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Thursday, November 14, 2019

DAY ONE


Well, I watched several hours of the hearings, and one simple fact seemed obvious, at least to me: whatever else the Democrats and their lawyers may be they are simply awful teachers.  Let me explain.

The testimony dealt at length with Ukraine.  I would estimate that there are maybe two million people in America who could more or less locate Ukraine on a map, which is to say fewer than 1% of the adults in this country.  The point of the hearings is to educate the American people about what is already known, not to discover new facts.  So the first thing any halfway decent teacher would do is put up a map on screen and spend ten minutes describing the location, the history, and a few salient facts about the country [such as:  Ukraine is the largest country, by area, in Europe;  Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union in return for promises of protection, etc.]

Did Adam Schiff do this?  Not even remotely.  So the entire day was incomprehensible to anyone not already totally clued in.  By contrast, the only fact in Watergate not already known to the general public was that there is an apartment complex in DC called “The Watergate.”

I seriously doubt that this exercise will move the polls, and hence the Republicans.

Meanwhile, Mike Bloomberg and Deval Patrick have decided the Democratic race for the nomination needs a few more centrists.  The monied classes must, behind the scenes, be in a panic.

22 comments:

R McD said...

I’d agree with you, that the Democrats and their lawyers are simply awful teachers. Although I gave up listening very closely after a while, what I found particularly troubling is the way Ambassador Porter conflated Cold War USSR and post-Cold War Russia when, in the concluding part of his statement, he went on about how Russia had simply walked away from a relationship which had allowed Europe 70 years of peace, and when one after another of the Democrat congress members took up this theme. In other words, in order to get Trump we’re being invited to go along with the sort of Russia bashing a segment of the Democrats, Clinton most notably a member of this group, have been engaging in for goodness knows how long—something, by the way, which explains for me why Putin needed no encouragement from Trump or anyone else to try to do what he could to prevent her election in 2016. What happened to all the complex post-1989 history of eastern Europe including the mounting pressure on Russia as NATO and its partner the EU moved eastwards? We’re being fed a simple-minded manichean view and one has to wonder just how many will be led to buy into it because they—for good reason—detest Trump and desperately want rid of him. Should that succeed, somewhere down the line we’ll have to deal with that dangerous legacy.

LFC said...

Only listened to fragments, but according to the recaps the best moment for Dems was when Taylor, prompted by Rep. Swallwell, called the Trump approach in re Ukraine "wrong" -- Taylor is a sitting ambassador ("acting" ambassador to Ukraine, but still) and for a sitting amb. to call an admin's policy "wrong" in unequivocal terms is a big deal. That said, it wasn't a great day for the Dems overall, for some of the reasons already stated. Cd say more, but no time rt now.

LFC said...

Clarification: for a sitting ambassador to call an admin's approach wrong in public is a big deal.

howard b said...

True, the resistance, or rather the opposition needs maybe not a great personage, but a master of ceremonies to aim the blows at Trump and his cursed posse- but what if Trump's nemesis turns out to be none other than Bloomberg? What if Bloomberg has Trump's number and owns him?
Churchill was too much a torie for my taste, as for me I'll take anybody who can slay the Trump dragon politically

Jerry Fresia said...

But who will teach the Congressional teachers?

https://consortiumnews.com/2019/11/14/ray-mcgovern-ukraine-for-dummies/

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Whoa, I think it a little early to start in on how the Dems are messing it up. I thought the ambassadors did a good job of explaining the importance of the Ukraine. (with the caveat that their accounting of foreign policy will be considerably different that leftist academics). There were maps projected in the room but they got little camera time. The "it was wrong" thing I found a little too simplistically moralistic. If folks are going to support impeachment for bribery, soliciting foreign interference in the election, etc., understanding it as as 'just wrong' is insufficient. Fox news will be countering that every couple of minutes.

And let us not forget the various republican attempts at a defense: Nunes and his various paranoid delusional defense(s), in the non-delusional but wishful thinking category, there was no crime, it was hearsay, etc., and let's not forget Jordan's rapid fire, fast talking idiocy. The more they look like idiots who miss the point during the course of the hearings, the higher pubic support will go, and the odds increase that these clowns will lose their seats in the upcoming blue tsunami. People like Nunes have already lost half of their margin in their districts.

Jerry Fresia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

I think the Democrat's job is to tell a story.

The most important part of these proceedings is the questioning by the staff attorney for the Democrats. He will elicit from the witnesses a set of facts, establish a timeline, and most importantly, layout the plot line of a story. Each element will be reinforced and embellished by Democratic members' questioning, assuming they are disciplined.

