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10 new TV shows to watch this summer, not one of them about a throne

By Hank Stuever
10 new TV shows to watch this summer, not one of them about a throne
Wolfgang Petersen's classic 1981 film,

After all those warnings that a chill was coming, there's still a noticeable void of summer TV offerings, in the wake of "Game of Thrones'" conclusion. We'll have to consider this summer a rebuilding season, as the networks, cable channels and streaming services hold off on unrolling any big-tent premieres just yet.

But not to worry - it's not so desolate that you'll be forced to, like, read a book or go outside. I've picked 10 shows that premiere between now and Labor Day that, I hope, will keep us occupied and enlightened (perhaps even entertained) until we collectively fall head over heels for that next big thing. (All times EDT)

- "Perpetual Grace," LTD

(Sundays at 10 p.m. on Epix; premiered June 2)

A languid yet artfully envisioned 10-episode drama for viewers who are most at home in remote locations (in this case, rural New Mexico) with neo-noir characters who act and speak as if they belong in a never-made Coen brothers film. (That, or they're all future clients of Saul Goodman.) "Westworld's" Jimmi Simpson stars as a guilt-ridden drifter who gets conned into a life-insurance scheme that involves kidnapping a church pastor and his wife (Ben Kingsley and Jacki Weaver) and faking their deaths, only to learn the hard way that the pair are master criminals themselves. Luis Guzman co-stars as a Mexican sheriff who agrees to help with the plan and - because it seems like just the kind of TV show he'd wind up in - "Lost's" Terry O'Quinn plays a Texas ranger working the situation from another angle. "Perpetual Grace LTD" is created by Steve Conrad, whose quirky Amazon espionage puzzler "Patriot" won admirers for its slow-simmered, reverse-engineered plots and extra-dry humor. Here it's even dryer.

- "Das Boot"

(Hulu, Monday, June 17)

Wolfgang Petersen's classic (and classically claustrophobic) 1981 film about a Nazi U-boat gets a sequel of sorts in this stern but satisfying eight-episode, German-made TV series. It's 1942 and the newly manufactured U-612 is getting ready to launch out the French port of La Rochelle, with an untested captain (Rick Okon), who has qualms about living up to his late father's legend, and a young radio technician (Leonard Schleicher), who is ordered to join the sub's 40-man crew as a last-minute replacement. Problem is, the kid had secret plans with the French Resistance and must now rely on his big sister ("Phantom Thread's" Vicky Krieps) to keep an important rendezvous in his place, even though she's being closely watched by an inspector. Both the movie and the series are drawn from Lothar-Günther Buchheim's 1973 novel - allowing "Das Boot" to broaden its action well beyond the U-boat. Will I be shot on sight if I say it lends the story more depth?

- "The Lavender Scare"

(Check local PBS listings)

There's plenty of gay pride this summer surrounding the Stonewall uprising's 50th anniversary, but Josh Howard's compelling one-hour documentary "The Lavender Scare" (based on David K. Johnson's book) examines an earlier outrage from the 1950s, when the U.S. government began purging its federal employee ranks of any man or woman suspected of being homosexual. The policy, approved by President Dwight Eisenhower, was rooted in the ugly idea that gay men and lesbians could be easily blackmailed and turned into communist spies - paranoia in full effect. (Confronted by postal inspectors of a blurry picture of himself in drag, one employee snarkily offered to pose for a better shot.) The purge inspired a nascent gay rights movement, spearheaded by a strong-willed employee of the U.S. Army's Map Service named Frank Kameny (his letters are voiced here by actor David Hyde Pierce). A ban on security clearances for gay workers remained in effect until (hold onto your hats, kiddies) 1995.

- "What Just Happened??!"

(Fox at 9:30 p.m., Sunday, June 30)

Fox wasn't quite ready to share episodes yet, but I'm going to at least enthusiastically endorse the concept: A spoof (if a belated one) of those inane, live after-shows such as AMC's "Talking Dead," where guests excitedly deconstruct what just happened on the previous episode of their favorite, direly complex drama - in this case, a show called "The Flare." Fred Savage plays himself as the host of the show (and huge fanboy of "The Flare's" source material, a nonexistent novel by nonexistent author T.J. Whitford called "The Moon Is the Sun at Night," which is a post-apocalyptic tale about a small town and the aftermath of a solar event). Comedian Taylor Tomlinson joins Savage as co-host, and Best Coast will appear as the show's house band. The whole thing hinges, of course, on "clips" from "The Flare" (whose "cast" includes "Scandal's" Guillermo Díaz and "UnReal's" Shiri Appleby) and the degree to which Savage and company are willing to make fun of modern fandom.

- "The Loudest Voice"

(Showtime at 10 p.m., Sunday, June 30)

Russell Crowe stars in this seven-part miniseries as the late Roger Ailes, the Fox News impresario whom history will record as reshaping American politics and the way conservative voters receive information. (See accompanying review.)

- "I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter"

(HBO at 8 p.m., Tuesday, July 9 and Wednesday, July 10)

Filmmaker Erin Lee Carr has become the go-to documentarian of some of the stickiest legal conundrums in the 2010s - such as the case of the cop who fantasized in chat rooms about cannibalizing his wife. The two-night "I Love You, Now Die" chronicles the trial of Michelle Carter, a young Massachusetts woman accused of urging her boyfriend to kill himself through persistent texts and calls. (They had only met in person a handful of times.) How responsible is she for his death? Carr relies on interviews, testimony and text-message transcripts to create a narrative tension that transcends the case's sensationalism. Her work once again asks how modern communication can capitalize on some of our darkest personality disorders. Even if you know how it ends, you can't help but be riveted (and heartbroken) by what happened and why - and what it could mean for the consequences of what we say to one another online.

- "South Side"

(Comedy Central at 10:30 p.m., Wednesday, July 24)

When someone says they're making a show about life on Chicago's South Side, the words "Comedy Central" may not leap to mind - but that's just the problem that "South Side," written by Bashir Salahuddin ("GLOW") and Diallo Riddle ("Marlon"), seeks to solve: Can't a notoriously violent neighborhood - so often described in hellish terms - also be funny as hell? Loosely organized around the dreams of recent community college grads Simon James (Sultan Salahuddin) and Kareem "K" Odom (Kareme Young), the series follows them through one hustle after another, seen through their jobs delivering (and repossessing) household goods from the interest-gouging Rent-T-Own. ("If you want both endtables to match each other, that's gonna be extra," a sales associate tells a customer.) The show is produced by and stars people who know this world intimately; rather than turn a blind eye to poverty and violence, "South Side" follows the tradition of history's great humorists to find laughter amid the chaos.

