Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from> around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

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Joan Walsh: The Debates Won’t Fully Matter Until Everyone’s on the Same Stage

These two-night spectacles make it impossible to take stock of the Democratic presidential field.

I hate to diminish political debates with sports analogies, but the hoped-for contest of ideas was no contest. CNN did its best to introduce drama into the proceedings and certainly encouraged the centrists to beat up on the progressives—Warren and Sanders—who also happen to be polling the highest of everybody on stage. We know what they were doing: using those centrists as a stand-in for former vice president Joe Biden, who wasn’t there. It’s hard not to conclude, after the moderators gave the centrists so much help, that they’re all in low single digits for a reason: They aren’t making plausible cases for their candidacies.[..]

An unintended consequence of this formula—randomly distributing the qualifying candidates over two nights—is that the night with the strongest candidates dominates media coverage. Last month and this month too, that was the second debate. It’s just chance, but it means Warren and Sanders’s joint victory will likely be forgotten as we all analyze what went on in Wednesday’s clash. (Also by chance, last night was all white; on Wednesday, five of 10 candidates are people of color.)

We’ve still got six months until the Iowa caucuses, so realistically, there’s plenty of time for a clash of the Democratic titans, even many clashes. On the other hand, life is too short—and the nation too imperiled—to have to endure more nights of contrived controversy ginned up by hopeless candidates or desperate debate moderators.


Michael McFaul: A high-level Senate report confirms it: Our elections still aren’t safe

In his congressional testimony last week, former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III once again confirmed the seriousness of Moscow’s attack on our democracy in the 2016 presidential election. Yet that wasn’t even the most important news for those of us who track Russian election interference.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has just published the first section of its report on Russian efforts to influence the election. The bipartisan panel’s report has made headlines by showing that the Russians probably targeted elections systems in all 50 states in 2016. That calculated operation was designed not only to help Trump but also to undermine American democracy more generally.

You’d think this report would give President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) the perfect reason to support new legislation designed to enhance the security of our elections infrastructure in 2020. As the bipartisan report makes evident, enhancing cybersecurity for our election infrastructure is not a partisan issue — it’s an issue of national security. Department of Homeland Security representatives told the committee “there wasn’t a clear red state-blue state-purple state, more electoral votes, less electoral votes” pattern. So far, though, there is little sign that Trump and McConnell are paying attention.


Heather Digby Parton: Is John Ratcliffe another Trump distraction or a terrifying sign of an authoritarian purge? Yes

Unqualified Texas congressman could be a second Matt Whitaker — but he’s still part of Trump’s massive cover-up

By this time no one should be surprised when Donald Trump hires a partisan hack to do a previously independent job in a vital government agency. After all, that’s been his habit from the beginning. To the extent there were ever any nonpartisan Cabinet members or top advisers, it has been because he simply didn’t know what the job entailed.

Trump fired both former FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions for being insufficiently loyal. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis were effectively forced out for failing to properly toe his line. Since Trump really doesn’t have an agenda beyond harassing immigrants and economic intimidation, the only real criteria at this point in his presidency is whether or not officials will do whatever it takes to protect him personally from myriad legal scandals and possible electoral defeat. Basically, the only job of the Trump administration for the next 15 months is to perpetrate a full-time cover-up.

Robert Mueller’s report followed by his live testimony to Congress last week, made one thing very clear: The Russian government interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Donald Trump in a number of ways, from propaganda to stealing personal emails and dumping them on the internet to probing the election systems in all 50 states. All of this was based upon information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies and allies across the globe.


Jonathan Capehart: Trump says he’s ‘the least racist person in the world.’ That’s rich.

President Trump has said many a ridiculous thing. But his South Lawn growl about Baltimore, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), corruption and “thousands of phone calls from African Americans” was the Burj Khalifa of bull. Nothing epitomized that more than when he said, “I’m the least racist person you’ll find anywhere in the world.”

Okay, saying you’re “the least racist person” is an admission to some racism. But who are we kidding? If you didn’t burst out laughing at the assertion, you don’t know what racism is. [..]

No matter how much he denies it, the president of the United States is a racist. We see it. We hear it. We know what racism is.

Amanda Marcotte: Democratic debate in Detroit, part two: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris get a rematch

Racial issues will likely be front and center again, as Joe Biden will be flanked by Cory Booker and Kamala Harris

Despite being oriented largely around dry policy concerns, such as health care, the first night of CNN’s Democratic debates in Detroit was gangbusters TV. Both Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts nimbly batted away attacks from centrist candidates who functioned mainly as stand-ins for former Vice President Joe Biden, the current frontrunner in the Democratic primary race and the only candidate with a timid policy agenda who is polling well.

But while Biden was mostly there in spirit, with his views being poorly represented by also-ran former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, he will be available in face and body during Wednesday night’s debate. There’s good reason to imagine the debate will be as dramatic as the one from the night before, even if Warren and Sanders, Biden’s fiercest critics, won’t be there.

That’s because Biden will stand on stage flanked by Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, the two African-American candidates in the 2020 field. Both Booker and Harris have spent recent weeks of this campaign leveling pointed criticisms at Biden over his ’70s-era relationships with old-school Southern Dixiecrats, his opposition to school desegregation efforts from that era, and his support for harsh criminal justice policies that have disproportionately affected people of color.