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The Politics of Sanity Are Within Our Grasp – The New York Times

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Bret Stephens: Hi, Gail. I’ve finally figured out who Joe Biden should pick as his running mate. Trust me, she’s perfect.

Gail Collins: Bret, I’ve been locked up in my apartment for over a month. This is no time to test my patience. Spill it.

Bret: Gail, she leads one of the largest states. She’s won four consecutive elections. Her leadership during the coronavirus crisis is universally recognized as outstanding. She has crossover political appeal, a first-class temperament, and a scientific cast of mind. And if, God forbid, anything happened to Joe, she’d be ready on day one.

Gail: … waiting ….

Bret: The one drawback is that we would have to amend the Constitution to make her eligible to serve. Otherwise, Angela Merkel is my choice. Do you have a better alternative?

Gail: You know, you really had me there for a second. I thought we were going to take a look at, say, the governor of Michigan.

Angela Merkel — even if we came up with an overnight constitutional amendment plan — I can’t imagine her wanting to make the run. People in Europe tend to look at the United States these days with a certain amount of terror or distaste, depending on their temperament.

Bret: Whenever I visit with my wife’s extended family in Germany, I get the sense that they are politely probing to see whether I’ve become a zombie.

Gail: But if you want to rally around the German approach to the coronavirus, I’m certainly game. I believe it involved a whole lot of staying in place. Which, if I remember correctly, is not the way you’d like to go. Aren’t you more in line with the back-to-work agenda?

Bret: Germany moved early, tested widely, acted consistently and is now planning wisely to get people safely back to work and kids back to school, which is something neighboring Denmark has already started. Not exactly ripping a page from the Trump Model of Chaos Management.

Gail: Yeah, but given where we are now, stay in place has to be the rule. Meanwhile …

Bret: … back to the veep stakes: The Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, has been in office less than two years, and her chief claim to national fame is banning big box stores from selling gardening equipment. I think steps like those are lockdown overkill, and, more to the point, a gift to the Trump campaign.

Gail: I came up through the world of state politics that I will totally concede is unglamorous in the extreme. But making your way through the legislature into the governor’s office of a large, diverse, feisty state is no small matter. Especially if you then become the person Trump calls “that woman.”

Bret: I’m guessing Trump calls every woman “that woman,” possibly including Melania.

Gail: Hehehehe.

Bret: Regarding other veep picks, my own favorites are Amy Klobuchar, who continues to project extreme sanity and can deliver an important state that Trump has his eye on after coming close in 2016; and Rhode Island’s governor, Gina Raimondo, who won’t deliver an important state but can appeal to moderates because she sometimes takes business-friendly positions. Obviously I like the centrist candidates because their views are closer to mine, but I also think Biden’s chances will be better if he reinforces his brand as a safe centrist instead of trying to reach out to the more left-wing side of the party. What do you think?

Gail: Well, the Bernie Sanders fans certainly wouldn’t agree. And it would be good to have a little excitement on the ticket. I can see why people are talking a lot about Elizabeth Warren and Whitmer, who has become way more popular since the president expressed his antipathy.

There’s not a whole lot of concern among Democrats that Biden won’t be a moderate. What we want is constant reminders that he’d be different from Trump.

Bret: An editor at a conservative publication recently asked me what Biden needs to do to win my vote. My answer was: “Breathe.” I don’t think Biden has to worry too much about differentiating himself from Trump. I think he has to worry about not differentiating himself enough from the people Trump is going to call “the scary-crazy-evil-stupid-fake-lying-socialist-politically correct-America-hating-Castro-loving-extreme-radical left.”

Gail: Ah, that’s what authority figures called me and my friends back in college. Sorry to say, it’s gotten old. This fall is going to be so fraught with real crises nobody’s going to have much time to worry about socialism.

Bret: I disagree: There’s so much government intervention in the economy already to deal with the crisis, both with lockdowns and handouts, that the subject will be front and center. So choosing someone like Elizabeth Warren plays into Trump’s hands. I also think he’d be making a mistake choosing someone with mostly coastal appeal, like Kamala Harris, or someone with a dearth of high-level political experience, like Stacey Abrams.

