TAKE A SAD SONG AND MAKE IT BETTER

It’s Friday, July 12, 2019.

It’s the 230th anniversary of a speech given by French journalist Camille Desmoulins protesting the ouster of King Louis XVI’s finance minister.

Desmoulins, who normally stammered, delivered such an angry, unhesitant bombast that it inspired, two days later, the storming of the Bastille and the start of the French Revolution.

That’s the part of the story I like. 

The part of the story I don’t like is that, less than five years later, the tide turned and Desmoulins’ head ended up in a basket. He was 34 years old.

At once an inspirational and cautionary tale for our times.

“Tepid” best describes the reviews for the movie “Yesterday” which I saw, well, yesterday.

In the film, for those unaware, the world experiences a total momentary blackout after which only one man, a failing British singer, remembers the Beatles. He capitalizes on this, becoming an overnight sensation by “writing” such songs as “Here Comes the Sun” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

Reviewers seem to find this film far-fetched – duh – and the premise resolved clumsily. The Times’ A.O. Scott says it might have been better if it had taken the Beatles and their music more seriously.

I’m saying this: No, this film is not flawless. But I haven’t felt as good coming out of a movie in a very long time. 

It’s sweet. Not many things are now. It’s a reminder of the joy of the Beatles’ music and the wonder they created for the world.

Yes, you need to suspend reality to embrace this film. So what. I felt pretty good for two hours.

So much so that, aside from this post’s title, I’ve avoided referencing Beatles’ lyrics. 

Alex Acosta quit. Finally. He won’t be Labor Secretary after next week. 

If you read the great Miami Herald series by Julie Brown last fall, you’d wonder why the hell it took so long. 

If you haven’t, start here — and good luck stomaching your way to the end.

The series revolved around the so-called prosecution in 2007 of Jeffrey Epstein, a hedge fund manager accused of engaging in sexual acts with dozens of girls in his Palm Beach mansion.

There was enough evidence to put Epstein away for life. 

But perhaps because Epstein had influential buddies or because of his supposed wealth and its ability to buy high-priced lawyers, the federal prosecutor agreed to a deal. That deal included:

— a 13-month state felony sentence that included six days a week of work release in an opulent office.

— immunity for those who assisted Epstein in recruiting the girls.

— the end of an FBI probe into Epstein’s activities.

— not informing the girls about the deal until it was too late for them to complain about it.

That prosecutor was Alex Acosta. 

And, of course, with those credentials, he was the perfect choice for an important job in the administration of Trump, who was friends with Epstein in the 1990s and 2000s.

Given Trump’s penchant for bailing on people who might be perceived negatively by his base – there are still some evangelicals who think it’s wrong to rape a 14-year-old – you would think he would have bailed on Acosta when the stories hit.

But Trump likes people who like him. If he saw a picture of Acosta wearing one of those freakin’ red hats he sells, Acosta was golden as long as the furor didn’t get too hot.

And it didn’t. Until last weekend, when Epstein was arrested at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey on new charges of engaging girls for sex, aka rape. 

The negative publicity didn’t end quickly. So Acosta got ditched.

Is that good? Well, yes, people who protect pedophiles shouldn’t be Labor Secretary – who not only is the executive charged with protecting the interests of workers, but also the 11th person in the line of presidential seuccession.

But then again, two things crop up.

One is that Trump’s tendency has been to find someone even worse to replace someone forced to resign from his cabinet.

Two is that Trump faces accusations of rape himself. Sadly, it’s not as if abusing women is disqualifying for the Oval Office, according to the idiots who support him.

But, for a little while, we can cheer the fact that outrage over crimes against children triumphed. Acosta is off to wherever disgraced Trump officials go to cash in on their Trump association. 

Finally, this idea:

We’ve become immune to the daily, the semi-weekly, the weekly Trump outrages. Sometimes they come at us in multiples. 

Right now, we’re dealing front burner with Acosta/Epstein, yesterday’s backstep on the Census citizenship question and the reports of ICE raids coming this weekend.

That’s the front burner.

And that’s the problem. There’s so much stuff that’s happened over the last 30 months that it’s hard to remember it all. 

So here’s a suggestion: Let’s keep tabs.

Let’s keep a log of the outrages starting from Jan. 20, 2017. List them all. Know what they are and remember the ones we’ve forgotten.

And then, when the Democrats have a nominee, let’s play them back. Every single day from the end of the convention to the election.

Make Trump defend his atrocities. Every day. A different one. Flood the zone the way he has and remind people of why he’s such a disgrace.

The goal is not to get the Trump sycophants to see the light. They won’t. They’ll see all these outrages as triumphs and there’s nothing we can do about it.

