S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Enjoy.
S2: Hello and welcome to Slate, political gabfests for July eight, twenty twenty one, the Gab me baby. One more time addition. It just occurred to me as you were talking. Good work. I am David Plotz of City Kath’s. I’m here in Washington, D.C. I’m back from my vacation. Good to be good to be back with the gang. Emily Bazelon of the New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School joins us on the eve of her vacation. Hello, Emily. Hello. And John Dickerson of CBS. So that’s not where you were from? John Dickerson. Oh, the Sunday Morning and Face the Nation joins us. And it’s always a vacation with John John if he’s a human vacation, not really John work so hard. Probably not. Hello, how are you?
S1: I’m so happy to be back with us.
S3: I know I’m very I’m I couldn’t be happier to be back with you all. The only problem is I’m trying to decide at the beginning of each taping. I have to make a determination whether this office that I’m in, which is absolutely without any kind of circulating air, is going to achieve something by the end of the show where I will have been well, I will have suffocated and expired. And so I really want to weigh my words carefully before I kick off from heat asphyxiation in this room so
S1: that if these are the last points you ever make, that definitely give them extra weight.
S3: I know
S1: I feel every syllable carefully
S3: and I’m feeling the burden of that.
S3: Because it’s nine hundred degrees in New York right now.
S2: This week, John’s last words will be about the New York mayoral election and the state of urban progressivism. Then he will also have last words about the Senate candidacy of Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance. And then final words on the Conservatorship of Britney Spears, whether it’s an outrage and what should be done about it. Plus, we will have cocktail chatter if John makes it that far. Eric Adams, former cop, former Manhattan borough president, is very likely to be the second black mayor of New York City. Adams won the Democratic primary, the first ranked choice primary in New York City, beating both moderate and progressive candidates. He’s certainly the one of the most moderate candidates in the field. He notably defeated progressives Maya Wiley and Scott Stringer and Diana Morales running on not quite a law and order campaign, but something as close to you can add to that as you can do in New York. As a Democrat, probably the New York mayoral campaign gets. So you guys are closer to New York than I am John. You are a New Yorker. What why did this this candidate who is who’s a moderate in a field where people in a city which has a is one of its its most celebrated politicians and has this incredibly vibrant progressive movement, why did he win pretty easily in fact.
S3: Well, he didn’t win that easily, I guess.
S2: He barely won the right choice. I get confused by the rank choice. He’s like he ends up with a majority, but in a rank choice system, someone has to end up with the majority. So, yeah, that was just my mental confusion. OK, yeah, but, you know, that’s a fair point. He did not win that easily. But why did he win?
S3: Well, you know, the pause that that that we’re having there is I think it’s I mean, so. We know what he did, and then the question is whether he won because of those things. I mean, also we should note that in the rank choice voting, Kathryn Garcia came in second, not in the original ballot while she came in second in that, but then as the as the as the second choices and so forth were allocated over the course of it. In the end, it was Katherine Garcia who was closest to Adams, and she was not a particular liberal candidate either to the extent that while she was was supported by AOC and other progressive groups. I mean. The post hoc claim is that basically Adams built a coalition of working class voters based on a strong law and order message. Shootings have doubled since twenty nineteen and Adams ran straight up sort of law and order and safety campaign, not the Trump version of it, which is the gangsters are going to come ruin your suburbs, but that we need law and order in all communities in New York. And that was aggressively against Wiley, who had talked about reallocating police resources to social work and other kinds of I mean, people would have said defund the police. But I don’t think that’s exactly what she was doing. She was arguing for reallocation of resources. But that’s the quick take. I think it’s going to be more complicated than that. But I don’t think there’s been enough analysis to to figure out whether that fast take is the right one or just the immediate one.
S2: Emily. We have this phenomenon with Joe Biden, of course, and and now maybe with Adams of black and brown voters picking more moderate candidates than white liberals and white Democrats. Do white progressives misunderstand what black and brown voters want? Is that is their fundamental discordance. We are black Americans more conservative than than people think they are? Or is this a is this too much to be made of that?
S1: I think black and Latino voters are more varied than elite progressives of all races sometimes want to admit. I think sometimes black and brown voters get held up as this like monolithic force that is going to go for the most progressive vision of government for slogans like defund. And in fact, that’s really simplistic and doesn’t match the kind of dual concerns they often have in their own lives. I mean, this is certainly true about people in New Haven. They want where I live, the ninth borough where people want better police, not
S2: sixth, seventh and eighth.
S1: I don’t know. I just feel like claiming to be the sixth bro. And you’re like a lot in the most. By the end of the most plodding train line
S2: in Westchester,
S1: the country, Philadelphia could be in there, too, since it has a faster train connection to New York. Now I’m onto my favorite obsession onward. Yeah. So I think Adams was kind of perfectly created to drive progressive leaders crazy in that, you know, he’s this first of all, he’s kind of flamboyant, charismatic character. I mean, one of the first things he did after he won the primary was to get his ear pierced in some promise he had made. There’s just something kind of like zany about him there. He’s also tainted by corruption allegations. Nothing has really completely landed. But he does seem to be in bed with some real estate moguls. One wonders about the slices of New York that may be purchased at a cheaper price during his mayoral seat mayoralty anyway. We’ll see. And yet, because he is this black guy who’s talking about racial justice in the police force and his own history of fighting for it, which is real. But at the same time, I think his a lot of his message of public safety is very common sense and wisely moderate. But then when he said during the campaign, you know, I’d consider bringing back stop and frisk, not the unconstitutional version of it, but some version. I thought, oh, I mean, that really served a lot of particularly low income New Yorkers, black and brown people. And also there is no evidence that it was really necessary for keeping crime down because after New York ended it, crime continued to decline. So what is happening now with gun violence in the way is spiking is really terrible. But I don’t see the evidence that bringing about stop and frisk is the way to address it. And so I was relieved when later in the campaign, Adam started talking about things that are more about addressing the feeder’s of violence, by which I hope he means the underlying conditions and investing in violence interruption work in neighborhoods.
