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S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate Political Gabfest for September 5th 2019 the prolix prorogue edition.
S3: I’m David Plotz of Atlas Obscura joining me in Washington D.C.. Back. Back is favorite gab fest substitute gab fest guest.
S4: Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post Hello. Hello and I thought it was prorogue and thank you for clarifying what would. What’s the alternative for Rog. I don’t know it all so I don’t I’ve never heard it said I’m like what sounds like one of those words you shouldn’t say out loud.
S5: That’s true. Well Boris Johnson is a pro rogue. He’s certainly a professional rogue. RUTH So great to have you back. You were honored to be here.
S4: I am about to finish up Buckley about a book about a book about justice Brett Kavanaugh who he is what happened and why it matters.
S6: All right. I can’t wait to see that really sitting here. Ruth is sitting in for John Dickerson who is hither and yon. Emily Bazelon of the New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School joins us from New Haven. Hello Emily.
S7: Hello David. Hey Ruth great they are here.
S6: Hi high on today’s gabfest is Joe Biden really the frontrunner for the Democratic primary. If he is can he maintain front runner front runner dumb then what on God’s green earth is happening in the British parliament. We will go into Brexit with a special guest Amanda Taleb of the New York Times. Then Have we turned the corner on the opiate epidemic or not. Plus we will have a cocktail chatter And a reminder that we are can be live in the Twin Cities on Wednesday September 18th at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul Minnesota. I’m thrilled to say we’re gonna a guest a special guest is Twin Cities based novelist Kirsten Feld the author of such magnificent books as prep an American wife. And if you think it I’ll say it such a good writer on politics of fiction the fiction of politics or the politics of fiction.
S8: And she’s going to talk to us about how to write fiction about politicians. And she’s just also delightful company so that’ll be fun. Get tickets for that show there just a few left at Slate dot com slash live again Wednesday September 18th and St. Paul Minnesota Slate dot com slash live what Ruth Marcus is going on with Joe Biden there the gaffe the confabulation stories the erosion in the polls the sense that he is he is tenuous as a front runner at best is he still the front runner.
S9: For the moment he is the front runner I feel like this is the point where you have to intone the polls are a snapshot of the moment and could change at any moment. But I do think we have seen this Democratic field and field of many a congeal field congeal. I don’t know it seems from take out but we know but it has winnowed.
S10: I think we don’t know if we all congeal I don’t know a flock of ducks whatever it is he is still at the top. But it is I feel like he both has persisted to use a word that’s not Joe Biden word but another politician word at the top of this field and it is very tenuous.
S9: He is like a gaffe or two away from not being the front runner.
S8: What Emily what is the tenuous a.. What. Why do people sense that it is tenuous he has had this position at the top really since the moment he entered the field you know except for one outlier poll. He has always been at the top everywhere. Why do people seem to feel like this is not a strong solid state for him to be.
S11: I don’t think it’s that tenuous and I maybe your listeners remember this but before Biden got into the race I think we all not you Ruth. But I think the rest of us wrote him off. It seems like he was too old too gaffe prone too much the past of the Democratic Party. But instead it has been true for months that there is support for him in the party. And he according to some polls does not have like an enthusiasm gap. He has high numbers are very favorable among different groups of Democrats and he is also the person who polls the best with moderate Democrats with African-Americans which is much less true of Warren and Sanders.
S12: So I think it’s a pretty abiding support and preference. I mean it’s sort of I still feel like it’s his to lose. It’s possible that he could lose.
S11: And he has this problem in Iowa which is that because that’s a whiter electorate. He might actually do worse there. But I feel like we should take seriously the relative breadth of his support. Right. I mean Warren’s still polls really well with very liberal Democrats and white Democrats who are very liberal. But she hasn’t really shown that she can make that support more broad. And I also feel like Bernie also still seems particularly to me of the three of them like the most of a niche candidate. So yeah Biden knows his weaknesses but he may also be the person who’s left standing at the end if he doesn’t blow it.
S9: Well yes. That’s that’s the big if. And a couple really interesting things have happened in the last week or so. One is the interesting positioning of the Biden campaign to sort of preemptively lower expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire which is you know the smart thing to do but it’s not exactly an example of leading by strength of well our candidate could still win if he. And as as you point out his potential weaknesses in Iowa he could still win if he loses Iowa he could still win if he loses New Hampshire that’s kind of that’s true. But kind of not true as well if you look at history it has not been the case that a candidate has won the primary. Leaving aside a certain President Clinton without winning Iowa or New Hampshire and that was a particularly unusual case maybe all cases are unusual in the age of Trump. The other thing that’s happening is Biden seems to me to be suffering from a little bit of what I would call Hillary Clinton syndrome.
S13: And what I mean by that is that he becomes his own worst enemy as I can’t even think of how many columns that I rode out of absolute exasperation. And just to be clear I was a huge fan of Hillary Clinton’s and I kept writing these columns that talked about how she was becoming her own worst enemy. And that strikes me as equally if not more true of Biden and the example that I would give of that right now has to do with his really puzzling response to the story in The Washington Post about the conflating of the story about pinning the medal on a soldier who said he didn’t deserve it and why you would not say Oh yeah I’m sorry I should have been more clear it was this and I put this together and I will try to be clearer in the future instead of saying well the details don’t matter if the essence of the story is true. That just seems well I guess maybe we’re grading on a curve in the age of Trump but we shouldn’t. We need to grade on same curve of accuracy as we always grade on why you would sort of double down and make your problem worse instead of better with Hillary Clinton it was she wouldn’t apologize for what she had done that was clearly a mess up for Biden. He should just say oh I should have told the story in a clearer way. I’ll do better in the future and you can move on. Instead he dug himself deeper.
S14: The thing that I find so puzzling about the Biden campaign Emily is that there is nothing vivid about it that he is. He seems unable to articulate what he would be as president why he wants to be president. Other than that he wants to be president and his vision of politics seems so out of step with what appears to have happened in the country over the past 20 years.
S15: Do I understand like he has. He was the vice president for a very popular and excellent president. He did a good job as vice president. He is I think a man of honor and and devoted to service and he’s got his warmth to him. But beyond that it’s this this absence of kind of a verb to say here’s what I want to do is confound it.