The job is to remind the rest of us – the majority of Americans, by the way – of what we’ve experienced. To keep the fire stoked and drive up the turnout.

In “Yesterday,” the hero has to try to remember the words to all the Beatles’ songs. He struggles with some of them, but he eventually succeeds.

We have something negative to remember. But we need to do it. It – and a nominee offering a positive message for the future – is how we end this era of disgrace.

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BIT BY BIT, PUTTING IT TOGETHER

It’s Friday, July 5, 2019.

It’s the 23rd anniversary of the birth of Dolly, a sheep who was the first mammal conceived through cloning.

You can see her taxidermied remains at the National Museum of Scotland, if you’re so inclined.

Some of the Democratic presidential candidates spent the day in Houston, at the National Education Association’s annual representative assembly. 

I’ve tried to watch some of it on a livestream. The first thing to say to this group of educators: Learn how to get your livestream not to continually cut out.

The candidates I was able to watch included Beto O’Rourke and Elizabeth Warren, who seemed to get energetic support from the assembled teachers, and Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar, who were greeted politely.

All of the candidates, of course, played to the crowd when it came to teachers and unions, which is what NEA combines. Understandably, everybody in that room hates Betsy DeVos – in fact, I didn’t once hear the name of Trump, who is responsible for DeVos being education secretary in the first place.

Two issues that came up a lot were charter schools and high-stakes testing.

So here are some thoughts about both:

Charter schools are a Darwinian concept promoted by people, in many instances, who frown upon Darwin.

The idea is that you throw an educational lifeline to some disadvantaged students through a lottery or whatever other method, they will emerge well-educated. And either they’ll spread that to their peers or a select group of the next generation will get the lucky break.

Charter schools basically throw in the towel on educating as many kids as possible – the basic principle of the nation’s public schools since the 19th century. They absorb the resources of a school district, usually in an urban area, and leave what remains for the mass of students not quite as fortunate.

I’m sure I’m presenting that in a biased liberal way. I don’t care.

I believe in educating everybody.

Public education in this country has been a pariah my entire life. 

Its funding is a joke. 

If you live in a place where well-to-do people understand they will be weller-to-do if they fund public schools lavishly, thereby raising their property values faster than their property taxes, you generally have great schools.

If you live in a place where the population has other considerations – elderly people on a fixed income, working people struggling to make ends meet – that dream of flipping the house for 7 times what you paid for it is pretty ephemeral. Reality tends to shake those notions quickly.

So the rationale is that, since the resources are limited, it’s better that a few kids get ahead than for all of them to fall short.

And, because a lot of times the charters for charter schools take them out of the jurisdiction of the school systems that create them, they can disregard teacher unions and pay rules that conservatives seem to believe are the real problem in public education.

One other thing about charter schools: They seem like a breeding ground for schemers. 

They’re yet another opportunity for the entrepreneurial to indulge in corrupt money-making. As happened in Los Angeles and Phoenix for two quick examples.

All of the Democratic presidential candidates are saying something similar: Charter schools don’t seem to work. 

The problem is that Democrats were willing to go along with the idea of setting up these schools in the first place. The Clinton administration trumpeted this idea in the 1990s and tried to get NEA and the other teachers’ group – the American Federation of Teachers (disclaimer: I’m a member) – to go along.

So Democrats share some responsibility for the charter school debacle.

And they’re going to need to make a commitment to find ways to fund public education more adequately than we have for decades. 

For starters, rebuilding decaying public school structures should be part of a massive infrastructure push. Trump promised one, but of course he wasn’t going to be serious about that unless all the schools were named after him or his offspring.

All the soundings about raising teacher pay and providing adequate funding for kindergarten and preschool are great beginnings. The next Democratic president, hopefully taking office 18-1/2 months from now, needs to make sure he or she delivers.

The other concern is high-stakes testing.

I’m not exactly sure how this situation devolved. So let me explain my beliefs on this.

Back in the ‘90s, there was a push for national standards. The theory is that a kid in South Carolina who studies math in the fourth grade should know the same basics as if he or she was a fourth grader studying math in Massachusetts or Oregon.

Somehow, this has gotten perverted. The onus has fallen on the kids – if they can’t attain a certain level, they are marked as failures and treated as such.

And I’ve never thought that’s the point of standardized testing. It always should have been a message to school administrators, not kids.

Standardized testing was never meant to corrupt a school’s curriculum. I just think the idea of “teaching to the test” was an easy out for lazy or underfunded administrators. Saying the kids need to know “Moby-Dick” so let’s not read “As You Like It.”  Getting them out of offering music, art and other enrichment classes.

So when candidates such as Warren say that she’ll eliminate high-stakes testing and let teachers determine the best way to reach a student, I get it. I don’t think 8-year-olds or even 14-year-olds should face stomach ache-inducing pressure. And teachers should be trusted like the professionals they are.

