Category Archives: Cassandra

Good-Talking Candles

I thought I wanted to write something about the budget reconciliation process, but I’ve been feeling sad these last few days:  sad because a dear friend lost her mom on Friday, sad because that dear friend and her youngest son and her husband have COVID-19 and it involved a hospital stay, sad that 500,000 people have died from this disease, and sad that we have no organized communal mourning with its permission to just exist in the ever-present grief.

Every year I drag my feet when it comes to taking down our Christmas decorations. I don’t really do a lot of decorating, but I do fill the house with lights. This year I lit some new areas and turned down the regular lighting. The ambient light was both comfortable and cheering, like having “good talking candles” all around a la Richard Brautigan:

I had a good-talking candle last night in my bedroom.

I was very tired but I wanted somebody to be with me,

so I lit a candle

and listened to its comfortable voice of light until I was asleep.

I dreaded having to put everything away so to motivate myself I began to explore options for adding soft light to the rooms and I found a set of origami boxes attached to string lights and they are now haphazardly on the fireplace mantel. They need to be more artistically arranged, but the soft warm light is providing badly-needed comfort.

The Biden/Harris inaugural COVID-19 remembrance at the Lincoln Memorial was a stunning use of soft-talking candles (albeit ersatz). The darkness invited you to be contemplative, the lights provided comfort, and the Reflecting Pool doubled the light and made it move. It was inviting and beautiful, but most of all it was quiet.

The last 4 years have not been quiet. They were not designed for contemplation or healing. They were meant to assault your ears, your eyes, your mind, and your feelings. They targeted your reserves. They were a grinding torture of constant apprehension and anxiety. They were psychological warfare, and noise is an effective tool in that arsenal.

I happened to turn on the TV yesterday afternoon while President Biden was speaking. He spoke softly, but with great emotion. He invited us to remember what our losses, COVID-19-related or not, felt like. He allowed us to stop for a moment and to just be. And then he was silent, too, and the South Portico, previously a center of noise and anger and hate and bombast, was revealed as a place of silence, of reverence, of love, and of grief.

I’m a practicing Episcopalian and we have a wonderful guide for our worship, the Book of Common Prayer. The funeral service includes some of its most beautiful passages. I’ll close with one of them after our night of shared mourning:

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant(s) with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return.  For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

I wish you all light and healing.

You Lose! Good Day, Sir!

As expected, the Sedition Party acquitted their 2024 candidate despite a mighty effort by the Democrats which yielded the most bipartisan impeachment and trial verdicts in history. Naturally the Democratic response was to assume full fetal position, rail against their leadership, and concede all power to Mitch McConnell. Naturally. I will never understand how Democrats are so eternally willing to consume and internalize Republican propaganda designed to dampen their enthusiasm for their own party.

For everyone who thought witnesses would sway Senate Republicans the reality is that the Democrats were never going to win this vote. There was no way that the Republican Party was going to abandon the goose that lays their orange eggs. Donald Trump is the GOP’s only path to the White House in 2024.  But that path is a solitary one.  If you poke around the smelly parts of the Internet you will see that Trumpers have no king but Donald. They have no use for senators or representatives or cabinet secretaries. There is a reason that the insurrection mob was searching for bipartisan victims. They were even hunting down Trump’s own kicked dog, Mike Pence. If there were any logic to Trumpism, Pence would be a revered figure, but since he’s not family to Donald Trump, he was expendable too. I communicated that bipartisan bloodlust, along with Trump’s supreme disinterest in keeping Republican legislators alive, to my Republican senator, who voted to acquit Trump anyway. It astounds me that so few Republicans in leadership can see the writing on the wall:  Trump will not require a legislature in a second term. He won’t require a Supreme Court either, especially after they rebuffed his last chance election appeals. (There’s another way that the GOP could be gambling wrongly—that Trump could be behind bars in 2023-2024 and thus unable to run for president, but that’s another conversation.)

