And I thought American politics was a mess …

Last Sunday’s French elections made their Yankee counterparts appear almost tame by comparison. Neither of the two major parties made the May 7th runoff. The sitting government’s party finished fifth.

So now we’re left between the ostensibly “far-right” national front leader, Marine Le Pen, and the 39 year-old newcomer to elective politics, Emmanuel Macron. Macron is widely seen in the press as a heavy favorite because he was endorsed by the establishment party leaders and most of the French Party leaders. Furthermore, polling appears to give him about a 20-point lead. I would caution Macron’s supporters not to get ahead of themselves. Macron is genuinely the favorite to win, but I believe he’s only a slight favorite.

Macron is seen has the darling of the establishment even though he has never run a political campaign before. It is more a sign of the establishment’s fear of Le Pen then it is of any particular accomplishment or qualifications of its chosen savior. He appears to be playing the role of a Francophone Jared Kushner to Le Pen’s Steve Bannon.

The French press refers to Macron as a “centrist”, but I’m not sure that is an accurate rendition of the man. He was Finance Minister for the widely unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande. Yes, he wound up quitting Hollande’s government. But a true Centrist never would have been hired in the first place. Again, it appears to be an establishment attempt to bolster the only person standing between them and a President Le Pen. I suspect people outside of Paris may resent being told what to think. They see a 39 year-old kid, really (the French tend to prefer older Presidents – DeGaulle, d’Estaing, Mitterand and Chirac come to mind), being hailed as an especially talented leader, because he is opposing the candidate who is aiming her message at those left behind by Paris.

I know little of Le Pen other than her party’s deep unpopularity within European capitals and her hardline stand on immigration, and I have no dog in this fight. If I were French, I suppose I might supported the center-right candidate Francois Fillon before the hiring scandal emerged; after that I was politically agnostic. But I feel like I’ve seen this movie before – the cycle of populist support leading to elitist alarm which only encourages further populist support. The more the leaders of neighboring countries and urban elites in Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse express fear and loathing of Le Pen, the more those who resent those foreign leaders and major city dwellers will move to her. This race isn’t a toss-up – as of today, it favors Macron – but it’s not the the 2002 Chirac-LePen race (where Chirac got 82%) either. That one was over as soon as it started. This race still breathes.

– 1TF

One can only wonder what is was in the mind of President Trump when he failed to shake German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hand when they met last week. I don’t know if he simply doesn’t understand the importance of such symbolism or if – more likely – he sought to appeal to Czar Putin and the isolationism of the America Firsters, Either way, it was a huge mistake.

In the complex world we currently inhabit, the United States needs Germany’s friendship. Donald Trump himself needs Angela Merkel’s friendship. She has gravitas that he lacks. She’s been the elected leader of a one of the world’s great countries and Europe’s predominant economy for over a decade. She is the most proven leader of any free nation on that continent. He and our nation could benefit from her wisdom if he simply could summon the humility necessary for learning. A great man could and would summon that humility for the good of his country.

– 1TF

President Trump has announced he is not going to attend the White House Correspondents Association Dinner this April. Some mainstream journalists have said that the dinner is a relic that should be discarded. I respectfully dissent on both counts.

It’s not news that the President’s relationship with much of the mainstream press is seriously dysfunctional. He distrusts journalists and they distrust him. This contrasts with the veritable fandom that greeted the last President.

For decades, the WHCA dinner has offered one night when a president and his erstwhile tormenters could lay down their arms, have a meal and a little fun before returning to battle the next day. That appears to be more needed than ever this year. It is ironic that this is the year some media folks are saying it should end. During the Obama years, the dinner was just one more opportunity for hero worship. NOW, when the President and the press are at each others’ throat, is when the dinner serves a purpose.

Rather than have the President skip the dinner, the WHCA should consider having a comic who is less likely to lambaste Mr. Trump. Most major comics these days seem to feel it is their moral duty to ‘speak truth to power’ by ripping President Trump (and this after leaving the President Obama virtually untouched for eight years). Someone like Adam Carolla or Bill Burr is likely to spray comic abuse upon the whole room, rather than raining down exclusively on Mr. Trump. If the Association is graceful enough to invite a fair-minded comic and the President finds the grace to attend, it may do the town and the country some good.