S7: Yeah I mean he has he’s a nostalgic candidate right and the back to normal candidate and I think there are a lot of Americans who feel like if we can just rid ourselves of Trump that like that looks pretty good to them and maybe they even go back further in the past because Biden’s old enough to have associations with other decades as well. It is out of step with the way that both the Republican and the Democratic base think about politics and with the much bigger promises and push for systemic change that both Warren and Sanders are campaigning on. But I think there feels like a safety to it and that Biden can just talk about returning the country to normal that you know this idea of of being the safe candidate has appeal. It’s also true that some of the Democratic support is because people think he’s the person who can beat Trump. And so if he doesn’t win in Iowa New Hampshire and he looks editable instead of inevitable to him that’s one of those words that just happened like that right.
S16: I like it though every word.
S7: Double negatives have been bothering me a lot lately so I was trying to stay away from it anyway. If he looks beatable then some of that could slip away and maybe other candidates could benefit from that kind of slide. But I.
S12: Yeah I feel like it’s a mistake that you know especially people who like us like me I’ll just talk about myself who write about politics but not that surrounded by the people who are paying a lot less attention and who just want to feel like they can live their lives in like outsourced Washington and politics and policy choices and I feel like if you’re one of those Democrats Biden could have a lot going for him.
S17: Ruth what is the what’s the Warren kind of counter to this. I mean one one thing that I’ve read is is that well the first three states. I think the first three states Iowa New Hampshire and Nevada are well set up for Warren. And you can imagine if she takes two of those states or takes it takes all three of them that that completely alters at least the narrative about this and maybe drive Sanders out of the race or clears the field in some other way. What is the other case that that Warren should be making that oh this is this is actually my race not Biden’s race.
S13: Well I I think just what she is doing is having a plan for everything and occupying. Increasingly I think the turf of Sanders and so elbowing him out of the way and setting herself up very clearly and effectively as the Biden alternative. Biden’s strongest argument is the electability argument in fact when he talks about why he’s running and whether he would be running if he if it were if he were not running against Trump. It seems not. He is running because he thinks that he is the one who can beat Trump and that it is essential for him to beat Trump.
S10: And that is by the way a very strong and compelling argument to a lot of people including me. But the thing that I find confounding about it just to go back to Biden for a second is his kind of gauzy recollection of the very recent past of oh he talks about how we can have this awake kind of Rapunzel like awakening in the world after Trump where we go back to a situation where Republicans once again frolic happily across the Capitol steps with Democrats and we can all get along well. Note to Biden that was not true. Hello. Justice Merrick Garland before Trump we’d had a lot of conversation during the Obama administration of which I gather that the vice president was a part about how we were good the fever was going to break after this election or that election and guess what. The fever never broke.
S13: Republicans were not compliant or agreeing to go along with Democrats before Trump was elected and there’s not a lot of reason to think that we’re going to return to some happier time that didn’t exist in the recent past. Once Trump is out of office so I’m a little bit confused about why he is selling that case which he kind of knows is not the true case right that you’re raising thing which is just gets under my skin so much.
S15: Which is that the the example that Biden is always citing is McCain who’s not in office. There is no love Lindsey. The only person you can cite is this good editor who is who is basically disavowed by most of his party anyway.
S12: He only did one thing. I mean it was a big thing. But let’s not exaggerate his like amazing bipartisanship in the last few years before he did die.
S17: Do you think Emily that Ruth. Ruth has mentioned that there’s Warren is maybe elbowing Sanders. Do you agree with this analysis that we are at a three person race that really even Harris and Bhutto judge not legitimately in and that everybody else is completely illegitimately in it. And if that is if you do agree with that where where does that support start to flow once those people do tumble.
S7: I think has or Buddha judge could still pop back up. I mean the thing is we’ve seen them kind of Lot rise in the polls and then fall fairly quickly and so that lack of sustained support does mean that yeah. It is like if you’re looking at the polls over time it does look like Warren and Sanders and Biden are the only ones who are getting real traction. But there’s still so much time before the election. Like if I were them I would keep on going and there are a couple other people I don’t know like Corey Booker maybe just because I can’t figure out why he hasn’t taken off more who I would say the same thing about.
S12: I don’t know where all that support is going to go. I mean I don’t know is there really any way for us to know this is where I just feel like punditry starts to become like Meetup at least coming out of my mouth.
S16: RUTH. RUTH Well funded you know so much that you at least live inside the Beltway. You wouldn’t do that.
S13: So one of the things that’s really interesting to me and I’ve been thinking about this a lot is the paradox that the size of the Democratic field seems to have created this almost premature winnowing of the Democratic field.
S10: It was too big for people not to fail. So if and it it’s an interesting contrast to the Republicans in 2016 where everybody seemed to have cycled through and at least had their couple weeks of a real moment here.
S18: People didn’t even get their moment in the sun before they were shuffled off the debate stage and I think that’s partly because there were simply too many people for that to pay for us to be able to pay attention to any of them before they just receded from view. At the same time I think it’s wrong to think that we’re down to three because there’s a little bit of a buzzard aspect here.
S10: There’s people who are circling who could be the moderate alternative to a Warren Sanders if Biden as is possible and I don’t mean to sound so negative about Joe Biden because I really like him I’m much more politically attuned to him than any of the three remaining candidates in the bout completely winnowed field joking here. But I do think that he has the ability to shoot himself in the foot repeatedly and so there’s. If you were a booker or a club a char or anybody who can cling to the debate stage I thought it was smart first entered Gellibrand to get out of it if you’re not in the debate you’re not in the debate but if you’re any of those others it would be premature to get out and because you never know what’s going to happen in politics and one thing you know is if you’re not in the race you’re not going to be the nominee.
S18: So we’re not down to three but we could be down to two ish probably sooner than we thought we would be.
S7: Hey one person who I wish would get onto that debate stage is Steve Bullock. I feel like we’re really missing the Midwestern governor in the story and that because Hickenlooper wasn’t particularly compelling on the debate stage and has now dropped out. There’s like an opening there and I heard someone who knows more than me talk about this I can’t remember where that one of the problems for the governors is that their campaign war chest don’t just seamlessly turn over into federal races and so they’re at a disadvantage to these senators even though their experience as executives is much more relevant to the presidency.