S2: What would it mean? Even I guess I’m a little bit confused about the state of progressivism in cities. It appears that in the city council elections in New York and again, I don’t know this well, I don’t live in New York so that the details of this are really beyond me. But it appears that they’ve elected a pretty progressive city council. The comptroller, the person who manages the purse strings is a is again pretty progressive Brad Lander. Yeah, Brad Lander is in the new district attorney. Yeah, kind of in that vein. Yes.
S3: What is it?
S2: What does it mean? What is is progressivism in great shape in this country, particularly in its big cities, or is it struggling? Because actually the Biden ism is is a counterweight to it? I just I don’t know.
S3: Well, if you look I mean, if you look at what President Biden has proposed distinct from I mean, and I think this is the important distinction. It’s the where are the thrust of the of the ideas and then what tactically has to happen to get people elected and get things through Congress as it stands? And so you can have that version at the local level, too. But if you look at what Biden has proposed, it’s more progressive than you would then certainly Barack Obama proposed by a wide margin. And that has to do both with where the party is, maybe where the country is, although I’m not I’m not secure enough to say that, but also where the politics in Washington are. So the party is much more progressive at its standard bearer, is much more progressive than the last Democratic president. But that doesn’t mean that both Biden, Adams and the congressional thrust going into the twenty twenty two elections won’t be more much more strategic and therefore have to be less invested in progressive signaling and maybe even push against progressive signaling.
S1: I mean, I feel like the materialist part of the progressive platform are popular and are holding up really well in the Bush administration. And we’ll just have to see about Eric Adams, what I think is less popular and that Biden and certainly Adams steer clear of is some of the message signaling some of the rhetoric, which I think is alienating to a lot of people. I mean, I will count myself among them some of the time. And so there’s the idea of actually improving people’s lives by how you redistribute resources. And then there is signing on to every single instance of language policing and just really monitoring the way people talk. And I think that is a more symbolic set of issues, which to me is less interesting and I think tend to get progressives in trouble. But now or in the land of confirmation bias,
S2: you’re in the defund the language police exactly. Same way you’re running on.
S3: Well, I don’t. Also, things are different. I mean, if you look at some of the polling and again, this is where I think it’s there’s going to be a lot of really interesting debate that’s going on now, but also throughout twenty twenty two as people assess what happened in this race and also think about how Republicans or Democrats will win in those battleground districts where control of the House and maybe control of the Senate are determined, you know, it’s split. Some issues that are associated with liberals are far more popular nationally, say on abortion, for example, there’s more of the country supports the quote unquote, liberal position that abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, whereas on other issues, it’s closer. It’s more the country is more conservative. And so to say that where the country is is very hard, particularly to say where some of these individual districts are. That adds to the complexity of of where progressivism is in terms of because a lot of what if you look at, for example, if you define progressivism by what President Biden has suggested, basically taxing corporations that don’t pay their fair share or what he says don’t pay their fair share. That’s what J.D. Vance is running on in Ohio. That has broad popular appeal. If you look at child care or elder care, that has massive appeal among Republican voters. So those would be considered big liberal squishy positions, but they have enormous support in the country as well.
S2: But John, this goes to the point that we get to all the time, which is they have enormous support until they associate with one party or the other. And then people sort of.
S3: Yes. And I should say, like I gave abortion the example of a liberal position on the conservative side, say funding police departments is more broadly approved of in the country. And that would be, say, considered a conservative position, to your point, David. Yes, there’s a once things become politicized, they sort. And then, B, there’s also obviously the huge and ongoing disparity between the political elites and political obsessives who participate in off year elections and participate in the kinds of conversations we’re having and then broad public sentiment, which is often disconnected from that. So most people would say, let’s say on something like gun control, where you have national support for it, but it doesn’t have support in Congress because it doesn’t go anywhere in Congress because of the way those who participate in the political process have different views.
S2: I want to close this segment with an amazing observation that may surprise you guys. You may be as shocked to discover this as I was. Did you know that Cuomo is still the governor of New York? I was I was like as I was as I was reading about the mayoral election, like, oh, my God, Cuomo. Who is you know, Samuel Andrews, bad actor, is sitting in the governor’s office apparently untouched, like bruising along on I-95 or on the, you know, the Henry Hudson Turnpike or whatever it is, it’s it’s amazing. He’s totally brazen it out. Politics has lost its ability to punish people. It’s bananas.
S3: Well, yeah. And north in Virginia,
S1: who was thinking about him, too?
S2: Northam is but north of it’s such a is a is a you know, as a one strike. Cuomo Cuomo with is the whole batting order struck out.
S3: Right. Struck out three or four times and then they just mangle the metaphors here, went through every key on the key ring and put it in the electrical socket. I mean like he kept making his situation worse when he talked about it and thereby, you know, refreshing the anger and outrage. And yet it wasn’t enough. It is it is kind of amazing. And by the way, the thing that may or may not be helping him, whether it’s just amnesia or people are too busy or whatever his role in handling covid. Now, so many reports have come out about how much that was
S2: a body even do a good job. He didn’t even do a good job. Yeah. Yes. And Northam only survived just to note, because the lieutenant governor who would have succeeded him was even more compromised and they would have happily, you know, cut and loose, had had just in Fairfax not been such a problematic figure, which is not true in New York. In 2016, JD Vance won wide praise for his memoir, memoir, memoir ish book Hillbilly Elegy, an account of his family and an account of how the white working class and the white non working class of hillbilly America lost its way. Vance was current conservative and Republican for sure, but he was very critical of Donald Trump for his anti-immigration anti-Muslim rhetoric and for a lot of Trump’s approach to the world. But now Vance has had a change of heart, as so many people do. He’s entered the Republican primary to succeed Rob Portman as a senator from Ohio and as expected, he is being trumpeted by the second. So Emily who who is Jadi Vance? Is he actually an interesting Republican? Does he represent something new or is he just going to be a Trump clone, as everyone seems to want to be these days?
S1: I mean, I’m kind of interested in him. I mean, he’s the kind of Republican that we, the media, give too much attention to just from the get go because he has this hardscrabble family history. His family’s from West Virginia. His memoir is about growing up in Ohio in a really dysfunctional family. And he wrestles in the memoir with how much individual responsibility his parents and even grandparents bear. And he really comes down kind of hard on them. So he’s not like, oh, you know, the conditions, the systemic problems that these white poor people face really account for what’s gone wrong for them. He’s willing to allocate blame more directly, and he got a lot of attention for that. And then he went to Yale Law School. I don’t know him personally at all and became like a really successful tech guy. I mean, one of the key funders of the PAC supporting him is Peter Thiel, the libertarian Silicon Valley investor. So he’s got all of these pieces of a kind of Republican dream candidate, all mixed up, all blended together, I should say. And it’ll just be really interesting to see whether he just moves in this Trumpy direction, which presumably is what he’s going to need to do to win the primary. He had called President Trump’s stances in 2016 immoral, particularly regarding immigrants, and seemed at that point to really be able to put his finger on the way in which Trump was using this hateful rhetoric toward immigrants to try to take advantage of white working class voter frustration with how jobs had migrated abroad. And, you know, these very real problems in the Rust Belt economy. Now, he just seems to be saying, like Trump’s good guy, he made a lot of good decisions and I’ll leave it at that. And that is not the same kind of Republican he was in 2016. But there’s no way he can be in this field without bending the knee. And so if Trump’s power to endorse the candidate is going to be what makes someone win, that’s a necessary move. But also, I don’t know why Vance would be able to get that endorsement anyway. It’ll be interesting to see if Trump sees him as someone he wants to try to support or just like punch in the face. Yeah, rhetorically
S2: speaking, I mean, John, there are a whole bunch of candidates in this race already, Republicans running, including Josh Mandel, who lost a Senate run earlier. But they’re all pretty Trump. Is there space in the Republican Party for someone who decides to be slightly less Trumpy, and is Trump’s voice going to decide who gets the Republican nomination and therefore almost certainly the Senate seat?
S3: I think Emily is exactly right about the obsessive attention that we paid to J.D. Vance. And, you know, we constantly pay excessive attention to all kinds of people for the wrong reasons. One thing I think he warrants some additional attention. There are a bunch of different things there. The questions you raised, David, which is he is more proof of the power of the Trump market. Listeners may have heard me talk about this before, but here’s a person who came to fame, considerable fame, as an insightful bridge between kind of either left wing elites or just that country in general and a specific part of the Trump constituency. And what was great about it is it coincided with Trump’s rise. It wasn’t an explanation of it to the extent it didn’t come out after Trump won, it was published in the middle of it was published in 2016. So it was insight into in his Emily said what made it interesting was it wrestled, it embraced complexity. And one of the things we all hate about politics is that it kills complexity. Everything is binary. So one of the things about his journey that he’s gone on, Jadi Vance is he’s gone from being a person of complexity to being a person of binary trump market adherence. And that just gives you some further indication of just how super powerful that market is. He was notable because he could translate with all the corrugated to use David’s excellent and favorite word, not favorite, but the corrugated aspects of the white working class and Appalachia and the non-working poor white class, all of its complexities. He understood it and spent a lot of time rising in life as a translator of that world. But now he’s saying and supporting Donald Trump that he kind of miss that he kind of has come to a new understanding of that group. So he’s so he’s kind of taking two bites of the apple, which means did he have it wrong the first time because he’s now got this fresh revelation. But then and this is this is not the extent of all the interesting things of this campaign. One thing about being a kind of whatever a flip flopper or embracing your flip flopper harness is that, in fact, that’s not a bug. It’s a feature, because what he’s doing is he’s going into the middle of the town square, getting a lot of attention for it and tattooing a huge, you know, Donald Trump on his chest. You take no penalty for being a flip flopper and you get the benefit of a public embracing of the kingmaker in the Republican Party right now. And so you could imagine almost that in Republican primaries, if you were a candidate and seeking an instruction booklet, the number one thing to do would be to do some super high profile switch and show your allegiance to Donald Trump because you get all the fresh attention for doing what is the number one thing you have to do in a primary. And so in old days, it would have been seen as a downside to change your position in this context. It’s probably the best thing he can do now. Whether it actually helps him or not, I don’t know.
S2: Yeah, I mean, it is
S3: I can add just one other very quick thing, which is we were talking about the previous topic. One thing that J.D. Vance, if he if he just sticks to sort of culture war stuff and critical race theory, and that won’t be interesting. What he said in one of his interviews with Molly Ball in Time magazine was he basically talked about how the rich corporations aren’t being taxed enough. And he said, who built the roads and bridges that allow you to do business, which is basically exactly what Barack Obama said in twenty twelve about you didn’t build that. In other words, government has some role in this economy. It’s something that you can never say as a Democrat. It’s really interesting to see somebody in a Republican primary trying to say that now he may say it only once and never say it again. But if he is saying those kinds of things, that might be actually interesting to see what the market is for those ideas, which are not traditional country club Republican versions of taxation and government spending.
S2: Well, I think where he seems to be going is that there is an elite that needs to be destroyed. And this elite is certain big corporations that he doesn’t like big tech.
S1: It’s like Josh Holly. Right.
S2: Well, and Peter Thiel, it’s like whatever Peter Thiel picks.
S1: But I mean, actually, if you were being consistent, you would want to destroy Peter Thiel. But it’s like the rhetoric of like shaking your fist at big tech and other big corporations and
S2: big government and government, too, though it’s also a government
S1: that is. Yes. Yes, you’re right.
S2: But it’s one of the things I find interesting. Emily Bridgette, which I’m interested in you as a hillbilly Elegy ologist talking about is that hillbilly Elegy was not victimology. It blamed people for their own problems. It says you are you are responsible and not for everything that’s gone wrong with you. You’re not you did not create the opiates that are flooding your community.
S1: Consider taking that. You’re taking them, holding your response. You.
S2: You’re not going to church, you’re not working hard, you’re not raising your children, and now Vance is moving towards the general position that everyone wants to take, which is that we’re all we’re victims were victims. You were a victim. You’re a victim of these shadowy forces, these corporate elites that are controlling you and and have had made life terrible for you. And and I guess we’re so the the Democratic line on this tends to be your victim and government can help you because these you’ve been exploited by the Marcato. You’ve been exploited by some rapacious person that wants to exploit you and work. Governments care to help. Vance was occupying the old traditional conservative, which is you’re responsible for your bad behavior. And now he’s occupying this Trump world, which is your victim. And it’s also the shadow elites. And we just have to crush the enemy.
S1: Yeah, I think that’s really well put and interesting. And it shows that the personal responsibility line may not be very politically popular or useful, especially in a Republican primary. I mean, I was also interested going back and reading things he’s written before, lots of disbarring about church attendance declining. That’s something that people are individually choosing. Right? I mean, I wonder as a politician if that’s really a winning line, because if that attendance is going down, then you’re kind of berating the people you’re trying to get support from for not going to church. I wonder if how receptive people like I wouldn’t want to be berated for not going to synagogue. I have my own reasons for my religious worship.
S3: I think that might have been just him doing analysis rather than him being a politician, which it would be. Yeah, that would be an odd argument for people to make as a politician. Exactly. But one thing that interests me about the tech argument is he’s arguing that his time as a venture capitalist gives him unique insight into how to take on the tech companies, whatever. That’s what you got to do when you’re when you’re running for office. In my case, I would run for office saying wearing a green hoodie and having blonde hair gives me unique insight into the problems of the world. You just define the problems of the world as linking directly to whatever clothes you happen to be wearing at the moment. And so whatever it’s what you got to try and do. But you’re not
S1: even wearing a hoodie doesn’t. Yeah, that’s embarrassing. OK, it has a hood anyway.
S3: But what’s interesting, so he’s got to go with what he’s got to go with. So will he get any purchase. And if so, that’s interesting. But but secondarily, what interests me about it is he is embracing both by embracing Donald Trump in the culture war that Donald Trump represents, but secondarily with this tech argument, because the tech argument is essentially a culture war argument, which is these elites are telling you what to do and how to live your life, which is kind of like what he was doing in his original book in terms of of making moral claims about the way people were living their lives. Nevertheless, he’s taken on a kind of traditional political culture war argument here. He’s appealing essentially to extremely online and the and the extremely involved in conservative politics. But that is the kind of behavior that elected all of the politicians that he rails against in his or that that those people he talked about in his in his book Rail Against, which is those politicians who basically win based on these kinds of cultural appeals and never, never do anything to actually help people. It’ll be interesting to see if basically he follows the playbook that led to the conditions that he wrote about in in in his book, which would be as kind of secondary step away from what he wrote.
S2: Slate plus members get bonus segments on the Gab Vance every week. We love doing our bonus segments and our topic this week. Is should you quit Twitter, the Britney Spears, Conservatorship, or to use the term that is used in other states that are not California, guardianship is all over the news. It got the mark, the cultural imprimatur of great importance, which is a Ronan Farrow investigation done with Gina Tolentino in The New Yorker, as well as The New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears that came out, I think, last year about the guardianship. Spears made a remarkable live appearance in a late June court hearing about her 13 year old constraint in which her entire life, her finances, her personal life, her medical and work decisions are controlled by others, mostly by her father, but by others. She made a remarkable appearance in late June in which she said she wanted it over effectively and gave a very impassioned speech about the level of control that was being exercised over her life. A middle aged woman of enormous talent and huge wealth and huge success. A mother and an adult who she was clearly capable of incredible accomplishments, and she presents the fact that she is being controlled in this way. So Emily what is a Conservatorship? And is what has happened to Spears’ unusual or abusive? And I should note stating this question that her conservators deny a lot of Spears’s allegations about what she says has been done to her.
S1: What’s happening to her is abusive, whether it’s unusual or not. I wish it was unusual. I think it may not be. I mean, so what’s supposed to happen in a Conservatorship in California? Our guardianship anywhere else is that there are some showing that you are unable to manage your own affairs. And then there’s a court case where the judge appoints a responsible person or an organization that’s the conservator to care for you and make decisions. And then there’s a lawyer who’s supposed to represent the conservative tea you in this arrangement. And everybody is supposed to be doing what they’re supposed to be looking out for your interests. What seems to have happened in this case was after a very brief hearing at which Spears was not present and did not speak, a lawyer was appointed.
S2: This is back in 2008.
S1: Yes. This is back in 2008. A lawyer was appointed who really seems to be mostly representing the interests of Spears’s father, who is the main conservator power in this arrangement. And everybody seems to have terrible incentives to keep this arrangement going indefinitely. They’re all being literally like fed by all by the money that Britney Spears makes. So, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. If she tries to challenge the Conservatorship, she has to pay for the opposing counsel’s fees, as well as her own efforts to get representation which have failed. This judge in this case seems completely irresponsible in the way that she’s handled it. And it’s possible that Britney Spears has much greater mental health challenges that are apparent from this recent set of facts. But whatever is going on, the idea that you would keep it going this way and that effectively the burden is on Spears to get herself out of the arrangement, that is, first of all, like incredibly just disturbing for to hear about any adult in that kind of arrangement. And second of all, it seems like just totally counter to the law and that the lawyer involved in this who’s now asked to resign seems like he’s been really just I mean, I it just seems really appalling all around. And Spears herself, I think, really put it well. She said I shouldn’t be in a Conservatorship if I can work and provide money and work for myself and pay other people. This is something she said in court last week. It makes no sense. The laws need to change. And that just seems very clear. I mean, you can imagine an arrangement like this for someone who, you know, is older or suffers from serious dementia, has some other truly debilitating mental condition. But none of that seems to be true of her. And the limits on her freedom are just really upsetting. And so this seems to me like the rare case in which the complaints of a huge celebrity are entirely justified and illuminating in a way that we really, really need to pay attention to.
S2: How often are there guardianships placed on young people who are not suffering from dementia?
S1: I mean, I really hope the answer is almost never, because this is such a restrictive arrangement for someone like her. Right. There are other things you could give away, some limited power of attorney. You could have someone who helps you manage your financial affairs. This is not that. This is someone who. Medication and therapy is controlled, who says she can’t take out the birth control device she has, it’s preventing far from having children. I mean, this is really, really coercive, scary stuff. And it the like eeriest part to me reading was it seems like her efforts to assert her independence are used against her and that mental health treatment, including prescribing lithium, which is a drug with really serious side effects, are just being used to control her whenever she tries to speak up for herself. That’s really haunting.
S3: What struck me in reading about all the little market that exists for Hangers-On or maybe Helper’s, but there’s a market in the world for lawyers and agents who manage the careers of women who’ve been destroyed by the public eye, by the paparazzi, by the fame, by the media, that that this is a Conservatorship that is perpetuated by a society that is like waiting with sharp cutlery outside the door, that that ruins the lives of any young women who become famous. It’s not just Spears’s story. It’s that she is another one of the kind of collateral damage of a of a process of fame that is grotesque in our culture.
S1: Right. And it seems like maybe at the outset this Conservatorship was agreed upon as a way to protect her from these, you know, presumably men who are going to come in and steal all her money and exploit her. The problem being that it seems like her father is perhaps chief among those men. And in any case, the idea that you’re going to take away someone’s freedom, even if it’s freedom to make some really bad choices, like that’s a very serious step. And it also feels like this all got tangled up with her custody battle for her kids in a way that feels like super gendered and unfair to her.
S2: Yeah, it’s very it’s really complicated. And a lot of the the defense of the the Conservatorship is, well, look, she has a sixty six million dollar fortune. She’s been her money has been managed capably. She hasn’t squandered it all the way. She hasn’t been exploited by this. Truly. It did seem like she was surrounded by various parasitical people, not just her father, but she was surrounded by other parasitical people who were not her father, who were taking advantage of her, and that she was perhaps not did not have good instincts or defenses to prevent them from taking advantage of her. But money is not like money is not the be all and end all. The fact that Britney Spears now is sitting on sixty six million dollars, I’m sure it’s nice. I’m sure she’s she’s glad that she can buy gasoline when she needs to buy gasoline, but it, it doesn’t replace the sense of autonomy and will and, and freedom that matters for life. And part of what makes life worth living is the freedom to make bad decisions. And it also doesn’t sound like she is a person who puts others at in danger her. She loves her children. She wants to be a good mother to her children. No doubt the way she bothers her children is not the way you mother your children or the way you know, every person mothers their children. But that doesn’t there’s no evidence that she is a she’s an unfit mother. And so it’s it’s a painful situation. I also want to make sure we don’t overread into it the situation of one one particular celebrity, one particular vulnerable person, and therefore assume that guardianships and Conservatorship are are never to be to exist and are completely corrupt, because I don’t think that’s the case either.
S1: Well, so I agree with you about that. But they need better guardrails. I mean, the law should not allow for this kind of situation where you have this indefinite continuing, continuing and the people in power are the ones profiting from it. Like that’s not OK, even if there are other situations in which guardianships are much more warranted and are really being carried out in the best interests of the people who are being guarded. And another thing about all the money, I mean, she doesn’t even have to have access to this money, right? They have her on a pretty limited allowance. So did you
S2: see that stat? We’re sorry to interrupt. Where I don’t know if his current, but that her allowance is less than her lawyers being paid.
S1: Yeah, I mean, come on,
S3: there seems to be a perpetual machine at work here, which is that they don’t dare let her return to the freedoms of the life. That is inescapable for her. I mean, it’s like saying we can’t let a race car driver drive in a car because race car driving is dangerous. But he’s a race car driver. I mean, the things that she is in danger of doing, presumably, and that the Conservatorship is is protecting her from is her bread and butter is the that throbbing machine is always going to be a reason to deny her her freedom, which is which isn’t correct. But that does seem distinct to her case, which, you know, so for example, if I’m a troubled teen and there’s a conservative and Emily tell me if that’s not even a situation which you would have Conservatorship, but in an. On celebrity Conservatorship relationship, it seems to me the bar would be lower for releasing them back into the regular world because the world would be more regular than the extremely screwed up world in which Britney Spears has to live a world made screwed up not by her actions, but by society’s.
S1: These are for adults. So if you’re under the age of 18, like you already have your parents in this
S2: world, you’re already in a Conservatorship. All right. All of us have conservative.
S3: But but are there instances in which somebody after they’re 18, I could imagine, you know, for example, they’re in college. So they’re they’re post 18, but their parents still have some relationship over them. Do they go and do what’s the normal use case of a Conservatorship?
S1: And I think the normal use cases, really, elderly people with dementia. Yeah, OK. Right. And college students actually have lots of rights. For example, if you seek psychiatric treatment in college, your parents do not have the right to find out about it, what’s going on. And that’s like a really difficult issue for colleges acting and local parents to turn to the Latin for a moment. But teenagers over the age of 18, like they have the right to make their own decisions.
S3: So I just guess I don’t see how Spears this case is grotesque and interesting and varied as it is, really has that much attachment to the lives of other people.
S1: Well, I mean, the law shouldn’t allow for abuses like this. And sometimes, even if it’s not that common, this particular instance, it’s still showing this very cosy arrangement among these different repeat players in the California system. And I think that’s worth exposing. And also there are situations in which people are really wealthy, frankly. And so, yeah, maybe they have mental instability or disabilities, but do they really need something as restrictive as this arrangement when more limited options are available?
S2: There’s a pretty good movie called I Care a Lot, which is about a corrupt guardian and it’s about a woman played by Rosamund Pike. And it’s it’s it’s disturbing and it’s about how this happens to old people, too. So it is it has implications beyond just Spears’.
S1: I mean, when you think about taking away someone’s individual freedom to make choices, like that’s a very extreme thing to do.
S2: Let us go to cocktail chatter when you’re wearing a green hoodie. Hotovely greening around John Dickerson and having a drink, what are you going to be chattering about?
S3: My chatter is about Congressman Andy Kim, who represents the 3rd District of New Jersey. When I was interviewing Lonnie Bunch, who’s the secretary of the Smithsonian recently, he talked about how they have this rapid reaction force after historical events like the the riots on January six, where the historians kind of rush into the community. And this was done also after the Black Lives Matter marches to grab historical artifacts and not just pick them up off the street, but find ones that have significance to the community and to to gather the stories that that fill up the significance of these artifacts. And Andy Kim wore a blue suit on the day of the riots on January 6th. And and then after the riots took place, he wore what he was wearing that suit when he cleaned up the Capitol and he received some notoriety for basically mucking in and doing the sweeping up the glass and turning the lecterns back over and basically beginning immediately the restoration of the physical building that had been desecrated by the rioters who’d been inspired by the outgoing president. And that suit is now going to the Smithsonian. And what interests me about that is that why do you wear a suit at these moments? You wear a suit to dignify the ceremony that’s taking place and the ceremony and the desecration of the sand. Why are ceremonies important? They are the handing off of traditions over the course of either a religion or a family or a country. And you you honor the traditions by wearing a suit. And, of course, what was being done on the 6th was a dishonoring of those traditions. All of the architecture and all of the ceremony was was meant to honor something. And there were people there to desecrate it. And so the choice of wearing a suit to clean up after the desecration has to me this interesting connection between ceremony desecration and what we honor. We put things in museums to remember the desecrations, but then also remember the other parts of the desecrations, which is the to honor those things that endure that that live throughout American history, even when America has fallen and stumbled, the things that represent the best of America. And those are the things that we go visit to be reminded about. So that was all going through my head when they entered this into what I guess will be some future Smithsonian exhibit on the 6th of January.
S2: Evars, what is your chatter?
S1: I was listening this week to this American life, to the episode that they called their I fixed it and I thought that the journalist Lena Muskies did a really good job of exploring the complexities of Congress’s efforts to regulate sex trafficking, in particular online ads from Backpage, most notoriously. So, Congress passed this law called Cesta Foster a couple of years ago. Cesta a short for Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act. And the idea was that you could stop sex trafficking by going after sex ads on the Internet. The problem with this law, and I think Lena shows this really well, is that it’s not about harm reduction. It doesn’t really think about the collateral consequences. So everyone agrees that, you know, sex trafficking generally is terrible, that sex trafficking of children is diabolically terrible. And so the idea that you would allow Backpage to keep showing ads that would include that is horrible. You can totally understand why Congress wants to stop that. But they also outlawed ads for consensual sex work and that drives sex workers underground. It pushes more people who do it out into the streets, into more dangerous situations. And Lena found a really good person to talk to about this, a woman named Kara who had been sex trafficked and describes that in really disturbing detail, but then also tried to do consensual sex work for herself later in life and was really undone by the limitations in this law. So I recommend the segment. The last thing I’ll say is that one of the problems this woman, Kara, had was she had a record for prostitution citations and arrests. And so that was part of why she didn’t get a different kind of job rather than doing consensual sex work. And that is also an argument for decriminalizing sex work, because it really feels like that’s a hinge point in her story. If she hadn’t had that kind of record, she might have been able to find other kinds of work.
S2: My chatter, first of all, this is not my chatter, I have been defeated, Justice Stephen Breyer, you’ve defeated me. I surrender, you win, America loses, but you win out no more. No more. Brierre, Pantages. I did my best. I thought I would I thought I would outlast him. But I. I’m conceding defeat because Justice Stephen Breyer, I had been imagining that Justice Stephen Breyer had resigned, retired from Supreme Court, which any normal person facing the circumstances that he faces would have done given given the political situation and the situation on the court and his his advanced years. And and so I imagined over the past, I don’t know, six months the different situations that retired Justice Breyer might have found himself in. And now that he’s made it clear he’s going to remain on the court, apparently at least another year, maybe many more years, I just cannot continue to create these fantasias. He’s he’s there. He’s stuck. And it’s just too painful. And and listeners are, I’m sure, sick of it. And it was fun while it lasted. I had a great time. Maybe we’ll put together a whole collection of them. There were some good ones in there. I got I enjoyed doing it. But whatever my actual chatter, however, is I was away on vacation with my kids in New Mexico. New Mexico is a like a twelve out of ten state if you have not been there. Wow. What a great state. What amazing state. But I want to talk about my favorite place, the besty. Dena’s in wilderness, the besti badlands. It’s known more colloquially, and it’s an area in the northeast part of the state. It’s maybe about the size of Washington, DC, and maybe it that that big maybe not quite that big. Twenty square states. Twenty square miles. It’s just off the Navajo reservation near the town of Crown Point on the Navajo reservation. And it is a absolutely mesmerizing alien, wild landscape of wind and water carved Hutus, these sort of sand statues, sandstone statues, that sandstone that ends up carved in the shape of giant eggs, delicate, impossibly thin, wind carved towers, more petrified logs than you can shake a stick at. It is one of the most beautiful and strange places I have ever seen. So if you go and I strongly suggest you do go, you should go with Navajo Taus USA, which is a native owned guide service. Loved it. My kids loved it even more than I did and the drive to it is so gorgeous. So check out the the Besty Badlands in New Mexico, if you possibly can. It is it is well worth the the diversion, the excursion to it.
S3: And we should note, as you fly on your plane to get there, you should read Emily cover story in The New York Times magazine. Thank you, John. You know it after so much and so long working on the piece, it’s it now lives in the world and people should go read it, read it, listeners.
S2: You send excellent chatters to us every week and please continue to keep them coming. They they cheer us up. They educate us, they divert us. And we love sharing them with them, with everyone else who listens to the gabfests. And this week’s listener chatter, which was sent to us via tweet at SlateGabfest comes from William Quill.
S4: Hi Gab. This is William Quill Cleanup from Japan Internet. My sister is a graphic display from the project that uses national flags to the country. Most New York Times headlines for each month from January nineteen hundred to the end twenty eighteen. It’s great visualization of changing foreign policy interests and Asia kingdoms carry the early twentieth century fading away. Decades go on, never disappearing. Germany dominates in World War One. The last one to refer to. But this more of the next interest Danni’s and axis countries there at the start and end of the Cold War. But it’s China that has been there since 2008 after Iraq makes the headlines. It’s fun to spot where a country breaks through trance, I found out in June 1920 during our war of independence
S1: that was fabulous from beginning to end. Plus, when I looked at the graphics display for this chatter, I was just completely mesmerized.
S2: Yeah, yeah. The months when, like Israel or Brazil, a lot of Vietnam, obviously, when we were at war in Vietnam and
S1: then a little like brief South Korea spot is just really
S2: surprisingly almost nothing for Afghanistan. That was what really shocked me. Afghanistan was very, very low. And I was and even at night, the month of 9/11 and the months after 9/11, it was there was the UK for some reason anyway. No doubt. No doubt the explanations that is our show for Today to Gab Fest is produced by Jocelyn Frank Arbitrageurs Bridgette Dunlap. Gabriel Roth is editorial director of Slate Audio. June Thomas as managing producer of Slate Audio. And Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of Slate podcasts. You can follow us on Twitter at SlateGabfest and tweet your chatter to us there, especially if you have a rolling, mellifluous Irish accent. Even if you don’t, you can still tweet your job to us there for Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson. I’m David Plotz. Thanks for listening. We will talk to you next week. Hello, Slate, plus, how are you? There was a piece in the Atlantic by the excellent, excellent, lively writer Caitlin Flanagan, which is headlined You Really Need To Quit Twitter. And it’s about how she forced herself to quit Twitter. She forced herself by having her son change her password and writing a contract which forbade him under any circumstances from giving her access to her account for a month. She did it because she felt herself undergoing changes, bad changes, the changes of addiction. And so she wanted to escape it. So the question is, should we quit Twitter? Should one quit Twitter? Is Twitter in fact, causing terrible mental incapacity in all of us, making us unable to read? That’s what Flanagan finds in herself, that she finds that she can no longer read anything and concentrate on reading, maybe even no longer able to write anything. Because we think in these, as she puts it, these haikus, these 280 character haikus, those of us who are spend time on Twitter. Did this strike a chord with you, John?
S3: Well, yes or no? Not with respect to Twitter itself, exactly. But I mean, so for the for the longest time, you know, I my great unpublished, really, truly groundbreaking unpublished series right before I left Slate on Restraint was all about this idea, which is now you know, it wasn’t new then and it certainly isn’t new now, which is that in the life of where we where there are so many institutions that we spend time with design to stealing our attention from us, targeting our most are most easily appealed to emotions and chemical dependencies to steal our attention that we have to find ways to restrain ourselves from immediate addiction. And for her, it was Twitter. For other people, it’s it’s email for other people. It’s living in the shallows of Pinterest. And whatever it is, you have to build a system to get yourself away from it, or else you can’t do the kind of work that gives you joy and meaning in your life. And as Cal Newport argues, in deep work, the kind of work that is increasingly valued by the economy. So everybody needs to find a way to get out of the shallows. And this was her attempt to get out of the grip of Twitter, which for her was particularly noxious. And there are lots of reasons. Twitter is for me. I basically have moved very far away from it on my own as an unpleasant thing. I don’t feel like it’s an addiction, but certainly recognize all of the baleful effects that she identifies as having a strong pull over her.
S1: Can I just start by saying what a delightful essay this is to read? And if all we get out of Flanagan a month or more away from Twitter is this one essay, it will be just like a boon to the world and is itself making the case for at least getting her off Twitter. Because this is just such a it’s the best thing I’ve read of hers in a long time. You know, what I was thinking about is that one of the things this essay gets at is the difference between quitting social media and desperately wanting social media just not to exist anymore at all. There’s taking yourself out of the game, which for her sounds like absolutely a healthy psychological move and better for her work. And then there is just wishing there was no conversation going on that you then had to feel excluded from or that you’d taken you’d excluded yourself from. I mean, I really do flirt with the idea that we would just be better off. Social media platforms didn’t exist whatsoever, that they do so much more harm than good that even with all of the wonderful celebration of free speech and the way that it has democratized participation in debates and I see huge benefits to it, including to my children, it also just causes tremendous damage, like apart from ethnic violence and ruining elections, which is like very real. I think that it also makes people really anxious and insecure in unhelpful ways. It definitely has that effect on me some of the time. I don’t think I’m addicted to it, but I can’t quite bring myself to get off it because it keeps going right. So it it creates this famo. And yet I also have just participated in it less because I don’t like the sharp meanness of it. I can’t figure out how to argue on it without feeling some kind of awful sense that I’m supposed to then go back and see what retaught someone has written back to me and I really, really don’t like that feeling through the day. So then I don’t argue and then my feet is boring.
S2: Yeah. Yeah. Your feet is boring. Yeah. Like mine too. And John has found a different way. John because you’re a huge Twitter phenom, you, you get lots of engagement and lots of but you are not your gentle soul. You’ve written the. What is the Julian alien satire? No, not that the Swiftian satire, it’s it’s very gentle. I’m definitely not addicted to Twitter. I use it. I post occasionally only to advance advance Gab fast or advanced city cast. Or when I was about to advance Atlas Obscura, I realized I’m not. I think if I were 20 years younger, I would find a way to be clever on it. And yes, we would all have it. All had to have done it. And because we’re we’re we’re clever people, we would have figured it out. But like at this age, I’m just I see no there’s no gain for me. And I don’t like the I don’t like the malice. And the people who are successful on Twitter are people who tend to be successful on Twitter in a way that I could imagine myself being successful on Twitter. I don’t really like and really don’t want to be like that. And so it doesn’t it has no appeal for me. And so it doesn’t. It doesn’t it’s not it doesn’t preoccupy me. I do. The thing that really gets at me, which Flanagan points to a lot as I, I too have really lost the ability to read. And I can’t tell if I’ve lost the ability to read because of social media. I doubt it, because social media, because I don’t spend very much time on social media or just life, age and all media and everything, everything is so distracting all the time. I’m constantly in a state. I mean, I’m just looking at my computer. I have like twenty tabs, different, different tabs open on my computer right now. No, no joke. And so this constant state of distraction, half attention I really dislike. But I don’t blame it on social media because I’m not really social media user. So what is it from where is that distraction and half attention from? If it’s not from Twitter,
S3: it’s the constant pelting of things that eat your attention, some of which are part of the business model of these things and others which are just we all live in a world where email exists, texts exist and the and it’s reversed the response requirement. So when you get a letter, it’s not the default position that people expect you to reply to the letter unless the letter says please reply. Well, but with email, the default expectation is that you’re going to reply. And when you don’t, then there is some social cost to that, et cetera, et cetera. Like you have to manage all of that. And that’s just one of the things you have to manage. I’ve found actually I’ve had to become intentional with like a timer and for my reading, for pleasure reading like the next twenty five minutes are going to be pleasure reading and not and I will not look up until I hear the alarm go off in order to restrain myself. From what you describe, David?
S1: Oh, that’s a really interesting tactic. Like part of me shrinks from that because the whole idea of pleasure reading instead of pleasure. So you didn’t have to do that. It’s like turning into my exercise regimen, a
S3: friend of mine.
S2: But it’s habit. Everything is habit.
S1: Good habit. Yeah, no, totally. That’s kind of also genius.
S3: A friend of mine was told once by a therapist, put intimacy on your to do list, which I thought was the most for the most wonderful kind of working at cross purposes. But it’s but it’s true. And David, you’re exactly right. That’s the hope. The hope is when you when you make it intentional, then you fall into the habit, which actually has has happened, and then you start to miss it. And that’s when you’ve really broken through the stranglehold of our you miss your twenty five minutes or forty five minutes or an hour or whatever you’ve mandated that you have to do.
S1: Can I say my favorite thing about Twitter? I love it when people who I have no relationship to at all in the world just like reach out to me and they tell me something I didn’t know or in like a, you know, kind of intimate, I suppose, or casual way. They just like their humanness comes across. Like sometimes that is possible on the Internet and it can happen in email or, you know, other settings. But I do find that that is real on Twitter. It’s just that the Malus and the performance is so much more prevalent.
S3: Well, I totally agree with you, Emily. And and it has it’s that thing that keeps me going. Also the serendipitous discovery of some person who you don’t know at all, but who post a really interesting little piece of writing or reminds you of something that you really loved and deeply transports you back to some important value that you care a lot about. It actually can be a force for good if you spend your time just oriented that way. Father James Martin during Lent says during Lent, you shouldn’t give things up, but you should just resolve to be kind. And so imagine for the period of Lent, every tweet you posted or boosted or everything you said was oriented towards kindness, towards lifting people up, towards shining lights rather than like pulling down the shades. It’s actually just simply a choice that you make. And what’s extraordinary is when you attach the behavior of those people. Who spray the most vinegar on Twitter to their biographies on Twitter and the value system and religions that they tend to boast about in their in their Twitter bio. It is sometimes extraordinary to see the disconnect between the principles and tenets of those religions and the behavior of those tweeting.
S1: Yeah, I mean, I also think that for journalists, this is a particular dilemma because, you know, there is more and more room for us to be our whole selves in the world and on social media. But there also should be limits. And often the people who do the best on Twitter are basically constantly breaking the rules, at least in my view, and transgressing in terms of what the limits should be and being incredibly opinionated and sometimes terribly divisive and watching all of that, I don’t want to participate in it, but there is a real incentive structure for it. And so I mostly think that for journalists it’s like just a trap. And yet at the same time, I also think that when one tweets, take someone down, that’s usually unfair and bad.
S2: Yeah. All right. Goodbye, Slate. Plus catch next week.