What’s most important is that our kids should be excited to learn, so that the basics come naturally and the enhancements show them what’s possible in something that interests them. That’s the standard we need for our country.

And, since the current titleholder doesn’t seem to care much about kids or education, our next president needs to think about these things on our children’s behalf.

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MAY THE BEST PERSON WIN

It’s Wednesday, July 3, 2019.

On this day 156 years ago, the forces of a treasonous racist group made a last attempt to defeat U.S. soldiers in a battle in Gettysburg, Pa. 

They failed in what was called “Pickett’s Charge,” dooming their effort to establish a white supremacist nation in the southern United States.

That, to me, is the right way to describe what happened on July 3, 1863.

I can’t watch soccer.

Or football, as the rest of the world calls it. I’m not going to bore you with my reasoning, because boredom is a mean thing to inflict on people. 

Just like making them watch soccer.

Nevertheless, I would like to see the U.S. women win the World Cup on Sunday. Not just because it would make Trump’s head spin.

I just love the fact that this team, with such finely honed individual skills, meshes the talent into an unrelenting unified effort. 

So, go USA! I’ll eagerly look online for the score Sunday.

The New York Times did it again today.

There’s an article about Democrats worrying that running a woman against Trump next year is a  ticket to failure. Here it is, if you want to read it.

Now, obviously, reporter Lisa Lerer has a story here. She quotes a lot of people, mostly women – including candidates Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand. 

And some of the women quoted confirm the story’s theorem – that there are concerns a woman can be elected President of the United States.

First, this isn’t the first time the Times put out a story about female electability. This is from May.

This is from February.

And this is from January.

And yet.

Last Thursday, on a stage of 10 people with egos massive enough to think they should be president, one candidate dominated – according to all post-debate polls or anyone with eyes and ears.

She was Kamala Harris.

She was sharp and on point the whole two hours. The confrontation with Joe Biden was just the most noticed moment. Throughout, she showed a command of facts and ideas, and clarity in presenting them. 

There’s no question she belongs on a debate stage next fall. And while there are no sure things in life, I turned off the TV last Thursday as confident as I can be that she could wipe the floor with Trump.

If you saw that debate the way I did, please don’t tell me you next said to yourself: yeah, but she’s a woman and nobody wants one of them to be president.

Because then you’re an idiot.

And so I just have to wonder if the proliferation of stories about the electability of women perpetrates the notion that there’s some unelectability component to xx chromosomes.

A woman advances in the polls, as Harris – and, to a lesser extent, Elizabeth Warren – did after the debates. Then the reflex at the Times and other media kick in – ah, but is she electable? Maybe we need to do another story about it.

Then the story comes out and the question dominates the day again – I’m obviously falling victim to that in this post.

So to get to the point: How does this stupid cycle end?

David Axelrod, the CNN analyst and former adviser to President Obama, has the best quote in the story: “In terms of electability, the cure for that is winning.”

And I’ll quote another famous male Democrat: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Look, I get it. We CANNOT LOSE the next election to Trump. The future of our democracy and the proclamation of our ideals to the world are in grave danger.

But Democrats can’t try to not lose. They have to try to win. They need to ignite enthusiasm and make people sprint to the polls on Nov. 3, 2020 to vote for their candidate. 

There are two reasons Hillary Clinton lost. One is that a Russian disinformation helped manipulate enough voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to overcome a nearly 3-million vote margin in the national popular vote.

Hopefully, Robert Mueller will elaborate on that before the House Judiciary Committee in two weeks.

The other was the low enthusiasm level for someone who had been in the national spotlight for a quarter century.

People were tired of the Clintons – both Bill and Hillary. Just like the Republicans were so tired of the Bushes that Jeb’s candidacy was a joke.

That’s the problem with nominating an older candidate. A Biden, a Bernie Sanders, maybe even Warren. They’ve been around so long that people get tired of them – this is a country that’s on to the next new thing every few days.

And yet, the Times and other media don’t seem to be doing quite as many stories about that being a factor as Hillary Clinton’s – or Kamala Harris’ – femaledom. 

So if you’re a Democrat, ignore the crap. 

Yes, you want a winner. But that winner is the one who will get you to wear her/his button every day, wake up a 4 a.m. on Election Day and make you want to have Champagne on ice that night when we finally throw Trump out on his massive butt.

Kamala Harris was one of several candidates – male and female – who made Democrats feel that way last week. That’s all you need to know about her electability.

 

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WHO WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE?

It’s Tuesday, July 2, 2019.

Now, for sure, the year is half over.

