Return of the Lucky Duckies
Plus a historical rebuttal of the popular notion that the GOP knows the first thing about running an economy, a portrait of the Electoral College Supreme Court, and some thoughts on leaking.
The Lucky Duckies have been a mild obsession of mine for 20 years. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page used that phrase in November 2002 to describe “the non-taxpaying class”—by which the Journal meant not billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Michael Bloomberg and Carl Icahn and Elon Musk and, yes, George Soros, all of whom have years in which they pay absolutely no income tax at all, but rather the 40-odd percent of the population that pays no taxes (bumped up temporarily during Covid to 57 percent) because they don’t earn enough money. Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, has got his knickers in a twist about the lucky duckies and the free ride they’re getting from hard-working Americans unlucky enough to make more money than they do. Scott doesn’t seem to care that Mitt Romney rode this morally repugnant theme straight to the bottom in the 2012 election. Now President Joe Biden is hitting Republicans hard about it. In my latest New Republic piece, I suggest that he isn’t hitting them hard enough. You can read that here, and I wish you would.
Also this week I wrote about how very wrong the public is not to trust Biden and the Democrats on handling the economy. Democratic presidents have been outperforming Republican presidents for a century. For example, of the 17 recessions we’ve had over the past 100 years, no fewer than 13 occurred when a Republican was in the White House. Even corporate profits have been higher under Democrats. You can read that piece here.
Also this week I wrote about how the Supreme Court does and doesn’t, in Mr. Dooley’s words, “follow th’ iliction returns” in an era when Republican presidents only sometimes get elected by popular vote. Other people made that point this week, but I think my piece reviews the history more thoroughly. You can read that piece here.
Also this week I posted a tweetstorm about leaks, pegged of course to the leak of Samuel Alito’s draft opinion reversing Roe (though why we aren’t instead debating the wisdom of intelligence leaks showing how brazenly the U.S. is helping Ukraine kill Russian generals and sink Russian ships is a question future historians will have to sort out, assuming humankind isn’t wiped out in the coming months by a global nuclear holocaust).
Here is that tweetstorm, tidied up a bit for the more discriminating Backbencher audience.
Why It’s a Mug’s Game To Play Guess The Leaker
I presume the Supreme Court leaker will get found out, because there are only so many possibilities. But the guessing game people are engaging in is a waste of time, based on what I'd call the Daniel Ellsberg Fallacy.
Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers. He was an entirely logical person to do so: a former Pentagon "Whiz Kid" under Robert McNamara and aide to Edward Lansdale in South Vietnam who by 1969 was attending antiwar rallies while still working for DoD at RAND. Sidney Zion, a former NYT reporter, identified Ellsberg as the leaker in a radio appearance, saying it was no great secret in his circles, which it probably wasn't. The Ellsberg fallacy was born: When there's a leak, look to someone with an Occam's Razor-style motive.
Sometimes it really does work that way. But in my limited experience (the leaks I've gotten were nowhere near this big), leaks tend to come not from the person with the most straightforward motive to leak but rather from a person with a rococo motive or no motive at all.
The person with the most straightforward motive to leak is also the person most likely to get fingered as the leaker, and that has a strongly inhibiting effect. The person with a rococo motive is less likely to get fingered, which gives that person a little more latitude. And the person with no motive at all is a lot less likely to get fingered, which gives that person a lot more latitude.
This last scenario is more common than you might suppose. People have big mouths. When they know something you don't know they may or may not be able to keep in a secret, even if it’s in their interest to keep quiet. Human nature is unpredictable. As the old English saying has it, “there’s nowt so queer as folk.”
Case in point: the Valerie Plame leak.
The G.W. Bush administration got mad that a former diplomat names Joe Wilson called bullshit on Bush saying in his 2003 State of the Union address that Saddam Hussein had tried to get his hands on uranium “yellowcake.” Wilson had been dispatched to Niger by the Bush administration to check out this story, found it wasn't true, and was annoyed when Bush used it as a justification for invading Iraq, so he wrote an op-ed about it in the NYT. That made the Bushies mad.
Shortly thereafter, someone told the prominent conservative columnist Robert Novak (frequent TV commentator and previously half of the column-writing team Evans and Novak) that Wilson got sent to Niger only because he was recommended by his wife, a CIA agent. The Bushies (this tells you a lot about how they thought) believed it was totally embarrassing that a man would get a job assignment through his wife. It showed what a sad pathetic mediocrity he must be! Ha ha ha!
The Bushies thought this was so embarrassing that one of them told Novak, giving little thought to the fact that in doing so they were exposing a CIA agent. A very serious prosecution ensued and Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lou Libby, went to jail. But what people tend to forget is that Libby didn't go to jail for being Novak's leaker, but for lying to the FBI.
It took forever to find out who Novak's leaker was. Eventually, we found out it was Richard Armitage, who had no obvious motive for doing so. He was deputy secretary of state to Colin Powell, well liked, not all that keen on invading Iraq. (This was back when Powell was still warning Bush about Iraq: you break it, you bought it.) Armitage was a nice guy, people say. (Libby, who I've met once or twice, is a nice guy, too.) But he has a big mouth! Or he did that day, anyway.
I've never been clear on why Armitage gossiped about this to Novak. Possibly Mike Isikoff and David Corn, who revealed Armitage to be the leaker, have some ideas, but he was not very high on anyone's list of vindictive-asshole Bush hawks looking to punish Wilson for being such a PUSSY that he had to get a job assignment from his WIFE. Armitage wasn't that kind of guy, people say. He just ... spilled the beans. It happens. Especially when the topic is something people are really really curious about, as people were about the yellowcake story.
In conclusion: Don't waste your time trying to guess who the leaker is. There are many conceivable motives for the pro-Roe forces. There are many conceivable motives for the anti-Roe forces. There's even a conceivable motive for Chief Justice John Roberts, who right now is screaming bloody murder about this breach of trust. I'm not saying Roberts did it, but it might be a good way to try to peel Kavanaugh or maybe even Gorsuch away from Alito. And it would certainly make for a great story. Since gossiping about who leaked what lacks much predictive power, if you’re going to play this game you might as well favor stories that carry the greatest narrative power.
I don't know where this leak came from, and you don't know. Nobody knows except a few people at Politico. Let's all of us stop wasting our time trying to figure out who done it. Let's put that energy into figuring out instead what this country is going to do now that the Supreme Court is taking a basic liberty away from women because, after 50 years of a Republican-majority court, the GOP finally found some jurists who think that would be a gas.