But what do I know? I’m conscious of not exactly being an old-time Democrat.

Gail: No, but you’re exactly the kind of non-Democratic Trump-hating moderate the Biden folks are seeking. Although of course they also need to make peace with the base that propelled Bernie.

I know Medicare for All is supposed to be a dividing point. But Biden is going to be talking a ton about health care, and he needs to at least get to a clear plan that gets everybody covered.

Bret: That’s true. And speaking of Medicare for All, did you see President Barack Obama’s endorsement of Bernie — I mean, of Biden? It seemed to me he was urging Joe to tilt left.

Gail: I don’t think Biden needed a reminder to run on good wages, student loan relief and a public option for health care coverage.

I’m most definitely not worrying about Biden turning into a scary leftist. I’m worried about him being too low key for this very high-key moment in history.

Bret: One of my biggest fears is that restrictions on large gatherings and concerns for Biden’s personal health will effectively prevent him from campaigning at all, except via YouTube videos and the like. And Trump will run around the country, using the powers of his office to mount a de facto campaign under the guise of being commander-in-chief. I’m also starting to freak out a little about what the pandemic might do to civil liberties in general, here and abroad, but that’s probably a conversation for another time.

Gail: Yes, let’s turn back to that question soon. Hard to protect the right to assemble when you can’t allow 11 people in the same room.

Bret: I guess the reason I mentioned Merkel up top is that it’s proof about how politically attractive a politics of sanity can be. I’ve had some serious misgivings about Merkel, especially in the way she handled the Syrian immigration crisis a few years ago. But right now the leader matches the moment, and her approval ratings are running north of 80 percent. In a scary moment, a country is going to pine for nonscary leadership. Nothing wrong with a tall glass of milk when the alternative is moonshine with a dash of kerosene.

Gail: Tall glass of milk, hmm? Sounds kinda like a Joe Biden metaphor. And I’ll drink to that.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

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Keep Politics Out of Reopening Houses of Worship – The New York Times

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Credit…Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images

To the Editor:

Re “Firing Salvo in Culture Wars, Trump Wants Churches Open” (front page, May 23):

Last Friday was not the first time we have witnessed a politician attempting to ingratiate himself with faith communities. Through the years, leaders from both major political parties have sought the support of houses of worship in their electoral campaigns.

Certainly those of us who devote our lives to religious leadership would like to consider our work “essential.” And we eagerly await the day when we can welcome our congregants back to their spiritual homes. While we can pray to God anywhere at any time alone or with others, and while the internet has provided a viable and meaningful vehicle for gathering our members in this time of physical distancing, nothing could ever replace the power of in-person congregational worship.

But religious communities must not become political pawns for a president seeking to placate his evangelical base. In Judaism, the saving of life supersedes all other religious responsibilities. The decision whether or not to reopen houses of worship belongs in the hands of local authorities alone, guided by health concerns, not political ones.

Joshua M. Davidson
New York
The writer is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El.

To the Editor:

The cynicism of President Trump’s call to governors to open the churches is staggering. I am a Catholic who attends Mass every day. I have always loved the ritual of the Mass, and I rejoice and celebrate as I gather with friends old and new who enrich my life. I will return joyfully to my church when our governor deems it safe to do so, not when it is politically expedient for our president.

John T. Dillon
West Caldwell, N.J.

To the Editor:

President Trump asks all governors to immediately open up churches and allow in-person worship — without testing. Yet everyone who meets with Mr. Trump must first be tested.

So, what’s good for the gander ain’t good for the goose. If he truly believes that in-person worship is safe, let’s see him go to these churches (or restaurants or theaters) without testing — and let’s see him mingle with the folks not wearing masks.

Marc R. Stanley
Dallas

Credit…From left: Zack DeZon for The New York Times; Andrew Seng for The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Star of the City Sells Itself,” by Michael Kimmelman (Critic’s Notebook, Arts pages, May 7):

OK, the Brooklyn Bridge is wholly in New York City and joins two of its boroughs. And it was something of an engineering achievement. Book after book has been written about it; it appears in a wealth of movies.