It’s the 55th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Here’s a fact: While the act outlawing discrimination was pushed by two Democratic presidents – John F. Kennedy and LBJ – the final vote garnered a higher percentage of votes from Republican lawmakers than Democratic ones.

Something else that might seem strange: The fierce opposition came from southern Democrats. Democratic leaders, the majority, with the minority leaders among the Republicans to get a bill that could overcome the filibuster.

In the end, the Civil Rights Act passed the Senate 73-27 and the House 289-126, a truly bipartisan achievement.

I doubt that’s what the Trumpsters mean when they want to make America great again. Given where we are at this moment, Trump and the Republican acquiescence to his madness makes that kind of unity toward progress seems like a fantasy.

So consider this question:

Who do you think is more likely to eventually be the researcher who helps find a cure for Alzheimer’s? 

A Honduran girl currently sleeping on a concrete floor in one of the Border Patrol’s concentration camps in Texas?

Or a grey-haired lardass in a MAGA hat planning to attend Trump’s masturbatory July 4 rally?

Try this one:

Who is more likely to risk his life your son, the soldier, in a war zone of Trump’s making?

The Salvadorean boy being made to drink water from a toilet?

Or the pontaloon chanting “Lock Her Up” in Pavlovian response to her master’s voice?

One more:

If you’re in Target looking for the inflator needles for your kid’s soccer ball, who is more likely going to be the one to find it?

The Guatemalan girl getting a thumbful of shampoo to wash her whole body and that of the toddler whose care has been thrust upon her by Customs and Border Protection?

Or one of those idiot CBP guards too busy depicting congresswoman in faked sexual poses on Facebook?

My point is simple.

Refugees and migrants want something better for their lives.

And more often than not, they’re willing to take on the undesirable, the backbreaking, the mindnumbing tasks that those already settled in this country aren’t.

All to get to a life that is better than the horrors they left behind – stuff so bad they were willing to endure the brutality of Trump and the base he constantly placates.

Trump’s favorite goons at ICE and Customs and Border Protection remain pretty unstoppable in their cruelty to desperate people who have committed no crime in the eyes of the world. 

The people who will pay the price are us. We’ll never know if the person who could have lengthened and improved our life lost her or his ability to do so in the squalor that Trump and his minions created.

Instead, we’re stuck kissing up to the people sitting in some Midwest diner complaining about some phony crisis they saw Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham gussie up. And doing nothing to solve the real problems humanity faces.

Yesterday, when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other representatives visited the camps in Texas, they were mistreated and scorned by the people who employment depends on them. 

And there were actually pro-concentration camp demonstrators trying to shout them down. 

But they put out the word about the horrific conditions in these camps. They’re some of the heroes we should remember this Independence Day.

By the way, you and I are not helpless.

My wife and I donated money to Raices, an organization that provides aid to these desperate people seeking asylum in a country that used to be a beacon for it.

Here’s their website: https://www.raicestexas.org/

It won’t solve the problem instantly. But helping these folks help others is a good way to start. And it seems like a perfect way to celebrate the 4th.

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SAY WHAT YOU MEAN

It’s Monday, July 1, 2019.

It’s the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Strunk Jr. He’s the guy who developed rules for writing that became “The Elements of Style.”

One of his students was E.B. White, who would write for the New Yorker. He revised and expanded Strunk’s text, which is why most students call the small book “Strunk and White.”

Now, of course, you’ll be tempted to see how many Strunk rules I break with this piece. So it goes.

If months are the determinant, it’s the second half of 2019. If days are, it’ll be the first half until just after 1 p.m. tomorrow.

Why 1 p.m.? Because of Daylight Saving Time. The year started in standard time, when the middle of the day was noon. But when we moved the clock forward, the actual middle of the day became 1 p.m.

Understand?

When you’re 73, it’s not always easy to get gratification.

So this past weekend was a big thrill for Trump.

He was able to asskiss three of his most admired people – Putin, bin Salman and Kim. He had to travel halfway around the world to do it, but all the more time to build up the anticipation.

And he pushed his female alter ego, his daughter, onto a world stage that is not in the least bit interested in having her and for which she is not the least bit qualified.

Trump must be exhausted. He probably needs a couple of rounds of golf just to get the wherewithal to walk back into the White House.

Kamala Harris’ solid debate performance must have really scared Trump supporters.

They figured that their “man” would surely face Joe Biden or maybe, even, Bernie Sanders – two old guys who Trump might stand a chance of debating to a draw.

But then the former prosecutor from California showed her fearlessness and hinted that she probably would show less respect to Trump on a stage than she showed Biden.

So then came the online insinuation: Harris really isn’t African-American. Her father was born in Jamaica. Her mother is from India. 

As if that matters. But the fact that it kept creeping up showed an almost synchronized effort to take her down a bit – to the point that the other Democratic candidates came to her defense, a very laudable reaction. 

