Saturday, April 30, 2022

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

Oregon Governor: Tobias Read or Tina Kotek

Oregon Democrats have a choice. It isn't the familiar one, the Bernie vs. Biden choice. 

Democratic voters who were generally happy with Barack Obama and now Joe Biden may be drawn to Tobias Read. Democrats who preferred Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren might be drawn to Tina Kotek. Kotek sounds a bit more like Elizabeth Warren than Bernie Sanders, to my ear. Kotek is very practical and less ideological than Sanders, but clearly progressive and aligned with urban, educated, progressive Democrats. Elizabeth Warren made a formal endorsement of Kotek's campaign. That makes sense. Former governors Barbara Roberts and John Kitzhaber endorsed Read. That, too, makes sense.

The Read vs. Kotek choice is more one of style and personality than policy. Democrats need to decide which they prefer and then make a second strategic choice: Who has the best chance of winning in November in what will certainly be a highly contested three-way race. The governor's race has a well-funded and articulate Betsy Johnson as an unaffiliated candidate. Johnson is no "spoiler." She has fans and a political base. She has donors. I expect the winner of the election will receive fewer than 40% of the votes. 

Tobias Read says he is the "change" candidate, although I cannot identify anything dramatic and visible that he would change, other than being a new Democratic face. I perceive his "change" talk to be more a slogan than a reversal of any current policy. He is a liberal Democrat and supports most of the things liberal Democrats in Oregon favor--just like the current governor and his opponent. Both he and Tina Kotek understand that the tents and homeless encampments in Portland are a motivating issue for metropolitan Portland voters. Both say they will address the problem vigorously by providing new shelters and permanent housing for the people displaced from sidewalks. Both say they will do it as soon as they can without being cruel, which will take time, work, and money. 

In a KGW television joint appearance Kotek broke new ground, to my observation. She criticized Portland mayor Ted Wheeler by name. He hasn't done enough, she said. The state under her leadership appropriated money and Wheeler has not used it.

A Democrat could conclude that Kotek, not Read, is really the "change" candidate, because she is willing to make "tough" decisions and bully through change, including calling out a fellow Democrat. Her ads talk about continuity, not change, but her manner is impatient and resolute. She looks and sounds direct and sharp. The result is a complicated, muddled choice for Democratic voters. Choose someone who talks change, but isn't persuasive that he will do much. Or, choose someone who appears to support status quo policies, but sounds like an impatient bulldog with an agenda of getting stuff done, her way.

The KGW joint appearance did what TV debates sometimes do: It became trivial, with a "lightening round" for one-word answers to questions about favorite restaurants, vacation spots, and desserts. The lightening round revealed something useful. The anchors asked each to say, in one word, how they would describe themselves.

Tobias Read said "collaborative.Tina Kotek said, "persistent." 

They asked each candidate for a single word to describe the other. Kotek said Read was "friendly." Read said Kotek was "driven."

They nailed it. 

The descriptions reveal the actual choice between the two  candidates.  Collaborative and friendly Tobias Read may be able to lead the change he says is necessary. Maybe a soft touch will get people off the sidewalks, get roads built, get fires suppressed, get taxes levied. Maybe Oregon needed someone friendlier than Kate Brown. Alternatively, maybe Oregon needs and will tolerate a tougher, more blunt-speaking person. Maybe we need someone who won't tolerate delays and excuses, even when a fellow Democrat is the problem. Tough love.

Oregon Democrats looking for a quick mental shortcut should think friendly vs. driven. Friendly sounds nice until one remembers Democrats aren't choosing a kindergarten teacher. They are choosing a governor. But really not that, not yet. Democrats are choosing a candidate for governor, one who needs to get 40% of the vote.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Storm clouds: Oregon as Blue-State microcosm

Oregon is reliably blue. It is a Democratic "gimme."  Isn't it?

I have been accused of "doom posting." I deserve that. 

I see problems. Biden is looks old. Inflation. War in Ukraine. Homeless people.  Drought. Gasoline prices. Help wanted signs but people cannot find workers. Problems at the southern border. Problems, problems. 

