In the summer of 1979, with inflation surging at double-digit rates and an energy crisis raging, then-President Jimmy Carter invited leaders from all walks of life to meet with him at Camp David. On July 15, he spoke to the nation from the Oval Office.
America was suffering a “crisis of confidence,” Carter reported. “It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation. The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.”
On Thursday, President Joe Biden sounded a bit like Carter when he sat for an Oval Office interview with the AP’s Josh Boak. “People are really, really down. They’re really down.” Referring to the effects of the Covid pandemic, he added that the “need for mental health in America has skyrocketed because people have seen everything upset. Everything they counted on, upset … People lost their jobs. People are out of their jobs. And then, were they going to get back to work? Schools were closed.”
It wasn’t only Biden who contended last week with comparisons to other presidents – in former President Donald Trump’s case, it was the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, combined with the January 6 committee hearings, that produced echoes of Richard Nixon’s administration.
At CNN Politics, Chris Cillizza called the parallel between Biden’s remarks and the Carter speech a warning for the current President. “Biden must be careful not to lean too hard into the malaise argument. Americans also expect their politicians to be optimistic about the country’s future, a sort of cheerleader-in-chief. We’ve seen the political peril of being perceived as too downcast about America’s direction.” Carter’s speech was branded the “malaise” speech, even though he never used that word, Cillizza noted.
The American public reacted well to Carter’s speech initially, according to author Kevin Mattson, who has pointed out that the president botched the follow-up with a dramatic set of firings in his Cabinet.
Eventually, inflation and the energy crisis helped make Carter a one-term president; for Biden, the discussion is different so far, with members of his own party raising questions about whether he’s too old to run for a second term. He would be 82 at his second inauguration, if reelected.
“Given Biden’s low approval ratings and a host of problems from inflation to gun violence that plague the country, Democrats are increasingly worried about the President’s ability to win a second time,” wrote Julian Zelizer. “And with former President Donald Trump contemplating whether to announce his candidacy for 2024 in the coming months, the stakes couldn’t be any higher.”
But, Zelizer argued, it is “premature for Democrats to be seriously considering other options. In fact, these kinds of debates only weaken Biden’s standing, diminishing his political capital in Washington and making it more difficult for him to act as a strong leader in the coming years.” Biden has repeatedly said he will seek a second term.
In the Washington Post, Marc A. Thiessen argued that Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package helped overheat the economy, boosting inflation. “Biden’s serial catastrophes are creating the perfect conditions for a Trump comeback. Democrats know it and are starting to panic.”
Writing for the Atlantic, Mark Leibovich put it bluntly: “Joe Biden should not run for reelection in 2024. He is too old…”
“It all feels impolite to point this out – disrespectful, ageist, and taboo, especially given the gross Republican smears about Biden being a doddering and demented old puppet. No one wants to perpetuate this garbage.” Still he cited a New York Times article on doubts about Biden running again, noting that “the broader subtext of the Times article – and, in a sense, every article about Biden’s age – is that the matchup between America’s current condition and the doctor on call feels untenable.”
Georgia’s Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan wrote that in the past few months, the stars have been “aligning for the Republican Party ahead of the November midterm elections. According to CNN’s Poll of Polls, President Joe Biden’s approval rating dipped below 40%. Inflation hit a fresh 40-year high, and gas eclipsed $5 per gallon for the first time ever. Vulnerable Democratic incumbents rushed for retirement, while many Democratic Party officials questioned the 79-year-old President’s capability.”
Yet Republicans face a major challenge of their own, Duncan noted. The start of the congressional hearings on January 6 offered a “stark reminder of the unanswered questions the GOP must confront before it can reoccupy the White House.”
“Simply put, any public official unwilling to immediately and consistently condemn the invasion of the Capitol on January 6 isn’t qualified to hold elected office. This should include congressional candidates, those vying for leadership positions in the next Congress, former President Donald Trump, as well as anyone in the ‘shadow race’ underway for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.”
Duncan argued that a successful GOP candidate “must appeal to middle-of-the-road voters who may think the country is headed in the wrong direction – as 74% of independent voters did in a recent Reuters/Ipsos survey – but also understand that the 2020 election was not stolen. In other words, this candidate must appeal to the type of voters who think the attack on the Capitol was abhorrent and that ‘[t]he person who owns Jan. 6 is Donald Trump,’ as the Wall Street Journal editorialized.”
Summing up the latest January 6 committee hearing, Jill Filipovic observed, “The clear takeaway is that Trump wanted ultimate power, and he was willing to do anything – including risk the life of his vice president and foment a potential coup – to get it.”