First of all, I’m not sure how the morons who started spreading this crap think Jamaica got so many dark-skinned people, but slavery had a lot to do with it. And those slaves came from Africa.

The idea of maligning Harris, I guess, is to somehow imply that she’s not a “pure” African-American because of how her family came together.

That might bother someone who advocates white supremacy because he thinks he’s all white. And that advocate somehow thinks people who are black or Asian are going to be bothered by the fact Harris isn’t all of one.

The ignorance of that is stunning. Unfortunately, it’s also real.

Let’s overlook the fact that, over millennia, the intermingling of people from all parts of the world has undermined the concept of racial or ethnic oneness.

It’s that interracial relationships are growing in America. In fact, I think that’s what scares these bigots the most – that families are no longer just white or black or Asian or native American or Latino.

Walk through Times Square or Disney World or Yellowstone and you’ll see diverse families. Couples – including mine, the union of an Italian-American man and a woman born in Hong Kong – that were outlawed in some states in my lifetime. 

And – and I’m admittedly a little biased – you’ll also see some of the most beautiful kids in this country.

In some ways, I think the Trump phenomenon is a monumental effort to reverse demographics. It might succeed at the margins – you have to think the growth rate for the Latino segment of the population is going to be affected.

But, in time, it’s like stopping the sun from rising in the east. This country is changing. And it might not be in my lifetime, but in the lifetime of my kids, caucasians will become a plurality instead of a majority.

America has always been a melting pot. Now, it’s just melting faster. Trump and his ilk are on the wrong side of history and science.

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TEN FOR TEN (THURSDAY NIGHT EDITION)

It’s Friday, June 28, 2019.

It’s the 22nd anniversary of the night Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a heavyweight boxing title fight.

And there are those who might say it’s the one-day anniversary of Kamala Harris biting off Joe Biden’s head.

Yesterday’s Ten for Ten was supposed to be some brief takes on the first night of the first Democratic debate.

It ended up being more than 1,800 words.

I’ll try to be a little shorter today. Here goes:

— If the first debate winners determined the ticket, how would you feel about a Kamala Harris-Julián Castro ticket?

I’d feel pretty damn good.

There are those who would say that it’s unelectable – you need to have a white man on the ticket to balance it.

Hey, last I looked I’m still a white man – and that’s bullshit.

The Democrat candidates for president and vice president need two things. 

In the short term, they need to be able to mop the floor with Trump and Pence on a debate stage. Harris and Castro showed their fearlessness on a big stage, when it was tougher and not a sure thing they would get that opportunity.

By staring down one of her party’s more venerable figures, Harris really put Trump on notice. 

She at least called Biden “Sir” when she started. She won’t say “Sir” to Trump.

In the long term, the Democrats need a vision for the future, not a pledge to go back to old ways. 

Harris and Castro would challenge the nation to be as brave as they are – and that would energize a lot of voters.

Because, again, it’s a mistake the Democrats have to win back Trump supporters. Hillary Clinton got nearly 3 million more votes than Trump.

What Democrats have to do is get people excited about voting for their ticket – and to demoralize the Trumpsters in what would be legitimate suppression.

Harris-Castro ’20. Not bad.

— Anybody who thinks Harris dealt a low blow to Joe Biden last night is forgetting an important point.

Should Biden become the nominee – and the odds are still heavily in favor of that – his next debate opponent would be Donald J. Trump. 

Do you think there’s any blow too low for Trump? Really?

That was the biggest takeaway from that exchange. The Democratic nominee has to be sure of her or himself – more sure than any candidate in history. And he or she has to be able to absorb Trump’s body blows and give them back double.

That won’t just be a debate or an election – 2020 will be a test of whether the United States as a democracy will survive. Harris is ready. Biden, right now, isn’t.

— I’m rethinking my rethinking of the ageism thing.

Last night, Biden and Bernie Sanders proved my point: that the Democratic Party needs someone younger than me – age 65 – as its standard bearer.

Biden was not especially coherent. He gave off an attitude of entitlement and rarely acknowledged the other candidates. 

And after Harris decked him with that race exchange, he was off-balance the rest of the night. 

When Chuck Todd did the stupid thing with what’s your first priority after you’re inaugurated, Biden answered “defeating Donald Trump.” Forgetting, unfortunately, that to get that first priority, you would have already beaten him.

As for Sanders, he did his Bernie rants about radical change, and decrying millionaires and billionaires.

But like Biden, it seemed as though he had no patience for being challenged – either by the candidates or the moderators. 

When Rachel Maddow quoted him about guns, Sanders yelled back that it was a mischaracterization and Maddow – someone somewhat sympathetic to Sanders’ point of view – pointed out that it was a direct quote.