- "Four Weddings and a Funeral"

(Hulu, Wednesday, July 31)

This anthology series's resemblance to the 1994 British rom-com is so slight that they also could have called it "Return to Notting Hill" or "More Love Actually" and not been any more or less off the mark. It's too soon to get super picky about the unfinished peek I've watched of this show (created by Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton) about four American friends who are all 30 - three of whom settled in London after college. "Game of Thrones'" Nathalie Emmanuel stars as Maya, a political strategist for a philandering New York senator. After a disastrous revelation, Maya hops the pond to attend the rawther proper wedding of her friend Ainsley (Rebecca Rittenhouse) to investment banker Kash (Nikesh Patel), where complications - unrequited love in all directions, paternity secrets, etc. - accompany some second thoughts at the altar. "Four Weddings and a Funeral" could use more polish and panache, especially if it wants to please those who vicariously adore upper-class British love stories.

- "BH90210"

(Fox at 9 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 7)

Every summer needs its own "Sharknado"-like TV event, where the rules of standard criticism (and viewer discernment) need not apply. Fox's six-episode "BH90210," which is currently in production, more than fills that order, as original cast members (Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth, Tori Spelling, Gabrielle Carteris, Jason Priestley, Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering - everyone but Luke Perry, who died earlier this year) return to play "heightened versions" of themselves: actors who have been convinced to come back and resume the roles that made them super-famous nearly 30 years ago. I don't think the word "meta" works anymore, since we all know it when we see it. What else will we see? The network has said this show-within-a-show will be a drama about what happens when actors of a certain age have to bury old conflicts as they attempt to launch a reboot. May the bridges they've burned light the way, as Perry's Dylan would have said.

- "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance"

(Netflix, Friday, Aug. 30)

Although it landed with a bit of a thud when it was released at the end of 1982 (I recall heaps of discounted "Dark Crystal" merch going unsold at Christmastime, midway between the "E.T." craze and our first Ewok sighting), Jim Henson and Frank Oz's serious-toned fantasy quietly found and retained generations of loyal fans in the years since. This prequel series, subtitled "Age of Resistance," takes advantage of four decades of technological advancements in movie magic, blending puppetry with CGI to give the planet Thra and its inhabitants a more dazzling look. The plot involves three elflike Gelflings from different clans (voiced by Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy and Nathalie Emmanuel) who start a revolution against the reptilianlike rulers known as the Skeksis. I know, I know: The what and the hunh? That's what people said when they first watched "Game of Thrones." This won't rival that, but it's a good reminder that the fantasy genre is about taking a step toward something unfamiliar and then letting it take you away.

A frozen trek on a vanishing frontier

By Sarah Kaplan
A frozen trek on a vanishing frontier
Ian Raphael practices data gathering techniques beyond Utqiagvik, Alaska. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bonnie Jo Mount.

UTQIAGVIK, Alaska - The scientists walk across a frozen Arctic Ocean, dark specks in a sea of white. Pale clouds loom low over the bundled figures. The wind sends ice crystals skidding and swirling around them, erasing their footprints.

Behind a large ice ridge, the group shelters from the subzero cold and 25 mph gusts to set up their experiment. They are learning to map an area's topography by shooting lasers across the ice and snow. But even their machines seem disoriented by the whiteout conditions: The lasers bounce off whirling snowflakes before striking their targets.

It's yet another problem they must solve before the fall, when these scientists and several hundred others will launch the largest Arctic research expedition in history: a 12-month, $134 million, 17-nation effort to document climate change in the fastest-warming part of the globe.

Home base will be a massive German icebreaker, though the ship will spend only a few weeks under its own power. After reaching a remote part of the Siberian Arctic, the crew will cut the engine and wait for water to freeze around the vessel, entrapping it.

Then the ship - and everyone on it - will be adrift, at the mercy of the ice.

- - -

What the scientists discover during their year in the frozen north will help them forecast the future of the entire planet. As Arctic ice vanishes, many scientists expect the steady stream of air that pushes weather across the Northern Hemisphere to wobble, producing periods of punishing cold, brutal heat waves and disastrous floods.

That's already happening. The polar vortex that gripped the Midwest this winter, the fires in California and lingering hurricanes such as Sandy and Florence are all thought to be domino effects of this instability. Unless humans take drastic action, Earth is on track to exceed the threshold for dangerous warming in a little over a decade, the U.N. has said. These scientists are racing against the changing planet to understand what's happening - and what is yet to come.

Struggling on the sea ice off Alaska during their training this April, they get a taste of how tough the task will be. They are steeling themselves for what awaits at the pole: profound isolation and protracted darkness, laborious experiments, cold that can plunge to 45 degrees below zero. There are countless ways the Arctic might thwart and threaten them at every turn.

"But if we can do this right," says Melinda Webster, a sea ice expert at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, "it's going to give us a huge leap forward in our understanding of Earth and how it's changing."

Shoulders scrunched, beards of frost forming on their balaclavas, she and her colleagues continue to collect what information they can. They have no choice but to keep going, Webster says. The world attempts an expedition of this size, expense and risk only "once in a generation."

And hers might be the last generation that can.

- - -

If all goes according to plan, the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) will begin on Sept. 20 - when the icebreaker RV Polarstern sets out in search of an ice floe to which it can pin its fate.

The ship will spend the next 12 months following that single floe through the central Arctic and across the North Pole - a 387-foot drifting research station inhabited by a rotating cast of some 300 meteorologists, biologists, oceanographers and ice experts.

"We have so many questions that we can only get answers to there," says Webster, 33, who is part of MOSAiC's sea ice team. "Finally, this is our one shot to do that."

Nearly every northern nation is in on the project. Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute, a polar research center, is providing the Polarstern and leading the expedition. Russia, China and Sweden have all contributed resupply vessels. Japanese experts have built flux chambers to measure carbon that moves from the sea ice to the atmosphere, and a Swiss team has developed an apparatus for sampling snow. The National Science Foundation and other U.S. agencies are contributing more than $25 million in grants, equipment and logistical support, making this one of the most expensive Arctic expeditions the NSF has ever funded.

About 60 people will be living and working on the Polarstern at any given moment; most have signed up for two-month stints, though a few may be onboard for half the year or more. Virtually their only link to the rest of the world will be the ships and aircraft scheduled to arrive every 60 days - winter blizzards and stormy seas permitting - to switch out passengers and restock food and fuel.

Simply getting to the Polarstern can take as long as a month; participants joke that it's easier to reach the International Space Station, 250 miles above the surface of the Earth.

- - -

The researchers will have no internet or phone service. They will work seven days a week, with free time granted only at the discretion of their research coordinators. Those on duty from December to February will never see the sun.

This is the only way to truly understand the far north, organizers say. There is no land here for a permanent research station, no open water to sail through. The Arctic demands to be studied on its own terms.

But the drift strategy has perils. Choose the wrong ice floe, and the scientists could end up in Russian waters, where outsiders can't collect data without special permits. Or the ice could carry them far to the west, beyond the reach of rescue missions should anything go awry.

Analyses of ice paths from previous years suggest that the ideal floe lies about 335 miles east of the North Pole. By the end of a year, it should deliver the Polarstern to open water somewhere between Greenland and the Svalbard archipelago.

A successful transpolar drift - one that didn't kill nearly everyone onboard - has been achieved just twice before in history: first by the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, in 1893, and a decade ago by the small crew of a privately owned sailing ship called the Tara. The Polarstern will be the first modern research vessel to spend an entire year at the northernmost place on the planet.

