The “Medieval Battle” Edition

Listen to this episode

S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Enjoy.

S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate political gabfest for July 29th. Twenty twenty one, the medieval battle edition. I am David Plotz of City Casting. And here in Washington, D.C. and I’m joined, of course, by my dear friend John Dickerson of CBS this Sunday Morning on Face the Nation from Connecticut. Hello, John Dickerson.

S3: Hello, David.

S2: And Emily Bazelon of the New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School, usually from Connecticut today from New Hampshire.

Advertisement

S1: Hello, Emily. Hello, all of New England. You know, every state, one at a time this

S2: week, we’ll talk about the January 6th commission which got underway. What can it reasonably hope to accomplish then? Vaccination rates are rising. Mask mandates are coming back. Vaccination mandates are coming. What else should be mandated to get us out of Delta August to get us out of the Delta Summer? Then the time tax, how government wastes our time with paperwork, confusing rules, other forms of onerous, pointless bureaucracy. A brilliant new article in The Atlantic. The author, Annie Lowrey will join us. Plus, we’ll have cocktail chatter. The House January 6th Commission got underway on Tuesday with gripping testimony from four police officers who were attacked by the mob of pro Trump protesters who invaded the Capitol, the officers repeatedly called the insurrectionist terrorists. That was an interesting bit of language. Police officer Colleano Ginelle described the events of January six as more like a medieval battle than a patriotic free expression than than quiet protest. All of the officers described horrifying events being called racist slurs being tasered, being subjected to chants of kill him with his own gun. The commission’s work, according to Republican member Liz Cheney, is to investigate every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to during and after the attack, but the politics already threaten to overwhelm the work of the commission. Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it doesn’t. So, John, what what’s the political background that shadows this commission? And how can we avoid thinking about that?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: It’s a really good question, because you can first of all, you don’t want to fall into the trap of looking at this through a kind of nineteen eighties political lens, which is to say both parties are fighting and each are trying to maximize their political advantage. And it’s kind of tug of war with the flag in the middle. I mean, in this case, you’re dealing with an event that hasn’t happened since the War of 1812, which is to say, an assault on the Capitol. And the Republican leader in the House named to the committee, Jim Jordan, the congressman from Ohio, who was on the phone with President Trump the day of this riot. It took Brit Baer three questions to get Jim Jordan to admit that he was on the phone with President Trump. So that was the person that the House leader was going to name to the committee, someone who promulgated the idea that the election was stolen. And the leader of the House Republicans promulgated that idea on January 5th himself, Liz Cheney, the other person on the committee, said to Jordan on the day of the as the riot was going on up and caused this. So the political background is that one of the two parties is deeply compromised in the search for truth here, both because it was involved in propagating the lie that set the rioters and that they are now in real time. And this is the most interesting thing to me. They are now in real time engaging in all of the behaviors that President Trump engaged in before the riot that testified to the the power of those forces in the Republican Party, pretending things that happened didn’t happen, creating diversions to divert from things that are inconvenient to the party. And you might chalk this down to regular politics, except that this is right at the core and centre of what democracies are about, which is they have a vote to exchange power through peaceful means so that they don’t have riots, insurrections and death. So you have the most serious possible thing being handled with that political background.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Emily, what is the best this commission could accomplish substantively for the nation? Do you think?

S1: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question. I would like to say that what John just described is surprising as well as shocking, but it’s not at this point. And I kind of fear that because of the partisan division, lots of people are just going to tune this out because it just feels like a kind of retread of all of these terribly polarizing, angry, just, you know, responses we’ve had to January 6th. I think what the commission could accomplish is some report that gives a kind of definitive, comprehensive account of what happened. We’ve had lots of media reports, but I think something from the government that’s official, like the report by the 9/11 Commission that we can all look back on as the best the government can do in terms of explaining what happened, all the different failures in security. I think that would be really valuable for the country, at least historically, if not in the present.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: I would love to put a name to and and have this committee excavate. What to me is the most the biggest challenge that we face now, which is not only did a single party deny a reality, which is to say the outcome of the election, but then turned that fantasy into a grievance that was so powerful that it could lead to the first attack on the Capitol since 1812. And that in when that happened, after a brief moment of recoil from the Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate, the powers that that created the riot nevertheless became ascendant again in the party. And they’re now governing the response to looking into what happened, which is to say, you know, the fact that on the day that these these officers were testifying, they were holding a counter press conference trying to divert from what was being discussed. They’re getting at that idea. The idea that a fantasy can cause a riot and that the party is still in the grips of that is not just a danger to the Republican Party, it’s a danger to the country and goes to the epistemological problem we’re having in politics and in vaccines and everything else given.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: What both of you were describing, which is that you have a entire Republican Party, with the tiny exception of a couple of people, Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney and in the House and maybe Mitt Romney, a couple others in the Senate who lie about what happened. There’s this incredible episode. Andrew Clide, a Republican member of Congress I’ve never heard of, but he helped barricade the House chamber door. He’s the person who has since called what happened on January 6th, a normal tourist visit. And Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, the leaders of the House Republicans who on January 6th and 7th and through about the 15th of January were saying holding President Trump accountable. Now, abjure this investigation. It’s a sham. It does feel like. You know, having these different epistemological universes, I mean, obviously we’ve talked about 100 times is really difficult for the country, but it does mean that anything produced by this commission, no matter how true it is, no matter how well documented it is, no matter how well sourced it is, will not make any inroad with. A significant percentage of the country that does not want to accept the truth and we knew this going into it, we know it coming out of it, but it’s it’s pretty, pretty friggin disheartening.

