Against Trump group. And there's no clear way for Clinton to pay Weld back after she wins. If Senate Republicans were willing to sabotage a Weld appointment in 1997, the 2017 Senate Republicans aren't about to welcome a new Weld nomination with open arms. So there's no payoff here. Weld has nothing to gain.

So why is someone like William Weld,  who has all the money and accomplishment he could possibly need, doing this? I think the answer is that the Republican Party, in his current incarnation, has orphaned him. William Weld has become a man without a party. He has nothing left to lose.

This is striking because Weld is as Old Republican Establishment as it comes. He's from a very old, very rich Boston family. The Welds aren't the kind of family who have a building at Harvard named after them. They're the kind of family that has two buildings at Harvard named after them. And that's a pretty short list. Weld is descended from a hero of the Massachusetts Indian wars, and from an important Union general from the Civil War. He's descended, on his mother's side, from a signer of the Declaration of Independence. (The F. in his name is from that ancestor, William Floyd.) When I say the Welds are Republican Establishment, I mean that some of the Welds were there when the Republican Party was established.

Oh, and Weld spent a quarter-century married to a Roosevelt. Teddy's side family, not Franklin's. These people are not Democrats.

Now that guy -- that guy! -- is running as a third-party spoiler to derail the Republican nominee. Something fundamental has changed.

There hasn't been a place for Weld's brand of socially-liberal, economically-conservative Republicanism in the party for a while now. (I've always suspected that Weld's version of Utopia would be the most inclusive and broad-minded country club imaginable.) Remember, Weld's ambassadorship got torpedoed by a hard-right race-baiter who'd started his career as a Democrat. Northern moderates and liberals have been squeezed out. (This is why former Republican Lincoln Chafee briefly ran for the Democratic nomination this year, like former Republican Jim Webb. Today's GOP has no room for Northern guys named "Lincoln.") But Weld is clearly not going to defect to the Democrats. Being Republican is part of, well, his DNA. He's got nowhere else to go. So now he's on the street making (extremely polite and wittily self-deprecating) trouble.

In the long run, this is going to be trivial. The Johnson/Weld ticket is not going into the history books as a game-changer. But it is a reminder that in turbulent times, the upheaval doesn't move in a single direction. The chaos takes many forms, in contradictory ways. It isn't that Trump gets to upend one of the major political parties and everybody else carries on as normal. Today a talented and loyal son of the Republican Party, a man whose Republican roots go back before Lincoln's election, has become an agent of electoral anarchy. We're living in weird times. And even the pros are getting weird.

cross-posted from (and all comments welcome at) Dagblog

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Republicans Are Now a Third Party

Dear Republicans: I see you couldn't help yourself. You've nominated Donald Trump for President of the United States. Really. His obvious psychological problems didn't stop you, or his obvious stupidity. They may have even been selling points. You are going to rue this day for a long time. But what's really remarkable is that you, who have been one of the two major parties for a century and a half, have nominated a third-party candidate for president. Congratulations, I suppose.

That is what Trump is: a classic third-party candidate, someone who is ultimately in the race as a protest against the establishment and who is there to advance issues that aren't on the major parties' agenda. Those candidates tend not to be electable themselves and not to have the qualifications they would need to actually do the job, because they aren't in the race to get elected. They are there to change the conversation. And that's certainly true of Trump. He couldn't do the job, and no reasonable person thinks he could. He doesn't even know what the President's job is.

("Separation of powers" is apparently a foreign concept to The Donald, because -- let's be honest here -- The Donald is a terrible American.)

You have nominated third-party-protest candidate Trump because you, the Republican Party, are now a protest-oriented third party. That's been increasingly true for a while, but now it's official. You're a third party in a second party's position, which is has been bad for the whole country. The system is designed for two parties, and it breaks down if one of them acts like a third party instead. The country pays a heavy price for that behavior, but your party is going to pay a heavier one.