Some of my "doom posting" may come from where I live, in Medford, down at the bottom of the map, far from blue Portland.

COVID. It hangs over everything. I saw the frustration of many people being told to wear a mask long past when they personally were worried about COVID. I am 72. I do worry. I hear about "long COVID" and lingering effects. Many people don't share my concern. Maybe they already had gotten COVID and think they won't get it again. Maybe they are young and think themselves invulnerable. Maybe they just don't care much. To a great many people, masks and vaccinations didn't signify safety or courtesy or keeping hospital space available. It was an irritating imposition by a tyrant scold governor.  

On Wednesday my mailbox contained a giant postcard on stiff paper. It was 8 1/2 by 13. Here is the front:

She is a Democratic candidate for governor. She was the longest serving Speaker of the Oregon House until she resigned to campaign full time. She has a simple message: Oregon is blue, she has delivered, and the best is yet to come. She takes deserved credit for Oregon being on the forefront of progressive policy. She said she pushed through the strongest reproductive rights law in the country, put Oregon on a path to 100% clean energy, passed a first-in-the-nation rent stabilization law. 

She has doubled down. If you like what you see, thank Tina Kotek. 

I doom post, in the eyes of  Democrats, because I think an oscillation of public opinion is in the works. The riots in Portland in 2020 changed opinions. A recent poll published by Oregon Public Broadcasting show that the national malaise is present here in blue Oregon. Only 18% of Oregonians said Oregon government was on the "right track"; 73% said "wrong track." On the economy, 65% said it was poor or very poor. 

The trend for the current Democratic governor is negative. President Biden is 63% negative.

The bright spot for Democrats is Donald Trump. If Republicans want to tie themselves to Trump, Democrats should let them.

Give Tina Kotek credit for authenticity. She is who she is. She sent a "Fight for our Daughters" postcard yesterday, Thursday. It is similarly and on stiff paper:

In my post on April 14 I observed her "progressive feminist vibe." All the direct-to-the-camera endorsers in her TV ad were women. That is fine with me, but as a matter of strategy--especially in the interests of diversity and inclusion--I thought perhaps a male might be inserted somewhere. Perhaps in a "family" shot. Some token, to let voters know she wanted votes of men, too.

I am not complaining. Men do just fine in America. But as a matter of strategy and positioning, I notice she makes a big statement by a woman for women, on both sides of this postcard ad. There are a lot of men who vote. There are a lot of women who have husbands and sons; they also vote. My own sense is that including men in a message about empowering women does not diminish women any more than including a person of color in an advertisement diminishes White voters. We are in this together, aren't we? 

Kotek made her choices. Hit progressive policy hard. Hit feminism hard.  It is narrowcasting. Get her people motivated. 

Will her strategy work? She is busy raising money, including calling me again. I presume she will spend money she raises on messages like the ones I got in the mailbox. I wonder if she isn't digging a deeper hole for herself by doubling down. In fact, I think she is.

I may be wrong. Possibly I am just an out-of-touch doom poster.

Thursday, April 28, 2022


Tucker Carlson says men should shine red light on their testicles.


A lot of other Republicans are making a similar point. They say men have turned into "pansies."

We are observing a re-emergence of the very old idea: Americans have gotten soft. 

Tucker Carlson worries that men are under attack for their "toxic masculinity." Men "can't be men," he says. Women shame them. Women boss them around. Women make more money than men, so men can't find mates. 

It isn't just Tucker Carlson. Republican U.S Rep. Madison Cawthorn urged mothers to raise their children up to be "monsters." His audience applauded. Josh Hawley complains that men are weak and adrift, sitting in basements watching porn. Ted Cruz said the left is "trying to destroy the American military and turning it, frankly, into a bunch of pansies."