The crux of the matter is creating a story that will explain, and put in context, all the elements of "L' affaire d' Ukraine." Important elements of the story were explained well in yesterday's testimony: Sondland's role, Trump's strong interest in the progress of the scheme, etc. Today we will get the perspective of the fired ambassador Yovanovitch. in the future we'll get how the push to remove her was implemented by Russian backed Ukrainians, clients of Trump's consiglieri Giuliani, who funneled campaign contributions to a politician who, when asked, wrote to Trump calling for the ambassador's removal.

If they do it right, the story will make it clear that Trump committed several crimes including bribery, violation of campaign finance law, obstruction of justice, and possibly violations of law governing administrative procedures. If the story is clear and convincing public opinion will be moved.

s. wallerstein said...

What percentage of the population is watching these hearings on TV? I assume that there is a system in the U.S. which measures TV audiences.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

The system is the Nielson ratings.

The figures I saw were as follows: 3M on FOX (compared to 1.5M average), 2.7 M on MSNBC (1M avg), 2 M each on ABC and CBS, and 1.7 M on NBC. So 13M on TV. No figures on the extent of the audience on digital devices. There are about 254M adults in the U.S. It maybe is not a significant percent of the population, but the doubling (or more) of daily viewership is huge.

Anonymous said...


For some reason I’m troubled by the notion that it’s “the Democrat’s job to tell A STORY” (my emphasis)—A STORY that will link ALL THE ELEMENTS . . .

Why be troubled? Because it seems to me that just as it’s possible to construct a great number of curves to link a series of points, so it is surely possible to construct a number of stories to link a number of events. So is it that any story will serve that achieves the desired goal of ousting the detestable Trump? Admittedly, this would seem to be the norm in the Trump era. But should that be a norm to cleave to?

And just in case it’s in doubt that several stories might be told, I’ll put forward the following:

Jeet Heer, “The Foreign Policy Establishment is Hijacking Impeachment. Trump should be impeached for using his offices for corrupt practices—not for challenging the national security consensus” (The Nation)

s. wallerstein said...

Christopher M.

Thanks. Does anyone have equivalent figures for the Watergate hearings?

I remember that just about everyone I knew (which was hardly a cross-section of the population) watched them. I don't recall if everyone watched them from day one or just began to watch them when the plot thickened. I didn't have a TV set at the time, but I watched them on and off at friends' homes.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Anonymous,
It should be absolutely clear to anyone with a cursory knowledge of the the Constitution that Trump can not be impeached for conducting a foreign policy that is inconsistent with the "national security consensus." It is not a story that has anything to do with the grounds for impeachment.

I didn't say it was a simple story that needed to be told, and I mistakenly thought that nobody would assume it is. Given that there are, as I noted, at least three crimes committed by Trump, the story will include a number of threads, subplots, or whatever you want to call them.

If you have an alternative theory as to what the Democrats need to do, do tell.

Dean said...

Re: Watergate, here's a Pew report of what appears to have been a contemporaneous Gallup poll (nobody cites precisely to it!):

The televised Watergate hearings that began in May 1973, chaired by Sen. Samuel Ervin, commanded a large national audience – 71% told Gallup they watched the hearings live. And as many as 21% reported watching 10 hours or more of the Ervin proceedings. Not too surprisingly, Nixon’s popularity took a severe hit. His ratings fell as low as 31%, in Gallup’s early August survey.

Source: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/09/25/how-the-watergate-crisis-eroded-public-support-for-richard-nixon/

LFC said...

I think Trump probably did commit impeachable offenses, esp. given the vagueness inherent in what constitutes such offenses, but in my view (which may change as the hearings continue) I don't think T's conduct in this "affair" is comparable to Nixon's in Watergate. Plus the Watergate story was relatively straightforward -- there was a crime (the break-in, plus other activity, but the break-in at the DNC Hq at the Watergate was the key thing) and then an effort to cover it up, in which Nixon was complicit. It was the cover-up (and the tapes) that did Nixon in -- the break-in itself probably would not have, esp. if Nixon had gone on TV and said that he'd made a serious mistake in creating a climate in which such activities occurred, that he took responsibility, etc. and generally done a mea culpa. It worked w the Checkers speech, cd have worked a second time.

W/ Trump and Ukraine, by contrast, what we have is a quite complicated set of events w some dueling statements and so on (as well as some uncontested conversations of course). The existence of an irregular Guiliani-directed channel on Ukraine is not in doubt, nor is that channel's (and T's) desire to use mil. aid to leverage/pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. To have such an irregular channel hijacking policy and pursuing its own inherently dubious objectives, in the context of a country (Ukraine) in the midst of a war in its eastern region, is quite insane, irrespective of how that channel relates to the establishment "national security consensus" -- to the extent, in this particular case, that there is one. But the narrative is complicated by the fact that the aid did eventually go through and the investigations weren't done. One can point out that these things happened after the plan had basically been exposed so they had no choice at that pt, but for casual followers of the "story" it does complicate things and it gives the Repubs talking points. (The smear campaign, conducted w T's knowledge, against Yovanovitch is reprehensible but in itself wd not perhaps warrant impeachment. Only relevant as an "element.")