The House managers never expected to call witnesses, nor, I suspect, did they want to based on the stories that the people they approached refused to testify because they faced death threats from trumpers. Coupled with the roadblocks McConnell would throw into the path, the Senate would have ground to a halt, with nothing happening in the trial, and no regular business moving forward either (remember, one senator can stop the smooth operation of the chamber by refusing to provide unanimous consent and this time the senator was named Mitch McConnell). And this time Mitch overplayed his hand. The Democrats didn’t need witnesses to make their case, and somehow Mitch didn’t recognize that. The Democrats easily traded calling witnesses for putting Representative Herrera Buetler’s statement into the record, and Mitch ended up with nothing. To be sure, he did make sure that the House man agers didn’t introduce evidence that further damned Trump, but that investigation rightly belongs to the Department of Justice and state attorneys general. (And those trials are coming and Bill Barr can’t throttle the flow of facts anymore.)

In the end the smartest thing the Democrats did was the thing that sent liberals into a tizzy:  they rejected the witness bait. Because the Republicans lack political deftness, Lindsey Graham showed their hand with his post-vote switch signalling his intention to completely disrupt the process. We already know that the GOP’s most important goals are (1) to damage the Biden administration and (2) to ensure Merrick Garland never takes over the Department of Justice. Saturday morning showed us that the Democrats are never going to give them that satisfaction. Mitch walked away empty-handed.

And, more importantly for congressional Democrats, the American people are not represented by Extremely Online Liberal Twitter. Saturday morning’s events were a background blip for them—they are more interested in COVID-19 relief, and now the Democrats can turn their efforts to something with a potentially huge payoff for them.

 

(Addendum:  As I finished this, Jake Sherman reported that the House Democrats have brought back earmarks. Rank and file Democrats should welcome this news. The Democrats are about to play politics and the Republicans are going to get skunked.)

The More You Know, Take 2

It’s a big day for political scientists, constitutional scholars, and historians:  the historic second impeachment trial of the same president*, and it’s the first time a president* has been tried after they have left office begins today.  It’s like a second Super Bowl for political nerds. I admit that I’m pretty excited to see what happens over the next few days.

But before all of that unfolds, Harry Enten had a piece on CNN.com recently about Joe Manchin. It’s pretty good, with some more detailed information about Manchin’s electoral margins in his pro-Trump state, but it misses 2 salient points.

First, Enten correctly notes this point:

Progressives should realize that Manchin is an electoral miracle of sorts. He’s somehow still in Congress when other Democrats who come from districts and states with similar electoral leans either retired or were beaten. Moreover, Manchin votes about as often with the party as you’d expect given the state he is from.
Except it’s more than just as often as you would expect:  it’s every time the Democrats need his vote. That’s a distinction with a difference. One outcome describes the careless efforts of someone who puts himself over his party. The other describes someone who helps his party help Americans when victory is in its grasp.
Enten also highlights this:
The only real difference between 2017 and now is that Manchin is the only thing standing between a Democratic minority and a Democratic majority.
I’d argue that the real difference is that Manchin sacrificed his own political ambitions at the state level in 2017 to make sure the Democrats could have a real chance to take the Senate in 2020.
That’s it for now.

Time Enough For Counting When The Dealing’s Done

While I appreciate the time and study people put into chess (and no, I have not yet seen “The Queen’s Gambit”), I much prefer things I am naturally good at, like Setback, the card game I grew up playing in New England. (The rest of you play Pitch, but in Connecticut we have our own variant.) My extended family played it all the time, and the rite of passage for the kids/cousins/grandkids was to be asked to sit in for a hand or 2 when one of the adults needed to step away from the picnic table. My favorite aunt patiently taught all of us to play, and you sat in on a hand when she deemed your play satisfactory. Setback is precise and calculating, but it also requires spontaneity and creativity.

