Reviews | There’s almost too much to fear
Bret Stephens: Last week, I participated in a video call with esteemed Russian expert Fiona Hill to discuss the war in Ukraine. She warned that Vladimir Putin may already be laying the groundwork for the use of chemical or even tactical nuclear weapons if he fails to win quickly, perhaps through an operation. false flag” that he could attribute to Ukraine or the United States.
Anyway, hello, Gail.
Before we get to the tragedy, can we dwell on the farce? I loved your column about Andrew Cuomo’s chutzpadik attempt to come back.
Gail Collins: Guess Cuomo’s only recent public service is distracting public attention from the horror of international news.
Brett: It’s like going to a doctor who diagnoses you with cancer and then adds that you also have gonorrhea. Just to be clear, Putin is the cancer in this analogy.
Gael: Cuomo’s successor, Kathy Hochul, a former lieutenant governor, is currently in dire straits, given the state’s grumpy, Covid-worn and inflation-angry state. But I can’t say I heard someone say, “Hey, what New York really needs is to go back to the guy who kept grabbing his female associates.”
Any thoughts on your side?
Brett: Cuomo has about as much chance of making a political comeback in New York State as Ted Cruz has of winning a Mr. Congeniality contest. And my friends who have known Cuomo for decades usually describe him with a vulgar name modified with the adjective “colossal”.
That said, the fact that five separate investigations into Cuomo’s alleged sexual misconduct have all been dropped should give those who rushed to convict him in the court of public opinion — that would include me — pause to do the about our own behavior. We elided the difference between rude behavior and criminal behavior, and we created a political stampede that effectively revoked the will of voters. I never voted for Cuomo in the first place, but maybe he shouldn’t have quit.
Gael: American history is full of politicians who fell into a sex scandal but survived. Andrew’s tabloid headline offenses involved treating the women he worked with in a disrespectful, manual and fumbling manner.
It is true that his behavior was not judged to be truly criminal and this may say a lot about the difficulty of proving these cases. But at a minimum, it’s something that makes you want to go “eeuuw”.
Brett: Or slap him in the face.
Gael: When the crisis broke and everything was made public, he was in his third term as governor. By a third term, people get tired of you and figure out how to work with you, and a lot of people who might have helped you in the beginning are now trying to figure out how to get your job on their own.
Brett: Especially when you’re the bully type who takes pleasure in humiliating those who meet you.
Gael: Conclusion: sexual misconduct by a politician is serious. The worst cases, involving physical force or professional threats, are grounds for dismissal. Mid-level stuff like touching at work needs to be made public and turned into another lesson for powerful men in how to treat women like humans. Even guys who legally survive scandal, like Andrew Cuomo, have to endure hellish humiliation. As well they should.
Brett: Fully agree.
Gael: When it comes to political survival, I think it’s a balancing act between the seriousness of the inappropriate behavior and the power, competence and overall promise of the guy involved. This is where Andrew lost the game.
Did I mention that I once wrote a book about political sex scandals? It might not be the moment I’m most proud of, but for a while I was great at cocktails.
Brett: You refer to your delightful 1998 book “Scorpion Tongues”, which The Times reviewed under the apt title “Below the Beltway”. Maybe you should consider updating it for a 25th anniversary re-release next year.
On another topic, two recent stories from Texas caught my eye. The first is that the Texas Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge to a restrictive abortion law that essentially empowered individuals to become anti-abortion vigilantes. The second was that most Texas women who were denied abortions under the new law found a way out, either by leaving the state or ordering abortion pills online. Your thoughts?
Gael: I keep thinking of this crazy law as one that allows a citizen to sue the Uber driver who transports a woman to an abortion clinic.
Brett: Have you heard of “scratch and sniff”? This law is “report and prosecute”.
Gael: I’m afraid we’re going back to the pre-Roe world when women in some states had the right to control their own bodies – just took it for granted – while women in others had to terminate an unwanted pregnancy by going to their homes. a doctor under treatment coverage, or take a sudden trip to visit a relative in a different state. Abortion pills will certainly make a difference, but the women who worry me the most are those who, because of their youth, ignorance or avoidance that comes from terror, do not face their problem until It’s not too late for an early take… stage intervention.
It’s gonna get worse, isn’t it, Bret? The right is already planning to make it a big issue in the next election.
Brett: They might, but I don’t know how it helps them. Nearly 60% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most cases, and a concerted push by some states to effectively ban it could result in a political backlash for Republicans at the state level. If the Supreme Court repeals Roe that term, I could even see the decision galvanizing Democrats for midterms to retain the Senate.
Gael: Democrats are always terrified of things like this galvanizing the right, but you make a good point.
Brett: I also have a hard time imagining any return to the pre-Roe world, not just because of the abortion pill but also because we’re a much more mobile world. In 1971, two years before Roe, less than half of Americans had flown once in their lifetime. Now it’s almost 90%. But I still think the court should uphold Roe.
Brett: We haven’t mentioned President Biden yet. House Democrats have urged him to refine his message for midterms. No suggestions?
Gael: Well, Putin has certainly been a big help. Not only providing the President with a villain to fight, but a villain he can also blame for skyrocketing gas prices.
Brett: Until a certain point. Prices had skyrocketed before the invasion, thanks to inflation that Biden told us last year was “transient.”
Gael: I just hope it doesn’t distract from the critical goal of clean energy. From the start of the Russian crisis, the right began to demand that we revive the Keystone pipeline.
Brett: Like it should be ! I still don’t understand how it’s supposed to be an environmental victory that we don’t allow Canadian oil to be transported through Keystone, even though the same oil is transported (much more dangerously) on rail lines to the shores of Canada. Or that we shouldn’t fracture for oil and gas on federal lands, but instead lift sanctions on Venezuela, where there are no serious environmental regulations to speak of, and ask Saudi Arabia to pump more oil. It’s just inconsistent.
Gael: Portrait of a president trying to shield his party from blame for gas prices. I understand the pressure he’s under, but for that very reason, I want to see those of us worried about climate change turn up the nagging volume.
Brett: The smart political game for Biden is to tell Americans that after the invasion of Russia, we live in a world where we need a more reliable supply of carbon energy in the short term, but we also need to invest in long-term alternative energies. In other words, we need a “yes and” rather than an “either-or” strategy.
In terms of a catchier mantra for Democrats, how about: “Trump thinks Putin is a genius for invading Ukraine. We think he’s a rogue. Which side are you on?”
Gael: I know we will always agree when it comes to the man from Mar-a-Lago. Interestingly, even a deeply supportive Fox interviewer couldn’t get Trump to criticize Putin.
Brett: You mean the flattering interview with Sean Hannity in which Trump brags about how he got along with Putin, Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un because “I understood them and maybe they understood ” ? You have to give the guy points for his honesty.
Gael: In the meantime, I’m glad to see that Congress was able to pass a bill that keeps the government running. Go team! Any chance they’re doing something more remarkable?
Brett: Ukraine’s courage under fire should serve as a reminder that Republicans and Democrats alike must show courage to compromise; and that there is much to be said for showing good faith to political opponents, including our embattled but well-meaning president.
OK, who am I kidding? I’m sure there are other post offices Congress can name before the name-calling resumes.