No voyage has been as urgent, says Dartmouth geophysicist Don Perovich, who will sail with Webster on MOSAiC's June-to-July leg.

The 68-year-old researcher, a tall man with expressive eyebrows and an easy smile, first came to the Arctic in the 1970s. Then, the persistent cold at the top of the world was like the keystone in an arch: It helped stabilize Earth's entire climate system.

By 2011, when Perovich met Webster on a shipborne experiment, climate change had reduced the summertime Arctic's frozen area by half. Today, watching a visualization of the annual growth and melt of the sea ice, Perovich says, can feel like watching a heartbeat - one that gets fainter and fainter every year.

On MOSAiC, he and Webster will be studying the consequences of this loss. They know that as reflective ice gives way to dark open ocean, the water absorbs more sunlight, which accelerates warming and melts the ice even faster.

But there are other forces at play, ones that scientists have only begun to understand.

Azure melt ponds form on the ocean's frozen surface; like skylights, they let sunshine filter through the thinner ice and reach the water below.

Clouds rise from the open ocean, acting as both an umbrella and a blanket, and researchers aren't sure whether they're reflecting more heat or trapping it.

Algae cling to the bottom of the sea ice, inhaling and exhaling dissolved gases whose effects researchers can only guess at.

These are the mysteries facing MOSAiC, the questions it will take a full year and 300 scientists to begin to answer.

"This is a community puzzle," Perovich said. "And we all have a little piece."

- - -

In a brightly lit classroom at the Barrow Arctic Research Center in Utqiagvik (oot-ki-ahg-vik), three dozen MOSAiC participants get their introduction to the voyage ahead.

"What is your biggest concern out in the field?" asks Araina Danner, health and safety coordinator for the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp. (UIC), an Alaska Native organization that hosted the week-long training.

"Hypothermia," offers biologist Carin Ashjian. In the back of the room, someone else mumbles, "bears."

Danner nods. Polar bears are the largest land predator - bigger and more aggressive even than grizzlies.

She shows the trainees what to do if a bear threatens, standing with her arms extended and feet firmly braced. They mimic her, sheepish.

"See?" she says. "We're acting bigger, acting confident, staying together. [The bear] will be like, 'Hmm, not today.' " The group laughs.

Bears are no joke, not on MOSAiC. The project's 99-page implementation plan calls for the Polarstern to be encircled by nearly three miles of electric fence. The safe zone will be patrolled by a cadre of armed lookouts from 9 to 5 each day.

The researchers exchange looks, some anxious, most exhilarated. No matter their field, they are all adventurers, eager to test themselves against one of the planet's harshest environments.

They are also scientists, acutely aware of the connections between this remote region and the places where most people live. Their chief pursuit is data. That's what will let them make sense of a landscape that few others have even seen. That's how they'll feed the models that predict the consequences of warming around the globe.

The success of the mission hinges on collaboration. Because MOSAiC will last longer than any individual researcher's stint, each participant must grasp at least the basics of every problem the expedition will probe.

The mood is serious as the trainees head out onto the ice. There is a lot to learn. Atmospheric scientists are being taught to dig snow pits. Microbiologists are training to identify ice types. Everyone has to figure out how to ride a snowmobile without falling off.

Daniel Watkins, an atmospheric scientist and University of Oregon graduate student who has never before conducted fieldwork, learns what it takes to collect data he's always seen as simple numbers on a screen in computer models of Earth's climate.

The massive drill used to cut ice cores is taller than he is. It growls and shudders violently as he tries to press it into the ice.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," yells his instructor, Jeff Bowman, a biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

They are standing on a lagoon protected by the curve of Point Barrow, the northernmost spur of Alaska, where the frozen sea is nearly as flat and featureless as a skating rink. Above them, thin cirrus clouds streak a robin's egg sky.

Watkins stops the drill.

"Don't leave it in," Bowman says, quickly. If the bit stays in the drill hole, water might refreeze around it, trapping the instrument.

Rachel Lekanoff, a graduate student at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, helps them heave the drill upward. After Bowman demonstrates how to better brace themselves, they resume their work. It's another 20 minutes before water finally burbles up around the drill - a sign they've reached the sea.

Gently, they pull the three-foot cylinder of ice onto the snow. To some scientists on MOSAiC, cores like this can contain a treasure trove of information about the saltiness of the ocean water, the temperature of the air above, even the microscopic organisms that dwell in tiny, briny air bubbles in the ice.

Watkins examines the product of an hour's work. "That was hard," he says.

On the expedition, researchers will have to collect as many as 30 of these cores in a day.

- - -

The Arctic is melting so quickly that an experiment like MOSAiC may not be possible for much longer.

For the drifting plan to work, the scientists need to lodge the Polarstern in a piece of "multiyear" ice - the thick, resilient sea ice that persists until the end of the northern summer. But, Webster says, "It's getting more difficult to find ice that's stable year-round."

During the NSF training in Utqiagvik, Webster leads a snowmobile trip to a towering ridge of multiyear ice a few miles offshore. The young scientist brims with energy; while the other researchers trudge through the snow, she bounds.

This is "the old Arctic," she explains, gesturing toward blocks of frozen seawater as big as minivans and blue as the sky. The ice has the rounded, worn appearance of an ancient mountain range - a legacy of the cycles of crushing and melting it has already endured.

Such thick multiyear ice has held this landscape together since time immemorial. In summer, it serves as a protective blanket, reflecting two-thirds of the sun's rays back into space and helping to keep the Arctic cool. In autumn, it subdues the waves whipped up by storms, preventing them from pummeling communities on the coast. It traps the ocean's heat in winter, and in the spring, it provides a solid, stable platform from which polar bears and people can hunt for food.

Back on the ice for the first time since earning her PhD three years ago, Webster smiles at her surroundings. A rime of feathery, frozen crystals catches the sunlight and glitters like fairy dust. The scattered slabs of ice resemble strange, stark sculptures.

"Beautiful, beautiful," Webster says. "Doing this work in this environment does make you feel a little more alive."

More than 95% of the Arctic's oldest, thickest sea ice - the kind that sticks around for four years or more - has been lost since 1980. And, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the frozen seascape is 500,000 square miles smaller than the average since 1981. Overall Arctic sea ice levels in April, the month of the training, have never been this low.

And there, just to the north of Webster's ridge lies "the new Arctic": an expanse of fragile first-year ice that probably won't last the summer. Past that lies the open ocean, already a dark smear on the horizon, creeping closer every day.

Depending how the summer plays out, by the time MOSAiC sails the Arctic could contain less ice than at any time in recorded history. Late one night, in the sparse common room of their cramped dormitory, Perovich and Webster mull the changes to come.

Webster marvels that she will never know the Arctic that her mentor experienced as a young researcher. And who could say what kind of world she would share with her own future students?

"I'm always rooting for the ice," Perovich says.

But they both know the feedback loop between lost ice cover and warming water makes it more difficult for melted areas to refreeze. By the middle of this century, maybe sooner, scientists expect that no multiyear ice will be able to survive the endless day of the polar summer.