Setback is politics, and I love politics, and I don’t mean the endless, grinding living history we have been through since that awful escalator ride of 2015. I mean actual politics, the art of compromise and the precise weighing of advantages, the impulsive offer, and the workaround based in rules no one else remembered. We’ve seen very little politics in the last few years because, like Setback, politics needs adversaries and partners, and the Republican Party gave up all of its policy-making expertise to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), first at the state level, and then at the national level (which is itself a conversation for another time, along with how woefully under-prepared most state legislators are for their second jobs).

Of course, that deficiency wasn’t a problem for Republicans—they had no intention of writing legislation themselves, preferring to hand that off to lobbyists and special interests. And since the GOP was going to rig every election for the next 50 years, it wouldn’t matter because they weren’t ever really going to be accountable to the people. That’s what allowed Mitch McConnell to wield so much power because he only had to stop everything he didn’t like. There were no politics. And it was dull.

But now politics are back with a former senator in the White House. I’m loving the sudden interest congressional Republicans have in bipartisanship and regular order. And what about those 10 Republican senators who met with Joe Biden? Bless their hearts. Didn’t they look sweet and earnest, putting forth their ideas about what the country really needs? I have no idea how they didn’t think this was going to entirely backfire on them. A list of demands from one political party isn’t a bipartisan effort. And, more to the point at hand, not 1 of those senators holds any power in the Republican caucus. They drafted a bunch of “no soup for you” points and then went to see the most powerful politician in the country and expected him to capitulate. Have these people never played cards?

They weren’t the only senators who got a political education in the last few weeks. McConnell was fobbed off with a non-binding statement from 2 Democratic senators who owe him nothing (but payback). I wonder how long it took for him to realize he’d been rooked? And Republican senators weren’t the only ones who got drawn into a hand. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema had to hastily play partners when Vice President Harris etherily showed up in their states to talk directly to voters about the things the COVID-19 relief bill would do for them. All Manchin could do afterwards was complain about the points he’d lost with his careless play. Oh, and Kevin McCarthy played a hand too this week, and he chose to protect his leadership position instead of the GOP with the vote on Marjorie Greene.  Given what we’re going to find out as investigations uncover the ties between Republicans in Congress and the insurrection’s leaders, this seems a bit short-sighted, no?

I have no idea how all of this is going to play out, but I’m glad that Joe Biden has made American politics great again.

The More You Know

This isn’t a full-blown post–although one is coming–I just wanted to loop back to something I wrote last month, because I have since received information that supports my assertion, and as a historian, that’s always a good thing.

I wrote this about Joe Manchin:

–He’s not going to become a Republican, not now and not ever. For one thing, he’s consistently opposed the vast majority of GOP policy initiatives. For another, why would he hitch his wagon to a party that is about to be severely damaged by the pent-up fallout of the Trump administration?

Yesterday, for some reason, Jim Justice, the governor of West By God Virginia, did a slew of interviews and this exchange happened:

MR. DUFFY: Thank you for that. You’ve answered about the next three of my questions there. Since you have been both a Democrat and a Republican–briefly a Democrat–I have to ask you this. There’s a lot of talk that West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin might be either thinking about or in some way be considering a possible change in party. On the other hand, now that he’s a Democrat, he retains a very influential role in a 50-50 Senate. If he came to you and asked you for your advice about what he should do, what would you tell him?

GOV. JUSTICE: Well, I’ll tell you this. There’s not a God’s chance on the planet that Joe Manchin is going to switch to being a Republican. You can forget that. And the next thing is, is really, you know, I would–I would say that Joe plays an incredibly influential role, and I welcome that from the standpoint of West Virginia. Wish him the very, very best in every way. I think Joe will use good judgement–at least I hope and pray that he will, and everything. But at the end of the day, you know, it is absolutely just frivolous talk to think that Joe Manchin is going to switch parties.

That’s it for now.

Cassandra: Just A Soul Whose Intentions Are Good

The Manchins Go Gaga.

