Off the Cuff: The Democrats’ 3-Point Strategy

In this week’s Off the Cuff audio commentary, I look at the Democrats’ 3-point strategy that they hope will carry them to victory in 2020 (and why it may backfire).

You can listen to it by clicking on the play (arrow) button below.


Side note:  If you’re a Premium Interactive member (the  $4 tier), and have a question for this Friday’s Q&A, make sure to  get it to me before midnight. You can use this form on my website. Thanks!

Saving Time in a Bottle is Now Political Suicide

Imagine, just for a minute, a civilized culture in which it would be deemed societally unacceptable for an individual to be removed or disqualified from public office because of something in his or her high school or college yearbook.

As John Lennon might have said, It’s easy if you try.

Heck, on paper, a majority of Americans would probably even agree with such a standard. After all, I think most of us recall saying or doing at least one (and that’s a charitable number) incredibly dumb or insensitive thing in our student years — back before we left the cradle of academia and entered a real world of career pursuits and adult responsibilities. Is a snapshot of our youth really indicative of the person each of us went on to become?

The answer, in nearly ever case, would be no.

That’s not to say that people shouldn’t be held accountable for certain behavior they exhibited back in the day. The commission or even credible allegations of a serious crime, for example, would warrant long-lasting scrutiny and consideration. Aside from that, a person’s high school and college years have traditionally been recognized as a time in his or her life when there are few perceivable ramifications for immaturity and poor judgment among peers.

In other words, it’s the last real chance that people have to “screw up” without their mistake affecting their future.

But is this still the case? It sure doesn’t seem to be, and a lot of the explanation has to do with politics.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the old rules went away, but it seems to have happened somewhere between the 2008 and 2012 elections. While Barack Obama’s admission of illegal drug abuse (including cocaine) as a student in the 1980s barely registered a blip on the radar of his first presidential run (even with the vast majority of Republicans), Obama’s 2012 opponent, Mitt Romney, received no such grace.

An alleged bullying incident from 1965 (nearly 50 years earlier), involving Mitt Romney forcibly cutting a fellow prep-school student’s hair, turned into a major national news story. The New York Times even managed to introduce an anti-gay narrative into the mix, framing the story this way:

“The day after President Obama endorsed gay marriage, Mitt Romney found himself responding to allegations that as a teenager he harassed a prep school classmate who later came out as gay.”

Of course, Romney wouldn’t have known anything about his peers’ sexual orientation back then, considering the discreet nature of the topic of homosexuality. But recognizing such historical context wouldn’t have been helpful to the media’s preferred political narrative in 2012, so a modern context was funneled in.

This retrofitting of today’s cultural and societal sensitivities to the conduct and character of one’s youth has become quite a bit more common in recent years. Hence, the rise of political discussions involving yearbooks.

Brett Kavanaugh’s yearbook became a hot national topic during his Supreme Court nomination process last year, after he was accused of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford at a high school party. The yearbook offered no insight into the alleged assault nor any connection to the accuser. In fact, nothing beyond Ford’s testimony did. But that didn’t stop Kavanaugh’s political opponents and critics from turning written entries into smoking guns.

As a man in his fifties with a pristine reputation, Kavanaugh was called on to answer for dopey inside-jokes from his high school days about drinking, flirting, and farting — under the premise that such references might just suggest an inclination to sexually assault someone.

I suspect most people found that to be an awfully uncomfortable precedent. Would any of us, as adults, be able to clear the bar of being held to the dumb things we said in high school? How about the legal but poor decisions we made?

Quick sidebar: For the record, the most shocking thing anyone would discover about me from my yearbooks is that I once had great hair. So in case you’re wondering, this isn’t a preemptive attempt to bail myself out of jam.

Anyway, let’s talk about the latest yearbook controversy.

Unless you’ve been out of the country for the past week, you know that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (a Democrat) has been fighting for his political life ever since a 1984 medical-school yearbook emerged, showing a photo of Northam either clad in a KKK outfit or in blackface. It’s uncertain which of the two disguised individuals in the picture is him. And to make matters more complicated, Northam — after initially admitting to being in the photo (and apologizing for it) — decided a day later that it wasn’t him after all.

Why was he confused? Well, according to Northam, while speaking at a press conference, he had assumed that the photo being discussed in the media had been taken on a different occasion when he was disguised as a black person — specifically Michael Jackson. And he explained this shortly before his wife stopped him from moon-walking across the press stage

You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

And apparently, there was some blackface craze in the 1980s that a lot of us are just becoming privy to, being that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (another Democrat) just copped to doing the same thing. Even The View’s Joy Behar is now under fire for once dressing as what she described as “a beautiful African woman.”

To steal a joke from the Washington Examiner’s Jay Caruso, it’s safe to say that we won’t be seeing a reboot of Soul Man any time soon.

A few questions should probably be asked in this situation:

Should all of these people have known better?


Though I think that blackface has long been a confusing topic for non-black Americans who grew up after the Civil Rights movement, Northam was 24 at the time. He assuredly knew that what he was doing was inappropriate, and an apology was certainly warranted.

Would these acts from several decades ago have been deemed grounds for resignation or termination just 10 years ago?

I don’t think so.

But those are the new rules for how public figures are to be judged on such matters — rules that arose from a modern progressive movement that places far more importance on indicting people over youthful indiscretions than recognizing and appreciating the power of individuals to grow and better themselves.

People on my side of the aisle are having a pretty hard time finding sympathy for Northam and Herring as they’re punished by their own side’s rules. After all, we recently witnessed a group of Kentucky high school students portrayed as racists (their lives were even threatened) for wearing MAGA hats and smirking on a field trip to D.C. Last year, we also watched MSNBC pull former Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly off the air (subsequently cancelling her show and parting ways with her), citing her mere questioning of the inappropriateness of dressing up as an admired African American for Halloween.