The other thing with Sanders is that, like fellow septugenarian Elizabeth Warren, he vanished for long periods of time last night.

Was that because other candidates – Harris and Pete Buttigieg – were taking his space? Or was it because, like other old people, he got a little tired?

Neither is good.

The Democratic Party needs young blood. It’s how it got Barack Obama for two big wins. 

Biden and Sanders are both good guys and their contributions to the party can never be overlooked. They deserve prime time slots at the Milwaukee convention. But they should leave the party to people young and strong enough to go after Trump and the Republicans.

— The Constitution says you can’t be president until you’re 35 years old. 

(Face it, if the limit was younger, we’d be talking about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s presidential run. For that, we’ll have to wait until 2024.)

Pete Buttigieg will be 39 on Inauguration Day 2021. But last night, he allayed concerns that he’s too immature to be in this race.

He handled himself very well. Calm, measured and on message.

I don’t think the answer to question about the shooting in South Bend is what stood out. That’s a not-good situation for him until it gets resolved – but his answer was about the best he could do under the circumstances.

I think it was his ability to find his moments and make his points. That whole line about how Republicans have lost all claim to being a party of Christians was brilliant – yes, well-rehearsed, but brilliant. 

It resonated the same way Bill de Blasio’s line about how immigrants are not the reason for Americans’ economic insecurity did the night before.

He brought up his military service without crowing about it, the way it seemed Tulsi Gabbard did that sometimes. And he was somewhat matter-of-fact about his husband, although he did point how his marriage was legitimized by a single vote in the Supreme Court.

And the big test: Do I think he can stand on a stage against either Trump or Pence? Absolutely.

— Medicare for All advocates need to do a better job of selling this idea.

I’m for Medicare for All – I like the idea of ending private insurance because I don’t think it works. I think insurance companies are looking to make a profit – and make getting affordable care difficult.

But also thought his Michael Bennet’s challenging Sanders on Medicare for All was focused and helpful.

Bennet was trying to get Sanders to explain how you get from what we have now to Medicare for All – and Sanders wouldn’t do it. All Sanders ever says “We need radical change. We’re going to do it.” He has no plan for selling it.

I think Medicare for All is a goal that’s attained eventually. Americans are going to be scared of the idea unless it’s phased in. But like Obamacare itself, once they get there, I think they’re going to like it – just like people in the countries that have a form of it like it.

— By the way, I kinda like Michael Bennet.

I wish he would have announced his candidacy sooner so that we could have more time to evaluate him.

But I thought he was focused and on point. He showed some passion and raised the Russian threat that was mostly ignored in these debates.

— Kirsten Gillibrand’s woman power campaign is a problem.

When I was very young, in the early 1960s, Coca-Cola came out with a lemon-lime soda called Veep, the forerunner of Sprite and answer to 7Up.

It was marketed as the first refresher made “just for girls.” 

In the ads, a guy who tries Veep despite some young women’s warnings ends up in a skirt – obviously, this was a campaign way ahead of its time.

The drink failed. Why “girls” would be more inclined to drink lemon-lime soda than “boys” is not something I understand, but I figured at age six that the drink wasn’t meant for me.

I think the same thing applies to presidential campaigns. If you keep saying that your campaign is for women, then are you saying men need not vote for you?

That’s dumb to me. And I’m sure Gillibrand – who I like and think would make a terrific president – would be happy to get my vote.

But appealing almost exclusively to women is not a way to break through. Like one-issue focused candidate Jay Inslee – and unlike Julián Castro – she didn’t articulate well the women’s rights position that she’s using to gain traction.

One other thing about her: She was gifted an issue and she seems reluctant to accept it. 

Gillibrand has been in the forefront of getting help for 9/11 responders. She has video clips of being on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” in which he praises her efforts.

I don’t remember her talking about that last night. That’s a missed opportunity.

— Unlike the first night, the second stringers weren’t impressive.

Marianne Williamson was the nut case at the party who makes you roll your eyes. John Hickenlooper spent the night telling us he was a scientist and a businessman – and that socialism is bad.

Eric Swalwell looked overmatched. He tried to challenge Biden about passing the torch and Buttigieg on firing the police officer who turned off his bodycam, and got slapped down each time.

And Andrew Yang, with less than three minutes of speaking time, never was able to explain his position about guaranteed income. He seems like a bright guy, but he was out of his league – and presidential politics is about maintaining a high-power presence on a big stage.

— Again, the NBC moderators played the hot hand

I thought they did a good job with the questions. Only a few of the questions – the Buttigieg one is an example – were focused on the individual. 

In that case, since it’s still about his performance in office – and not a dumb question about his marriage – it’s OK.