Cassandra is back with a piece about her Senator, Joe Manchin. As a red state/Gret Stet Democrat, I miss our former Blue Dog Senators John Breaux and Mary Landrieu. They were always convincible unlike GOPers Double Bill Cassidy and John Neely Kennedy.

Enough from me. Here’s Cassandra’s take on the Other Joe.

-Adrastos

Just A Soul Whose Intentions Are Good by Cassandra

Every president’s agenda lives or dies in Congress, and Joe Manchin has set himself as the gatekeeper for everything Joe Biden wants to do. Manchin doesn’t want additional stimulus checks to go out, he won’t vote to expand the Supreme Court, he won’t kill the filibuster, he’s against DC statehood, he voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, and on and on and on and on. Naturally, we all hate him, right?

I don’t. Here’s a quick primer on the senior senator from West By God Virginia:

–He’s not going to become a Republican, not now and not ever. For one thing, he’s consistently opposed the vast majority of GOP policy initiatives. For another, why would he hitch his wagon to a party that is about to be severely damaged by the pent-up fallout of the Trump administration?

–He has never voted against the Democrats when his vote was needed. Let me say that again, because people don’t seem to be able to grasp this fact:  he has never voted against the Democrats when his vote was needed.

–“He’s not a real Democrat.”  I hear this all the time–from blue state Democrats who have lived in blue states their entire lives. Well, Democrats from red states get elected too, and they have constituents who are moderates or even center-right. My response?  Blue state purity tests lose red state Democratic seats.

–Manchin had decided to retire in 2018 so he could run for governor again. He really doesn’t like being a senator in the hyper-partisan Senate that McConnell created, and being governor of West Virginia is more immediately rewarding (plus you have your own private helicopter). Chuck Schumer convinced him to run again to hold that blue seat and so he did. His own sacrifice has given the Democrats their new majority because he is the only Democrat in the state who would have won that seat.

I think the most interesting question regarding Manchin is what he will do now that, in a fit of pique, McConnell has brought the business of the Senate to a grinding halt. Manchin, like the late John McCain, is a big believer in “regular order”. He is concerned with the entire institution of the Senate:  its procedures, customs, and courtesies. Manchin is the new chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The Georgia Senate election has been certified, the 2 new Democratic senators have been seated, yet Lisa Murkowski still holds the gavel. This can’t sit well with Manchin.

For what it’s worth, I don’t take any of Manchin’s pronouncements at face value. For example, I think there are scenarios where he votes to expand SCOTUS (e.g., the Biden commission returns solid constitutional reasons to do so). Obviously, he is well aware of the need for stimulus checks for many West Virginians. But in the rush to condemn him, people didn’t read the rest of the interview where he supported $4 trillion in infrastructure spending.

Along those lines, I also believe that there is a scenario where Manchin votes to eliminate the filibuster. He said that he would not be the deciding vote on that issue, but given his emphasis on regular order, he clearly meant that he would not be the deciding vote if the filibuster were preventing passage of an actual bill. That is, implicit in his opposition to nuking the filibuster is the real-world existence of a fully functioning, “regular order”, Democratic-controlled Senate.

Manchin could also say that he supports eliminating the filibuster just for the vote on the organizing resolution, thus keeping the rest of his powder dry for future fights. The latter option would also severely limit what obstruction McConnell could concoct going forward, and Manchin would still be able to make deals for his vote on key pieces of legislation. Let’s see what happens this week.

UPDATE:  Naturally, as I finish this, the news breaks that the Senate organizing resolution impasse has broken, and Joe Manchin had a key role in it. Twitter and the message board where I post are full of hot takes about the first 3 items of my Manchin primer (please feel free to link them to this post for edification).