Then, for part of the year, the Arctic could be practically ice free.

Perovich says he thinks the summer ice "will stick around as long as I do." He nods to his younger colleague. "I don't know about you."

Webster pulls her knees toward her chest. Her expression is sober as she ponders the Arctic's future - and her own.

"I can't actually imagine what that would be like," she says.

"It's easy to imagine; you just erase all the ice," Perovich says. "What's hard to imagine is what all the ramifications would be."

The irresistible authenticity of Gayle King

By Robin Givhan
The irresistible authenticity of Gayle King
Gayle King, host of

NEW YORK - The reimagined "CBS This Morning" is in the middle of a commercial break as Gayle King clippety-clops through the show's green room doling out chipper "hellos" as she makes her way back to the set. She settles into the center seat between her two new colleagues. A giant yellow CBS "eye" looms over her shoulder like her own personal sun.

It's late May and the room's temperature is set to goose bumps. The crew is padding around in sneakers and utilitarian blah. Co-anchors Anthony Mason, 62, and Tony Dokoupil, 38, are a mash-up of baby-boomer Wall Street grays and rep stripes with a millennial skinny tie and Vince sneakers. King, 64, is the light, the energy, the heat. Her stilettos look as though they have been dipped in confetti. Her dress is cobalt blue. Caramel-colored streaks meander through her brown bob. The heart-shaped diamond necklace that twinkles in her decolletage is just large enough to make you wonder: Is that real? Yes, it is.

Getting to this moment has been a slow, steady build that suddenly lurched into overdrive. It's been powered by upheaval at the network's news division, by King's interview with R. Kelly - which was Shakespearean in its drama and pathos - and by King's basic-common-sense public persona.

She watched and reported as the career of her co-anchor and friend Charlie Rose unraveled after eight women accused him of sexual harassment in November 2017. A show that was once rising in the ratings was nose-diving. Keeping King became imperative; there was no one else to right the ship. In her new contract negotiated earlier this year, the network paid her royally - as King has emerged as the Tiffany Network's biggest star.

King is, perhaps, what the culture needs right now: a soothing voice of reason, an adult who isn't drowning in cynicism, who is still capable of being let down by her fellow humans if only because she still has faith in them. Someone who lives in this real-world "Truman Show" without feeling the need to perform.

"I think she's the most natural person on TV today," Dokoupil says. "She takes the (teleprompter) as a suggestion. She's a great ad libber."

King's interview style is conversational. Her face doesn't flash with skepticism. Her brow doesn't furrow - a reflection of her control rather than a symptom of Botox dependence. She sits with charm-school posture, hands in lap. She has a tendency to repeat phrases for emphasis; and her questions can sound like a mix of therapy and parlor game: This made you feel, how?

King asks the question on the viewer's mind - the question that's journalistically sound but not necessarily flashy or high-minded. Her questions rarely have the side benefit of making her look uniquely informed or hard-hitting.

"Where does Opie sit with you?" she asks director Ron Howard on that May morning, when he comes to publicize his documentary "Pavarotti." After a segment about robo-taxis, King deflates the whole story by wondering aloud: Isn't that just another name for a driverless car? The green room erupts in a chorus of "That's what I was thinking!"

"I think it's OK not to act like you know something," King says in an interview later. "I don't think because you ask a question that it reveals, 'God, she doesn't know something.' I never think that. I think there is a way to engage people and have a conversation and not feel lesser than."

In February, King interviewed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, D, in the midst of his agita over a blackface photo found on his yearbook page. She listened as Northam pleaded ignorance to the full impact of blackface and then exclaimed: "But governor!" She was an appalled Everyday Jane. Her tone suggested disappointment rather than judgment.

Her R. Kelly interview in March reverberated across the culture, not for the facts it revealed but for the emotions it unleashed. King sat facing the musician, who has been charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, in a politely adorned hotel suite as he erupted.

Her makeup artist Lazarus Baptiste snapped a picture of the scene and describes the decisive moment as King sitting solemnly like "Whistler's Mother" with Kelly towering over her with his arm outstretched like a grandiose "Hamlet holding Yorick's skull." King's voice, a mellow contralto, kept repeating the singer's given name: "Robert. Robert. Robert."

"If there was a thought bubble, it'd be like, 'OK, you have to sit here and wait until he's done with whatever he's doing,' " King recalls. "My sole motivation at that point was, 'Please don't let him leave. Please don't let him leave. Please don't let him leave.' "

"I really did believe it was a breakdown; he was so angry," King says. "He went from zero to a two to a six to an eight to a 12. All right before my eyes."

"I think people were surprised that in that moment I didn't run out of the room or I didn't say, 'Hey, don't do that.' I really did just let him be," King says. "The fact that I just sat there, I think it was very surprising to people."

The R. Kelly interview ratcheted up King's stock at CBS and beyond. "It was a game-changer," she says.

It showed that King had chops.


When people meet King, they often begin by offering what they believe to be a compliment but which is really a kind of insult: They attribute her smooth delivery on air to her being a "quick study." They do this because they don't realize she's had a long career of her own - for years they only knew her as "Oprah's best friend."

The two met in Baltimore as 20-something single women. It was King's first job in television.

As a student at the University of Maryland, King had planned to be a child psychologist, but she had a voice for television - a low register, crisp pronunciation, speech that travels at a touring speed - and someone from the local television station suggested she apply for a job.

That was how, at 21, King ended up as a production assistant in Baltimore with an annual salary of about $12,000. She later worked in Washington, D.C., and Kansas City, Missouri, and spent 18 years as an anchor at the CBS affiliate in Hartford, Connecticut, where she also hosted her own daytime show.

Folks presume that King has benefited enormously from her friendship: King had a talk show on Winfrey's OWN television network; she is editor-at-large of Winfrey's magazine.

Meanwhile, there is little consideration of this question: What does it mean to be Gayle's friend? What does it mean to stand in Gayle's light?

To be King's friend is to find loyalty and discretion. King is the friend who will grab the doggy bag because of course you will want it later even if you don't feel like dealing with it now. She is rich. And she is fun.

"The thing I learned from her is how to be nicer," says Adam Glassman, the creative director of O, The Oprah Magazine, who has known her for 19 years.

When King debuted on "CBS This Morning" in 2012," Rose led the hard-news coverage for the first hour of the two-hour show. King didn't come to the table until the halfway mark - for the lighter fare.

"I can't say, 'God, I felt lesser than because I joined at 8 o'clock,' " King says. She knew what she was getting into. "But once they started moving me into the 7:30 and moving me into the 7, I go, 'I like sitting up here from the very beginning. I like that.' "

She shared the stage with Rose and third anchor Norah O'Donnell, two colleagues who often seemed to be trying to out-gravitas each other. The chemistry seemed to work as "CBS This Morning," stubbornly stuck in third place behind "Today" and "Good Morning America," began to rise in the ratings. Then the #MeToo movement swept through CBS, laying waste to Rose, along with "60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager and network chairman Les Moonves.

King and O'Donnell were the shellshocked anchors delivering the litany of bad news to viewers.

"I always considered Charlie a friend and I don't believe that you abandon your friends," says King, who remains in touch with Rose. She believes there's room for mercy. "You have people that have done far more heinous things that are forgiven. But comeback doesn't mean that you get to come back to doing what you were doing before."

Has King forgiven Rose his sins? "It's not up to me to forgive Charlie. That's between him and whoever. Yeah. I can't really speak on that."

What she will say is that for as much good that the #MeToo movement has done, it's also been problematic.

"I've been in situations where people have said something that I thought was inappropriate, but it never occurred to me to call them on it. I would just sit and just let it go or not respond. But I think women coming up today, and I think men, too, will know that's no longer cute. It's no longer funny. So I think that's important," King says.

Still, she sympathizes with someone like Aziz Ansari, whose career was upended in 2018 after published a story in which a woman accused him of taking advantage of her. Some readers felt the article, written during the height of #MeToo revelations, mischaracterized what was essentially a bad date.

"I can't wait to go see his show. I thought what happened to him was very unfair," she says. "I'm hoping he does come back."

With its ratings plummeting, "CBS This Morning" added John Dickerson as a third anchor. He brought an easygoing and thoughtful presence, but he often had the distant mien of a tourist just passing through.

CBS veteran Susan Zirinsky, newly arrived to helm the network's news division, announced last month that O'Donnell would anchor the evening news; Dickerson would report for "60 Minutes." And "CBS This Morning" - or, as the network has rebranded it, CTM - is newly rebuilt around King. "She has the ability to engage people," Zirinsky says. "People want to talk to Gayle, both the accuser and the accused in the same story. That's about trust. ... I don't see anyone like her on television right now."

Zirinsky, a longtime CBS journalist who was the inspiration for Holly Hunter's character in "Broadcast News," is the first woman to lead the news division.

"I have always been proud to work at CBS, even when were going through the s---storm," King says. But if Zirinsky "wasn't where she is, I don't think I would be at CBS. I don't think so. No I don't."


After the show, King steps onto West 57th Street, where her black SUV is waiting, and she heads to Norma's, the restaurant in the Parker New York hotel that is famous for its $2,000 lobster-and-caviar frittata, and where King is a frequent diner. Toting multiple overstuffed bags that would break lesser women, she teeters through the hotel's bordello-red lobby and into the bright, white light of the restaurant, where the late-morning diners silently marvel at her arrival.

Do you care what King orders for breakfast? If you are one of the 682,000 people who follow her on Instagram, you probably do because her Instagram is filled with both intimate and mundane snippets of her life, including her periodic disappointment with her escalating weight. On more than one occasion, she has posted a picture of the number on the scale and, most recently, her bare feet straddled a glowing 175.2.

"I was sort of horrified about it. I'm like, 'Gayle, can you get a pedicure?' " Glassman says. "She's not afraid to show warts and all, not because it's calculated, but because that's just who she is. She'll come in and say, 'I'm doing a cleanse today,' and she'll have her green juice and in the other hand a cupcake."

Commenters have told her that she is brave to post her weight. Such transparency!

"I have a mirror. You have eyes. So to me it's silly to lie about it," she says. "People say, 'You talk about your weight; you talk about your age; you don't mind being photographed with no makeup.' I just don't have that kind of hang-up."

Well, she did once: "I was at the gym one day at the Beverly Wilshire - I like that hotel - in L.A. This guy came walking in and I thought, 'Oh God, I wish I would've put on some lipstick today,'" says King, who is divorced with two children.

King orders the quesadilla with chorizo, along with a single plain pancake. She is especially fond of the complimentary smoothie: a shot glass of whipped fruit. She has four shots.

"I always end up taking half the quesadilla home," she explains with the same focus she gave to parsing the R. Kelly dynamic. "The one time I didn't take it, I said, 'Oh, I'm not going to want to eat it later.' And then that night, I was going, 'Why didn't I take that quesadilla?' So now it's better to have it rather than kicking yourself for not taking it."

King considers these small things: the psychology of doggy bags, the design of airport bathrooms, the existential value of a free ice cream sundae. This is her skill: her easy patter about the connective tissue of life that links strangers.

She is a great broadcaster, not a newscaster, says Mason, her co-anchor. The former is able to talk about anything with anyone.

King has accumulated a lengthy list of famous friends. She pals around with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. She's chummy with Michelle Obama. She attended the baby shower of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.

Do you say to your friend: Don't tell me newsworthy information if you don't want it in the news. Or do you say: Whatever you tell me will be off the record. Is each story, each revelation, a negotiation?

"I knew Cory was going to run (for president) but I would never have said that before he announced it," King says. "Even at the expense of my job, I would never betray a friendship."

She attended private events in the Obama White House. She didn't brag about being there and refused to disclose who else was. "I do think that I'm entitled to a private life," King says, "even though I may have some very public friends."

But if you breathe the rarefied air of fame, it's in your system. And so even if she doesn't betray confidences, King still has access to valuable context.

"Sometimes, we're reporting on something, I can go, 'Well, that's just not true. That's just not true.' And we can't report it that way."

By her estimation, she has never angered her bosses because she refused to share information. Even when her colleagues peppered her on air with questions about Meghan's shower, she remained mum.

After breakfast, King goes to her office at O magazine. She slips into clogs and attends run-throughs - those fashion deliberations made famous in "The Devil Wears Prada" as the setting of an exegesis on cerulean blue.

In these sessions, Glassman is a more benevolent Miranda Priestly and King is the voice of Everyday Jane trying to understand how it is that stripes and floral patterns are an acceptable combination.

"I explain that the colors are similar and so it works. Or it's a smaller print and a larger print so it works," Glassman says. "She'll say, 'I have a blue dress; I need blues shoes, right? 'No, you can wear black. 'Can I really wear black?' "

"People relate to her. The dress may be a little too tight or a hem twisted because she's put on two pairs of Spanx," Glassman says. "She has a style, but it doesn't look unapproachable. Some people look so overly groomed; they look like a model. Gayle looks very real."


King refuses both hubris and false modesty. Her latest contract is reportedly worth $11 million. She is living in higher cotton these days, but she was already knee deep.

"My definition of success used to be being able to fly first class whenever I want to and go wherever I want to go," King says. "I met that goal a long time ago."

So what is her new definition? "This sounds very elitist, so I'm not going to say it."

Oh, come on, Gayle. You've already told us your weight.

"For Thanksgiving, I always take my three sisters and their husbands and their kids - so it's a party of like 13 - and we'll go somewhere: Turks and Caicos, Anguilla, Puerto Rico. I would really like to charter a yacht so that I could take them to Europe and we just sail around for 10 days. And if you looked at yacht prices, you just know that's outrageous."

We have not checked yacht rentals recently. What do they run?

"You're looking at like $750,000 to a million dollars for one week," King says. "I've been on yachting vacations. They are the best. If I could do that for my family, where I could take 13 people on a yacht to Positano to the Amalfi Coast, Nice and Cannes. I think that would be very cool. You have to make screw-it money. I don't have my definition of screw-it money."