S17: So two point one that was on daily thank you. I heard that Bullock is a western governor not a Midwestern governor. Just note he’s not true.
S11: Montana is the West. Yes.
S17: I’m glad that you clarified but I think that’s the other point about governors is that they represent a form of politics in a way. As Biden does it for a politics which is it’s hard to believe in so it is true at the state level governors still manage to get things done and because states kind of have to have balanced budget requirements and and you do have to run schools and and you know pick up trash and do all the things that’s licensed businesses the things that the states need to do. But again the federal the way the federal government works or doesn’t work these days is does not really bear any relationship to how state governments work. And so I think there’s a there’s a way in which the policy that that belief that oh these executives can come in and they know how government works and they can accomplish things. It’s harder to believe in that now than it was when Bill Clinton or George W. Bush was running for president.
S9: Well except that Washington works worse.
S18: So I think that the fat the fizzling of the governors or the seeming fizzling of the governors in the Democratic field is something of a surprise and it can’t only be explained by the fundraising and campaign finance rules of the situation because it used to be that being from inside the Beltway as Emily said is a debit for a presidential candidate not a plus that people wanted people governors who had had experience in actually running things and being executives and not just bloviating which is the fundamental job description of senators especially in the age of McConnell.
S9: What we don’t actually pass legislation anymore so I’m both surprised and disappointed that the governors haven’t taken off right.
S17: But why are you surprised I mean it’s a it’s a it’s a nationalized election. It’s an election about Trump it’s not about particular executive competence and there’s the sense that actually it’s so much the executive competence piece of it is not that important because Washington doesn’t work anyway and we really just need to get this this this villain out of office.
S9: Well we need to get the villain out of office but we would like to replace the villain with somebody who is in fact executive competent and the people who have over time tended to be able to demonstrate that executive competence are the people who have actually demonstrated it in office and I guess I’m not surprised to find to find governors doing so badly like people that’s not where people are paying.
S18: It might just be the age of celebrity that are that an obscure governor of a Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton could not actually serve us if we had the technology and media infrastructure then that we have now.
S17: Emily I want to end with you have one last question which is there is a very interesting piece by Paul Rosenberg. Cameras were where it was now I feel like Paul Rosen in Salon about Joe Biden and the persistence of Joe Biden and one of the points that Rosenberg makes which I found extremely interesting and persuasive was that yes Biden can win and it is certainly possible he can win for all the reasons that Romney cited but that it would almost certainly lead to a quite disastrous wipeout for Democrats in a couple of years as he would fail to get anything done because there’s this new do nothing resistant Congress and Republicans certainly will be Republicans in the Senate will have the ability to block anything significant that he wants to get done and he also doesn’t fire anyone up and it wouldn’t. The Democratic base will be disillusioned Republicans will be excited again and that that whatever kind of brief reprieve that the country has from Trump ism which will be a useful reprieve if Biden or anyone else is elected it in the long run it will not be good for the Democrats who need to move forward with a more active and aggressive and forward thinking politics yeah I do think I’m sympathetic to that argument.
S7: I mean as someone who does think we need bigger systemic change especially in terms of thinking about inequality and the way that the economy works and that you know huge and widening gap between the gains for corporations and the gains for workers that concerns me I mean one way to think about this election is that imagine that Trump is like Jimmy Carter so failed that there is an opportunity for a like more than snapping back to the status quo but actually like it’s a revolution like the Reagan revolution. I mean it’s not a real revolution but you know what I mean like a real victory for the other side. And I think that Biden would be a squandering of that opportunity unless he governs in a completely different way than he has so far been a politician or has campaigned. And that doesn’t seem super likely to me although I do flirt in my mind with the idea of him choosing a running mate like Stacey Abrams who is like this big progressive voice and then really giving her a platform. But of course I say that because I’m so in the bag for Stacey you know I just want to say one thing.
S19: I read that piece and I thought Oh for goodness sakes why don’t we just concentrate on the task at hand.
S16: That’s beating Trump and then we could worry about where things go later. And there you have it ladies and gentlemen the split in the Democratic Party.
S6: In a nutshell Slate Plus members like you. What did lucky ducky you are to be a Slate Plus member which you got for just thirty five dollars for your first year of membership. You get bonus segments on the gab fest and other Slate podcasts as well as ad free versions of the podcasts. And today on Slate Plus we’re going be talking about the court in North Carolina that just tossed out its very partisan gerrymandering effort by the Republican Party and what that portends for politics in North Carolina and in other states go to Slate dot com flash DFS plus to become a member today. It is like some form of Greek mythological punishment. You think Brexit will be done and yet it is never done it’s your liver being eaten every day is you rolling a Brexit shaped rock up a Matterhorn shaped hill and it rolls down and falls on Prince Harry’s head every single day. It just never ends. And yet it remains fascinating and horrifying all the same time. We are joined now by Amanda Tabb. She is columnist for the interpreter at the New York Times. She is joining us from London via Skype. Hello Amanda.
S20: Hi. Thanks so much for having me on.
S6: So let’s start with the challenge. One of my favorite things is sometimes when they do Shakespeare and 60 seconds and then in 30 seconds a first in 60 seconds I want you to explain what has happened in this tumultuous week in the British parliament and then you can do the same thing in 15 seconds. So are you game.
S16: Are you going to miss universe. I’ll give it a shot. Go.
S21: OK. This tumultuous week has been Boris Johnson’s. Government has said they want to leave the EU on October 30 first no matter what. And Parliament is trying to stop that. And so they have been attempting various bills that would give Parliament the authority to prevent what they call a no deal Brexit which is leaving the EU without any kind of agreement to still be able to have things like imports of fresh food and medicines and other minor unimportant life details like that. This week has seen incredible parliamentary shenanigans which included Boris Johnson attempting to suspend Parliament through a complicated procedural maneuver involving the Queen. Also the expulsion of 21 members of the conservative party for voting against the government.