Advertisement

S1: Yeah. I mean, that’s part of why I said I think the significance of whatever report gets produced will be historical rather than in the present. It’s not going to settle the current political divide, but, you know, it will stand for future generations, which maybe have some ability in distancing themselves from the moment to have better perspective on it.

S2: John, do you think there’s a political gain for one party, the other from this commission carrying out its work vividly?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: Yeah, I mean, I think the gain is for the for the Democratic Party, and when Mitch McConnell says this is going to be a wholly partisan process, first of all, you wonder whether that’s a compliment coming from him because he’s always been so pleased with doing things that are wholly partisan. His argument being that, you know, if one party has been put in charge of a body of Congress and that party chooses to use their power to do things as he did with Merrick Garland, that that’s all, that’s perfectly fine. So in that sense, this is following along in that in that groove, I think the way in which it helps Democrats to the extent that it does. I mean, I think that there’s obviously an attempt to say, oh, this is just, you know, regular back and forth and partisanship. And I didn’t see that tweet. I mean, there’s a kind of you take one portion of trying to deny what happened and what is happening by saying it’s just partisanship. And then those things like the the four officers who testified on Monday and other things that you can’t write down to partisanship, you just ignore the way that that members used to ignore the things that President Trump used to say in his tweets. But I think to the extent that it helps Democrats, what it does is that it destabilizes the Republican Party or it calcifies the Republican Party even further in the furthest reaches of Donald Trump’s current aspect. And how does that matter? It means that in primaries, in Senate races and maybe primaries and House races, candidates will be vying to be maximalist like Trump. And so in the way you do that is by you affirm that the his lie that the election was stolen and then you affirm that the rioters who attacked these police were patriots. Fifty five percent of Republicans in the latest CBS poll said the rioters were patriots. If you have to say that out loud, in the face of the testimony of these police officers, that is really far out on the edge and that may get new cheers in the party, but a party that is built around that is unstable and so that potentially could benefit Democrats.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: I don’t know, man. I remember back in 2016 when Trump was running, there was a school of thought, which I think I subscribe to for about six and seven seconds, which was the height and the contradictions, which is if you are a Democrat, you should seek to have the most extreme. Representation of the Republican Party should seek to have the most outrageous person representing the Republican Party and that that will disillusion lots of people and it will it will make the Republican Party relatively weak and Democratic Party relatively strong. And, you know, there’s something to that. The Republicans are not very popular. But what we’ve seen is that this extremism that has captured the Republican Party has aid, has not significantly it is unlikely that that means the Democrats will be able to hold the House and Senate for the next cycle. So it actually won’t translate into political long term political power for them, at least right now. And B, it has made the country ruinously divided or has increased a ruinous divide. So I don’t I used to think, oh, heightening the contradictions. At least that’s a theory. Now, I’m like, no, that that seemed a very, very dangerous.

Advertisement

S3: Well, I guess the counterargument would be that it did lose the Republican Party, the House, the Senate and the presidency in the last election. So it didn’t work out incredibly well for Republicans. Secondly, in those primaries in places like Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, where the electorate is in the general election, a little bit more purple, Ohio, not so much, but again, depending on who you nominate it, can you run into the problem that Republicans faced in 2014 when they had a bunch of people on the on the ballot who were really, really super extreme? They ended up losing in states where they could have really had a shot. And so if this competition within the Republican Party ends up nominating extreme candidates in states where there’s a more diverse electorate, I think it could have an effect on on control of the Senate and not switching control or it could undermine, even if even if Republicans nominate a more palatable general election candidate, they could be undermined by what happens in in primaries that are basically fought on the turf of the insurrection and its participants. I mean, I don’t think that’s a crazy thing because we’ve seen it before when the stakes weren’t as high.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: I mean, it is a marker, right? Like a sticker that you can kind of affix to someone that shows that they’re not really in touch with reality and not protecting the democracy sufficiently. I realize that’s not the only way to spin it, but it has that in it.

S3: Yeah, the counter argument to my counter argument, of course, is that if off year elections are determined by the most virulent members of both parties, you could imagine Republicans being more whipped up by the kind of Trump strain in the general election than base Democratic voters,

S2: Slate plus members. We have a lot of fun with our slate plus topics, and I suspect we will have a lot of fun with the one we’re going to do today, which is a Dickason special. When you have forgotten that you’ve read a book, have you actually read it? Go to Slate Dotcom

Advertisement

S3: suggested by Emily Bazelon on someone’s tweet.

S2: Oh I. For some it was so Dickason, you

S1: know, came from Jim Surowiecki, a friend of mine, certainly. Maybe you guys too. And from Twitter.