– 1TF

For the past ten months following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, the Supreme Court has been at eight members. The Republicans refused to even hold a hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee. Now that the election is over, Garland’s nomination appears dead and the Republicans are eagerly awaiting President-elect Trump’s new choice for the ninth position. But Trump should actually consider making three nominations and calling for Congress to authorize and appropriate funding for eleven spots on the bench.

Mr. Trump should look at this action for three reasons.  First, it would give the Democrats something. Two of the nominations could be Republicans – one a red meat conservative pleasing the right, the other a moderate conservative. The third, could be an olive branch the Democrats – Merrick Garland himself. Republican opposition to Garland was never about Garland himself. He is a distinguished, moderately liberal, well-respected jurist that Senate Republicans had previously said they could support.

Second, it gives Trump something – the appearance as a powerful reformer not beholden to the way things have been done in the past. There would be predictable accusations of Czar Trump court-packing a la FDR, but that criticism is misplaced and could be handled, especially if one of the three nominees is Garland. First, FDR sought to add six justices, and it was clearly for ideological reasons. In this case, Trump would be looking to add just two, and if one was Garland, the ideological complaint falls apart. Instead of a 5-4 advantage, the justices would have a 6-5 advantage.

Third, it acknowledges and deals with the fact that this is an increasingly diverse country, and that for such a heterogeneous populace, nine members may not be enough. There are more than 300 million people in this country of all races, ethnicities, religious beliefs and ideological leanings. Yet look at our court. Racially, the court is six non-Hispanic whites, one Hispanic white, one black, no East Asians, no South Asians, no Arabs, no Slavs, etc. Religiously, it is five Catholics (three practicing/two cultural), and three Jews (two practicing/one cultural), no mainline Protestants, no evangelical Protestants, no Muslims, no Hindus, no open agnostics, deists or atheists (although there has been some indication there may be one or more quiet ones.) Educationally, four justices graduated Harvard Law School, three graduated Yale, one graduated Columbia, none graduated Stanford, Northwestern, Duke, Virginia or any of the other eight elite law schools, not to mention any of the other 300 law schools. There is a lack of diversity in life experience in the justices.

For these reasons – extending an olive branch to the Democrats, doing something clearly bold for his legacy and compensating for the increased diversity of the electorate – President-elect Trump should look at making three nominations to the Supreme Court.  Yes, some will justifiably express concern about increased cost, but that cost (a few offices, a handful of clerks, a tighter fit around the table, etc.) is modest and can be offset by cuts in less important parts of the government.  Few parts of the federal government are more important than the highest-level of its third branch.  Some will also, unjustifiably say this is unconstitutional.  However, tradition and statute, not the Constitution, have fixed the number of justices on the Supreme Court, and those can be changed more easily.  By giving both sides something and preparing the Court to serve an increasingly diverse and complex populace, President-elect Trump can make a bold step toward healing the political wounds opened by Justice Scalia’s untimely passing.








On December 5, 1931, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Savior was destroyed on the orders of Soviet Premier Jozef Stalin. The idea was that a “palace” or museum in honor of socialism would be constructed in its place – “reason” taking the place of “superstition”. The German invasion stopped Stalin’s construction of the museum, and it was never restarted.

Those of us concerned about the decline of the church in the West can take some solace in this episode. Stalin overtly attempted to destroy the church in his country and to depress it throughout Eastern Europe. In the end, some who saw the destruction of the cathedral as children would live to see the end of not only Stalinism but Communism itself, with all its attendant religious persecution.

And what sits in the spot of that old cathedral now? A new one.

What Might Have Been

Fifty-three years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This was a bit before my time, but those who do remember often divide the country into “before the shooting” and “after”. This got me thinking about two other untimely deaths that directly impacted this year’s presidential election.