Vice President Mike Pence emerged as “a hero, a kind of last man standing between a near-dictator and American democracy,” Filipovic wrote. “That story isn’t quite true. Pence did at times behave admirably, and even bravely, in the days leading up to January 6 and during the attack itself – certainly his decision not to leave the Capitol is to be commended.”
But, she argued, Pence has been “largely silent on the ongoing threat to American democracy. While Pence rightly didn’t cave to Trump and has publicly confirmed the fact that Trump was wrong about Pence’s ability to refuse to certify the election results, he also hasn’t risked his own political future by doing the right thing: holding the former President – and his own party – to account not just for January 6, but also for the lies about the 2020 election that they continue to perpetuate.”
Michael Fanone, who defended the US Capitol as a member of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC, spoke out against those trying to minimize what happened on January 6, 2021. “I’m no longer a cop, but I spilled my fair share of blood that day and almost lost my life defending our democracy. Don’t tell me January 6 didn’t happen. I was there. I have the scars – visible and those that can’t be readily seen – to prove it.”
“So, hasn’t the country already heard all this? Does America really need another recounting of the almost medieval combat that officers on the front lines of the fighting endured? …”
“It’s important that Americans see the hell depicted in the video footage to have a hint of an understanding of what law enforcement endured at the Capitol that day. It’s imperative that the country see how valiantly we fought to save our system of government. And it’s vital that the public understand just how close the country came to losing its democracy.”
The January 6 hearings coincided with the 50th anniversary of the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters that spawned the Watergate scandal. John Dean, the former White House Counsel who became a pivotal figure in that narrative, told CNN Opinion’s Jane Greenway Carr, “I don’t think you can look at Watergate today without looking at what happened during the Trump years. And that actually makes Richard Nixon look pretty good by comparison. Nixon, it was obvious to me, had a conscience. He experienced shame. Did he abuse power? You bet. But at least he had some internal checks on himself. I’m not sure that Donald Trump does.”
“I never really felt worried during Watergate that small ‘d’ democracy was in any trouble. But I can tell you, from the time Trump was nominated, until he left, that I had a knot in my stomach. And unfortunately, his departure didn’t end the problems that he triggered…”
Norman Eisen, Noah Bookbinder and Fred Wertheimer: The January 6 committee is methodically building the case for a criminal conspiracy.
Is there a glimmer of hope for action on gun safety after decades of frustration? It seemed that way when 20 senators – 10 from each party – announced they had reached an agreement on a framework for legislation to stem gun violence in the wake of a rising tide of mass shootings, including the Uvalde, Texas, killings of 19 students and two teachers. The fate of the bill is still unclear as negotiations on the details continue.
But if it materializes, wrote Kris Brown, president of the Brady organization, “The framework will be the first gun violence prevention law in almost 30 years. The lawmakers who reached this agreement are offering what a majority of Americans have been seeking for many years: life-saving gun violence prevention solutions.”
“In an era when bipartisan comity is rare on Capitol Hill, agreement between the two sides is a very big deal. But the significance of this framework goes beyond politics and even beyond policy. Societally and culturally, it turns the page on a very dark chapter in America.”
Can mass shooters be stopped? Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, described to CNN’s Peter Bergen the research he’s been doing on this question since the 1980s. “Meloy largely dismisses the common talking point, often touted by the NRA and its allies, that mass shootings are caused by individuals with mental disorders,” Bergen wrote. “Instead, Meloy focuses on how these mass murderers typically go down a predictable ‘pathway to violence’ and the type of interventions that can sometimes derail them from carrying out a violent act.”
On the battlefield, Russia appeared to be making incremental progress in its campaign to dominate eastern Ukraine. In Kyiv, David A. Andelman wrote that the rhetoric is starting to sound like it’s “bordering on desperation.”
He noted that “Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar said recently that only 10% of the arms her country needs have been delivered. And Zelensky has said that Ukraine’s army is outgunned 10-1 by Russian artillery.”
The key question, according to Andelman, is when “voters in Europe and America, faced with soaring energy costs and broader inflation driven by sanctions against Russia, might lose their appetite for a war that seems to have no end, with needs that are only expanding as both sides head for a protracted stalemate.”
In the Guardian, Simon Tisdall wrote of “the unforgivable, ongoing US-European failure to challenge Moscow’s illegal blockade of Ukraine’s ports, which is creating global food shortages. It’s one of many areas where Nato could and should be exerting greater pressure on Russian forces…”
“Why is Nato not doing more? Taken together, all the rationales and excuses for passivity and inaction produce a picture of an alliance significantly less united, powerful and organised than its admirers pretend.”