But King has something even rarer. She is an African American, female broadcaster finding her most high-profile success at what many consider retirement age. She has accomplished this feat exuding earnest curiosity rather than gravitas. With certainty in her skills and at home in her skin, King is her own best friend.


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Empathy gap remains a challenge for LGBTQ allies

By ruben navarrette jr.
Empathy gap remains a challenge for LGBTQ allies


(Advance for Sunday, June 16, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, June 15, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Navarrette clients only)


SAN DIEGO -- As an LGBTQ ally, I am a work in progress. I don't know firsthand what it's like to be rejected or marginalized -- even by family and friends -- because of who I am, so Pride Month is a time for introspection.

My brother and I don't talk much about being Latino, or about being raised in a small farm town, or having an immigrant grandfather.

Because those are experiences we share. Instead, we talk about the thing that separates us: his sexual orientation.

I asked my brother, who is gay, what he wants from allies, including me.

"I expect an open mind, a willingness to learn, and unconditional support," he said as if he had waited for this question for years.

"But most of all, I expect action," he said. "If you're going to talk the talk, then make sure you walk the walk. Show me action."

What kind of action? I asked.

He immediately referred to what has become known as the Pulse nightclub massacre.

Three years ago -- on June 12, 2016 -- a 29-year-old Muslim American security guard named Omar Mateen entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, with a high-powered rifle. He killed 49 people and wounded 53 others.

The FBI considers the shooting a terrorist attack. But, in the LGBTQ community, this was a hate crime -- two times over. Pulse was hosting a "Latin Night" at the time of the shooting, so most of the victims were Latino.

Whatever you call it, this was the deadliest attack on LGBTQ people in U.S. history. And even 3,000 miles away in West Hollywood, the tragedy had a dramatic effect on my brother and his friends.

"It was paralyzing," he said. "And yet, for many of my straight friends, life went on. Most of them didn't reach out, and say: 'Hey, how are you doing? Are you OK?' Maybe they didn't even realize the significance of what had just happened."

So, I asked, does it have to be some public declaration of support?

"No!" he snapped. "It doesn't have to be public. It can be private. Send a text. Reach out to a friend, and check on them."

Fair enough. I dropped the ball. It didn't occur to me, when the Pulse massacre happened, that something that happened so far away could be so traumatic to my brother and other gay Latinos.

So now I wonder: Can straight people still be true allies to LGBTQ family and friends, even if we can't fully identify with their struggle?

I sympathize with what my brother must go through. But I can never truly put myself in his place.

I bet the same goes for many other LGBTQ allies. Their support is superficial. They "like" a gay pride meme on Facebook, or buy a rainbow cookie at a coffee shop. They probably think: "I'm a good person. I'm not homophobic. I support gay rights." And that's good enough.

But it's not good enough. These days, Americans are running low on empathy across the board. I think that's because, by and large, we're too self-absorbed and too focused on our own lives.

LGBTQ allies need to learn what the community goes through -- not just for one month but throughout the year. We need to understand how unfair life can be to those who feel they can't be open about who they are -- and whom they love.

As a Mexican American, I can relate to those who have been discriminated against based on skin color. Every week, I get emails from readers who assume -- because of my Spanish surname -- that I must support an open border with Mexico. You can bet that white columnists don't have to put up with that ignorance.

Yet when it comes to sexual orientation, there's an empathy gap between my brother and me. We live different lives. He has worries, anger, and frustrations that I can't relate to -- no matter how supportive I try to be.

Finally, I asked him: "What do you think straight people need to hear?"

"If you're going to be an ally, be a 100% ally," he said.

Pride month isn't just about the proud. More and more, it's about their allies. It's a time to reaffirm our commitment and demonstrate that we're totally behind the cause.

When our LGBTQ friends and family members stand up for themselves, they shouldn't stand alone.

Ruben Navarrette's email address is

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

The gift of laughter and a father's legacy

By kathleen parker
The gift of laughter and a father's legacy


(Advance for Sunday, June 16, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, June 15, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Parker clients only)


WASHINGTON -- My father died with a smile on his face. But, of course, he would.

A few days earlier, as his wife, my sister and I gathered around his bed in the intensive care unit, I said, "I'll bet he's thinking right now, 'I wish these broads would go away and leave me alone.'"

Immediately, his face creased into his Hollywood smile and he chuckled as though he were wide awake -- and I had hit the mark. I always knew what he was thinking.

We had a shared sense of humor through years of joyful and grievous times. I'm not sure how humor gets passed from one generation to the next. Is it genetic or learned, or both? Whatever the explanation, all three of us kids got it from our father to varying degrees. Since this is my column, I'll say that mine is most like his, but his was like no one else's.

He wasn't so much a joker as he was a sly wit who could crack up a room with a barely perceptible adjustment to his expression. Once he, my then-boyfriend, "Galahad," and I were having dinner at the kitchen table when the boyfriend's knife began making scraping sounds against his plate. Just as I glanced sidewise toward the source of this skin-crawling affront, I caught my father's eye and we both exploded in laughter -- not only at the persistent scraping but at the convergence of our mutual observation.

Poor Galahad. He looked up from his plate without a clue, and Popsie and I both said, aw, it was nothing. And it was nothing. But it was a deal-breaker for unspoken reasons. Galahad had missed the beat, and there was no quicker path to an exit in our house. My family and I often remarked that it would be difficult for most anyone to wander disarmed into our den of relentless humor. Without a quick mind and a ready draw, you were toast.

We simply loved to tell stories, to fry the gizzard, to laugh until it hurt. The father-daughter comedy was relatively benign, but add my older brother to the mix, and we became lethal. Humor is a form of aggression, after all, but we were mean without malice. If it appeared that our quips were becoming more hurtful than clever, our father would take a deep drag from his cigarette and, with a slight pucker of disapproval, begin wiping the countertops. This was our signal to hit pause and visit the loo, straighten the pictures on the wall or freshen our beverage.

These kitchen rituals evolved over time and changed as we matured. But at the heart of our familial routines was the tragedy of our mother's death. Her heart stopped after just 31 years, a legacy of rheumatic fever, leaving my brother, 6, and me, 3, to invent a motherless life with her widower, also 31. (My sister came later.) When life deals you an early blow, the choice is clear: You either drown in sorrow or crack a joke. If we were heartbroken and lost, we kept our suffering to ourselves. The main stage of home life demanded our complicity in the greatest comedy of all.

"What's it all about, Popsie?" I'd ask him. Wordlessly, wearing an expression that said, "It's a joke," he'd point toward the heavens and the author of all things. As frequently rehearsed, I'd smile, reckoning he was probably right but remembering other times when we'd walk by the lake at sunset. "How could anybody see that and think there is no God?" he'd ask.

Complicated doesn't begin to describe my enigmatic father, a lawyer who was sometimes the gentlest and kindest man I'd ever known. He could talk to anyone and make him or her his instant friend. He was also the toughest, most demanding disciplinarian, as well as the wisest, smartest, most articulate person I've yet encountered. At 14, he won the Illinois state oratorical contest, which I mention as a marker for his expectations.