S2: Well, it’ll be great wherever it comes from. So much pandemic news. In one week we had vaccine rates ticking back up because of Delta alarm. We had news that a bunch of companies, universities and some governments and local governments are mandating vaccines for employees or attendees or people who use their services. And the Department of Justice declaring that such mandates are fine even for the emergency use covid vaccines. At the same time, the CDC restored its masking recommendation for the vast majority of the country and also recommended universal maskin for schools next year. So, Emily, it’s a lot of stuff happening. I want to start actually with the vaccine mandates. A lot of companies are saying you’re going to have to get vaccinated to get back to work. This amazing example, the Houston hospital system, which mandated vaccines to much controversy and it had 97 percent compliance, which is pretty impressive. So do you think vaccine mandates are key way for us to get out of this? And are you impressed by the Department of Justice’s legal claim that they are that they are legit or is that not good enough yet?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: So I am starting to feel more and more like we need these mandates and that it’s better for them to come from employers and maybe local government than the federal government, although President Biden seems to be completely doing an about face after saying like it’s not the federal government’s role to do this earlier in the week. He’s now, it seems, about to announce a mandate of some kind for federal workers. I do think the Justice Department’s rationale that mandates are legal despite the emergency use authorization is pretty persuasive, but I think it’s not the same thing as final approval. So it sounds like the secretary of defense is not going to mandate vaccines for the military until there’s final approval. And I have to say, I get that. And I think like this part of it is really on the FDA. But I’m also relieved in the meantime that employers and some local governments are taking this step, because if you think about the different interventions for preventing more spread from Delta, it just seems like increasing vaccine uptake is a far more effective than these new mask mandates, because the people who are much more likely to abide by the mass mandates are the people who already live in the places where right now the spread of Delta is low and the vaccine rate is higher. And so it just seems like what really needs to happen is a push among the people who have not yet jumped on board to get vaccinated. Get an I mean, I really think in a lot of places that people need a push and this really could be it.

S2: John, there is this new CDC return to Maskin recommendations, Indorama asking for even for people who are vaccinated. But already we hear from governors in red states, for the most part, Republican governors who are saying this is not they’re not interested in this. They’re not going to honor it. They’re not going to make it a force of regulation in their states. Do you do you think the CDC move is likely to be helpful? Is it going to discourage vaccination? Is it going to reignite a culture war that seem to have actually been subsiding?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: Well, I think all of those things are possible. And it also depends on where you are in the country. I mean, we have a couple of problems. One is that the CDC isn’t measuring all the things it needs to be measuring to know whether the policy is absolutely, vitally necessary. And so some of this is guesswork so far. So according to my conversations with Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, the FDA, the CDC has only been studying breakthrough infections that lead to hospitalization. So if you’ve been vaccinated and you get infected, they don’t have a count of that unless you get to the hospital. Why does that matter? Because it matters on in terms of how effective the vaccine is against Delta, not just against any old covid, but against Delta. If we know that that because it’s so much more transmissible, it creates just a greater opportunity for those who are already vaccinated to either be carriers or to become infected. If you knew that number, you would say, OK, masks are important as a mitigation measure. Now, the second thing you would have to know, though, is our Annie old mask important. Gottlieb says the only masks are really important. If you’re worried about spreading the Delta variant because it’s so transmissible are the end 95. So the very, very high quality masks. So it’s not just masks or no masks, but you’ve got to make sure you have these high quality masks and then it matters where you wear them. Is a high prevalence environment in the Northeast different than a high prevalence environment in the South and arguably high prevalence environment. And the South is a redundancy because in a lot of these states, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi have low vaccine rates. So that’s just the kind of are we scoping the problem and offering the best public policy? Gottlieb’s argument is Max might not even make sense. The argument may be that the better thing to do is in small settings indoors. You just shouldn’t have more than 10 people or you should go back to the six foot rule that that’s better than than masking as a way to get at the public policy problem of this moment. But all of this gets to a larger problem, which is that we are now at a year and a half into hearing things from CDC and even the most patient person who recognizes the shifting nature of science and recognizes that Delta is different than the covid we were dealing with six months ago. He has to feel, even if you are deeply sympathetic of CDC and CDC hadn’t botched the original testing and a variety of other things, you’d have to say, good gracious, like what the hell? And then you add politics and it’s even worse. So where this matters, I think to me, in addition to all the things you raised, David, is what’s the policy going to be for kids when they go back to school for those who are under 12? Because that is about the efficaciousness of masks, A, and then B, the transmissibility of Delta from those who are already vaccinated. And answering those questions in a way that’s solid enough to then create public policy is a huge deal. And then you add in the fact that people get their most emotional when it comes to kids, and it means that going back to school is going to be deeply fraught.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: When you get a good gracious out of John Dickerson, you have truly shaken him to the core. That is. I’m with you, John, on that. The I Emily, I am fairly shocked that here we are this far into into this pandemic. And we have so little clarity as as everyday citizens about masks and how effective they are and what kind of mask and where to use them, and so little good guidance about it. It’s shocking that the hears this thing, which has become a massive issue, a cultural issue, a massive political issue, a massive scientific issue. And yet we as citizens know a ton about how effective vaccines are. And yet mass, which are which are the thing which we live with every day, where you always have one shoved in a pocket, shoved in a bag. We’re living in a cave of darkness.

S1: Yeah. Why haven’t we done human challenge trials for this or some other kinds of trials that would give us better information? Because if they’re doing only a minimal amount of good, especially for vaccinated people, even just in terms of spread rather than self-protection, why bring up this hugely divisive issue that’s going to make people feel so frustrated and despondent? I really share your frustration about that.