The first, and more recent, was Beau Biden, Delaware’s attorney general and the Vice President’s eldest son. Like President Kennedy, the younger Biden was forty-six, had served his nation in wartime, and considered to have much more life in him when he was struck down. His passing deeply affected his father who, driven at least partially by grief (and by word from President Obama that he favored Hillary Clinton as his successor), passed on another run for the White House. This was a big loss for the Democrats. Biden represented an important justification for the Democratic party. The Democrats are the party of a larger government that steps in sometimes because bad things can happen to good people. It could be the community ravaged by a hurricane or a victim or child abuse – sometimes life can be terribly unfair, but the government can alleviate a little of that unfairness. Joe Biden, who suffered the loss of his first wife and his daughter in a car crash (that also injured Beau and brother Hunter), was an embodiment of that idea. Meanwhile, the Clintons, while spending almost no time outside of government or the non-profit sector in the past 25 years, somehow managed to leverage their political contacts into a $200 million fortune.  In doing so, they embody something people don’t like about big government – that while in concept, politicians can alleviate life’s unfairness, in reality, they just exaggerate it.

The second was in 1999 – President Kennedy’s son, John. He would have turned fifty-six years old this coming Friday. In some key ways, John Jr. was a more suitable successor than Mrs. Clinton. Like President Obama, he may have inherited his father’s name, but he was more deeply influenced by his mother. His personal life, like Obama’s, was largely scandal-free – no mean feat for a member of his clan. In short, he could have afforded to be a jerk if he wanted to be, but by most accounts, he didn’t act that way.  He was an urban liberal of the “good-government” variety who unlike the 2016 nominee wouldn’t describe the Republicans as his “enemy”.  His Uncle Ted and his sister Caroline were instrumental in helping then-Senator Obama’s campaign gain a strong foothold in the 2008 Democratic primary so there may have been the possibility of a family favor returned.  Had he lived, there’s a good chance John Jr. may have run for the governorship in Albany or a Senate seat in Washington, and it’s hard to see him losing. He could have been in a prime position in a primary – an attractive liberal idealist running against the Nixonian will-to-power pragmatist Mrs. Clinton.  I would have liked his odds.  Alas, the caution he displayed in politics and in his publishing career didn’t carry over to his flying.

This does not relieve the Democrats (or the Republicans for that matter) of their responsibility for choosing a poor nominee.  There were still other possibilities who could have made a better race of it.  But I think it is only fair to note that their lineup of contenders was shorthanded.  Tragedy had taken two of their most viable options off the table.



A Weak Candidate

It’s been eleven days since the election and the Democrats are still trying to sort out what happened. “How could this country possibly elect a man like Donald Trump?”, with the answers ranging from “because America is racist/sexist/homophobic/xenophobic, etc.” to “well, maybe we on the coasts really don’t know much about flyover country”.

What seems to be missing from all of this is the following reality – as shocking as this may seem for Democrats, Hillary Clinton just wasn’t a good candidate. And one reason she wasn’t a good candidate is she isn’t as qualified as you believe her to be. If elected, she would have been the first former (non-Vice President) Cabinet member elected since … Herbert Hoover. She would have been the first former Secretary of State since … James Buchanan.

And how successful has she really been in government? She was not a particularly popular First Lady of Arkansas. Her tenure as First Lady in Washington included a couple of scandals (Travelgate, Filegate, etc.) and a truly disastrous attempt at overhauling (and partially socializing) the country’s health care system. She did rebound from that to successfully push a bill on children’s health care. But part of Bill Clinton’s re-election playbook was keeping her away from fronting other political fights. She generally got reasonable marks for a Senator, but she did not develop and implement a wealth of significant legislation; furthermore, she was haunted by the Iraq war authorization. As Secretary of State, she doubled down on Iraq by pushing U.S. involvement in Libya’s civil insurrection. She kept saying – with some justification – that Trump would be a dangerous choice. But as Mr. Trump pointed out, the person making those accusations was the one voting for combat in Iraq and Libya. Like President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, it seemed to me Democrats were giving her praise for government success that she hadn’t actually earned.

Finally, there is a profound sense in much of America – away from the coasts anyway – that the Clintons get to play by different rules than everyone else. Yes, at times, the Clintons have been dogged by some antagonists who stretched things. But there are other cases, like Travelgate and the oddly-timed cattle futures trading, that appear at best unseemly. Most recently, the email server scandal would have ended the career of a military officer; Ms. Clinton was seeking a promotion.

With all of her flaws, the wonder shouldn’t be how Hillary lost the election. It ought to be how the Democratic establishment fell in behind so flawed a candidate so early in the race.