It would be easy for Democrats to dismiss this as partisan posturing. Would-be Republican successors to Trump are expressing a deep and long-held fear in America. Rather than dismiss it, Democrats could recognize it and work with it, giving it expression that repositions the Democratic brand. Let Tucker Carlson have the testicle tanning. Michelle Obama offered a better way. Recognize that Americans, now and always, worry about the overall fitness of their children to get educated, get jobs, get mates, and to survive in the changing world. Let's eat healthy food and exercise, she said. "Let's get moving." 

John Adams expressed the concept that prosperity brought refinement. Progress meant moving indoors.  

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain

John Kennedy, in his Boston accent, urged American to renew American vitality by acting with "vig-ah," i.e. vigor. We had a missile gap with Russia. Both militarily and physically, Americans had grown soft, he said. Kennedy voiced a challenge to Americans: Walk 50 miles in 24 hours. Only strong people can accomplish it. Kennedy authored an article for Sports Illustrated, The Soft American.

The age of leisure and abundance can destroy vigor and muscle tone as effortlessly as it can gain time. Today human activity, the labor of he human body, is rapidly engineered out of working life. By the 1970s, according to many economists, the man who works with his hands will be almost extinct. 

In a February, 1942 fireside chat, FDR cited Axis propaganda that called us decadent weaklings:

Ever since this nation became the arsenal of democracy – ever since enactment of Lend-Lease – there has been one persistent theme through all Axis propaganda. This theme has been that Americans are admittedly rich, (and) that Americans have considerable industrial power – but that Americans are soft and decadent, that they cannot and will not unite and work and fight. From Berlin, Rome and Tokyo we have been described as a nation of weaklings – 'playboys' – who would hire British soldiers, or Russian soldiers, or Chinese soldiers to do our fighting for us. Let them repeat that now! . . . Let them tell that to the Marines!"

Democratic sensitivity to #MeToo and support for the equality of women has been interpreted as an attack on men, not disapproval of boorishness, harassment, and misogyny. Democrats have a difficult and narrow path in messaging. They need to promote the full involvement of women in the life of America without appearing to accomplish it by suppressing and disrespecting men. It may be impossible. Democrats are the party of office workers, not farmers and oil drilling roughnecks. Democrats have already lost the votes of White males. The loss of Black, Hispanic, and Asian males may follow. 

Democrats have been more comfortable with the language of "equity" over the language of "equality of opportunity." Biden in Portland talked about all the women he appointed to high positions, not the highly qualified people he appointed. Progressive women may insist on this language and approach. Men less schooled in anti-racist, anti-misogyny doctrine may consider it being picked on and ignored. 

Montana Senator Jon Tester

In less than a year Democrats seeking the presidential nomination will be trying out ideas and language in gatherings in New Hampshire. One thing a Democrat can do is praise physical fitness and strength, a presumably male trait reflecting manliness. It doesn't diminish women. The Democrat can be shown spending time outdoors. Ronald Reagan supposedly chopped wood. Maybe he really did. Senator Jon Tester really farms. The fact that he doesn't "look like a Democrat" is the point and the problem for Democrats.

The Democrat who can get this right--or right enough--will emerge as the one who will find pluralities that launch him or her into the Democratic nomination. I don't expect it to be Joe Biden.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Elon Musk bought Twitter. Good news for Democrats.

Trump may soon get back on Twitter.

Democrats can hope.

The glass is half empty for Democrats. The sooner Democrats face the reality of voter malaise and frustration, the better for them. This will be a "time for a change" election.  

Voters are looking at inflation, not the low unemployment rate. When voters see high home values they aren't looking at how much equity they have; they are looking at how crazy-expensive homes are. When voters see "Help Wanted" signs, they aren't thinking how this is good for job-seekers; they think how hard this is for businesses to hire people.

Joe Biden isn't good at one of the key jobs of a president: Explaining things to the American people. Therefore, Americans have fallen into thinking the U.S. is on the wrong track. Democrats are led by old, stogy people: Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer. They are boring communicators and they project weariness. They don't shape the Democratic brand. The brand is shaped by its media-savvy progressive wing. They say provocative things. Those are what get picked up and amplified by the GOP and Fox. 

Net-net, Democrats have a problem and cannot talk their way out of it..