S20: Members of the House of Lords were bringing sleeping bags and pillows into the chambers of Westminster last night because they were expecting to need to stay all night. But the eventual outcome is that Boris Johnson has lost his majority. Parliament now has the authority if it chooses to exercise it in the appropriate way to prevent a no deal Brexit.
S21: Boris Johnson has said that there should be a new general election. Weirdly the opposition parties have said that there shouldn’t be one yet because they are worried that this isn’t good timing for them. And now everyone is just very tired. I think everyone working in politics or covering politics in the country was up working until at least 2:00 in the morning last night. And so now people are kind of stumbling around bleary eyed wondering what’s about to happen next.
S5: Okay. Now 15 seconds.
S21: Boris Johnson wants to be the person best known for opposing Brexit. This week has been great for him because he has gotten to do that roughly every 20 minutes. But he’s lost his parliamentary majority and that no one knows when there will be a new election or when there will be a Brexit.
S16: That was right. I just want to add that his own brother has resigned from not just the party the Conservative Party but also from Parliament. I enjoy that. And from Big Brother at least I don’t have Thanksgiving. Good.
S22: So Boris Johnson was technically American. They might have they might have Thanksgiving. He had U.S. citizenship for a while until he renounced it.
S17: Amanda can you. All right. So let’s back us up. You’ve given us the kind of broad landscape there very quickly and persuasively. There was this moment last week I think Time Time stretches and compresses it with breaks it for you to get to what happened last week.
S20: That actually reminds me of my very favorite thing that happened yesterday which was at one point somebody proposed that the House of Lords couldn’t make it just stay Wednesday for as many days as they want.
S22: Their procedures. Somebody put forward that if they kept the debate going until I think ten thirty a.m. this morning they would be allowed as a matter of parliamentary procedure to extend Wednesday as long as they needed in order to kind of keep their legislative agenda and votes open and moving. And so there was at one point as far as I can tell a proposal under consideration to stop the forward march of time in order to try to make this legislative issue.
S23: If you were going to preserve one day that was going to go on forever would it be Wednesday. You to leave now. Oh no it’s Tuesday.
S16: Yeah. Sorry I interrupted you. That was a good interruption.
S8: So going backwards a lot of this seems to have been kicked off by prorogue the prorogue movement by Johnson. Can you just explain again to capitalism’s what that was and why that was so outrageous and was this all part of a deal. Is this all part of a deliberate Johnson plan to essentially explode everything anyway.
S21: So taking those questions in order pro Rogaine is basically an attempt. The reason it’s so complicated is that Boris Johnson is everyone believes using some shenanigans to run out the clock on legislative time before the Brexit deadline on October 30 first. So right now the country will leave the EU on October 30 first unless there’s some sort of intervention but there’s no agreement in place about how that will occur which means that the kind of dreaded no deal is on the horizon and everyone is very worried about it. Boris Johnson has done by prorogue and politics Parliament.
S25: He has basically set a Queen’s Speech for I believe it’s October 11th which is a normal thing that happens but carves out about a week out of the legislative calendar so it effectively suspends parliament while they’re dealing with Queen related tasks because of that and because there are parliamentary recesses coming up anyway that would essentially leave Parliament with only slightly more than a week to come to some sort of agreement about Brexit or stop Brexit. This was widely seen as kind of procedural shenanigans in order to run out the clock. I mean sort of the roughly the equivalent of if you were in a soccer game just kind of hiding the ball behind a bush and saying that they need to keep the clock running while you look for the ball.
S20: It has been very controversial even though it is technically something that you know they have an argument for.
S25: Under parliamentary procedure politically it’s been widely seen as a kind of out of bounds thing to do something that violates norms of British Parliament if not officially the law.
S11: So that is fascinating to me. It’s an example of constitutional hardball and your partner in the interpret O’Connor Max Fisher has a really interesting piece I think pointing out that what is happening in Britain that’s different from so many other countries that have had a populist right leaning uprising including our country is that constitutional hardball. Breaking news unwritten norms. It didn’t work. It basically blew up in Johnson Space and the opposition was able to prevent or at least like blunt the effect of this pro road gang strategy by taking back power through institutional means as opposed to playing a kind of game for tit of tit for tat. As Max says and that seems really important I mean I feel like we’re watching this incredible drama unfold and look if you don’t live in the UK and fear yourself the consequences of a hard exit Brexit then it’s all like entertaining. In addition to fascinating but it’s reassuring to see that you know 21 members of the Conservative party walked out that there were people in politics who were willing to put what they saw as the longer term health and safety of the country above the interests of their party anyway. I mean look it’s worth all the drama. But it seems like so far so good right.
S15: Can I can I get there. So what I want to argue with is I’ve been thinking about this a lot and one is I think as somebody who valorous as parliamentary democracy I think I always assumed well apartment parliamentary system always works because a parliamentary you always have a parliamentary majority if you don’t you have an election and then things get solved. And here you have an example where there’s a parliamentary majority it is now it doesn’t exist and so there’s there’s the government is unable to do the things that it wants to do. But I think what Britain has done with by putting the brakes to a popular referendum they’ve introduced a new source of legitimacy in politics a new a new foundation for legitimacy which is the popular vote to a popular vote for something you had a parliament which didn’t want the thing that the people voted for. And so you end up in the situation with with competing legitimacy is around politics and no majority for anything. So it is true that at this moment. Emily you’re right that there is that the that the defection of these Tories and the rebellion against Johnson has stopped Johnson’s parliamentary shenanigans which would have forced this hard Brexit but it hasn’t created. There is no legitimate majority that people can agree on which is able to accomplish anything. There is no consensus within the country either from the people or from the institution of government the parliament which says we are going to do this explicit thing and that we have support for it. And so it remains a complete crisis to me because there isn’t a list source of legitimate political majority anywhere right.
S7: I mean everyone seems really good at saying no but not figuring out what to say yes to. But isn’t the answer to that David what happens next. Right. Like do we have. Does the country have elections and then does actual solid majority come out of that for either you know Labour or the Conservative Party Boris Johnson or somebody else who steps forward. I mean if we end if the country ends up with all this fracturing and still no consensus then I think you’re totally right.