But, as I said yesterday, as a college professor, I’m sympathetic to their dilemma – they’re trying to keep things interesting. 

That was more likely to happen if you threw a question at a red hot Harris or a faltering Biden than Yang or Swalwell.

— So let’s say the Democrats wanted to jumpstart the process. 

You put the top eight performers from this first debate — and, because they still have big followings, I’d include Biden and Sanders – into one night and the rest into the second night. 

In my eye, you would have this lineup: Bennet, Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Gillibrand, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders, Warren.

That would be quite a donnybrook. 

It would be a great test for Harris, who will have people with her who are Senate colleagues and friends that she’d be somewhat more reluctant to go after.

But it also would allow the Democrats to find out, once and for all, if Biden is really up to this. 

I don’t think he is.

Just under 1,800 words. Sigh.

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TEN FOR TEN (WEDNESDAY NIGHT EDITION)

It’s Thursday, June 27, 2019.

It’s the 70th birthday of Vera Wang. She apparently was a competitive figure skater before she became the clothing designer of note.

It’s also night No. 2 of the first Democratic presidential debate. 

And while both nights should count the same, they don’t. The only top five contender last night was Elizabeth Warren. Tonight, we see the other four: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg.

So everyone expects the two old guys to ratchet things up tonight. Especially Sanders – he never comes to these things unaggrieved.

Alas, I might miss the start of tonight’s debate because of a family commitment. So I’ll try to intelligently (or I hope someone other than me thinks so) weigh in tomorrow, but we’ll see.

I’ve spent the 11 hours since the debate ended watching the TV analysis and reading commentary on websites and on Twitter. 

So let me try to give 10 assessments that I believe are slightly different:

— I want Julian Castro or someone like him on one of the debate stages next fall – something I would not have imagined writing 24 hours ago.

Castro is being widely lauded – and rightfully so – for his performance last night. There were two reasons he stood out.

One is his command of policy. You just get the sense he understands the immigration issue better than anyone else – maybe it was his rolling off the Section 1325 provision and the idea of repealing it that doesn’t seem to come up in discussions about this issue. 

But he also took a strong principled stand on women’s health issues that made you nod your head in agreement.

The second reason is that he was forceful. He didn’t give ground to O’Rourke in their exchange, and he made his points clearly and confidently.

What surprised me was that, a few months back, when Castro appeared on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” he seemed out of his league. It got to the point that Maher seemed to be trying to prod Castro into explaining why he was running for president.

His people must have given him a talking-to. Castro was completely different last night. 

Which brings me back to the original point. When Democrats debate in fall 2020 – assuming Trump and Pence actually show up, about which I’m skeptical – they need to bring two things: ideas and forcefulness. 

Hillary Clinton outdebated Trump all three times. But she didn’t humiliate him. Next fall, the Democratic candidate has to show Trump’s intellectual and spiritual weakness – to the point that his supporters get shaken. 

And, in the vice presidential debate, Pence outpointed a overly polite Tim Kaine. That can’t happen either. 

Castro showed the kind of debate skills the Democrats need. 

Now, is he going to be the presidential nominee? It’s still pretty unlikely.

But imagine him going toe-to-toe with Pence. 

Castro definitely played himself into VP contention last night.

— The NBC moderators played the hot hand.

When the debate started, the attention was on Elizabeth Warren. In the first half-hour, she had twice as many responses as any other single candidate – and with the focus on the economy, she was in her wheelhouse.

But then came the Julian Castro stance on immigration and his exchange with O’Rourke – and the fact that Cory Booker, standing next to him was able to get a word in.

For the last three-quarters of the debate, Castro and Booker were the dominant participants. In fact, on my scorecard, Booker had more responses – 12 – than any other candidate on the stage.

Warren, on the other hand, didn’t say as much in the final 90 minutes of the debate as she did in the first 30. 

My thinking is that the moderators were drawn to the people who were making the strongest statements.

That’s why you didn’t see a lot of Jay Inslee, Tim Ryan or Tulsi Gabbard until the very end, when somebody must have pointed out that they weren’t getting a lot of time and that was relayed to Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow.

It’s a natural tendency. As a teacher, I tend to call on students who I know will sustain a discussion intelligently.

Booker and Castro were doing that last night. And the five moderators were naturally inclined to let them.

  It was as Trump-free as possible.

This was the first Democratic debate. A lot of these people were completely unknown to the Democratic electorate.

So this should have been an introduction – a chance for these candidates to share their ideas for governing the country.

And that’s – for the most part – what it was. 

It was not a Trump-bashing fest. Because it’s understood that Democrats HATE Trump.

The ten candidates needed to say their names more than they needed to say how much they can’t stand him.

— No wonder Trump thought the debate was “BORING”

That’s what he tweeted after he tweeted he was too busy flying to the G-20 summit and saving the free world to watch the debate.

They didn’t talk about him that much. Why would he watch?

There’s another reason why he might have found it boring: they were talking about issues and solutions that he completely doesn’t understand. The candidates knew what they were talking about. 

— I don’t mind these scrums 16-1/2 months from Election Day 2020 and eight months before the Iowa caucus.

Unlike a lot of other folks, I’m not bothered by 24 candidates. It’s still early – as Castro illustrated last night, some of these folks who are not in the top tier have some pretty good ideas.

So this two-night debate in Miami and the two nights in Detroit next month are a fair opportunity for all these people to make their case.

And a lot aren’t making the case expecting to waltz into the Oval Office on Jan. 20, 2021. Some of them are playing for jobs on other parts of Pennsylvania Ave.

Because these aren’t just presidential candidates. Some of them are candidates for cabinet positions – one analyst made the astute point that Tulsi Gabbard might have strengthened her case to be Defense Secretary.

I do think that, starting in September, it will be time to cut the debates down. The people on the periphery should have no complaints.

— My ageism is severely challenged by Elizabeth Warren.

I’m 65 and I’ve taken the stance that the next president of the United States has to be younger than me.

That’s eliminates three prominent Democrats: 

Bernie Sanders, who’ll be 79 on Election Day. 

Joe Biden, who’ll be 78 on Inauguration Day.

And Elizabeth Warren, who turned 70 this week.

I want a new generation of leaders that understands the changes in our lives because they’re more affected by them than my generation is or will be.

And older people tend to be stuck in their ways. Trust me, I understand.

But Warren doesn’t seem quite as affected by geriatric matters. She has an energy level that far exceeds some of her younger opponents. And the fact that she’s running an idea-oriented campaign is more than admirable – it’s what presidential campaigns should have been my entire life.

So I’d love to support her. 

But. 

That fade out in the final three-quarters last night has me wondering: Was it just that Castro came on strong? Or was it Warren fading late on a Wednesday night, just like I do?

— New Yorkers are wondering who that guy who looked like Bill de Blasio was.

de Blasio didn’t say that much in the debate. But when he spoke, he delivered like a Brooklynite. Forceful, brash and self-assured. 

The line about how immigration is not what’s causing the problems for middle America was one of the strongest of any candidate all night.

Now, if he had been as self-assured as mayor the past six and a-half years, New Yorkers might be a little bit more behind his candidacy. He is not popular here.

— Tim Ryan might be a good Secretary of Labor.

That’s what I think he’s running for. 

I mean, he really wants to be president, or so he says. But if he really wanted to be president, he would have run for Rob Portman’s Ohio Senate seat in 2016 or for governor against Mike DeWine last year.

Yes, he’s right – the Democratic Party shouldn’t ignore the people in his district, which is the area around Youngstown. They’ve been screwed over by General Motors and by Trump, and have been paying the price for the deindustrialization of this country for the past 50 years – think of Bruce Springsteen’s song and you get the idea.

But the core of the party – the mass of its members – are on the coasts and in enclaves like Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul. That’s who determines the nominee. And those people will determine the next nominee.

So Ryan’s contribution to the 2020 race is likely to be a strong voice not to forget his constituents. That’s a good thing – Democrats shouldn’t. 

Having Ryan as the point person for the Biden/Sanders/Warren/Harris/mystery administration’s policy toward middle America would be pretty good.

— Jay Inslee is less formidable than I would have thought.

If you’re going to be a one-issue candidate, climate change isn’t a bad one. 

It was ignored in 2016. And now, the situation is getting worse. Unprecedented heat waves and flooding don’t seem to be wholly due to nature’s capriciousness.

But the governor of Washington blew his chance to make a forceful case. Even when Rachel Maddow gave him the first question on the subject, he didn’t present the kind of coherent, convincing argument that Castro did on immigration.

And Amy Klobuchar, who had enough of a presence that she might make the second round of debates in the fall, zapped him after he made that dumb remark about being the only one to advance women’s issues.

If there was a chance that any of these people would drop out before the July debate or the second round beginning in September, I’d bet on Inslee and Beto O’Rourke.

— Overall, it was a good night for Democrats.

On CNN, reporter Gary Tuchman – one of the network’s best – was in Iowa with a focus group of uncommitted voters.

Most of them believed Warren, Booker and Castro did best – one person said Klobuchar and another said Inslee.

None of those participating said they had found their candidate – which means they’re still listening closely tonight.

And, when Tuchman asked if the debate made them feel as though Trump might look better they, to a man and woman, laughed.

Democrats know they will have a better person running in 2020 than Trump. Frankly, it doesn’t take much.

But after the first night, they have to feel better about their chances. 

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