But the great bridge in the New York area is the George Washington.

When I sought to read a book on the George, I discovered that there were none. Participating in a symposium at Columbia University on American icons, and listening to others drone on about the Brooklyn, I asked “What about the George?” There was complete silence. Then one participant said, to almost universal laughter, “But look where it goes,” the suggestion being that since the George crosses to New Jersey, it couldn’t possibly be important.

The George is also the gateway to Interstate 80, on which one may travel in a straight line to San Francisco. New Yorkers think of themselves as sophisticated compared with New Jerseyans, but they can often be decidedly parochial.

Michael Aaron Rockland
Morristown, N.J.
The writer is the author of “The George Washington Bridge: Poetry in Steel” and a professor of American studies at Rutgers.

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Face masks now define a divided America and its politics – The Globe and Mail

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A man wearing a face mask walks past signs for Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, in Alexandria, Va., on May 11, 2020.

OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. election of 1860 was fought over the future of slavery in the United States. The 1932 election over how to respond to the Great Depression. The 1980 election over the role of government in the economy. The 2020 election is shaping up as a fight over whether Americans should wear a protective mask.

In competing images on one of America’s most sacred moments of civic reflection, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden joined a Memorial Day commemoration this week wearing a mask, while, 175 kilometres away, President Donald Trump attended a separate remembrance unencumbered by a face covering.

Mr. Trump has mocked Mr. Biden for wearing a mask. Mr. Biden called Mr. Trump “an absolute fool” for refusing to do so.

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And so it is that today a simple but divisive public-health measure defines America and its politics.

“The people who are not wearing masks are by and large white, male, rural, suburban and right-leaning,’’ said online pollster John Dick, whose CivicScience public-opinion firm has examined Americans’ social, cultural and political attitudes during the pandemic. “They are the same people who voted for Trump. It is a big middle finger to everyone they resent. I’m convinced that the people who support Trump don’t even really like him that much. They just hate the people who hate Trump.”

In 1768, John Dickinson, the Philadelphia lawyer known as the penman of the American Revolution, took a Royal Navy anthem and grafted onto it his objections to British colonial taxes and eight words that in time became an American aphorism: “By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.’’

Two and a half centuries later – after Kentucky transformed that phrase into its state motto, after the patriot orator Patrick Henry employed it in his final public speech, after Abraham Lincoln borrowed it for a famous speech and after the group Brotherhood of Man made it into a 1970s pop hit – the country Dickinson’s revolution created seems hopelessly divided.

Today Americans are split over whether to reopen the country to commerce. The states are divided over how swiftly to resume normal economic activity, with the Democratic governors of the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin opting to go slowly. Mr. Dick believes that what he calls “political tribalism” is the “most powerful force in America right now – because it predicts almost everything.” And pollster John Zogby sees the fall election as a contest between “rage” and “empathy.”

In that contest, Mr. Trump personifies rage and Mr. Biden empathy – and in that regard masks are a powerful symbol.

“You don’t wear your mask out of fear, you wear it out of empathy,” said Christine Whalen, a clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Human Ecology. “Those masks aren’t protecting you, they’re protecting others. But if we all wear them, we all are protected.”

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Mr. Zogby points out that Democratic candidates who have won in the past half-century – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – have been empathy candidates, projecting “an everyman image of understanding pain and suffering,” while those who have lost – Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton – were nominees who “projected images of elitism and/or technocratic management over bonding.”

The very qualities Mr. Biden personifies are the ones Democrats hope will prevail this autumn. The very qualities Mr. Trump personifies are the ones that triumphed four years ago.

Meanwhile, the pandemic and the two men’s responses – with Mr. Biden instinctively leaning toward the views of conventional experts and Mr. Trump instinctively taking an iconoclastic approach – provide a glimpse of the campaign to come.

Five times as many Republicans as Democrats are ready to return to normal daily activities, according to CivicScience surveys. Democrats are more than three times more likely to say they will remain in quarantine even if their state or local governments allow a return to normal.