Fox is happy. It should be worried.

Trump saves the day for Democrats. Had Trump disappeared and had a new generation of GOP candidates acceptable to Americans surfaced, then Democrats would face some ugly elections, at least until a new generation replaces the current Democrats in power. The GOP went the other direction--toward Trump and MAGA. The MAGA wave
 forced Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy to forget what they thought and said immediately after January 6. They are Republicans and Trump is the center of the Republican Party. Trump is endorsing full-on loyalists in high-profile primaries. The party of George Bush, Mitt Romney, and Dick or Liz Cheney is gone. They aren't just out of the GOP; they are enemies of the GOP.  

Donald Trump is indefatigable. He is relentless. He has been kept slightly in the background by being out of office and off of Twitter, but that is likely to change soon. Musk appears to want Trump back on Twitter. Trump says he wants Truth Social, not Twitter. I don't believe it. Twitter is center stage. That is where Trump and Musk want to be, at the center of attention. It need not be "good" attention.  Here, Musk makes a remark on Senator Ron Wyden's penis. Really.

Juvenile taunts create a flurry of commentary, and if nothing else, they show Musk to be a fighter. That is what GOP voters like about Trump. He is willing to say or do anything in attacking enemies. 

Donald Trump is the salvation for Democrats. The freer Trump is to be outrageous on Twitter, the better for Democrats. He frightens and offends voters and he is undertow for otherwise-electable Republicans. J.D. Vance brought an attractive package to the Ohio Senate race. Then he got sucked deeper and deeper into MAGA as he sought Trump's endorsement. He proposed ending Civil Service and making it an arm of the Trump campaign, then defying the courts.

I think Trump is going to run again in 2024. I think that what Trump should do, if I was giving him one piece of advice: Fire every single midlevel bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state, replace them with our people. And when the courts stop you, stand before the country, and say, [quoting Andrew Jackson] "the chief justice has made his ruling. Now let him enforce it.”

Trump can survive sounding wacko. As Trump observed, he is a star.

When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy.

People were shocked by the "grab 'em by the pussy" comment, but the prior sentence is equally important. Trump has Teflon; he looks courageous and bold when he is outrageous. To be noticed on Twitter Trump needs to keep amping up the trolling. The outrage. The wild and crazy. People who echo Trump look like followers and supplicants. They aren't stars. They look like puppets in the Trump drama. They also look like kooks.

Twitter is center stage for Trump. It is where he loves to be. Trump and Republicans see it as an opportunity: The more Trump the better for Republicans. No. Trump on Twitter hurts Trump and it hurts Republican candidates who get the scent of Trump on them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Pence: "I'm not getting in the car."

 A successful coup d'├ętat was much closer than we understood.

Vice President Mike Pence said "no" to Trump. And then he defied his Secret Service detail.

As I had understood the 11-week period between the 2020 election and Biden's inauguration, an intransigent and largely-isolated Trump had an outrageous plan to deny the results of the election. It culminated in a mob attacking the Capitol. Trump was aided by a few lawyers and spokespeople who had a Keystone Cops quality as they cast about for evidence of fraud. They made wild and defamatory accusations that repeatedly failed in the courts. The effort failed.

Trump's plan came across as near-hopeless because what he wanted to do was outside all norms in America. Trump didn't concede. He didn't make graceful good-sport post-election statements about the peaceful transfer of power. He instead demanded America award the presidency to the person who lost the election. How crazy. How hopeless. This isn't a banana republic. I took comfort: The bigger story was one of American resilience. Sanity and justice prevailed. 

We understood Trump was thwarted by people--mostly Republicans--who did their duty. These people included the governor and secretary of state in Georgia, the governor in Arizona, one of the two Republican election-certifiers in Michigan, the court system, and the multitude of election officials in the states who did the administrative and non-political job of counting votes. Plus, there were people in the Justice Department who refused to go along with the "stolen election" claim. And there was Mike Pence. 