I am surprised that so many Democrats don’t know that currently there are not enough votes to nuke the filibuster (and, honestly, there are reasons to keep it, albeit structured differently, but that’s a conversation for another time) among the Democratic caucus. Manchin is being vilified across the ether for reasons I don’t understand. McConnell wanted a written statement from the Democrats that they would preserve the filibuster, or at least a Schumer speech on the Senate floor, and he got neither. He did get 2 non-binding promises to keep the filibuster from 2 non-leadership Democrats over whom he wields no political power. I’m sure we’ll learn soon enough what Manchin and Sinema got from the Democratic leadership. Oh, and the first Black Secretary of Defense was sworn in today, and the first female Secretary of the Treasury was confirmed. Joy be with you all, indeed.

(Yes, that’s Lady Gaga with the senator and his wife. Her mother’s side of the family is from Wheeling.)

Cassandra: For There is Always Light

Cassandra is back with her reactions to the Biden-Harris inaugural.

-Adrastos

For There is Always Light by Cassandra

Sometime yesterday afternoon I realized could breathe again. I had actually started breathing again before that, during the inauguration ceremony as I watched Michelle Obama greet Kamala Harris, and when the Biden grandgirls made their neopolitian and sneakered entrances. I was breathing again when I cried as amazing women shared their talents with us, even though I hadn’t quite realized it yet.

I consciously started breathing again when the Biden clan clambered out of fortified vehicles and made their way up Pennsylvania Avenue. I know that piece of pavement well, because I had a part-time job when I was in grad school in DC, and my bus stop was right there, in front of the Treasury Department (this was back in the days when there was unfettered access to the area in front of the White House.), with the grandchildren bickering about whether they should hold hands as they walked and then deciding it was too corny. I breathed again as I watched President and Dr. Biden stand at the front door of the White House and hug each other in amazement and relief and joy.

And I bawled through fireworks. FIREWORKS! I love fireworks and for 20 years watched them on Independence Day, either from The Mall or up at the bell tower at National Cathedral (I was part of the change ringing group there and we had an excellent vantage point to watch them, plus I only lived a few blocks away), but I have never cried during a display. Somehow the exuberance of that display shook the last bits of fear and dread out of me (and it was really loud because my friends in DC who never hear the Independence Day fireworks immediately started tweeting and posting on social media how it scared the crap out of them at first).

Wasn’t it wonderful to wake up this morning without that burden of dread about what the president had done? I know there are a lot of very serious problems that remain unsolved, but we’re no longer helpless and at the whims of severely damaged men.  I worried at the start of the pandemic that we might lose our collective ability to recognize joy. Yesterday proved I was wrong to worry. Joy be with you all.

Guest Post: Take Me Home, Dunning-Kruger Effect

Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan.

Cassandra is back. This time we learn that she’s also a Watergate obsessive, which is always a good thing in my book or on our blog.

The featured image is Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan. She was an English painter who was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement early in her career. That’s a fact, not a prophecy.

-Adrastos

Take Me Home, Dunning-Kruger Effect by Cassandra

I have been interested in politics since I was 12 years old and fascinated with the Nixon administration. My fascination with Nixon and the Viet Nam war puzzled my parents because they did their best to limit my exposure (and that of my 2 sisters) to coverage of the war. Still, I managed to cobble together pieces of news and had an understanding that the US was losing and losing badly and that the troops needed to come home. I was a weird kid and I give my parents a lot of credit for letting me be me.

It should come as no surprise then to learn I was similarly obsessed with the Watergate scandal. I already had an affinity for law-based arguments, but the biggest single factor in my obsession was that the nuns in my tiny Catholic grammar school brought their portable TVs from their convent to our classrooms to watch the May 1973 Senate Judiciary Committee hearings. It was a revelatory moment:  the convent was a source of never-ending curiosity and I had no idea nuns owned televisions. And the fact that schoolwork was set aside for watching television left an indelible mark on my love for politics.

Naturally, I studied political science (as a “government” major, which appealed to my humanities-based approach to life) with an emphasis on political philosophy in college, along with history. (I tell you this for a reason, and not for self-aggrandizement…at least for today.) I loved talking to people about ideas, thinking critically about the past and the present, and always challenging people on their views, pushing them to provide the factual basis for their assertions, and debunking all the lies and half-truths I came across. And when I got online, I sought out those online idea exchange spaces, whether they were about my favorite bands or about current events. This was the pre-social media age, where you participated mostly via email, and where people took the time to fully explain their views or to critique yours.

