Wednesday, February 26, 2020

You say you want a revolution -- Feb. 27, 2020 column


Four years ago this week, I wrote that voters on Super Tuesday could put the brakes on Donald Trump – “but will they?”

At the time, mainstream Republicans and Democrats were both worried that insurgent presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders might actually win their parties’ presidential nominations but turn off general election voters that November.

Trump Fever seemed to be spreading, I wrote, and on Super Tuesday a few days later Trump triumphed over his GOP rivals, winning seven of the 12 states with Republican contests, including Virginia. Of the 11 Democratic contests, Hillary Clinton beat Sanders in Virginia and six other states.

And so, Trump, the candidate many were sure couldn’t win a general election last time is now the president many say can’t lose reelection if his opponent is the current frontrunner, an avowed Democratic socialist. 

Michael Bloomberg painted this bleak scenario at the Democratic debate Tuesday night:

“If you keep on going, we will elect Bernie, Bernie will lose to Donald Trump, and Donald Trump and the House and the Senate and some of the statehouses will all go red and then, between gerrymandering and appointing judges, for the next 20 or 30 years we are going to live with this catastrophe."

So far, just a trickle of votes in three states has been cast. (As of this writing, South Carolina hasn’t yet voted.) A torrent is coming.

On Super Tuesday, 15 jurisdictions, including California, Texas and Virginia, will select more than a third of the pledged delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination. Forty percent of the U.S. population will have a primary event that day.

Sanders, who is not a Democrat, sent chills down many Democratic spines with his appreciation on “60 Minutes” last Sunday of Fidel Castro’s literacy program. Castro is anathema to Cuban-American voters in South Florida. Florida, for those who don’t remember the 2000 election, is a crucial state.

Sanders, 78, insists he has “opposed authoritarianism all over the world,” but he hasn’t budged in decades in his admiration for aspects of those ruthless regimes.

“When dictatorships, whether it is the Chinese or the Cubans, do something good, you acknowledge that,” he said at the debate. “But you don’t have to trade love letters with them.” Trump said in 2018 he and North Korea’s Kim Jung Un “fell in love” over their “beautiful love letters.”

Pete Buttigieg warned that Democrats can’t win critical House and Senate races “if people in those races have to explain why the nominee of the Democratic Party is telling people to look at the bright side of the Castro regime.”

Sanders claims he will beat Trump with an infusion of young, new voters, but turnout has not surged. He has won in the early states not by bringing in new voters but by expanding his appeal among existing Democratic voters, a New York Times analysis found.  

Sanders has proposed a Medicare for All plan, free child care and free public college tuition. He hasn’t said how much all that would cost and talks about raising taxes on the wealthiest 1%. Amy Klobuchar put a pricetag of nearly $60 trillion over 10 years on Sanders’s plans. Voters would not support such a huge expenditure, she said.

But Sanders maintained on CBS after the debate, “The truth is, nothing I am saying is radical.”

Sanders argues the United States already has corporate socialism, which benefits billionaires like Trump, while Sanders’s brand of democratic socialism would use the federal government to protect the interests of working families.

Buttigieg, 38, warned of “a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the ‘50s and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolution politics of the ‘60s.”

No Democrat wants a repeat of the 1972 or 1984 debacles, which many Sanders supporters probably don’t remember.

In 1972, George McGovern lost 49 states to Richard Nixon, winning only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. In 1984, Ronald Reagan’s landslide left Democratic Walter Mondale with wins only in his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.  

The big question this Super Tuesday: Democratic voters can put the brakes on Sanders – but will they?

©2020 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Meeting the Rosa parks we never knew -- Feb. 20, 2020 column



Contrary to popular myth, Rosa Parks was not physically tired the afternoon she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.

“The only tired I was, was tired of giving in,” she wrote years later. Nor was she old, though “some people have an image of me being old then.”

It was Dec. 1, 1955, and Parks was 42. There were no TV cameras, reporters or cell phones on the Cleveland Avenue bus in Montgomery, Alabama, so over time she wrote letters and notes in her neat cursive, correcting misconceptions about what happened and recording the thoughts and events of her long and consequential life.

She was not, as is often told, sitting in the bus section reserved for white passengers that day. She was in the first row of the “colored” section, but in the segregated South blacks were required to move to the back of the bus if whites needed a seat. When passengers crowded on and a white man was left standing, the bus driver ordered Parks and three others to move. The others reluctantly did so.  

Parks is often portrayed as a meek seamstress, and she did work as a seamstress in a department store. But she was hardly meek. Quietly militant, she had been fighting racial injustice for decades. Finally, fed up with the second-class treatment of blacks in the Jim Crow South, she stood up for freedom by staying seated.

“I had been pushed around all my life and felt at this moment that I couldn’t take it anymore,” she wrote soon afterward. “When I asked the policeman why we had to be pushed around? He said he didn’t know. `The law is the law. You are under arrest.’ I didn’t resist.”

That note on yellow paper is among Parks’s personal papers that were unavailable to the public and scholars for years. The Library of Congress received the collection in 2014 and created “Rosa Parks -- In Her Own Words,” an exhibition that tells the personal story of one of the most famous figures of the 20th Century.

The exhibition at the library in Washington through September and online at is a reminder during Black History Month, or anytime, that one courageous individual can change the course of history. On Presidents’ Day, when I stopped by, people of all ages and races were paying close and respectful attention to the displays. I recommend the excellent companion book to the exhibit, “Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words,” by Susan Reyburn, on which I rely here.