You haven't had a governing agenda for years. I mean, you haven't even pretended. You've focused everything on opposing the Democrats, tearing down rather than building up, and you've focused most of all on things that you know you can never pass into law. That disregard for what can actually get done is the hallmark of a third party. What were all those dozens of votes to repeal Obamacare for, except to establish that you were a fringe party with no interest in anything but empty symbolism? When you vote for the same thing sixty-two times without doing it, you are telling the entire world that you don't matter and that you don't want to matter.

What about your endless parliamentary shenanigans and hostage-taking, repeatedly threatening to default on the national debt if you aren't given whatever fairly small-bore demand you're obsessed with on that particular week? That is the textbook tactic of a minority party in a multiparty system, like the fourth or fifth party extracting concessions by threatening to leave a governing coalition. You're basically like some goofy faction in the Italian parliament, or one of those tiny Israeli parties composed of idiot rabbis. They also demand what they want by threatening to bring down the whole government, and they also do it for relatively petty goals. That's what being a third or fourth party is about: being free from the burden of doing anything.

And then you pushed out your own Speaker of the House for the high crime of not actually shutting down the government or defaulting on the national debt. The crime of making deals. And there's nothing a third party hates more than making deals. They're usually free from that burden because they can't get to the bargaining table in the first place. That isn't your problem yet, but it will be. It might just take a while.

Nominating Trump makes it clear what you have become. At this point, you are nothing but an ethnic party, a vehicle for aggrieved white people's tribal animosities. Trump excels as a standard bearer for that party. He is totally miserable at building the wider coalition you would need if you ever want to win another national election. But your voters have spoken, and that's not what they want. They want to be the aggrieved losers. The good news is that everyone who lobbies for that job eventually gets it. Palookaville has plenty of space for you, and you can stay forever if you like.

Right now, the Trump Republican party is a rump Republican party, based on ethnic resentment. It's built on a coalition of the old Southern Dixiecrats and the uglier elements of the Reagan Democrats in the North and Midwest. Your party is now analogous to France's National Front, Italy's Northern League, the UK Independence Party, or the various right-wing nationalist parties in former Communist nations. Of course, there are many of you, and many long-term Republican constituencies, who don't fit in such a party. But right now, that race-based nationalist coalition is in charge, and the rest of you are being told to go along with the new party line or get out.

The Trump Republican party is just looking for white tribal advantage. Its core appeal is identity politics, expressed as demonization of outsiders: blacks, gays, Latinos, Muslims, transgender folks who need to pee. That would be enough to win a nationwide election in 1904. But it's not enough any more, not when you throw in some woman-bashing and a candidate who's unfit to govern. The basic appeal of the Trump candidacy is that any white man is more qualified than a black man or a woman, intelligence, experience, and fitness for office notwithstanding.

But this attempt to return to a white monopoly on political power comes just as demographic trends demand that a shrinking white majority share power with other ethnic groups. Indeed, it is largely a response to that truth, which Trump's supporters find upsetting. This white identity politics is enough to win you some elections, a lot of elections, on the state and local level, but not enough to win the White House. And that vote will only get less smaller over time.

Welcome to your third-party world, Republicans. Some of your party members will be leaving, of course, becoming independents or Democrats or members of some third party that knows it's a third party. A lot of your Wall Street and Chamber of Commerce wings will likely be heading for the exits. Maybe the next major party will coalesce in time around some of those ex-Republicans. Maybe the Democrats will eventually bifurcate. These realignments don't happen often in our history. Or maybe you'll turn it around and build your way back to major-party status. But you're going to spend a long time in the wilderness, because you're doing things that will take decades to live down. You can't run as the White Power Nationalist Front for one election and then just act like that never happened. Believe me, what you're doing right now is very, very memorable.

You can't nominate an openly unqualified candidate and expect people to keep taking your party seriously. If you don't take yourself seriously, why should we? And your establishment figures can't endorse Trump and keep their credibility. Those two things don't go together. If you are willing to stand next to Trump and smile, like one of his beauty pageant contestants, you've established that there's nothing you won't do. Why should we ever think you are motivated by substance?

You don't want to govern, Republicans. You've made that very clear. And you've also made it clear that you're no longer fit for the job. If that's not the message you meant to send, I'm sorry. That is the message that you have sent, and everyone else has heard it.

Cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog