Sirota Is Worse Than Conway

Attack dogs are fine. Frauds are not.

Image result for Sanders demagogue

There’s nothing wrong with Bernie Sanders hiring a “Twitter attack dog,” as The Atlantic put it. Edward-Isaac Dovere reported Tuesday the Vermont senator had brought on David Sirota, a notorious hack. I don’t think that’s wrong despite Sanders’ pledge to be civil. Sure, it’s cynical and disgusting. You can take umbrage with that. But there’s nothing unethical about saying one thing and doing something else.

It would be a disservice to everyone if the Sirota controversy, as I’ll call it, ended with outrage. Pols are naturally hypocritical. Hypocrisy, or the appearance of it, often can’t be helped, because candidates seek to please various and competing factions. So hypocrisy per se is par. There is, however, something morally wrong, deeply wrong, with interlocking layers of wrongness, in hiring David Sirota. Here are some facts.

First, The Atlantic’s Dovere confirmed that Sirota had been working for months for the Sanders campaign. (Their relationship goes back decades.) The campaign, however, did not make his role public. While Sirota was working in secret, he posed as a “journalist.” He posted several pieces and tweets on Sanders’ rivals, including Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and others, but especially Beto O’Rourke.

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The Sanders campaign made Sirota’s role public only after Dovere called to ask why it had not made his role public. Implicit here is that Sirota might still be working in secret had not Dovere raised the issue. Within hours of Dovere’s phone call, Sirota deleted more than 20,000 Twitter posts. Dovere screen captured many. Faiz Shakir, Sanders’ campaign manager, said he was not aware of how toxic some were. “He used those exact words?” Shakir asked. “I’m sure he regrets the tone.” Yeah, don’t bet on it.

Sirota once alleged that Beto O’Rourke took campaign cash from fossil-fuel interests, thus portraying him as a faker. Sirota clearly intended to disqualify him in the eyes of purists. The backlash was fierce. It was also correct. Sirota elided the difference between individual donors and corporate donors. It’s true that employees of oil and gas companies, the kind populating the Texas landscape, donated to O’Rourke’s failed senate bid. It’s false, however, to claim he took money from fossil-fuel interests.

That would not have been so bad if he had left it there. But what he did next elevated propaganda to fraud. He treated the backlash against his hit job on O’Rourke as a reflection of everything that’s wrong with the Democratic Party, thus everything that’s right with his boss, though we didn’t know Sanders was his boss, because Sirota had been pretending to be a reporter. For instance, he said: “The screaming temper tantrums by Democratic Party operatives whenever reporters scrutinize a lawmaker’s voting record is something to behold. These people quite literally hate democracy.”

More from Dovere:

Sirota had once dismissed “the trolls trying to de-credential me & claim I’m not a ‘real journalist.’” In December, he said anyone who questioned his motives “illustrates something important: while Dems deride Trump’s war on the press, there are a cadre of Dems who try to bully campaign finance reporters if they report facts that are inconvenient to Democratic candidates.”

All of the above italics are mine for a reason.

Sirota could not have treated the backlash as a reflection of everything that’s wrong with the Democratic Party, thus everything that’s right with Sanders, if he had not pretended to be a journalist following the facts wherever they lead. He could not have treated the backlash that way, because he could not have presented himself as a victim of intense partisan rage. Take away the victimhood, and all that’s left is propaganda.

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In a real sense, Kellyanne Conway, the president’s propagandist, has more honor and integrity than Sirota. She lies like the wind. She tells ugly, fantastical whoppers. But she does not pretend to be anything more than the president’s propagandist.

Sirota, however, laundered falsehoods with a reporter’s credibility. He used the profession’s tropes and conventions against it, Sanders’ rivals and O’Rourke’s defenders. In deleting 20,000 tweets, he’s telling us that he knew what he did was immoral, that he was trying to escape accountability. (And he did.) In the process, he defrauded readers, profaned journalism’s moral authority, and willfully sabotaged the public trust. In short, Sanders hired an evangelist of suicide-bomber politics.

Victimhood is central to demagoguery. With it, you can rationalize any statement and behavior no matter how destructive or immoral, because you are a victim of an enemy willing and able to say and do anything no matter how destructive or immoral. In Sirota’s case, the “real Democrats” are Sanders voters battling an entrenched party system that daily violates the people’s sovereignty. As he said: These people quite literally hate democracy. The party system is so corrupt and so irredeemable that any action is justified, even if that means burning it all down to reshape it in Sanders’ image.

Somebody here hates democracy.

It’s not the Democratic Party.

—John Stoehr

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Sirota treats ‘opponents as enemies’

You really should be reading The Washington Monthly’s Nancy LaTourneau. She said:

I tend to be a trusting person. But the BS is piling up in this story. First we learn that Sirota has been working for the Sanders campaign for months. Whether or not that arrangement began before he started attacking other Democratic candidates is currently in dispute. Then, we’re supposed to believe that his Twitter feed was coincidentally scrubbed the same day that his employment with the campaign was made public.

What concerns me is that there is no way that Bernie Sanders or the people who are running his campaign could be ignorant about David Sirota’s style of engagement. Even if they were, with his work over the last few months getting widespread attention, they must have seen his attacks and liked them, because they decided to bring him on in an official capacity.

There is no one that I can think of who, if hired by a campaign, would more strongly suggest that a candidate intends to treat their opponents as enemies than David Sirota. It’s not that I dislike the guy, I don’t actually know him. It’s just that he has made his modus operandi very clear. If we are to judge the candidates based on the people they hire, this one reflects very badly on Bernie Sanders.

Sirota’s greatest (deleted) hits

Courtesy of The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere.

A word from David Simon

The creator of “The Wire” had something to say about Sirota.


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It's Settled: Trump Is a Racist

How the press contributes to the politicization of everything.

Image result for Chris Matthews Cory Booker

I think Chris Matthews is a reliable indicator of consensus thinking in mainstream news media. So I think it’s interesting, perhaps important, to dwell on something that the MSNBC host said recently. It could be a portent of things to come.

In an interview that aired Monday, he asked Cory Booker whether he thought the president was a racist. Booker’s response: “Racists think he’s a racist.” The New Jersey senator went on to say that Donald Trump’s “language hurts people.” He added: "His language is causing pain and fear. The way he's talking is making people afraid."

Booker was borrowing from Andrew Gillum, a Democrat who lost to Republican Ron DeSantis in the race for Florida governor last year. A moderator in that state asked Gillum a question that was almost identical to Matthews’. His answer: “Now, I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”

It was so brilliant that it inspired a legion of Democratic copycats.

Using the Gillum maneuver, Democratic candidates get around a problem that shouldn’t be a problem but is thanks to a political press badly failing the citizenry. The idea here is that you can’t know what’s in a person’s heart. It is therefore uncivil, divisive, tribal and repugnant to doubt his or her moral character. The consensus view appears to be that calling out racists is out of bounds. It’s an ad hominem attack.

Because of this, veteran journalists like Matthews enjoy cornering Democrats, seeing how far they are willing to go. He asked Booker twice if he thought that Trump was a racist. The second time Booker used the Gillum maneuver. That served two goals: it gave Matthews some news; it relayed a message Booker wanted to send to voters.

But Chris Matthews ought to know better. If he doesn’t, the “Hardball” host has no business in journalism. If he does, he’s playing dumb. Playing dumb when you know better is a serious form of misrepresentation. There’s a word for that. It’s fraud.

How many times does the president have to demonstrate fealty to white supremacy to confirm as fact that he’s a racist? Whatever that standard is, and it should be high, I think any sane and reasonable person would agree that he has met and surpassed it.

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Trump began by calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” He added that Mexicans were criminals and rapists. As president, he said white-power terrorists in Charlottesville were nice. After the New Zealand massacre, he refused to concede any role played by white supremacy even though the killer wrote a manifesto on the subject, calling the president an inspiration.

Indeed, the racists think he’s a racist. But anyone with eyes can see. Journalists like Chris Matthews, however, act as if they are blind. In pretending Trump’s racism is an unsettled question, they force Democrats to bear the social cost of telling the truth about the president. In doing so, journalists shirk their moral duty to democracy and, in the process, contribute to the politicization of everything, even the truth.

I’m not saying much that’s new here. The Ur-text on media politics is James Fallows’ timeless essay published by the The Atlantic more than 20 years ago. I wrote about “Why Americans Hate the Media” in the run up to the 2016 election. I said:

[Fallows’] thesis was this: Instead of reporting the policy positions of candidates, and assessing their merits, the political press tends to abdicate its responsibilities in favor of reporting “politics.”

Put another way, instead of telling Americans the truth of the matter, anchored in observable reality and concrete fact, the political press tends to chase after “appearances,” “atmospherics,” and “optics.”

I do want to add something new. I haven’t seen it before. Journalists privilege detachment in order to report objectively. But we are not detached, because we can’t be, not when our profession makes moral judgments that impact people’s lives.

You could say journalists aren’t in the business of making moral judgments. That’s what we journalists say when people hate our reporting. Facts are value-neutral, we say. But that’s not true. Journalists make moral judgments all the time.

Morality is central. If it weren’t, no one would value journalism. As I wrote: journalists believe that “facts deserve everyone’s respect, deference, even reverence. They should transcend and should supersede party loyalties, partisan identities, bias, prejudice and bigotry. Facts are facts is not only an empirical statement. It’s normative, too.”

Journalists are always already operating in a moral context. We cannot escape that. Any attempt to do so is a refusal to acknowledge what’s always already happening. If we play dumb when we know better, that’s not just fraud. It’s immoral. Chris Matthews asks if Trump is a racist. He damn well knows the answer. Given that he’s a bellwether of consensus thinking in the news, expect more immorality to come.

—John Stoehr
The Editorial Board

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Trump Didn't Rewrite Rules of Republican Economics

The president is the product of an ideological evolution already underway.

It’s by now a familiar argument.

The president has redrawn the boundaries of Republican economic orthodoxy. Donald Trump favors tariffs; a command-and-control economy; and raising taxes (at least on his political foes). His party has historically opposed these but is nonetheless going along. An acquiescent GOP gives the impression that he’s redrawn the boundaries.

To understand the whole truth, however, I think it’s important to see that Trump has advanced his economic views in the absence of ideological push-back. This absence is indeed partly due to partisan politics. Trump is popular with Republican voters. Ergo, the Republicans have good reason to keep quiet and stick with the program.

But the absence of push-back is also due to a Republican Party having run out of good ideas worth defending. Indeed, it has been advancing the same two for more than 40 years. The Republicans know being seen as the party of big business hurts them with the wider electorate. So they argue that anything that’s good for big business is good for everyone. Deregulation unleashes private enterprise to hire more. Business tax cuts do the same. With such renewed freedom, payrolls rise, revenues increase, and deregulation and tax cuts, in the end, pay for themselves. All true, except it’s false. 

To be sure, after each time the Republicans have lowered taxes, in the early 2000s and again in 2017, the US economy did see a slight bump in growth, as more people had a little more money to spend. But those bumps were short-lived, because the GOP’s aim was not to expand prosperity structurally, but to enrich the already very, very rich by extracting more wealth. Ultimately, GOP economic policies take more than they give.

To say the Republican Party has run out of ideas worth defending might be giving the Republicans more credit than they deserve. An equally valid, and probably more accurate, argument is that they never believed their policies in the first place. They already had goals in mind and merely rationalized their way toward them. That would explain the apparent insanity of pursuing failed policies while predicting successful results. Deregulation and tax cuts don’t spur long-term growth, but knowing that doesn’t matter. Growth wasn’t the point. The point was enriching the very, very rich.

The president said last night that he spoke to the CEO of General Motors. He demanded that Mary Barra reopen an Ohio plant she had closed for sound business reasons. In doing so, Trump comes off as a fascist or communist, depending on which you fear most. That’s not in question, though. In question is how this relates to Republican economic politics. Honestly, I don’t see them as that very different.

They do differ. Trump is overt, careless and lazy. The Republican Party has historically been none of these. It has found acceptable (or at least tolerable) ways of justifying expressions of power. But just because Trump and the GOP differ in style doesn’t mean they differ otherwise. Each seeks to serve a political minority: For Trump, a racist white working class (though not all white working class voters support him); for the GOP, the very, very rich. (Indeed, the racist and the rich are often the same.)

Even as Republicans railed against the evils of “big government,” it labored mightily to ensure that the economy liberated the very, very rich from their previous moral and political obligations while putting more responsibility of those earning less and having fewer resources to live up to the responsibilities being thrust on them.

Over four decades, the US tax code has been written and rewritten, with occasional help from the Democrats, for the purpose of serving the very, very rich at the literal expense of everyone else. Has Donald Trump redrawn the boundaries? Yes, a little. But Trump’s actions have been in keeping with the Republican Party’s long-term goal of securing minority rule while seeing that a majority of Americans pays for it.

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The GOP’s critics have long said all of the above, but I don’t think any of that was as clear as when the party capped deductions for state and local taxes. This does not affect red states, as most do not have high tax rates. It does effect blue states, though. The Republicans enacted, without support from a single Congressional Democrat, a law that in effect raised taxes on liberal states that voted for the president’s 2016 opponent. The Republicans will always favor tax cuts, unless they don’t like you.

This was on top of an already untenable reality, which was that blues states were sending more revenue to the federal government than red states. Put another way, red states get more federal aid than blues states. As a result, blue states had been subsidizing red states, because red states refuse to tax themselves. In a very real sense, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 puts a double burden on blue states: they not only pay, but pay twice. All the while the Republicans pretend to be conservative.

The GOP is not conservative. Not anymore. Once it empowered the federal government to extract wealth from blue states, it stopped being the party of federalism, or the decentralization of power. The GOP, like the president, has been revealed to favor centralized power as long as those wielding power are Republican. In the end, Trump didn’t cause Republican economic policies to shift from conservative to authoritarian. The president is, however, a product of that change.

John Stoehr,
The Editorial Board

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The Guns of Bernie Sanders

Too few know of his vote for "gun manufacturer immunity."

I want to speak today about my feelings about Bernie Sanders. I have in the past talked about his political liabilities. He’s still not a Democrat. That matters to Democrats. He’s refuses to admit that Russian propagandists paved the way for his second run. These are serious drawbacks that may end up scuttling his bid for the presidency.

But neither, I would argue, should scuttle it.

In both cases, one can rationalize his behavior. He’s too old to get why railing against “identity politics” offends a lot of Democrats. He’s too proud to admit that the Russians helped him in 2016 and are helping again. Arrogance and pride are not wholly disqualifying, I think. If they were, no one would ever be president.

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There is something that should disqualify him from the nomination, in my view, or it should if he does not come forward to Democratic voters, especially new and young voters, with the proper amount of transparency, honesty and penitence. As things stand, Sanders appears willing to allow young people to believe what they want to believe about him without properly informing them of the facts. You could say Bernie Sanders is too old or too pride. You can’t say he’s above fraud. Not yet.

Last year, Sanders’ office posted a video of his meeting with teenagers from Parkland, Fla. Two weeks prior, they survived one of the worst massacres in US history. The video features a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. She says the status quo is intolerable. She says in effect the more politicians talk, the less they do.

“But we have a power now,” Delaney Tarr says, rightly and eloquently. “We all have a power now to keep pointing out their stances, to keep addressing the issue so that they don’t have the ability to stay quiet and get away with not addressing it.”

Then comes Sanders, on his meeting with the Parkland teens:

What was amazingly impressive about these young people is that in the midst of their grief, in the midst of the unbelievably traumatic experience that they went through, seeing their best friends shot in cold blood and wounded, their teachers killed, they resolved not just to mourn and grieve their friends and neighbors, they resolved to stand up and fight back.

This must have been a momentous day for the Parkland teens.

They were fighting an evil system. The Republicans. The NRA. The gun makers. The gun sellers. Apathy and injustice. Sanders, as far as they knew, was doing the same. He fought an uphill battle against Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment. He lost, but he lived to fight another day. They were all Davids battling all the Goliaths.

But something was missing.

It’s hard to imagine the Parkland teens seeing a comrade-in-arms in Sanders if they knew about his voting record on guns rights and gun control. It’s hard to imagine their finding common cause with the Vermont senator if they knew of his role in shielding gun makers and gun sellers from civil suits that attempted the hold them responsible for the injury they cause. Because it is so hard to imagine, it begs the question: Do they know? If they don’t know, why? Is it because Bernie Sanders didn’t tell them?

In the 1980s, families of victims of gun violence won some relief by suing gun stores that sold guns to killers. By the 1990s, cities and counties, following their lead, involved gun manufacturers. Pemy Levy, of Mother Jones, has the long story: “On October 30, 1998, New Orleans became the first city to file suit against a gun manufacturer. A few weeks later, Chicago became the second. … Within a year, 30 cities and counties had filed suits against more than 40 gun manufacturers.”

By autumn 2005, Levy wrote, New York prepared “a mammoth lawsuit against 14 gun manufacturers and 27 distributors and dealers. The suit set out to prove that the gun industry bore a responsibility for the volume of guns illegally trafficked into the city.”

The ultimate goal of the litigation was to force the industry to oversee its supply chain—to exercise “reasonable care” by taking steps that could preclude a foreseeable harm to others—and help cut off easy access to guns for straw purchasers and traffickers.

By October, it was over.

That’s when the US Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. It shielded gun makers and gun sellers from tort claims. The bill passed shortly after George W. Bush allowed a federal ban on assault weapons to expire. The combined events launched a new bloody era in US history. Since 2012, according to data collected by the New York’s Brennan Center for Justice, “there have been at least 1,981 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, with at least 2,361 killed and 8,152 wounded.”

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Until recently, Sanders defended his vote to give gun makers and gun sellers immunity from tort claims on the grounds that people who make things should not be held responsible for what bad people do with those things. In 2016, he said: “Do I think the victims of a crime with a gun should be able to sue the manufacturer? No, I don't."

Chris Murphy, Connecticut’s junior senator, said at the time the Democratic Party can't nominate a supporter of "gun manufacturer immunity." It didn’t, and a year later, Sanders joined Murphy introducing a bill to repeal the law’s immunity provisions.

I’m fine with that kind of flip-flopping. Sanders is changing his mind, saying an evil thing is evil, even if he’s doing it for political reasons. But the fact remains that he has not taken responsibility for his role in the bloody era between 2005 and today. You could say it’s unfair. Indeed, that’s what Sanders has said. But this isn’t about fair. This is partisan politics. Democrats oppose everything Sanders voted to protect. He wants to lead the party? OK. Then he must tell everyone, including the teenagers who venerate him, what he has done, why it was wrong, and what he plans to do about it.

Sanders might be too proud to admit the Russians helped him. He might be too arrogant to understand why “identity politics” is offensive to some Democrats. But if these prevent explaining his immunity vote to new and young voters, with the proper amount of transparency, honesty and penitence, then we’ll know he’s a fraud.

That’s how I feel about Bernie Sanders.

—John Stoehr

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Good news for Sandy Hook families!

The families of 6-year-old kids slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School more than six years ago may finally see some relief now that the Connecticut Supreme Court has allowed a lawsuit against gun manufacturers to move forward. The suit hopes to find a way around the federal law Sanders voted for in 2005. Since the 2012 massacre, nearly 2,000 people have been killed in mass shootings around the country.


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Corruption Corrodes Everything, Everyone

Shep Smith is a legit journalist. He's also a front for GOP demagoguery.

Shepard Smith is a legitimate reporter employed by Fox News, and because he is in the extreme minority in what is otherwise a profitable vampire squid of networked propaganda, he’s often credited for being the voice of conscience. That’s the gist of Brian Stelter’s article Thursday in which CNN’s chief media correspondent reported segments of Smith’s speech after he received a journalism award in Washington.

Implicit in Stelter’s article is the stark difference between Smith, a real news man, and Fox host Tucker Carlson, a real horse’s ass. Carlson has come under blistering scrutiny after Media Matters found and reported various and sundry horrible thing that he has said about women, immigrants, Muslims, and black people. "Being accurate and honest and thorough and fair is our primary mission,” Shep Smith said last night. “It's our professional calling. And everyone on my team takes it extremely seriously."

In reporting Smith’s remarks, Stelter hints at ethical divisions inside Fox, and these divisions are important to point out given huge profits at stake and the influence the “news channel” has on the current president. But while Stelter and other media reporters focus on divisions inside Fox, they are missing something more important. Smith isn’t a voice of conscience so much as a front for Republican demagoguery. Smith is to Fox News what some restaurants were to the Mafia. The pasta is real, but it’s dirty. That it tastes good does not diminish its being tainted by criminal minds.

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I don’t mean to pick on Smith. As I said, he’s a legitimate reporter. He’s just working for and thus rationalizing an illegitimate enterprise, I contend, that has enriched itself by using American freedoms against Americans. But he’s not alone.

He’s part of a society that either does not know the extent of the corruption eating its moral core, or that looks the other way. To be sure, it could be both. Stelter, himself a pretty stand-up guy, chooses to make Shep Smith a martyr of sorts while overlooking the effect of Smith’s martyrdom, which is normalizing corruption. If Stelter is looking the other way, why would normal people understand what’s going on?

Normal people don’t understand, because normal people are not trying to game the rules. They are busy living by them. Only when it’s evident that whole sectors of the economy focus on gaming the rules do normal people start paying attention. But even then, they are only seeing the most obvious cases. There’s much more underground.

You’ve heard the news of federal charges against 50 people, including a couple of Hollywood actresses, who paid large sums into a fraud scheme to get their mediocre children in the country’s top universities. Well, think of that fraud scheme as a mushroom you might see during a walk in the park. Mushrooms are the fruit of a bigger organism living below the surface. This organism, called a mycelium, is vast. It touches virtually everything in the vicinity. This organism, you don’t see it. You only see its fruit. This organism is corruption, and corruption is touching everything.

People laughed when they found out that one defendant paid more than a million dollars to get into a school that costs about $50,000 a year in tuition. Overpaid! Ha! Funnier is that the defendant engaged in illegal corruption, not legal corruption. Instead of buying people off, they could have done what Fred Trump and Charles Kushner did—cut fat checks to the Wharton School and Harvard, then demand that they let in young Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, respectively. And that’s not all! They could then write off the money as a tax-deductible charitable donation. What’s merit when the US tax code is on your side? Merit is for the little people.

Actually, merit has social capital. None of the students enrolled under fraudulent circumstances will face consequences, the AP reported. That might seem fair. Some did not know what their parents were doing. But for every one of them, someone else who did everything right to get into an elite school is not getting her chance. And the moment the kid of criminal parents gets her diploma, she diminishes the value of every diploma ever conferred by that university. Past students did the work. This student didn’t. Yet she’s receiving the same rights and privileges. Is that fair?

You could say, well, these kids are blameless. Let them be.