With Juneteenth falling on a Sunday this year, the new federal holiday is being observed on Monday. Peniel E. Joseph wrote, “Juneteenth now offers a window for Americans into understanding how the political is also personal. The Black folk who bled for democracy – during and after the Civil War, across generations of racial injustice during a century of Jim Crow racial segregation, fighting heroically in World Wars, protesting on domestic battlefields for civil rights – are as crucial to our national story as the heroes of the American Revolution. Their legacies surround us, opening a deeper faith in America’s democratic values and history than the forces that would have us bury the past in order to control the future…”
“As the nation prepares, in only four short years from now, to celebrate 250 years of independence, it is worth remembering that Juneteenth, as much as the Fourth of July, represents American democracy’s true birthday.”
Pride month celebrations are coinciding with a time of anxiety. “A Pride event in Coeur d’Alene, a small city in Idaho’s panhandle, might seem like an odd target for one of the country’s most active White supremacist groups,” wrote Nicole Hemmer. But “31 White men believed by authorities to be affiliated with the group Patriot Front huddled in the back of a U-Haul, allegedly planning to disrupt the gathering of LGBTQ people and allies in the city. (The men were charged with misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to riot.)”
“But both the place and the event make sense in the context of a White nationalist movement that combines spectacles of deadly terrorism with efforts to integrate itself into the mainstream right in the US.”
Allison Hope wrote that she believes we’re seeing a “rainbow scare”:
“Today, extreme right officials and community leaders are heinously using LGBTQ+ students as pawns to stoke fear (and win votes). Banning books, censoring curricula and silencing LGBTQ+ students and teachers are the latest tactics in the right’s efforts to perpetuate regressive discrimination under the guise of a culture war,” Hope wrote.
“The Rainbow Scare is evident in the more than 200 bills in state legislatures that aim to or already have stripped LGBTQ+ and specifically transgender kids of the right to access life-saving health care, to play sports or even to talk about orientation or gender identity in schools.”
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Lego was Roy Schwartz’s favorite toy growing up.
“My best friend and I would spend countless hours crouched over a giant pile of bricks, using our own Lego language – hundreds of names for hundreds of different pieces – to communicate which one we needed and what we were building. Now that I’m a parent I’m doing the same with my own kids, and it means so much more.”
Lego, which is a portmanteau of two Danish words meaning “play well,” is celebrating its 90th birthday this weekend. It was founded by a “carpenter turned toymaker,” Ole Kirk Kristiansen, but it was his son Godtfred who developed the classic interlocking design in 1958. Now the world’s largest toymaker, Lego is still controlled by the founding family.
Schwartz considers Lego “the best toy ever invented. But it’s more than just a toy. Its infinite possibilities give it infinite purposes … And it’s a great way for me to share my childhood with my kids, and for them to share theirs with me.”
Father’s Day is a moment to remember the ties that bind generations. In Doug Heye’s case, one symbol was a valuable bottle of wine. When his father died suddenly in 2016, he left behind a wine cellar with more than 300 bottles.
“Dad was a fixture back home, especially in the wine community,” Heye wrote. “The Winston-Salem Journal editorialized that he ‘touched thousands of people through his wine articles, wine-appreciation classes, and countless wine tastings.’ A relentless advocate for North Carolina’s wine industry, the North Carolina Winegrowers Association honored him as the first non-winegrower to receive its Member of Distinction Award.”
“Perhaps more important, the Journal noted, ‘Heye knew his stuff, but he was no snob.’ Hopefully, some of that rubbed off.” Among the bottles left behind was a Château Latour 1990.
“Latour, one of the five famed Bordeaux First Growths, the highest classification of Bordeaux wines, dates to 1331. It’s really expensive. A recent offer from a local wine store advertised the 1990 Château Latour for $1,350. Slightly, I mean massively, out of my budget,” Heye wrote.
Heye finally pulled the cork in May to celebrate what would have been his father’s 80th birthday. “With a perfectly grilled Wagyu steak that practically dissolved with each bite, I thought about Dad. And time. My college graduation, Dad’s marriage at the time (which the Latour outlasted!), a vacation in Spain, a visit to Burgundy, fights and hugs…”
“Opening the Latour was a second farewell of sorts, simultaneously having a last gift while consuming one of the last tangible things of his I had. Ill-suited for the math pop quiz of being executor, I nearly opened it after a tough day of dealing with his estate. I’m glad I waited for the right moment.”
Happy Father’s Day!