Chores, yes; TV, no. The only exemption from physical labor was reading a book. He organized neighborhood games, helped us build treehouses and dig bunkers. He stressed good sportsmanship, humility and resilience, and he forbade pouting, self-pity or laments of boredom -- even when we had to watch "Meet the Press" and "Firing Line."

Not one to submit to groupthink (his doormat said "Go Away") or Hallmark-inspired "special" days, my father didn't care much for Father's Day, public displays of affection or sentimentality. But, again, this is my column, so thanks for the laughs, Popsie.

And the joke about life being a joke was a joke, right?

Kathleen Parker's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

No, Sarah Sanders is not leaving and, frankly, you should be ashamed for asking

By alexandra petri
No, Sarah Sanders is not leaving and, frankly, you should be ashamed for asking



(For Petri clients only)


It is bold of you to assert that Sarah Sanders will no longer be the press secretary after the end of the month, and, frankly, you should be ashamed to ask that question.

I think millions of Americans -- some of them mothers, some of them with families, hard-working -- would be ashamed to hear that question. You should go home and rethink your life, as Sarah Sanders assuredly will not. What gives you the right to question the perfect, golden judgments of this administration? You have no right. You should apologize.

Sarah Sanders does not have any information on where she might or might not be going, but she will get back to you on that.

In fact, Sarah Sanders was just dropped here from a hole in the sky by mysterious forces and has absolutely no information about anything that is going on in this administration. But, listen, she's not going to get into a back-and-forth about whether she's leaving or not.

To the best of her knowledge, Sarah Sanders is not going anywhere. There is nowhere outside this briefing room. There is nowhere inside this briefing room, either, or she would have been there more than once in the past 95 days. But she will let you know if anyone is going anywhere.

Honestly, Sarah Sanders was never the press secretary. There was never any need for anyone to provide answers, because the questions were all stupid. Ninety-four days ago, she held her last briefing, but even that was more than you deserved. You should be ashamed. Or maybe she has been holding press briefings every day, but you blinked and missed them. Maybe she's holding one right now. This is a press conference. Anything can be a press conference. No cameras, though.

In a sense, every day has been a press conference with the most important press of all, the true American people, who are disgusted that you would ask questions about the current administration.

Do not weep for Sarah Sanders. If Sarah Sanders were leaving, it would be to pursue her longtime dream of guarding one of the two doors in a logic puzzle. (Sure, ask which guard! You can (BEG ITAL)ask(END ITAL)!)

She would be retiring to spend more time with her family, refusing to answer their questions about the actions of the administration. She would be returning to Arkansas to live in a mansion and be governor or work in a pasture and cry wolf. She would be pursuing her dream of appearing on cable news to deliver fusillades of falsehoods, nonanswers and misinformation to the public as a private citizen rather than an administration official.

Mostly, if she were going, you would notice the countless FBI agents she numbers among her friends mourning her departure.

She is hurt and insulted that you would suggest that she is leaving.

Hush! She has spent too much time with you already.

Maybe she is going. You do not need a press secretary if you never intend to answer any questions from the press.

Ceci n'est pas une press conference. What is a press conference?

Sarah Sanders has no idea who she is or what she is doing here.

You should be ashamed.

Sarah Sanders was never here.

Sarah Sanders, who?

She will get back to you on that.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group


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Can we build a moral economy?

By e.j. dionne jr.
Can we build a moral economy?


(Advance for Monday, June 17, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Sunday, June 16, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Dionne clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Do you build the economy from the top down or from the bottom up? And is the main purpose of the economy the production of things or the enhancement of life?

I can imagine immediate objections to both questions. Don't all successful economies involve bottom-up and top-down elements? Doesn't everybody claim to be a bottom-up person at heart? And don't "things" (such as the laptop I am writing on) enhance "life"?

Well, sure. Almost all questions involving binary choices are flawed in some way. But these two concerns underlie the sometimes explicit, often subterranean, debates going on in the country -- and, especially, in the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been rising in the polls because of the sheer, impressive bulk of her policy proposals, but also because she is pressing the issue of what it takes to build a moral economy.

The vision of a lower-tax, lightly regulated economy, which gained ascendancy during the Reagan years, was always defended by its advocates as a bottom-up idea because it extolled the role of the entrepreneur who bravely started a business. If he or she worked hard enough and had something worthy to sell, the business would take off, creating jobs and new opportunities. It's why Republican politicians argue obsessively that what's good for "job creators" is good for the rest of us.

But this conception of economic life is not really bottom-up. It has little concern about concentrated economic power. Its policies reward those at the top. That's where the term "trickle down" comes from. Investors and business people are the heroes of this story. The worker owes everything to them.

This view of the economy has gone in and out of style. It loomed large in the 1920s but was badly discredited by the Great Depression of the 1930s. It won a new lease on life in the Reagan years but began coming into question with the ensuing surge of inequality. It lost its hold entirely after the crash of 2008.

We thus live in a time when one narrative is dead but the new one is yet to be written. We're on "one of those blank pages in between chapters," as Pete Buttigieg put it when formally announcing his presidential campaign.

No one is doing more than Warren to fill in those blanks. Put all her ideas together and you find two core themes. One is that, contrary to myth, government is always shaping the economy, both by what it does and what it chooses not to do. The issue is: Whose side should government be on? Whose interests should it serve?

This leads to her other core principle: that the economy starts not with the investor, but with the worker, who had a starring role in the New Deal era spanning the 1930s to the 1970s. Enhancing blue-collar purchasing power was the way we drove prosperity. Bernie Sanders' speech last week defining democratic socialism highlighted not foreign models but the need to "take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion." In defending a very similar objective, Warren proposes capitalism of a bottom-up sort with antitrust policies aimed at making the economy more competitive by busting up economic behemoths.

Every one of her many plans has come under criticism from one direction or another, but that's what happens when you're very specific. Her achievement is that she has laid the groundwork for the debate the country must have about what the next economy should look like.

Joe Biden, for one, is hearing the music. It was striking that during his visit to Ottumwa, Iowa, last week, he criticized the legendary conservative economist Milton Friedman, challenging the idea that "the only obligation corporations have is to stockholders." Why are investors seen as "the only job creators"? Of workers, he asked: "Aren't they creating jobs?"

"We've got to start to reward not just wealth," Biden concluded. "We've got to reward work."

Next week, Democrats will have their first debate, a sprawling two-day affair. To rein in the chaos, the moderators might consider having the candidates focus on specifics as to what it would take to build a system that does reward work. Let's hear them talk about how we might organize our economy so it enhances rather than disrupts our families and communities. Yes, productivity and growth matter. Our everyday lives matter, too.

We don't usually think of the word "moral" as attached to the word "economics." It's time we started.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

A refugee from the 1930s

By robert j. samuelson
A refugee from the 1930s


(Advance for Monday, June 17, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Sunday, June 16, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Samuelson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, is a man from the 1930s. If you didn't believe that before, you certainly should believe it now. Sanders last week gave a powerful speech at George Washington University defending his identity as a "democratic socialist" and endorsing Franklin Roosevelt's 1944 promise to create an "economic bill of rights." Roosevelt, of course, died before he could make good on that commitment.