Parks’s life seems to move inexorably from refusing in childhood to let a white boy bully her (and being scolded by her grandma for talking “biggety to white folks”) to her act of civil disobedience in middle age that led to the 381-day Montgomery bus boycott and launched the civil rights movement. Even then, more than half her life was still before her, and she never stopped working for equality.

She died in her sleep at 92 in 2005 and lay in state in the U.S. Capitol, the first woman so honored. She and her late husband had no children, and relatives and friends battled in court over her belongings, which eventually were boxed up and shipped for storage in a warehouse in New York, awaiting an auction.

Howard G. Buffett, son of billionaire Warren Buffett and head of his own private foundation, bought the entire Parks collection in 2014 for an undisclosed sum. The auction house, however, reportedly placed its value at $10 million. He loaned the collection to the Library of Congress and generously made the gift permanent in 2016.

“I’m only trying to do one thing: preserve what’s there for the public’s benefit,” Howard Buffett told the Associated Press. “I thought about doing what Rosa Parks would want. I doubt that she would want to have her stuff sitting in a box with people fighting over them.”

The trove includes 7,500 manuscripts, 2,500 photographs, clothing she sewed, her many awards and even handmade cards to Parks from children.

“I want to be remembered as a person who stood up to injustice,” Parks said. “And most of all I want to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free and wanted others to be free.”

That memory of Rosa Parks is safe at the Library of Congress, part of one of America’s great treasures.

©2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

What's your presidential savvy? Take our quiz -- Feb. 13, 2020 column


Ah, Presidents’ Day, when mattresses go on sale. But wait. Let’s remember the official and legal name of the federal holiday on the third Monday in February is still George Washington’s Birthday. Washington was our first, but how much do you know about him and the presidents who followed? Quiz yourself on your presidential trivia savvy. Answers below.

1)    Washington had to create the presidency of the fledgling United States, including what to call the chief of government. Which of these titles did Vice President John Adams suggest to Washington?
 A “His Mightiness”
            B “His Elective Majesty”
            C “His Highness, the President of the United States and the Protector of Their Liberty”
            D All of the above
2)    Whose foes dubbed him “His Accidency”?
A  President Andrew Johnson
B  President Harry Truman
C  President John Tyler
D  President Gerald Ford
3)    Which president gave the shortest inaugural address in history?
A George Washington
B  Calvin Coolidge
C  Abraham Lincoln
D  Chester Arthur
4)    Of the first 18 presidents, 12 were slave owners at some point in their lives. Which of these presidents never owned slaves?  
  Ulysses S. Grant
B   John Adams
 Martin Van Buren
D  Andrew Johnson

5)    Which president said of himself: “fluency in English is something I’m not often accused of”?
A  Donald Trump
B  Calvin Coolidge
C  George H. W. Bush
D  George W. Bush  

6)     True or False: Washington’s birthday is Feb. 22, 1732, but it used to be Feb. 11, 1731.

7)    Speaking of birthdays, which president was born on the Fourth of July?
A  Thomas Jefferson
B  James Monroe
C  Calvin Coolidge
D  John Adams
8)     Which president(s) won the Pulitzer Prize?
A  Bill Clinton
B  Barack Obama
C  John F. Kennedy
D  All of the above

9)    Who was the last president who was neither Republican nor Democrat?
A  George Washington
B  Millard Fillmore
C  Abraham Lincoln
D  Franklin Pierce

10)  President Zachary Taylor died after 16 months in office in 1850. How did he die?
A  He got sick after eating a bowl of cherries and drinking milk.
B  He got sick after drinking too much alcohol at a holiday party.
C  He contracted tuberculosis following a trip.
D  He suffered a heart attack.  

BONUS:  Which presidential candidate ran the first TV campaign ad?
             A Franklin Roosevelt
             B Dwight Eisenhower
             C Harry Truman
             D Richard Nixon

1)    D  – But Washington went with the simple title the House suggested: The President of the United States.

2)    C – Tyler was the first vice president to assume the top job after President William Henry Harrison caught cold and died of pneumonia barely a month after giving the longest inauguration speech in history.

3)    A – Washington’s second inaugural address on March 4, 1793, was just 135 words long and lasted less than 2 minutes.

4)    B – John Adams, as well as his son John Quincy Adams, never owned slaves.  

5)    C – Historian Jon Meacham quoted Bush’s self-deprecating comment in his eulogy of the former president in 2018.

6)    True – Under the Julian Calendar, Washington’s birthday was Feb. 11, 1731, but when Britain changed to the Gregorian Calendar we use today, his birthday moved to Feb. 22, 1732.

7)    C – Coolidge in 1872. Jefferson, Monroe and Adams all died on the Fourth of July.

8)    C – JFK won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957 for “Profiles in Courage,” a volume of short biographies. It’s now known that presidential speechwriter Ted Sorensen wrote much of the work.

9)    B – Fillmore was a Whig.

10) A – Taylor is thought to have contracted a form of cholera from the cherries.

BONUS:  B -- “Eisenhower Answers America” in 1952 featured ordinary Americans asking the candidate questions in TV ad spots.

  Sources: Library of Congress, Mount Vernon, National Archives, White House Historical Association,,, “To the Best of My Ability,” James M. McPherson general editor.  

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.