That pretends corruption does not touch everything in society, that it does not eat our moral core. The chef who worked for the Mafia was a real chef. Shepard Smith is a real journalist. But that’s not the point. In working for criminal minds, the Mafia chef and Shepard Smith do not redeem criminal minds. They legitimize them.

And that harms everyone.

—John Stoehr

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Noah Kim photo

Liberalism and the left, a debate

In New Haven, I hosted Tuesday the first of many (I hope) discussions on American public affairs. We’re calling it “Politics in Plain English,” taken from the tag line of The Editorial Board. Our aim to inform the citizenry and to speak as plainly as honestly as we can about the issues most important to our age. Our discussion Tuesday was about liberalism and the left, and it went all over the place, as you might expect given the rangy topic and the fierce wit and intelligence of my guests, Joshua Holland (pictured, left) and Batya Ungar-Sargon (right). He’s a contributor to The Nation. She’s the opinion editor at The Forward. Future guests include Bill Scher of Politico, Dan Freedman of Hearst newspapers, Jacob Hacker of Yale, and Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg Opinion. Below is part of a write up in the New Haven Independent. —JS

Two left-of-center pundits who disagree with each other debated for an hour and a half — without tearing each other apart.

That happened Tuesday night at the Institute Library on Chapel Street.

Can it happen in the U.S. at large?

That question emerged as Batya Ungar-Sargon, opinion editor for The Jewish Daily Forward, and Josh Holland, contributing writer for The Nation, engaged in a wide-ranging conversation about the past, present and future of American left politics during a period of resurgence. The conversation was moderated by New Haven-based journalist John Stoehr, who runs the Editorial Board, a daily e-newsletter with political commentary and analysis.

“I wanted [Holland and Ungar-Sargon] to be here because I’ve learned something from them,” Stoehr explained. “I feel like a student of theirs.”

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Letters to the editor

Wednesday’s newsletter, “Merit Has Little to Do with It,” got a good response.

Here are the best. —JS

“Worthiness has nothing to do with the gilt on the diploma”

You brought back memories of my time at Yale and later times when I thought "what a waste": my father and grandfather holding up Yale as inevitable; Dad's bank loan, paid off a decade or more later; my easy job hunt upon graduation; and my work experience following the interviews Yale arranged for seniors. Turns out, 40 years on, I would have been happier had I gone to trade school and become a machinist. That's my milieu. Not that I don't value what Yale has done for New Haven's vibrancy. I love living here (and not just because grad students have supported me for 30 years). Many times I've felt the sting of illegitimacy since graduation. But, gratefully, UUism came into my life and I've had it hammered home since then: worthiness has nothing to do with the gilt on the diploma. —TV, New Haven, Conn.

“Merit has nothing to do with it except for a few cases”

Wonderful post, but I would add an addendum: merit has nothing to do with it except for a few cases. I remember when I was teaching at a small college in the Midwest. I had a student who never came to class, never turned in homework, and failed all quizzes and tests. When I gave her the appropriate "F," her father called me directly (he had been given my phone number by the dean). He attempted first to persuade me, and then to threaten me, with changing her grade to a "C," because (as he put it) he was a "top" donor and his daughter didn't deserve to fail. I held firm, refused to alter the grade, and told him that if he were unhappy, he should talk to the dean. After insulting me some more, he hung up. I'll never forget that call—as if his daughter was entitled to a passing grade because her dad had money. —NK, Evanston, Ill.

“Your insight was the poke in the coccyx”

I don’t know how I ended up finding the Editorial Board (rest assured I do subscribe), but I want to tell you that your polished gem landed at the confluence of my working on breaking through a Medicaid expansion logjam in the Kansas legislature, rereading Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland and wondering how I, this imperfect impostor, made it to the center of conversations about power, values, rights and privilege and belonging. I believe in a beloved community, but we sure cleave to our old ways. Your insight was the poke in the coccyx I needed to keep moving. —LDM, Kansas City, Kan.

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