"We must take up the unfinished business of the New Deal," Sanders said. Meanwhile, he expects "massive attacks" from those who attempt to use the word "socialism as a slur." Sanders is surely right to object to this: We long ago passed the threshold of having a socialist society that reorders its spending to help those who we think deserve help.

It's true that Sanders' socialism doesn't fit the traditional definition, which is government ownership of the "means of production" and major corporations. But we do already have a vast system of "entitlements" -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and the like -- that eventually subsidizes most Americans. At any one moment, roughly half of U.S. households receive benefits, reports Danilo Trisi of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Over time, the proportion rises.

We are all socialists now, as I wrote a few weeks ago. But we deny this obvious reality and stigmatize socialism as an alien phenomenon that is automatically un-American.

In a recent post on his blog, The Conversable Economist, Timothy Taylor made a similar point. "I've been coming around to the belief that most modern arguments over 'socialism' are a waste of time, because the content of the term has become so nebulous," he wrote. Many "'socialists' are really just saying that they would like to have government play a more active role in providing various benefits to workers and the poor, along with additional environmental protection."

This may explain why support for socialism is surprisingly strong. Gallup periodically asks whether Americans think socialism is a "good" or "bad" thing. Earlier this year, 43% said a good thing, 51% a bad thing, reported Taylor. In 1942, the responses were 25% a good thing and 40% a bad thing (most of the remainder had no opinion).

What should count are actual proposals, not the associated slogans and soundbites. Not unexpectedly, Sanders' economic vision is sweeping. "We must take the next step forward and guarantee every man, woman and child in our country basic economic rights," he said in his speech. These include, in his words:

-- The right to quality health care

-- The right to as much education as one needs to succeed in our society

-- The right to a good job that pays a living wage

-- The right to affordable housing

-- The right to a secure retirement

-- The right to live in a clean environment

"We must recognize that in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, economic rights are human rights," he added. "That is what I mean by democratic socialism."

All these are worthy goals -- and utopian. Inevitably, they raise practical and philosophical questions.

The practical issues involve costs, which are bound to be large. More spending would add to budgets that, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, are already running annual deficits of $1 trillion, equal to roughly 4% of gross domestic product. Moreover, the CBO projections may be conservative, because they assume slowdowns in discretionary spending that may not occur.

The philosophic questions revolve around "rights," which is how Sanders frames his proposals. A "right" is open-ended. How much more medical care is needed? How clean does a clean environment have to be? How much education is justified? Because Sanders casts his proposals as "rights," they may disappoint both supporters and opponents -- being too stingy for supporters and too generous for opponents.

Listening to Sanders' speech, it was almost possible to imagine him during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Because the crisis then was mostly economic, virtually all of Sanders' major proposals today deal with economics. In his talk, Sanders barely mentioned climate change, foreign policy or defense spending. (To be fair, his campaign website contains some discussion of these issues.)

This is not the 1930s. For better or for worse, we have moved on. Society is aging with pervasive consequences for most Americans. Economic growth has slowed. The world has become more hostile. We need to engage with these realities. The trouble is that our leaders are ill-prepared to adopt this sort of hyper-honesty. We cannot prepare for the future if we are stuck in the past.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

Bernie Sanders' brand of socialism is hard to pin down

By megan mcardle
Bernie Sanders' brand of socialism is hard to pin down



(For McArdle clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Three years ago, Bernie Sanders made socialism cool again. Suddenly you couldn't swing a cat in Brooklyn without sending it through a chapter meeting of the Democratic Socialists of America or tweet a joke about Karl Marx without getting a very serious lecture about the labor theory of value.

I was surprised, but on some level shouldn't have been. Why should the younger generation fear socialism? They never had nightmares about getting nuked by the commies, and neither had they taken the package tours to the Soviet Union that advised you to bring your own toilet paper.

But without the ideological anchor of the Soviet Union to define it, Sanders-era American socialism has seemed, frankly, a little fuzzy. There are as many definitions of socialism as there are young socialists, and few of them resemble the sweeping programs of nationalization and wage and price controls socialists once championed.

Among the fuzziest socialists has been Sanders himself, who keeps saying that, by socialism, he means Scandinavia. But this has nonplussed the Scandinavians, who don't consider themselves socialist. They are social democrats whose philosophy has roots in the socialist movement, but they ultimately decided to leave markets mostly alone and redistribute the proceeds.

If you're a social democrat, with a political philosophy that governs many thriving nations -- including, to a limited extent, the United States -- why not just say that, rather than lashing yourself to a revolutionary fringe with a tendency toward totalitarian repression and economic immiseration? It seemed that Sanders must mean something more than just expanding the welfare state, but if so, what?

On Wednesday, Sanders gave a speech at George Washington University that seemed intent on clearing up some of that confusion. He spoke for about 40 minutes, repeatedly invoking the legacy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and making fun of earlier generations of conservatives who had used socialism as a scare word to oppose Social Security, unemployment insurance and Medicare. What he wants, Sanders told his audience, is to "take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion."

In his prepared remarks, he promised an "Economic Bill of Rights" to complement the old-fashioned political one, guaranteeing "every man, woman and child in our country basic economic rights -- the right to quality health care, the right to as much education as one needs to succeed in our society, the right to a good job that pays a living wage, the right to affordable housing, the right to a secure retirement and the right to live in a clean environment."

Sanders is correct that conservatives have a lamentable tendency to label things as socialist that really aren't. But then that same point could be made about Sanders himself, for what he's offering still seems like garden-variety social democracy. So again, why is he calling himself a socialist?

It seems to me there are three possible answers to that question. One is that, with political power potentially within his grasp, Sanders has decided to disguise his true beliefs to some extent. There's reason to suspect this is the case. Sanders did, after all, honeymoon in the Soviet Union, and more recently, as Yascha Mounk has pointed out, for all his railing against authoritarianism, Sanders finds it surprisingly hard to condemn left-wing dictators. It isn't far-fetched to think he admires the more revolutionary brand of socialism but doubts he can get elected by frankly endorsing full-frontal state control of the means of production.

The second possibility is that the post-Cold War revelation of the horrors of Soviet communism has caused Sanders to rethink his earlier affection for the hardcore socialist model, but he clings to the label out of loyalty to the ideals that inspired it. That would be easily understandable, if politically risky.

But it's also possible that since Sanders is now a sincere social democrat, he is trying to bring that vision to fruition by engaging in that great capitalist exercise, the market segmentation. It has already been often observed that the Sanders program isn't all that far from, say, Elizabeth Warren's. And Sanders can't really compete with Warren on wonky detail. But the socialist label sets him apart from the other candidates, generates buzz and particularly appeals to the much-coveted 18-to-34 demographic. Which would, of course, be the mark of a true social democrat: co-opting capitalist methods, rather than trying to invent something wholly new to replace them.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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