Then too, from a purely electoral standpoint, this may turn out to be a mistake, if McConnell decides to try to drag out the Senate proceedings. These will dominate the news when attention wd otherwise be focused on the Dem primary campaign. T of course will be acquitted in the Senate. The whole thing probably will damage T with some 'independents' but his base won't be moved. And the Dem candidates will have lost the weeks in which they would have had the more-or-less undivided attention of those who follow domestic politics. And Warren, Sanders, Booker, Harris, Klobuchar and Bennet (and any other Senators who are running, I've lost track) will be sitting in the Senate trial instead of campaigning.

s. wallerstein said...

Dean,

Thanks. 71% is impressive!

LFC said...

Of some relevance, too, may be the very different media environments of 1973 and 2019 (could one get 71 percent of the pop. to watch anything these days?). Ervin was also the perfect person to chair the hearings (conservative Dem. Senator from N. Carolina, folksy country-lawyer persona [though as I recall he graduated from Harvard Law School], defender of the Constitution, blah blah blah.) I still remember how he looked and sounded. Also, it was a quasi-bipartisan proceeding of the sort really unimaginable today, in which someone like Howard Baker could emerge as a reasonable, thoughtful inquisitor ("what did the President know and when did he know it?"). And finally, if memory serves, the Senate Watergate hearings were not part of a formal impeachment inquiry -- that came later -- which explains why they were conducted in the Senate and not in the House, which has jurisdiction over impeachment (as opposed to trial).

s. wallerstein said...

LFC,

One big difference with Watergate is that as I recall, most Republicans until Watergate saw Nixon as a super-boy scout, the epitome of all the clean-living, dope-free 1950's virtues and were genuinely shocked to see that their hero was a gangster.

Today, as far as I can see from my distant perch, most Republicans admire Trump's ability to "get away with it", to mock the clean-living 1950's boy-scout virtues, maybe as a form of rebellion against their childhood or against their parents and grandparents. They are not shocked at or perturbed by any of Trump's crimes.

Howie said...

I believe that Professor Wolff's point is something like during the OJ trial when one of the lawyers came up with the phrase if the evidence doesn't fit acquit.
99 % of the impeachment to quote Woody Allen, is not just showing up

David Palmeter said...

There are two big differences between Watergate and today’s impeachment process.

The first is institutional. The “famous” Watergate hearings--Sam Ervin, Howard Baker (“What did the President know and when did he know it”), Sam Dash, John Dean and the rest were held by a Senate Select Committee established for the purpose of investigating Watergate. The House held its own hearings, but they were completely over-shadowed by the Senate’s. The House committee then had the same problem Adam Schiff’s committee has now--a large number of members all of whom demand their five minutes of fame. It becomes almost unwatchable. The Senate Watergate committee was much smaller, which allowed for longer, sustained questioning and far less grandstanding. It was just better theater than the House committee then and the House committee now can offer.

The second is media. In 1973, TV was ABC, CBS, and NBC--mostly the latter two. Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, talk radio and all of that didn’t exist. Today’s PBS Newshour began as a 15 or 30 minute daily summary of the hearings. The viewing public had little choice--if they wanted to watch TV, there were far fewer alternatives. Contrast that with today--if you wanted to sit in front of a TV and watch sports or games shows for 24 hours without a break, you could do so.

There’s also a third difference that just occurred to me: the Republican party. Of course in 1973 and 74 they weren’t enthused about impeaching a Republican president, but unlike today’s Republicans, the majority were guided by the facts and reluctantly followed where they led. To a Howard Baker, a Devin Nunes or a Jim Jordan would have been a disgrace to what some Republicans of the day saw as the Party of Lincoln.

LFC said...

David Palmeter,
I agree w your points, not surprisingly, since I already made two of them (media and Repub Party), albeit more briefly and telegraphically, above.

jgkess@cfl,rr.com said...

That was a lovely piece on, "Carolina Meadows in the Morning", so I won't pollute that particular Post with a Comment much less lovely. This Post seems more the proper venue...Has anyone noticed that whenever Mitch Mcconnell holds a press conference, he surrounds himself with the same three or four Senators?---and a curious-looking lot they are. Frog-boy Mcconnell not least remarkable among them (if he were to add Florida Senator, Rick Scott, to the bunch, they might profitably tour the country as part of, "The Greatest Show on Earth"). Uncharitable? Perhaps. After all, given a touch of make-up, they might almost pass for sub-human. Sorry about stooping so low in this Comment, Prof. Wolff, but venting with rational analysis one's frustration with Senate Republicans is become increasingly less satisfying ("is become", by the way, was a favorite locution of 18th century Johnsonian English---just thought I'd throw that in there).