S2: What did you guys make of the recommendation for Universal asking for kids? I mean, for schools? I found it very, very disheartening. I think it’s going to discourage a lot of return to school because people are going to be very anxious about school and it feels like overwrought. There are, of course, there are hundreds of children who have died from covid hundreds. And each one of those deaths is is incredibly tragic for the world, for the families. Is this the only way back? I mean, is this the is this the only solution to to consign everyone to a year of masking and to know we know as we do that that we’re going to reduce learning, reduce future outcomes for these children, put more children at risk and other ways. It really depresses me.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Yeah. I mean, look, I care the most about the kids coming back to school in person. There is so much evidence that that is crucial for them. I worry, as you do, that this makes school seem scary. And so the people who have been keeping their kids out, out because of fear are going to think like this is a sign that they should maybe continue remote schooling. And that worries me. I also just can’t stand this blanket protocol for the whole country when the spread and the rate of covid is so different and different places, like if you live in a state like Vermont that has really like gotten this under control, unless that changes, it just doesn’t make sense for local school boards to have all the kids mask. I would say that is still true where I live in Connecticut. And yet the CDC didn’t recognize any of that. I saw this morning that in some cities, public school students taking the bus are going to have to wear masks on the bus, but the bus drivers are not going to be required to be vaccinated. I mean, come on like that just doesn’t make any sense in terms of what we know about public health measures right now.

S2: John, last question on this topic. You, I think, have been like me, really interested in going back to work questions. Do you think that the what’s happening with the mandates, with with Delta, with some companies proposing full scale return to work, some companies clearly going in other directions, do you think we’re going to have a big return to work in September? Do you think there’s going to be a rebellion among white collar workers? Do you think that office work has permanently changed or just we just don’t know yet?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: The first thing I’ll say is some places already have delayed. Apple has delayed the return to its campus a month because of Delta. But I think the bigger damage the Delta does is that it steals our imagination. And because the whole concept of building back better, which we’ve talked about many times on this campus, even before it was a slogan for the Biden administration and I’d like to reorient it to its original meaning, which is when you have a catastrophe, there are opportunities to think smarter and better about the way you return to business and to be more equitable and to be just generally wiser. And those are all available to business right now as both employers and employees are rethinking. There’s also an economic set of incentives that are shifting and changing. And we’re still trying to get our hands around in terms of the leverage that workers now have in certain sectors of the economy for wages and and and and benefits. And if we are not imaginative enough, there are ways in which the reshaping the workplace is going to mess people up. So in other words, big corporations can afford to compete with New Labour for newly leveraged workers by offering them child care or offering them free college textbooks or free college. But smaller mom and pop organizations can’t do that because they have thinner margins, which then takes you back to public policy. What if what if they didn’t have to do that? What if public policy took care of some of those things? It would create perhaps a more vibrant economy. All these questions are hard to answer when you’re forced into the. What’s right in front of your nose with the Delta variant, and I think that in private industry, Delta is going to stomp on some of the interesting questions about remote work. The benefit is you’ve often talked about, David, of of human contact and the social animal part of our lives. And it’s a shame because if you don’t think about those now, once everybody gets back into the office or back into the sort of post covid swing of things, you won’t have a chance to reorganize the world around ways that could be much more efficient, both for capitalism, but also for individuals who are trying to live lives of meaning.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Every so often you read an article that makes you notice something that is incredibly obvious and something that’s so obvious, you didn’t even notice it, something that is obscene and terrible, intolerable, and yet it’s tolerated because we just don’t even notice it. That is the case with the Time Tax. An article by Annie Lowrey in the Atlantic this week, Annie shows with stunning example after a stunning example how the United States government and also other institutions in the US have set out to make it difficult and sometimes almost impossible for people to get its benefits and made it especially hard for the poorest among us to do that. It’s really about how bureaucracy is pointlessly, pointlessly, pointlessly, stupidly wasting time, energy and money and eroding the social safety net and eroding confidence in government. And once you see what you see it, you’re like, oh my God, what are we doing? What the hell is going on? So we’re joined by Annie frequent GPS guest. And you’re an Atlanta staff writer. I’m guessing Annie. I am right.

S3: Because everyone

S2: is. Yes, everyone is. So thanks. Thanks for.

S4: That’s where we’re headed every last one of us.

S2: Annie, let’s start with Europeans. You talk to Europeans. I always talk about how hard it is to be an American. Yeah. Which by which they mean that some simple things that government can do to help are made very hard in this country. So can you tell us what that means or cite cite as some examples just so we understand what the time tax is?

S4: Absolutely. I kind of think that this falls into a couple buckets. So one is that American safety net programs, if you qualify for one, you’re likely to qualify for several. If you qualify for food stamps, for instance, it’s pretty likely that you qualify, though not entirely certain that you qualify for something like Medicaid. And none of these programs talk to each other. They are administered by completely different agencies with completely different rules summer, federal, summer, state, some are local. So when you apply for one thing, very often there’s no cross eligibility to others, although in some places, in some states there are. So that’s kind of one thing. The second is that American programs tend to come with huge numbers of hurdles beyond just are you poor enough to get this, which is a hurdle in and of itself. So there’s often really complicated enrollment and then maintenance criteria. So one example of this is something called a work requirement. So to get a food stamp or snap benefits, as they’re sort of formally known, you have to log in and demonstrate that you are either working or looking for work in most cases. So they suspend that requirement during recessions. But generally you have to do that. And that’s actually kind of really annoying to do because you have to have a way to do it. And so people are constantly getting kicked off for just not being able to meet the requirement, even if they are working or looking for work. Notably, the work requirements do not actually increase the number of people who are working, which is a really important part of that. They’re completely ineffective. And then the third thing is that very often, even once you have some kind of benefit, there’s these sort of like ongoing. This is kind of part of the second thing to write, like, you know, these ongoing paperwork requirements that tend to kick people off really quickly. And in other countries, they don’t have have have that or do that. And notably, this is this is very, very true for safety net systems. But it’s also true when you kind of step back and think about like, why why do we have to file our taxes? The government already knows how much we owe people talk about how hard it is to be released from a sentence and then have all this paperwork and all these check ins to do that kind of thing. Why do we have this really complicated system of health insurance when, you know, in other countries it’s just provided and you pay for it with your taxes and there’s, you know, like a lot of other examples of this, once you start seeing it, you kind of see it everywhere.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Yeah, that is so true. And I thought the one of the genius aspects of this piece is you’re calling this a time tax because just giving it a name allows you to kind of focus in on it. And I wondered if the idea for this piece kind of crept up on you over time, partly because you had these a bunch of vivid, different examples, and partly because it’s something I’ve noticed over and over again in my reporting, mostly about poor people. But I think I tend to just kind of skip over it because the problem is like it’s very frustrating, but it also feels kind of boring and routine. And and one of the things you mentioned, which is so important is the tendency to blame people when they have trouble with this, like, oh, if they were just more clever and with it, they were will figure it out. And I thought you did such a great job of showing why that’s just really not