At the same time, I knew enough not to critique stuff I didn’t know anything about and if I were a novice to do my research so I could be sure I wasn’t writing nonsense. It seemed clear to me that if you wanted people to take you seriously, you should be a purveyor of factual information.

Obviously, I’m a dinosaur when I roam about social media. I see people post compete garbage, with their actual names attached to it (!!!), and I am astonished every time. The other day one of my friends tagged me to ask me a few specific questions about the second Trump impeachment. Before I could compose a sensible response, one of her friends popped in with nonsense about Dominion voting machines, Nancy Pelosi having a hissy fit, and a prediction he would not be impeached (mind you, this was after he had already been impeached(squared), so clearly, he was no Cassandra).  I made my response, fact-based, with well-supported speculation as to what was going to happen next week, and he took that as his invitation to present more of his conspiracy nonsense. I pushed him to keep to facts, and he then told me that I was uninformed and should go read The Constitution.

It’s not enough to present facts to these folks—we have to convince them they don’t know as much as they think they do, to think critically, and to question everything (extra points for now seeing Spalding Gray drawing a box in the air).  But I have no idea what to do. I see these folks everywhere, and I think their world is about to come crashing down around them, and I don’t know how to help them sift through the rubble.

But I know we have bigger fish to fry these next few days. Joy be to you all.

Guest Post: Gently Rise and Softly Fall

You can’t shake a tree around here without a guest writer falling out. This time it’s a friend of mine from the internet music mailing list scene. It’s a scene that barely exists now because of social media but it was once lively.

In the great tradition of First Draft pen names, she is writing as Cassandra. Here’s hoping that her prophecies are not scorned by our readers.

-Adrastos

Gently Rise and Softly Fall by Cassandra

I woke up this morning in a really crappy mood, which is pretty normal given what is going on right now. When I sat down with my laptop, my first reminder was “write piece about joy”. OK, here goes nothing.

Last March, my husband and I were watching our cat Rey play with her favorite toy:  a spring coated in vinyl. Cats play when all their needs have been met and so they can expend precious energy for fun things. Rey stands up on her back legs when she plays with a spring, passing it from paw to paw, and dancing herself. She goes to the legs of the bar stools and climbs over and around the legs, with the spring turning round. It’s infectiously joyful to watch. I clearly remember saying that we needed to memorize that image because we were going to need to remember what joy looked like as the months went on.

Last January I started reading Wanderers by Chuck Wending, a book about a mysterious pandemic which also included the scenario of an authoritarian US president and a national election. I also stopped reading it in January as things got to be way too close to real life here in the US. (Don’t spoil it for me—I fully intend to pick it back in a week or so.) Even though I couldn’t read the novel, I came across some of his stuff on Twitter and found his blog. A week after I had that conversation with my husband, Wendig wrote this:

Also accept any joy you feel and do so without guilt. Joy is hard-won, and if you manage that victory, there’s no shame in that. Take the victory lap. We will have to hunt joy like an elusive beast across the wasteland.

If you capture it, celebrate.

I thought of both of those things that glorious Saturday when the national election was called for Joe and Kamala (the weirdness of a TV network calling an election is a conversation for another day).  I live in West Virginia, so there was no parade of cars through the streets, honking and beeping for joy. (I made do with yelling “BEEEEEEEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEEEEEEEEEEEP” all day around the house (my poor husband)). I don’t know that there was much uncertainty around the final outcome earlier that morning, but the joy was certainly real and comforting—because we could recognize what joy looked like.

I studied US history for a long time, and I have a lot of things to say about politics. I think last week was the worst week in US history, and this week has already said “Hold my beer,” so politics can wait another day. Find some joy today and hold it fast.