In the days immediately after the January 6 riot, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy and others gave voice to the American norm. The riot was reprehensible they said, in those moments. Yes, America has its extremes, but 94 out of 100 senators voted for the peaceful transfer of power. Democrats risked making a mountain out of a molehill. 

I understood it incorrectly. Trump was not as isolated as I understood. His plan wasn't hopeless in its outrageousness. 

Documents revealed this week by the January 6 committee show that the effort to overthrow the election was much bigger than Trump, a few whack-jobs lawyers, and a pillow entrepreneur. Multiple senior Republicans, including U.S. Senators and the White House Chief of Staff, were openly attempting to create a legal fiction of fraud that would allow the election to be overturned. Senator Mike Lee said he was making phone calls 14 hours a day "trying to figure out a path that I can persuasively defend.” 

They nearly found it, in something so simple--but consequential--as whether Vice President Michael Pence got into a car.

The Secret Service may have been part of a bigger Trump plan, or maybe their sole concern was Pence's safety. We don't know yet, and may never. The Vice President's Secret Service detail made repeated efforts to get Pence to leave the Capitol. They said Pence's ceremonial office wasn't safe enough, nor was the underground garage. Speaking to Tim Giebels, the head of his security detail, Pence reportedly said,

I’m not getting in the car, Tim. I trust you,Tim, but you’re not driving the car. If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off. I’m not getting in the car.

Once Pence was in the car and in control of the driver, Pence understood he could have been driven anywhere and kept from returning. With Pence gone, the electoral votes legitimized by the election would likely not have been counted. That would be the excuse to turn the task over to Congress. Republicans controlled 27 delegations--minus the Wyoming delegation with Liz Cheney as its sole representative. The 26 GOP-led delegations would presumably vote their party, not the popular vote in their states. That would make Trump the winner of the election of the 50 states. There would have been a veneer of legality and constitutional process. As we know from the flurry of text messages that have been revealed this week, there was a wide array of Republicans eager to defend any process that awarded the election to Trump. 

Pence did his duty. Possibly he suspected the Secret Service was a participant in the attempted coup d'├ętat. Possibly he simply knew that his duty-post was the Capitol. In any case, he didn't get into the car.  

Monday, April 25, 2022

Red State Abortion Bans

Abortion bans are spreading from Texas to much of red-state America.

There will still be abortions for red-state women. 

What will change is that getting one will be complicated, expensive, and involve travel.

Democrats hope the ban on abortions in red states will backfire on Republicans. It might. After all, according to polls most Americans support abortion rights. Pew Polls show 59% of Americans say it should be legal in most or all cases. The number is even higher for women voters (62%), Black and Asian voters (67%), and voters with graduate degrees (71%). Theoretically, this issue should solidify existing support and expand the Democratic constituency. But so far most women have been voting their party and their race, not their gender. The abortion issue is a single-issue item for abortion opponents, but not for supporters of abortion choice.

There are similarities between the anti-abortion movement and the temperance movement that led to Prohibition.
 Agitation for Prohibition was led by White church-goers, and in the case of Prohibition, Protestants. They linked temperance with anti-immigrant opposition to wine-drinking Catholics coming from southern Europe. Southern Whites thought it would mostly apply to Blacks. Wealthy people thought it would affect the working stiffs; they had stocked up pre-Prohibition. Jews had a sacramental wine exception, so it wouldn't fully affect them. Farmers had the cider exception. Alcohol would be illegal--for others. Prohibition allowed people to vote their conscience and participate in the social norm of temperance. But people liked to drink and drinkers thought they had their own back-door way of getting alcohol.

I experienced first-hand the selective enforcement of bans on cannabis, an unpopular Vietnam draft, and the 55 MPH speed limit. I learned unpopular laws are leaky. Prohibition was leaky. The leaks caused huge problems in the form of gang violence and police corruption. Prohibition's hypocrisy was exposed. 