S4: true to the latter point. There’s this really interesting body of evidence that’s coming from a group of researchers in really desperate fields, anthropos. Ologists doctors, researchers have stressed that show that being poor in a high inequality society like the United States actually impacts your cognitive abilities. And so some of the research on this basically shows that being poor is the equivalent to like pulling an all nighter. It’s so stressful. You have so many decisions to make that it’s really hard to just keep up with paperwork. So even really generous benefits people miss out on because they’re just struggling so much to stay alive. It’s like I can’t fill out a 40 page form right now. Right. I can’t even think about that. The impetus for the piece came from something I was doing reporting. It’s probably like half a decade ago now with some low income parents in Mississippi. And they were making this point that it was so onerous to get benefits in the state. The former slave states tend to have particularly difficult systems to work with, which is purposeful and perhaps not surprising. And they were saying that the amount of time it would take to get a benefit was like it was like a part time job. It was like 10 or 20 hours and the benefit wasn’t worth much. And so why would you spend 20 hours getting a benefit worth like 100 bucks? That’s just going to go away in six months anyway. And I was like, oh, I wonder if because of the Paperwork Reduction Act, the government keeps track of how much time it takes people to get these, because you can sort of imagine that you could estimate the amount of time it takes to get something at the prevailing minimum wage. And then if the benefit isn’t worth more than that, it doesn’t make any economic sense to get it. And there’s all sorts of other reasons why you might not want to spend your time doing it. And the answer is the government doesn’t. So OIRA, which is this obscure but really powerful government agency, is charged with figuring out paperwork burdens, but it only applies to certain types of federal paperwork. And so it doesn’t pick up things like interviews or like certain work requirements levied by the state or like a drug test levied by the state isn’t going to get picked up by OIRA. And so, you know, for the WEC, the Women’s Infants Children program, which is designed to help really low income parents get things like formula and diapers, you have to go to an in-person interview generally to get the benefit. But the government was estimating that the benefit took like 15 minutes to get, and that was only because the federal part of the paperwork was really short. But all the other requirements were really difficult.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: Annie I was wondering, I came to this issue actually studying. It’s in part the reason for the growth of the presidency. Both Teddy Roosevelt and FDR tried to improve the administrative state to make it more efficient. And when there was a story that Teddy Roosevelt told was about the Indian Affairs Agency, which was helping, you know, Indian reservations and somebody tried to order a stove for the winter and Roosevelt’s punch line was the stove arrived and so did spring, that the government was so slow in trying to help this portion of the populace that that, you know, it took an entire season for a simple stove to reach the Indian infirmary. Back then, it was a turf war between the presidency and Congress is part of the reason that nobody actually tends to this tax that you so beautifully identified that there is there’s no constituency politically for you don’t great. You don’t gain glory in politics by streamlining these programs. Or maybe you do. But but how how did the structures of politics allow this condition to continue?

S4: This is one of the few places where I really think both sides deserve different blame, but a lot of blame. Republicans are enormously adept at using the rulemaking process to winnow or preclude access to things that are are legal or are supposed to be of, you know, accessed or allowed. So one example of this is something like abortion access, where they make it so hard to get an abortion that even if an abortion is technically legal, you know, if you can’t procure that right, you have no right to it. You can see this in something like voting. They they purposefully make voting really difficult. And lo and behold, people don’t vote and they do this with safety. Had access to during the Trump administration, several states started to or attempted to apply work requirements in Medicaid, a program that had never had them. This was like catastrophic. Right. And there was no point again, it wasn’t going to make anybody do it. And it just doesn’t work. It just caused people in the state of Arkansas to lose their Medicaid benefits. Republicans are perfectly happy to reduce social spending through paperwork hassle. And there’s also this kind of ideology of like, well, you don’t want to make the safety net a hammock, right? Do you want it to be hard? You want the government to be reforming their behavior. This is like a very strong ideology. Democrats, the the issue is that and I think that, again, because of inequality, they are terrified of. Anybody getting something that they don’t, quote, unquote, deserve. So is that really great ProPublica package on people’s taxes? They got seem very high income Americans tax returns. And it showed that that I think it was Jeff Bezos one year got like a child tax credit because he didn’t have any paper income. So he technically qualified for it. And there’s this big outcry of how dare these people get that benefit? That’s he’s too rich to get that benefit. Democrats are terrified of that. And because they’re operating in a high inequality society and they want to, you know, make the system more progressive, that means doing a lot of means testing. It complicates things. I’d also say that there’s just a general neglect of making stuff work. Right. The federal government really punishes the states, you know, for having it exact counts. Right. For letting anybody get a benefit that they shouldn’t get. But there’s actually no incentive system for requiring the states and the agencies to make sure that everybody gets a benefit if they should get it. And so these places, they become kind of like fraud detection programs and the incentives are all screwed up. So I think it’s really the whole system. And again, I don’t think that everybody deserves equal blame, but I do think this is a place where the Democrats want to think long and hard about how hard they’ve made things.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: One of your great facts in the piece is the ITC, which is a Reagan era.

S1: The ITC is the Earned Income Tax Credit,

S3: which conservatives I don’t even know what to call the various gradations of the parties of the Republican Party anymore. But which sort of Reagan era conservatives used to champion as a kind of great program? I think you said? Twenty two percent of eligible recipients miss out. So even programs that Republicans have supported as a kind of bridge from welfare to work are being totally missed out because of the time tax that you suggest.

S2: So, Annie, I just want to cite this incredible anecdote you have in the piece about an attempt in Michigan to streamline some of their paperwork. And they’re talking about some 42 page application that that these people who are working to streamline had a group of local politicians fill out. They got to the question, tell me the date of the conception of your children like that was an example of like how outrageous the the kind of work and the inquiry and the intrusiveness could be. So you say Michigan is a state which is now trying to. Make this somewhat easier. We do have the example of Social Security, which isn’t so bad, I think Medicare and Medicaid are not so bad for Medicare in particular. It’s not so bad. Yeah.

S4: Medicaid, once you have it, is not is not too bad.

S2: But those are really exceptions. What is it that we as a people could do to pressure our government to reduce the time tax?

S4: I think the really hard thing is that you need legislative fixes. The states are operating under a system of federal rules and in a lot of cases, you need the federal government to actually change some of the legal requirements of these programs or at least create bigger waivers so that the states could do more to streamline these systems. If you go to a country like Finland, there is one agency that you can call. You can call them on the phone. It’s an 800 number and they will tell you what you might be eligible for and help you enroll in almost everything. Some things are controlled at the local level, but, you know, most of the big insurance programs are controlled through this single agency. You know, the United States could do something like that. They could have like a universal navigator service that could kind of skate on top of all of these programs. One thing that that idea that some folks have had is that the federal government could actually just take over the work of qualifying people for benefits and still leave administration to the states. That would help a lot. There’s no end of ideas or options to make it better. But you do actually need a lot of executive effort and I think probably a bill in Congress for the really big stuff. And it’s just, you know, it’s not going to be easy to pass and it’s not sexy. I don’t think people win elections necessarily by being like we’re going to make it so that the poorest people who who Americans are often really broadly skeptical of have unbelievably simple, enduring access to the safety net. It’s really tough. The current administration cares a lot about this. You know, it’s just it’s a pretty heavy lift.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Annie Lowrey piece in the Atlantic. It’s called the time tax. It is in itself, not a time to check it out. Annie. Thanks for coming. Come back anytime.

S4: Thanks, everybody.

S2: Let’s go to cocktail chatter, John, when you’re having a cocktail, as one does in Connecticut, I think of Connecticut as being the cocktail state. If there is a cocktail state, it is Connecticut. What will you be chattering about?

S3: That’s a good that’s a really good point, David, I feel like that’s true, although in

S2: a kind of in a kind of alcoholic Cheever esque.

S3: Yes, exactly. You know, I was just thinking of John Cheever exactly as you said, that I mean, you’ve got some cheese. Somewhere adjacent to the cocktail are some chinos and and some bitter recriminations for slights long ago anyway, but not in the Dickerson household, where it’s one flowering bath of love after another. My chatter is about a piece in the In The Times on misinformation for higher Max Fisher wrote the piece. Chris Crabb’s, who was the Trump administration official in charge of cybersecurity and infrastructure security at Homeland Security Agency, has been talking about this, too, is basically the way in which the misinformation that we’ve we’ve recognized and suffered from as a result of the Chinese, Chinese and Russian efforts to destabilize our public square. We’ve seen it with respect to vaccinations, where it’s not not just misinformation from the anti vaccines, but also organizations and outfits that are out there whose job it is to confuse the public. And this is happening all over the world. And there are now private companies, sort of PR company type things that are popping up with these misinformation campaigns. And it just brings us back to this thing we’ve wrestled with for so long, which is the benefit and necessity of learning how to sort public information quickly and cleanly and also avoid all the rabbit holes that are being created either by stupidity, bad faith, and now this new avenue, which is private industry, creating false information avenues for people to go down this path. It was a great piece and an important topic,

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Emily, usually from the cocktail state of Connecticut now from the last cocktail, but sort of also maybe a winter cocktail, the state of New Hampshire. Yeah.

S1: You could have, like, you know, just a nice beer by the lake in New Hampshire or wherever. I discovered a novelist this week, Brit Bennett. I’m sure I should have discovered her long ago, but I read a book by hers that I’m still thinking about called The Vanishing Half, which is about two sisters in Louisiana. I won’t say more than that because I didn’t know anything about it when I started reading and the surprises in it were excellent, I thought. And she is also the author of an acclaimed novel called The Mothers, which I’m now about to start reading. So if you haven’t already checked this book out, I’m sure I’m totally late to this. And many people will write and say, how did you not know about Brit Bennett years ago? But in any case, I recommend these books.

S2: My Chatur. I went back to a museum for the first time since Pandemic. It was really great. It not a huge museum goer, but it was really great. It was a great way to have an activity. My girlfriend, I went to the National Gallery of Art in DC and had a wonderful time and in particular we were wandering through the Dagar exhibit and the Dagar. There’s a bunch of Dagar dancer statues which, you know, now that I’ve learned a very creepy they’re nude statues, very, very, very creepy. Didn’t love those. But within the Dagar is a set of six paintings by a painter I’ve never heard of named Louis Morris Beauty de Monvel, who is a French painter from the early 20th century. And they’re paintings of the life of Joan of Arc. And they are incredible. They’re sort of art deco. They’re almost or maybe they’re Parafield. I don’t really know what. They’re incredibly ornate and precise. Everyone’s robes have, you know, every little bit of fabric is delineated perfectly. And they’re all there’s gold leaf everywhere with the the robes and the faces are done in perfection with photographic perfection. It is they are magnificent. If you get the chance to go see them, they are magnifique. They’re magnifique. Please go see them. I’ve been trying to learn more about them. I have a cousin who’s a Joan of Arc scholar. I’m going to hit her up and maybe I’ll learn more and tell you more about it. But but if you can get to the National Gallery in the Dagar exhibit, the Joan of Arc paintings. Wow. Knock your socks off, listeners. You tweet chatter to us at SlateGabfest. Please tweet us some great summer chatter. Please tell us about what you’re reading, what you’re up to, what has fascinated you. And we have an excellent chatter this week from Ryan Goode. And it’s a Twitter thread posted by the digital artist Gabriel Hoyle. Let’s hear Ryan talk about it.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: Hello, Gabfest. My cocktail chatter is a Twitter thread by digital artist Gabriel Hoyle, who is undertaking the quest to create a modern branding scheme for every US president. Some of my favorites include John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren and Zachary Taylor, but they’re all pretty great. Anyone interested in graphic design should check them out. Thanks. Love the show.

S2: They’re so good. They’re. So good.

S1: I really liked the one for George Washington,

S2: the John Quincy Adams one, I think was just a cue that was pretty great there.

S3: Not anymore.

S2: What do you mean?

S3: Well, Kuhnen.

S1: Oh, wait, come on, we’re going to rescue the letter Q. Q Cannot be stolen from us forever.

S3: Well, no I know, but as a single icon, given that it was on the shirts of rioters at the at the Capitol, it’s just it has a little complexity.

S2: None of them make perfect sense or anything that there’s a Tippecanoe that the William Henry Harrison won is like the Harrison with a little canoe over it.

S3: That was go with the Log Cabin I guess.

S2: Anyway, that’s our show for today. The gabfests is produced by Jocelyn. Frank, our research this week is Grace Woodruff. Bridgitte is on a well deserved vacation. Gabriel Roth is editorial director of Slate Audio. Jay Thomas is managing producer. Lisa Montgomery is the executive producer of Slate podcasts. Please follow us on Twitter at SlateGabfest. And please tweet your chatter to us at SlateGabfest. For Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson and David Plotz, thank you for listening. We will talk to you again on next week. Hello, Slate, plus, how are you, as we were doing our Slate plus promo, I was under the misapprehension that this is a John Dickerson idea because it’s so John Dickerson, Ian. But Emily is apparently from you via Jim Surowiecki.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Yeah, I saw this report of John and of you. So, OK, if you have completely forgotten a book, did you ever read it? I kind of am going to go with no, because I find this to be such a conundrum for myself. Like, if you really just it’s like a blank space in your head. The good part is you get the enjoyment of reading it over again because there’s nothing to disturb in your brain. And I have really had this experience where it was as if I’d never read it. I have this with movies too. I have to say, like or all I remember is whether I liked it or not. I guess that’s another thing we should talk about, whether that counts as having read it. And this whole thing always makes me really wish I had kept a list of books and movies which people do like. Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review, wrote a great book about her list, like, I really wish I had done that. And I wonder if you will have that regret or have started to keep such a list.

S3: I have kept a list of all the books I’ve read because when that really I started to give a list many years ago of the books I’ve read because I realized I was forgetting that I had read books and I had this experience walking the other night with and when I couldn’t remember for whom the bell tolls and Farewell to Arms, as far as I know, are the same book. I read them both.

S4: I guess they’re both by Ernest Hemingway.

S3: Yes, yes, I know. But anyway, so that for me was a feeling. I mean, basically there are a lot of books now at the we have an intersection here of my being an English major, which was the highest period of my reading life and my memory, which is almost completely destroyed from that period. So I have all these books, books on the shelf from college that I look at and think that I read that and then I open it. And there are margin notes throughout the book showing deep engagement with the book. And I couldn’t tell you the first thing about it. And it is a sadness, but I feel like I read those books, obviously.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Well, first of all, there are lots of things that one has forgotten which have still marked you that have still an interest in you in some way. So you can have completely read a book and completely forgotten you’ve read a book, and yet it still had an impact on you. And that’s true of also a piece of music or a thing that you ate or a painting that you saw or anything. It’s funny the way we valorize books, it books, it’s it’s somehow some mark of it’s a moral issue somehow, whether you have read or not, read a book and you’re supposed to people talk about this and feel ashamed at not having read particular authors. I remember I used to be ashamed that I hadn’t read Dostoyevsky used to be ashamed that I hadn’t read Proust. And then I’m like, whatever, like a long, long life. There’s only so much to do. Who cares? Don’t have time for it doesn’t it doesn’t measure at all. But for me, I suspect that is the case, that for more than 90 percent of the books I’ve read, I remember nothing substantive from them, an enormous percentage. I remember nothing substantive. And so I like to think of this in the other direction, which is rather than thinking about all the books that I’ve forgotten and worrying about the books that I’ve forgotten, instead, I think about the tiny percentage of books that have actually affected me enough that I can quote for them or cite them, or that I reread them for comfort, or that they I know they guided me. And so I have I’ve adopted an extremely Marie Kondo approach to books, which is I just moved and I purged literally ninety five percent of my books. The couple of hundred books I wrote literally.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: But you kept an insanely enormous trench coat that we’ve been mocking you about,

S2: that I regret

S3: to say to your listeners, if you’re wondering where this is coming from, there is a picture of David Plotz that Claire Jefferey of Mother Jones excavated from her father’s picture archive, I think is where it came from. It’s picture most from her.