Wearing a mask may be a telling symbol of the two candidates’ outlooks but it is not an infallible guide to political affiliation. Though a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released this month said 89 per cent of Democrats but only 58 per cent of Republicans reported wearing a mask most of the time when outside their homes, two top Republican leaders in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his likely successor, John Cronyn, were seen in masks this week.

“Wearing a face covering is not about politics – it’s about helping other people,” Republican Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio said via Twitter this week.

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In the last mass domestic challenge, Franklin Delano Roosevelt combined rage (“The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization”) and empathy (“We now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well”) in the very same speech. It was his first Inaugural Address, in 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, and is considered one of his greatest speeches – and he is considered the chief executive against whom all successors are measured.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday called his Republican rival Donald Trump an ‘absolute fool’ for not wearing a mask at a series of recent public events, saying his lack of leadership on the issue is ‘costing people’s lives.’ Reuters

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Politics – Things may not be as bad as they seem – Yorkton This Week

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If it doesn’t seem as if the news is getting better on the COVID-19 front, it’s likely at least partly due to how stressful days take their toll on our perspectives.

Right now, it does seem as if there was no bad luck in 2020, there would be no luck at all.

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But what we can’t lose sight of the reality that bad things happen all of the time. We need to consider that because it isn’t especially productive to allow them to play on our already existing anxieties.

Take the Victoria Day weekend crash of the Snowbirds jet in Kamloops as it was wrapping up “Operation Inspiration” – the nationwide fly-by from the Moose Jaw-aerial team that was supposed to bve a gesture of thanks to lift our spirits during this pandemic.

The sad accident claimed the life of Capt. Jennifer Casey – a Snowbirds team member and former journalist turned information officer for the elite flying unit.

Casey was a Halifax resident and now joins a sadly growing list of Nova Scotians who tragically lost their lives in the past couple months as this pandemic has taken hold.

Prior to her death there was the mass killing of RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson and 22 others. And the helicopter crash off the coast of Greece killed Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough of Halifax and three others.

These are sad events, but not all tragedies across the country or halfway around the world need be attributed to COVID-19.

It’s human nature to want to see patterns where they don’t exist. And it’s even more human to fear what we don’t understand.

“What we know about stress related to COVID-19 is that it revolves around a lot of the unknowns — and there remain many unknowns, many questions,” Gordon Asmundson, a University of Regina clinical psychologist and professor, told the Regina Leader-Post’s Heather Polischuk.

“It’s not like it’s a threat that we can see.”

One other big problem goes beyond the reality that seems even easier these days to identify and then dwell on the problems.

There are a lot of decisions being made in a condensed timeframe, feeding the old adage: When things go wrong, they really go wrong.

Just as the virus seems well in hand – and as of the writing of this, there were 16 active cases in the entire southern half of the province – we saw a major outbreak in La Loche and the north that still accounts for 107 active cases.

This disparity between the north and south only seems to be adding to the stress and frustrations.

Northerners are understandably upset by road blockades preventing needed travel to get groceries and other lives’ necessities.

And, out of an abundance of caution, the Saskatchewan Health Authority has shut down emergency services in 12 rural Saskatchewan hospitals.

This has rightly angered rural residents – most of whom haven’t seen a COVID-19 case in their vicinity in at least a month.

“I’m not impressed with it whatsoever. I’m quite shocked that they would do that,” Davidson Mayor Tyler Alexander told The Canadian Press’s Stephanie Taylor.

One can certainly understand why. In the middle of seeding and going into summer where bad road accidents tend to be more frequent, closing the nearest emergency service is a frightening prospect. For a rural-based government that lobbied mightily for the creation of STARS emergency helicopter service in this province, there does seem to be a disconnection in the decision-making process.

There again, with a million decisions to make at least a few of them are bound to be questionable.

Things aren’t great right now and won’t be for a while.

But with dwindling active cases names, they are getting better. We can’t let the stress get the best of us.

 Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics since 1983.

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