Red states that ban abortion will experience the same mismatch between law and behavior. A poll published this past Friday reports that not only will people who say they disapprove of abortions get them if needed, their anti-abortion friends and family will help them. Tricia Bruce, a sociologist at Notre Dame wrote,

Data from the 2018 General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey fielded since 1972 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, revealed that 76% of Americans who were morally opposed to abortion would nonetheless give “emotional support” to a friend or family member who decided to have an abortion. Another 43% would help make arrangements, and 28% would help pay for associated costs. Six percent would help pay for the abortion itself.

Prohibition ended because the lawbreaking was visible to the public. Abortion will be different. The law avoidance will be a private matter. A great many women have had an abortion, but not daily and visibly. Women with sufficient social and financial wherewithal will be able to travel to a blue state for an overnight stay and procedure. That will become the new social norm. The culture will come up with new language. A young woman might "visit Chicago." People will know what that means. Oregon's Planned Parenthood is opening a facility in Ontario, Oregon, just across the border from abortion-banning Idaho. Idaho women will "visit Ontario." Citibank has already made out-of-state travel a part of its company health plan benefit. Travel will become the new safety net for unplanned pregnancies. 

If there were no safety net, there might be visible sympathetic victims. There will be many victims, of course, but they will be people already marginalized, people who can safely be ignored, people without the financial and social capital to "visit Chicago." I suspect red states will find a durable political equilibrium in the hypocrisy. The law on the books will satisfy their publicly-declared principle, but it will be leaky. Most women will get abortions when they need them. The law will burden the people who are already burdened, and make an example of them. It will be cruel and hypocritical, but that is the nature of laws intended to be obeyed by others.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Bill Barr's Book: One Damn Thing After Another.

Six weeks ago I urged people not to buy Bill Barr's new tell-all memoir.

Medford journalist Tam Moore had already bought it.

I was dismayed that former Attorney General Bill Barr waited until after Trump was out of office, and after the second impeachment trial, before he revealed information the public--and the impeachment trial--would have found useful. He could have helped our democracy. Instead, he helped book sales. 

Tam Moore is a lifelong journalist, who worked in television in his early days and then in print, writing for the Capital Press, a regional newspaper focusing on the agricultural industry. In the mid-1970’s, Moore served as an elected Jackson County Commissioner in southern Oregon. He was elected as a Republican in 1974, back at a time when Oregon Republicans were progressive on civil rights, when there were pro-choice Republicans elected locally and statewide, and when Republicans supported cleaning up the environment.

.Guest Post by Tam Moore.

A review of One Damn Thing After Another

There’s no shortage of ”insider” books about the troubled Trump presidency. Former Attorney General Bill Barr weighed in with his memories of Trump times in early March. Some commentators – including the Up-Close blog – saying you ought to save your money. 

One Damn Thing After Another is worth a read, and your money, for several reasons. 

Tam Moore
First, it is a memoir of Bill Barr’s life. There’s insight into what shaped the son of a couple of Columbia University professors into a lawyer who would come out of retirement to take the thankless job of U.S. Attorney General for a president who in 2017 and 2018 had verbally savaged the prior AG in very public ways. Barr came to maturity wanting to be a China expert for the CIA, didn’t get into law school until after he joined the agency. 

Second, Barr is a good writer – who wouldn’t be with a couple of loving professors looking over your shoulder while doing homework. Usually, Barr recalls, help was needed with math problems. “My father would put down the book he was reading, grab a yellow pad, draw a line across the page, and say: ‘Now, let’s start with the number line.’ An hour later, he’d be just getting into the mysteries of long division, and we’d be ready for bed. My brothers and I referred to this as getting the ‘number line’ treatment.” (page 16)

Third, Barr cares about his country, its laws and its institutions—including ramifications of the constitutional crisis which almost always seemed just around the corner in the last two Trump years. Wherever you are politically, it’s helpful to know what those in leadership positions think as they pull the levers steering our republic. If you are a resident of Portland, Oregon, for example, Barr takes you through what the federal government debated as mobs triggered by the murder of George Floyd did their nightly riots around the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse.