So yeah, there’s some satisfaction in watching the Left now devour its own in Virginia.

Still, I think it’s important to search for a little bit of compassion in times like these. Maybe not for Northam’s weaselly changing of stories or the heat he has taken for his extreme stance on abortion, but for the predicament he and Herring have found themselves in over the poor personal decisions from their past. The same goes for Kavanaugh, Romney, and anyone else who has been in a remotely similar situation. We never know, after all, when parts of our own distant past will be dredged up and deemed disqualifying by today’s standards.

And if that time comes, it would be nice to believe that our lives, as we know them, wouldn’t necessarily be over.

#MeToo Must Remain a Truth Movement

Last year, an important cultural revolution began in this country — one that transcended American politics and rattled dominant industries to their very core. Its origins stemming from a couple of groundbreaking exposés on Harvey Weinstein that detailed years of serious sexual misconduct by the famed film producer (and his exhaustive efforts to silence his accusers), what became known as the #MeToo movement built up steam and led to the airing of countless cases of egregious acts by powerful men.

Emboldened by the watershed moment, many women (and even some men) bravely came forward with their stories of past sexual harassment and abuse. Serious, credible accusations led to investigations, firings, and even some criminal charges against high-profile individuals including high-ranking politicians, A-list celebrities, national journalists, and corporate CEOs. The political leanings of the accused were refreshingly of no consequence. Liberal or a conservative. Democrat or Republican. It didn’t matter because the issue was one of personal conduct.

The message was clear and focused: Accusers must be heard. Their claims must be taken seriously and looked into. And those guilty of wrongdoing must be held accountable.

At the time, I called this societal reckoning a very good thing for the cultural fabric of our nation, and I still believe that. After all, the purpose of #MeToo has been to empower those who’ve been preyed upon, to shed light on the truth, and to seek justice. But I was concerned at the time that like many other honorable and important movements, it would eventually be co-opted and led astray by political opportunists and even well-meaning reactionaries looking to bolster a broader narrative.

In other words, I worried that #MeToo would become less about justice, and more about justification.

Those concerns have unfortunately been validated during the epic saga of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, and the charges levied against him by Christine Blasey Ford. As we all know, Ford says she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh at a party when the two were in high school, and her sworn testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee was felt by many (including me) to be genuine and quite compelling.

As far as many were concerned, that was enough. Case closed. Kavanaugh could not, by any moral reasoning or rationale, be confirmed for the Supreme Court. And if he somehow were to be, it would be a slap in the face of women everywhere, and a national disgrace of historic proportions.

In fact, a lot of people — many of them waving the #MeToo banner — had reached this conclusion well before Ford had ever taken the stand. Hearing her tell her story in person, and tell it in the way she did, only reinforced their steadfast belief in Kavanaugh’s guilt.

It didn’t really matter what Kavanaugh had to say after that. He came out swinging in his subsequent testimony, angrily (and justifiably) blasting how the process was being handled in DC and covered by the media. He expressed the pain that he and his family had been going through, and continued to proclaim his innocence.

His critics, doubters, and political opponents framed the display of righteous indignation as further proof of his guilt and unfitness for the bench, but it’s safe to say that had he presented himself dispassionately, many of the same people would have cast him as callous and uncaring. Again, more proof of guilt. He really couldn’t win.

What also didn’t matter was the absence of any corroborating evidence to support Ford’s claim. The witnesses she named (including friends of hers) couldn’t validate her story, nor even place her and Kavanaugh together at any party. Ford couldn’t remember who brought her to the party, who brought her home from the party, or when and where the party actually was.

None of this is to say that things didn’t go down exactly as she says. They may have. None of us know for sure.

A hazy memory is perfectly understandable based on the amount of time that has passed. And if you add in the emotional trauma one would surely suffer from such an assault, the memory gaps are certainly feasible. It could possibly even be used o explain her evolving account of the incident.

But at bare minimum, the fact that there’s no evidence to support an accuser’s claim should at least be considered when deciding on the fate of the person being accused. Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t willing to even entertain such a consideration.

If you’ve spent any time on social media over the past couple weeks, you’ve probably seen the battle-lines drawn: Either you stand with women or you stand against them. Either you support victims or you support their attackers. There’s no room for context, nuance, or even a presumption of innocence in how such statements have been applied.

As someone who has tried to view this situation with an open mind and with the sensitivity it genuinely deserves, I’ve been unable to identify the kind of binary choices that so many others are insisting upon. To me it keeps going back to the concept of blind justice.

The presumption of innocence is more than just a vital component of our legal system. It’s also a basic human right. It’s part of the foundation of our democracy. And by disregarding that right for the sake of societal solidarity or a broader cultural theme, a vital component of the #MeToo movement is also being jeopardized: the pursuit of truth.

Perception is a powerful lure, and many perceive Brett Kavanaugh as being guilty of what he’s being accused of. But the goal when dealing with issues as important as sexual abuse, victims’ rights, and human rights, should always be the truth, not perception.

Perception is what let Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and many other powerful men get away with their egregious acts for as long as they did. Truth is what put them out of business.

Believe me, I get that the truth is a hard sell these days — especially with the current state of our politics — but society must rise above politics and preconceived notions on the things that truly matter. Some issues must command our objectivity. And if we can’t even be objective enough to look at evidence earnestly, and insist upon a minimum burden of proof being met before branding someone a sexual assailant, we lose as a people.

What I’m seeing right now isn’t #MeToo. #MeToo has played an important, truth-driven role in our culture over the past couple of years. I’m hoping it continues to do so in the future.