S25: So I think that’s something that is a little bit hidden right now is what the consequences of this will be for the Tory Party because essentially what has happened because these twenty MP is stood up and said they were willing to sacrifice their political careers is a whole bunch of moderates and kind of elder statesman types are now out of the party. And I was talking to Alice Moroney yesterday she’s a political science professor at Cornell and she compared it to kind of trump bifurcation of the Republican Party in the US she said you know this could prove a Pyrrhic victory if in the end what you have is a conservative party where everyone who is left is really going for this populist message that only the you know only the result of the referendum is the thing with legitimacy and Parliament should just be kind of delivering Brexit whatever the consequences. So I think that there’s the sort of short term feel good moment but because this is such a time of change and you know uncertainty in British politics it’s really not clear what the consequences of it are going to be.
S13: My fundamental question is is don’t we need another referendum.
S9: Don’t we need it. Maybe it’s in the form of an election but it feels like the British then the British people just don’t.
S13: Doesn’t the country the United Kingdom need another referendum because the people voted but didn’t necessarily understand or think through the consequences of what they were voting for and their representatives have had problem implementing that ever since. For that reason and we’re being governed by a referendum that might not have a majority if it were to be put get back again to the people it might something that I haven’t seen discussed as much is. That.
S26: In a way we’re actually in this bizarre stable equilibrium of instability where this current situation of it always seeming like Brexit is about to happen and thereby maintaining the Brexit debate and letting everyone kind of cater to the Brexit issue sides which right now are the most kind of powerful political identity is in the country is kind of working for people. I mean I think that for instance Boris Johnson’s position will actually get much weaker if there is a decision one way or another on how Brexit is going to go because right now he has really staked his political reputation on being the person who is fighting for this rather than the person who has a plan to do what needs to be done after Brexit happens.
S25: And so I think it even if there were to be a referendum probably the result would be the same thing I get continued fighting over the details continued insistence that there is some mythical solution out there that requires no sacrifices from anyone. And you know even if the result went differently the next time than you would just have you know the same thing again people saying well the first referendum was the more legitimate one and we should we should go with that or the second one was that then there would be maybe a third tiebreaker referendum.
S27: So what’s the exit strategy then. I mean then you’re just talking about like sclerosis. I mean it’s in some ways I realize that it’s sort of fundamental but it’s also like this huge distraction from actually making the country stronger better more problem you know more what’s the word prosperous Yeah.
S28: I mean as a procedural matter a parliament could revoke article 50 and article 50 is the legal mechanism that means Britain is leaving the European Union.
S26: But right now it seems like everyone is kind of waiting for somebody else to make the decision or there to be some other form of legitimacy for something that will resolve this. And it’s just not happening.
S5: Why is the British political system which I think Americans think of as having produced you know Benjamin Disraeli and Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher and Titanic Titanic figures. Why is it producing such as the.
S17: Titanic in a good way not Titanic like the ship Titanic. You know Atlas like gods gods among men. Why is the political system producing such weak parties and bad leaders. Why. Why is that why is there so little excellence in this. This magnificent system.
S29: One thing that I put a lot of stock in is the fact that party leaders are selected differently from MPD. So right now the two main parties have the system that is almost like a primary election on steroids where only people who are actually members of the party not just voters in that party. It’s not an open election like we have it US primaries can vote for the leader and those people just like primary voters in the US tend to be you know a little bit older more ideological ought to have stronger views on divisive issues.
S25: The same is true of the kind of party membership here in the UK and so that means that the people who in effect elect the prime minister are different from the electorate who elect the legislature. And I think that that has produced some really weird outcomes because the leader of the party in a parliamentary system has tremendous power over who gets to be an MP. As we saw when 21 of them just got expelled from the Conservative Party. But the system isn’t really taking into account that they have different constituencies and a lot of ways and different incentives. You know for instance both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn have the support of cut. You could call them the sort of more extremist wings of their respective parties and are very much kind of catering to them in their policies and their rhetoric. And that means that for the kind of vast middle of the voting public they sort of stuck deciding between going with one of the main parties even if it doesn’t necessarily match up with where they are politically or voting for a smaller party like the Liberal Democrats with the knowledge that they’re probably not going to win the election. And so in some ways you’re reducing the power of your vote and all that is just leading to a lot of weird weird outcomes in the party system.
S5: Amanda last question I know you yourself well I’m guessing judging by your accent that you yourself are not British.
S8: But what is it like to be in Britain right now in this endless state of uncertainty. What is the impact appear to be on people to be living in this moment of this fog that just goes on and on and on.
S29: You know it’s it’s very strange.
S28: It’s a lot of the time feels like I’m in this kind of never ending production of Waiting for Godot where everyone is talking about the thing that is maybe going to happen in the future but no and everyone agrees that it’s incredibly important but nobody knows exactly what it is or what it is we’re waiting for or if it’s ever going to come.
S29: And so far it’s not coming. But another way of life is sort of going on as normal. Everyone sort of tunes in at the end of the day to watch the BBC and see that you know Brexit is still uncertain and still might be catastrophic or still might be fine.
S30: And then they get up and go to work the next day and you know things are just kind of ticking along with a little bit less vigour behind them and a little bit less kind of excitement about the future.
S5: That sounds like a description of life itself ticking along a little bit less vigour a little bit less carry on.
S6: I think I have a motto Amanda to have writes The Interpreter column for The New York Times she is based in London thanks so much for joining us.
S31: Amanda thank you so much.
S32: The opiate crisis has ravaged the United States for more than a decade as many as 70000 people a year dying because of drug overdoses mostly because of opiates. Those numbers those fatality numbers have declined slightly in the past couple of years but it remains a tragedy of monumental proportions. Millions of Americans addicted to prescription opiates. Almost a million addicted to heroin and Fenton all which are nonprescription street drugs or in the mail drugs a case of fentanyl. And there’s this. We’re at this moment where there is this legal assault taking place on the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opiates. I don’t know that there’s a sense that anything has changed but the sense that maybe the crisis is has peaked and is on its way down. So Ruth start with the legal question are these companies being punished an appropriate way. Who should be punished. Why should they be punished.
S15: Should they cease to exist. Should they just be paying billions of dollars should they. You know they should their executives be whipped and flayed in the streets. What what is the right thing that should happen legally and is it happening.
S18: Well I’m not sure about whipping and flying but yes they should be punished and they should be punished for two reasons or in two ways. One is because you need to create a disincentive for companies to unleash dangerous drugs like this in the future. Effective but dangerous drugs in other words these are medications that were necessary for some people but that seemed to have been oversold overprescribed and under warned. And they the companies seemed to have known about it. They encouraged it. They incentivized their sales people to do this and they took no steps to stop it. So it is important to number one dis incentivize them from doing this in the future. And number two to find the source of funds their ill gotten gains billions of dollars in ill gotten gains to help people deal with the consequences of their addiction which is enormously expensive and enormously painful and uncertain process of overcoming addiction.
S27: It’s kind of like the cigarette litigation where you see a company basically realize how much harm it’s doing and hide the evidence for that from the public and continue to make a ton of money and then start to pay at least at first. What is basically like a tiny percentage of their profits in these legal settlements. The next step would be a kind of master settlement the way we had in the cigarette litigation where the drug companies you know there is one big set of settlement payments that you know really could be reparations really could make a difference in people’s lives and provide treatment. And we have not seen that yet. This is just like the beginning of any kind of accountability.
S13: And I think it’s also important to talk about the need for and we have we can’t sue the government and put government officials in jail for not doing their jobs here. But we need to find a mechanism for figuring out how the government failed its people here as well because if you look at the magnificent Washington Post series that got to this DEA database of millions of pills being sent to tiny communities well in excess of anything they could have legitimately needed. Yes. The pharmaceutical companies and the distributors and the pharmacists and everybody else should have known and should have taken steps to stop this.
S18: But also this was it within the knowledge of the government that is supposed to protect us and to protect us from the selling of dangerous drugs and it’s clear that as the pharmaceutical companies and distributors and everybody else involved in this process for what for financial reasons didn’t allowed this to happen to our country the regulators and the enforcers were equally or similarly complicit in their failure. And we need to have some reckoning on that as well.
S5: Do you think this is an unanswerable question I suppose. Do you think that if you were an executive at a pharma company or.
S14: One of these distribution companies that you really felt like these drugs were good and you didn’t you didn’t really know what was going on or did you know. Oh yeah. This is we’re just we’re just feeding a generation of addicts or did you think like oh no but people are really in pain. There’s a huge amount of pain in this country that millions of people on disability and we’re helping them because it’s very hard it is hard to be kind of a willful sadist. People I think tend to delude themselves. I don’t think they tend to act with malice when they don’t have to.
S27: Well there are there is a lot of good that the drugs do in terms of preventing pain. Right. Like that is a real benefit. And I think you could talk yourself into that being the primary purpose of distributing drugs for a while but then I mean we’ve had evidence for you know what like eight or ten years that this is just spun so far out of control and that there are these drugs were a gateway to drugs like heroin that were causing these lifetime addiction. So I don’t know how you could keep deluding yourself without just acknowledging that you were just trying to line your pockets or make your company richer.
S13: Well the human capacity for self-delusion is rather limitless in my view. But as with this as with the cigarette manufacturers the ability to say and and this is a different you make a really important point about the benefit there were no beneficial effects of cigarettes that you know maybe helps you concentrate or peps you up or something. But there are no fundamentally beneficial effects of cigarettes. This is a slightly harder case at the outset because there are beneficial effects of these medications. However the drug companies seem to me to have failed to understand or acknowledge the likely addictive effects of their medications. They downplayed it once they learned it and then they didn’t take steps to make certain once they understood or should have understood that to make certain that people who people who have their wisdom teeth out don’t actually need thirty pills maybe they need five. And but the drug companies has one incentive to sell them 30 because that’s more money in their pockets and so were they knowingly conscious that they were creating this national crisis on an individual basis.
S18: I’m a big believer in self-delusion which makes me a big believer in negligence. But there was gross reckless negligence on the part of these individuals.
S14: I did not realize until I was doing the reading that that it is that people are skeptical of the idea that these are even good for chronic pain. I didn’t understand that that actually if you’re going to have you have chronic pain problems you probably shouldn’t get on something that is a long term addictive drug that you need to find some some remedy that isn’t just taking some pills every day because your tolerance increases and you become addicted and then you’re in a much worse shape than you were before and that so that they’re really good for acute pain is nothing short term or something which is going to kill you but not necessarily for something which is just going to nag at you for the rest of your life.
S13: I think it’s an important point and I heard a fascinating interview with Travis Ryder. He is a medical bioethicist and he was in a motorcycle crash that required him to get off of debt onto opioids and then he had enormous difficulty finding good advice about how to get off. And so we need better work on that and we also need better work on the science of addiction and how 12 step programs that have been tailored for alcohol addiction whether these are the most effective mechanisms or whether as the science seems to be that we need to take not from the alcohol model but to have medication assisted therapies so that people can get on to better safer drugs. His books called very compellingly in pain.
S27: Yeah I mean Fox correspondent German Lopez announced a project this week to try to crowdsource more stories about rehab and all the ways in which rehab goes wrong. Or you know if you’re really lucky you can go right. And as I was reading the introduction for that project I realized I had never really thought about this in a systematic way. It’s like what do we know how many of these inpatient treatment centers really have good success rates. What are the strategies. And is outpatient treatment often better. So I was reading a piece actually from 2016 by not Maia Szalavitz that was published on 538 called what science says to do if your loved one has an opioid addiction. And there was a ton of good information about there suggesting that you know evidence based treatment is much more likely to be medication assisted the way you were just talking about Ruth. And it just made me realize like there is so much suffering and trauma that goes into this kind of cycling in and out of rehab and these heartbreaking decisions that families make to put up all this money and you become a repeat customer over time but you’re also in this like very difficult situation often of trying to feel your way through it of feeling a lot of shame or guilt about what’s happening. And the idea that you would have such little support and that like as usual our health care system would not be set up in a way where it would just take you where you need to go as a matter of course. It’s just it just is so frustrating.
S14: A couple of points on that one is you can understand why I mean medication. This is the problem of opiate addiction is a problem of medication to it that people have been prescribed drugs to treat something and those drugs are then turned and become a drag and that is consuming them. And so you can understand why why the idea that medication is the solution might make people alarmed like medication wasn’t the solution for the original problem why would medication be the solution for this. Not. But I totally align with the evidence based theory of this. I just psychologically you can understand why that wouldn’t. Why that might be difficult for people to. We shouldn’t let this pass without talking about the assault on the Affordable Care Act and the assault on Medicaid and the fact that once you that that part of dealing with the opiate epidemic is also helping people with mental health issues and and like giving them some sort of insurance backstopping in their life. And and those who would those who would strip the Affordable Care Act or undermine the private insurance plans that people are able to buy under the Affordable Care Act and undermine Medicaid are doing some damage to people’s ability to to treat them to get treatment.
S27: Yeah I mean one of the things Maya says is that when opioid addiction happens it’s rarely someone’s only mental health problem. And that totally makes sense that you would have a kind of coexisting other set of issues whether it’s depression or a bipolar disorder or whatever. But I hadn’t really thought about it again in like a systematic way before and it. It means obviously that when you’re evaluating someone you need to be asking those questions so that you’re treating not just the addiction but also looking for whether there’s underlying mental health issues to deal with.
S5: 2 Why do you think Ruth that the United States is by orders of magnitude the country with the biggest opiate problem in the world.
S13: That’s a great question. I don’t know that I know the answer to that but it may have to do with our fractured and individual centric method of prescribing medication. I don’t know if prescription drugs are more controlled in places with single single payer. So I’m kind of flailing in the dark here on that but it’s an interesting question that I think we need to figure out. You know it’s sort of like the gun question right. There are a lot of there are a lot of countries without that have American Exceptionalism.
S4: Yes no one.
S27: I mean do you think part of it has to do with our affluence like you can see this in part just like this enormous waste like all of this money and healthcare getting targeted or channeled in this direction that turns out to be completely counterproductive. But it wouldn’t start if you didn’t have enough money to pay for the whole damn thing to begin with.
S19: No but I think that’s kind of intuitively backwards because other countries that have a stronger safety net of coverage for prescription medication it should be the other day I went to full to fill a prescription and my ensure they hadn’t reached out to my insurance company. So it was three hundred and fifty dollars but once my insurance company kicked in it was seven dollars so it can’t be that in a place that has spotty or insurance like the United States. It’s the affluence that helps you get this medication because I was no wagon to spend three hundred fifty dollars for this medication and so I just wonder if places that have a more comprehensive system of insurance also have tighter controls on access to prescription medication.
S33: Oh yeah I’m sure they do because once you have single payer you have an incentive to be setting prices lower and saving money and rationing care effectively like if you’re rationing care then presumably you’re not prescribing more opioids than there are people in a particular place.
S31: We solved it. Single payer.
S34: There you go let’s go to cocktail chatter when Emily Bazelon.
S5: You’re having your whatever your form whatever your alcoholic form of soothing is. And you were chattering with somebody what are you gonna be chattering about.
S33: I read Curtis Sittenfeld new short story book this week because she’ll be our guest in a few weeks. And I just loved it. I just inhaled it. Basically it’s called if you think it I’ll say it. I am not normally a big short story fan. I find the forum often to feel just like too tight. But these stories first of all they’re just wonderful and also they’re kind of linked thematically in a way that made me feel like more that I was reading a chapter book than I usually feel with isolated short stories. So I totally recommend this book.
S4: And now I have another 200 hundred outside right. It’s so good. Yeah. I feel the same way about your stories.
S27: Yeah. Well you were the one who I read it first and told me that’s great.
S9: So yes I just like to cite the use of the phrase chapter book as if you were kind of graduating to a more difficult reader.
S35: You went along Yeah well you know it’s sort of still remains useful even though I’m no longer in third or fifth grade.
S27: And then my second piece of chatter I’m going to sneak in is to recommend a recent episode of This American Life called ten sessions with my New York Times magazine colleague Jamie Lowe. It’s about her efforts to do a particular kind of fast track sort of therapy to deal with the past memory of the past experience of a sexual assault. And it’s wonderful. I mean I am a huge fan of Jamie’s and this made me remember how much I loved the book she wrote a couple of years ago which is called mental and is about her bipolar disorder. So listen to the episode and then that should be her gateway or gateway drug to Jamie’s excellent book. Mental.
S5: Ruth What is your chatter so my chatter.
S13: I love medical mystery stories and also stories about how how the medical system fails us in some ways and so I was really taken by a piece in The New Yorker by Mike Mariani. It’s called a town for people with chronic fatigue syndrome and it’s about a place called Incline Village in Nevada near Lake Tahoe where a group of people with chronic fatigue syndrome have coalesced because it’s pretty much but only episodically the only place in the US where you can get a drug called and pigeon that has some good effects though disputed for people with chronic fatigue syndrome. And the reason it’s one of the only places you can get it is that the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t completely approved this medication because it for chronic fatigue syndrome which is of course very disputed by some physicians though I have a friend with chronic fatigue syndrome. I think it’s a real thing. And so it’s the story of his pretty much seven year effort to get access to this medication which he still hasn’t gotten access to and the desperate people in this town who have moved there and gotten enormous success with the medication but then have had it cut off. So it’s just a very interesting little story about and compelling story and I sort of feel like with chronic fatigue syndrome we could all wake up tomorrow morning and be even more exhausted than we already are and have doctors that don’t take our complaints seriously. And so I was just very struck by this. So as I am having my cocktail I will be chatting about various ways in which our medical system with all the promise of personalized medicine and individualized DNA testing still fails actually enormous numbers of people with serious health issues.
S6: My chatter is about a remarkable theatre going cinema going I should say experience I had this weekend I went with my father to the IMAX theater at the Air and Space Museum here in Washington D.C. and we saw Apollo 11 which is a short 45 minute documentary about the Apollo 11 moon mission.
S14: It is a narrated. It is simply incredible archival footage some lost for many years. I’ve just never gathered some just restored and in magnificent ways that tells the story of the mission from John F. Kennedy’s exhortation to go to the moon to the rocket taking off to the landing on the moon and coming back to touchdown after reentry.
S5: It’s the most gorgeous spectacular astonishing forty five minutes of film I’ve seen in years. And if you I don’t think it would be I don’t think would be good on television particularly I don’t think it would be. I mean you’ll be fine in a regular theater if you can go to an IMAX and see it in IMAX theaters in general create magnificence. But if you can see it in IMAX or see it in a big theater I recommend it as strongly as I recommend anything. It is it’s just astonishing and it’s it’s just like you will vibrate from how how moving and powerful it is. I also of course have listener chatters that again you listeners you have lead such interesting lives you’re reading such interesting things and you are sending those great things to us at Gap fest on Twitter. And I want to encourage you to keep doing it because it’s just a delight for me every week to get them this week. I want to call out David a man at David a man who I feel like maybe had an earlier listener chatter now that I’m looking your name at David I’m on and David on is recommending a story about a Canadian woman who has been the foster parent along with her husband to 200 children. It’s called the woman with 200 kids a woman named Cindy Sterling and it’s just like a beautiful story and if you want to have a good cry and feel about feel good about somebody who’s done an astonishing amount of altruistic good work in the world for children read about Cindy Sterling and the story it’s really totally inspirational.
S3: That is our show for today the gap that is produced by Joslyn Frank. Melissa Caplin helped here in Washington Ryan McAvoy in New Haven. Our researcher is of course the indefatigable Richard Dunlap who should follow us on Twitter at Slate gabfest for Emily Bazelon and Ruth Marcus and David Plotz. Thanks for listening. Please come to our live show in St. Paul on September 18th go to Slate dot com slash live for tickets. We will talk to you next week.
S36: Hello Slate Plus how are you I hope you are not in the throes of a hurricane.
S32: Hope you’re having a good post Labor Day back to work period. You if you’re north Carolina you might be the throes of a hurricane you’re also in the throes of a legal hurricane. There was a decision this week from a three judge panel in North Carolina State judges throwing out an egregious partisan gerrymander. Emily Bazelon take us to North Carolina. Tell us what happened.
S37: Yeah so the state legislative districts in North Carolina have been extremely gerrymandered since the 2010 census. This is a long running lawsuit that wound up back in state court and the challengers to the districts which were drawn very much to benefit Republicans prevailed. Based on this three judge panel ruling that is rooted in the state constitution and the fair and free elections guarantee that is in North Carolina’s constitution. It’s a tremendous victory in the state for people who want more competitive elections. It’s obviously potentially a victory for Democrats. So far it only affects the state legislative districts not the congressional map. I’m a little mystified about why there wasn’t a parallel lawsuit already in place challenging the congressional map but now various groups the Democratic Party and common cause are talking about also challenging the congressional map in North Carolina. You know I think the thing more broadly that’s so interesting about this is that the Supreme Court in June said basically we’re taking federal judges out of the business of monitoring and preventing gerrymandering. We think judges can’t handle this. They don’t have the tools. There is a kind of faux modesty in Chief Justice John Roberts his opinion about the limitations of the judiciary to deal with this problem. And you see in this ruling as you saw I think in a previous ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that judges absolutely are capable of doing this kind of monitoring that I mean what I have said all about this for a long time and writing about it is that if people have the tools to draw the maps using you know software and computer technology computer programming you can whip up so many thousands of difference of variations of maps based on how you distribute voters once that technology exists to draw the maps will judges. They don’t have to be drawing all the maps themselves but they can also figure out how to assess it is not in the end rocket science.
S18: So I think what you’re seeing from these state courts are a really responsible effort to try to make elections more free and fair just like the state constitution says so I think one of the interesting things that this brings up is to what extent can state courts and state constitutions save us in an era when the Supreme Court is dominated by conservatives who want out of these political thickets or other issues and the spin a conversation that’s been going on since. Justice Brennan wrote about it in 1977 talking about how we should spend more time paying attention to state constitutions which had been kind of laboratories of democracy and judicial lawmaking as kind of suggestions for where the federal courts and the Supreme Court could go. And now maybe a little bit but I want to really caveat this in conservative as the judiciary lower courts and the Supreme Court are increasingly dominated by conservative judges whether state constitutions and state judges are a potential alternative. One conservative Judge Jeffrey Sutton who’s written on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has written a book arguing about the vibrancy an alternative method of state constitutions and to that I would say this is great that North Carolina did this but yes but and the but is that state courts are often and unfortunately politically elected politically appointed just as dominated. Interestingly in North Carolina in this situation I gather that they’re not appealing it to the state Supreme Court because it’s very democratic dominated but especially with judicial elections and the incredible efforts that that have been not attended to very much of the conservative movement has made to make sure that state judiciaries and especially state supreme courts are dominated by conservatives. This is an interesting avenue for alternatives to the federal court system but not necessarily a constantly or universally across the country effective avenue because these are in some ways even more than federal the federal judiciary very political systems.
S33: Yeah. For example in Wisconsin which has a huge gerrymandering problem in its state legislature and was one of the cases that last year went up to the Supreme Court and is you know just really like begging for reform. There’s a sense of hopelessness about using the state courts to address this issue because they’re Republican dominated. That itself is depressing. This issue of gerrymandering like yes it can benefit one party or the other in a particular state. But it is a bipartisan problem. And so the idea that one would just assume that Republican appointed or elected I can’t remember how you got to be a state supreme court justice in Wisconsin but that elect is a lot like dead. OK. So it’s I mean I see the real politic of it it’s not like I’m pretending it’s not the case but the assumption that elected Republican state Supreme Court justices would not be interested in addressing gerrymandering.
S18: It’s it’s dismaying and it’s not just gerrymandering I mean we you could imagine a world in which if Roe were overturned you would turn to state supreme courts and state court systems to effectuate a right to abortion. But that just creates say the reason we have a national constitution and the Supreme Court is we don’t want a patchwork set of laws that where what your rights are depends on where you geographically live. We want national set of rights which you know good luck with that right.
S27: I will say one thing about abortion in this vein though which is that the Kansas Supreme Court decided in this past year that there is a state protected right to access to abortion. So that point of view can triumph in some unexpected red state places.
S34: Okay that’s it. Slate Plus we will talk to you an on bye bye.