“But arguing at this stage over which set of extremists is more dangerous is largely a waste of time and diverts us from a far more important task. Instead of jockeying for political advantage on the issue, both parties have a solemn obligation to take a clear and unequivocal stand against all political violence.” (page 486)

Finally, you need to read this book to enjoy Barr’s recollection of learning how to play the bagpipes as a teenager. You’ll discover that decades later, he threw family parties, Ceildh in Scots, with traditional music and dancing. Barr’s ceildh filled hotel ballrooms. “It was essentially like having a large wedding reception every year. In addition to food and drink, we’d have bagpiping, of course, and I’d also book a traditional Celtic dance band and a “caller” to guide people through traditional Irish and Scottish dances—which are analogous to American square dancing.” (pages 153-154) 

Many years ago, I set out to buy a book written by a longtime acquaintance. Sitting at his kitchen table I observed how difficult it is to get everything right. I know the burden of trying to be accurate from editing untold thousands of words in news reports and from helping a friend organize his book about experiences as a prisoner of war. At the table, while he autographed the gift books that would become Christmas presents, this particular author smiled and told me “Tam, that’s why they call it a memoir, it’s the way I remember it.”

Thus, I cut Barr some slack for all the direct quotes which turn up in his memoir. Folks judged this book from the excerpt published March 3 in the weekend Wall Street Journal. It’s the sensational prologue to One Damn Thing After Another -- tightly written prose of a December, 2020 meeting with President Trump laced with direct quotes which are what Barr remembered being said. He was there. We weren’t.

Barr deserves credit for repeated efforts to get the defeated president to move beyond loss of an election, and he got some credit right here in this blog. 

Reading the Barr memoir leads me to recall another book which – regardless of how you view contemporary events in this troubled democracy – give insight into what got us to where we are. I’m referring to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s Stony The Road, a 2019 best seller. It documents post-Civil War Reconstruction and the White Supremacy backlash which followed, fueling some of the divisions seen in our current society. Gates does the job by presenting significant quotes from material printed at  particular times in our recent history. 

He spices up the understanding of what got people at the time thinking the way they did with a collection of political cartoons and images of colorful advertising. All of this makes you contemplate messages as you recall the history.

Barr tells his own story well, like he’s still amazed that as a young man he was picked by President George H. W. Bush to be Attorney General. You learn Barr’s experiences as a corporate lawyer, leading up to being chief counsel at Verizon, the communications giant. 

The significant insights come in the last 15 chapters, where two years with the Trump administration are recounted with reflections on school choice – “It is time to stop destroying the future of these inner-city children and start giving them the opportunity to attend schools of their choice” (page 400) –to letting Afghanistan’s government collapse – “China is now poised to ally with the Taliban and to develop Afghanistan’s mineral resources, gaining even further control over materials essential to numerous advanced technologies.” (page 407)

One of the most significant insights – given Barr’s Republican credentials and his gig with Verizon -- is that this Attorney General wanted to go after Big Tech—seeking legislation on how online platforms justify removing content published on the Internet (page 448). If you are in the free-speech camp, reading this will give you some thought – “The issue of Big Tech’s economic dominance and choke hold on Americans’ free speech rights was a constant worry during my second time as Attorney General.” (page 449)

Barr wraps up the Trump years with a succinct analysis of the former president’s base: “Trump voters aren’t won over to him by this low and puerile behavior; they’re willing to overlook it because they dislike the alternative more.” (page 562) That’s something to ponder with mid-term elections little more than a half-year away. 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

What to do with PAC money

PAC contributions create a dilemma for politicians.

Of course, you can always donate them to a good cause.

Campaign donations from Political Action Committees come in handy for cash-strapped campaigns. PACs are special interests. They have a political and policy agenda. PAC contributions are not illegal. They are not a bribe. They go to a candidate's campaign, not to the candidate personally, and there is no explicit quid pro quo. Still, the whole campaign finance system looks
Jeff Golden
 transactional and corrupt. It is shady enough that people with a political agenda are giving money to candidates. People are meant to be represented. But PACs are openly and overtly the "factions" that James Madison warned might destroy a republic, and PAC contributions amplify their power. Jeff Golden makes a point of not accepting campaign contributions from PACs.