S2: Her and I used to work together.

S3: She posted a picture of David Plotz from nineteen ninety five in which he wearing a trench coat. That is enormous. When you think of the vaudevillian movies in which the gentleman throws the trench coat over the puddles that the lady may cross, imagine a puddle the size of Lake Michigan. This trench coat would cover it.

S2: Oh, definitely. It was like the suit from stop making sense of this thing.

S1: It’s really amazing. It is.

S2: And I still like it. But the thing was, I found it in my closet. I apparently moved it. Yes. Along with the five percent of my books.

S1: I’m really glad that we chose this slate plus that allowed for this interlude back to the book. So I love that idea. David, I one thing it empowers me to do is just go back and start over again. Especially with classics like If if all I remember is that I loved, you know, Middlemarch or Daniel Deronda to pick to George Eliot books I’m super fond of, I should just read them over again. It doesn’t matter that you’ve already read them, right? Like, that’s what I need to do. Yeah. Get over at my head.

S3: There’s a great book by Patricia Meyers Max, who I actually who taught me at UVA called on rereading, which is just the beauty and benefit of rereading books at different stages in your life. So I totally endorse that idea, Emily. But David, can I just as somebody who is about to move and whose wife is anxious for him to get rid of many of his books, and I say that only because she has a much sleeker vision of an ordered life than I do, which so it’s not a pejorative, it’s just a statement of the current state of play. The old books are like scrapbooks, though, because you remember at least the class you took them in or the period of life that you were in. I date my books. So at the front page, I know what you’re right.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: I date women. I date. Yes.

S3: That’s why it’s such a lonely life for me. And so I look at these books and I think, oh, right. I was doing this or that then or I wrote this or that in the margin at the time and therefore thought this was interesting. Maybe you don’t mark your books up as much as I do, but anyway, I find them. Is this like huge scrapbook in my house.

S2: I, I yeah. You have a deeper relationship, your books than I do. I absolutely do not feel that way at all. I mean I certainly I looked at books and like oh yeah. I remember reading that back then or that was the class I took then or I use that for research for that book. But they take up space, they have a weight. And I know I’m never going to go back and read them. And if I do want to go back and read them, I can spend, you know, five minutes finding at the library or twelve dollars getting it at the bookstore. I think this gets to the people who have who have deeply sentimental feelings about books and people who don’t. And and you have a deeper relationship to books because you have deeply sentimental feelings about them. I’ve none. I’ve none. We honna and I just went through as we were purging our house, we, we threw out an entire OED like we chucked an OED. It’s like there ought to be we should probably go to prison for that.

S1: Why? Because it was out of date. Why didn’t you give it to us?

S2: Because we had to do it all quickly. Like it’s almost impossible to get books away. The effort to, like, find a place you can give a bunch of books away to is enormous. And it was just like we had to deal with it.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: Jocelyn I think we should delete threw away delete this. No Brit BennetDavid literally

S1: hair is going to

S3: save David from himself.

S2: And I know it’s like my Twitter mentions. I did it. Yes.

S1: Oh. So one thing I think is worth pointing out that’s obvious, but you say it anyway. Books are different from paintings or movies, etc., because if you really read them, you spend a longer amount of time with them. I think that’s why I always feel so bad that I can’t remember anything. Also, my mother, who was an English major in college but is a psychiatrist, not a literature professor, remembers so much about novels like she remembers the characters names and the plots and like themes and imagery. And it has always just been astounding to me and made me wonder what has happened to that part of my brain.

S3: I think that’s why that’s true of and she can remember all these things, which is why maybe she does need to keep the books around because she keeps them around in her head.

S1: Well, I aspire to that, but I do not have it.

S3: Yeah, I know.

S2: Emily, you with me, you remember lots of other things and you are good. Your brain works in different ways and in ways that are clearly serve you. Because if you cared that much about remembering things in books, you probably would read more, read more carefully and make that a more central part of your life.

S3: Isn’t it pretty difficult? Right.

S1: I mean, to me, there’s also a huge distinction between novels and short stories, which are my favorite kinds of literature and nonfiction, unless it’s like novelistic narrative nonfiction, which is to say that even when I love a biography or another kind of, you know, nonfiction book, I rarely have an emotional attachment to it. And I think it’s really hard to use physical books as research. I find it much easier to go on Google Books to get things in digital editions from the library. Anything that’s searchable, a manuscript that is searchable is just such a boon right now. For the first time the spring, I reviewed a couple of books that were sent to me as PDF, so I didn’t have physical copies of them. It saved me hours upon hours upon hours. I really recommend it. John is horrified.

S3: No, no, no. I often have the Kindle version and the print edition of books that I’ve read because it’s so much easier to search and and cut and paste for when you’re quoting from somewhere. It’s not the same reading experience for me, but as a reference and quick access thing, it’s crucial.

S2: All right, Byfleet plus.