Like several other Guest Post authors here over the years, he is a college classmate. Like many of Harvard's most successful alumni, Jeff left Harvard early without graduating. He has been a home builder, a river raft guide, a Jackson County commissioner, a public TV journalist, a public radio talk show host, and now an Oregon state senator.

Guest Post by Jeff Golden 

Bringing money back to the District is an unwritten part of a state senator’s job description. That doesn’t always make for the wisest spending of tax dollars (except, of course, when it comes to the money we bring back for our district), but that’s how it works.

I recently realized that there’s another way, wholly aside from public tax dollars, to bring outside money to worthy causes. Not as many dollars as the state budget process produces, but I’m going to give it a shot to see if it catches on.

Here's how the idea came up. I was meeting with the woman who founded Golden Rule Re-entry, an amazing tiny non-profit striving to help people who’ve done jail or prison time succeed on the outside. At one point she talked about how much a $1000 check she’d just received was going to boost her work. The mention of a thousand dollars nudged my attention to a chore I needed to do later that day: return a $1000 campaign check, sitting at that moment on my desk, to its sender, an upstate Political Action Committee. I had never met or talked to anyone from that PAC, but it’s obvious what kind of votes they’d want on bills that might come before the senate.

This isn’t unusual. During my term in the legislature, I’ve received twenty or more unsolicited checks from lobbyists, corporations or unions with clear specific interests in how I vote. Usually there’s nothing else in the envelope, just a check made out to my campaign committee.

Now, I generally take every opportunity I can to comment on money in politics (here’s one example), and won’t stop until we do something serious about it. But this example is self-explanatory. The stark fact is that checks from lobbyists with clear legislative agendas regularly arrive in legislators’ mailboxes. No explanatory notes, no information, no explicit requests, just a more-or-less substantial check to help you win your election so you’ll be in a position to cast votes on their issues. If you let that sink in, you don’t need additional commentary from me.

In every case I return the check to the donor with a few words noting my practice of running without PAC money. But the other day, as I listened to this fiercely committed woman describe her life-changing work, it came to me how much better she’d spend the $1,000 check on my desk than would the lobbyist who sent it to me.

That’s the moment my donations policy changed. I called my campaign treasurer to tell him to start depositing every PAC check we received and to immediately donate an identical amount to a lean non-profit group doing vital work to help people, families and the environment we all live in. With the abundance of groups like that in the Rogue Valley, I’ll have plenty of places to pass along all the unasked-for checks that come my way.

And whatever else happens, I’ll get to feel confident that those extra dollars went to purposes more valuable than lawn signs, Facebook posts and political junk mail.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Scenes from a Biden event

President Joe Biden was in Portland, Oregon on Thursday.

We weren’t supposed to record the event or take photos. We signed something saying we wouldn’t record the event, I didn’t sign anything about taking photos.  I snapped a few, but stopped when someone with a badge tapped me on the shoulder and shook her head.

Biden looked healthy and at ease. 

We needed to attest we had been vaccinated to get into the event and then everyone took a COVID antigen test at the site immediately before entering. I passed and got a red band for my wrist.

Biden began his speech by repeating why he decided to run. We have heard this before. He said he was offended by hearing Trump say that there were good people carrying the Confederate and Nazi flags saying “Jews will not replace us.”  He added something new. He said his grandson showed him a photograph of him with his grandson at Beau Biden’s casket, with the caption saying Biden had a new pedophile target. Biden said America had lost something under Trump and MAGA, and he wanted to restore the good soul of America.

The crowd was enthusiastic. The two primary Democratic candidates for governor were there, Toby Read and Tina Kotek.

There was a helicopter overhead and patrol boats on the water.

The most visible security was on the demonstrators kept about 1,000 feet from the event.  They had Trump campaign signs, “Fuck Joe Biden” signs, “Let’s Go, Brandon” signs, and a new theme of insult, Cornpop, regarding the improbability of Biden being a tough gangster with corn rows in his hair. I kept a distance. They shouted, “Traitor! Traitor!”