Opinion | Happy Thanksgiving, Hermit Billionaires!

Opinion | Happy Thanksgiving, Hermit Billionaires!

Gail Collins: Bret, I guess we should start with things we’re thankful for this year. Don’t suppose the imminent end of the political career of the dreadful Representative George Santos rises to the level of holiday cheer.

So you go first. No fair counting family and friends.

Bret Stephens: It’s a depressing world, Gail, so we need to find cheer wherever we can, and the House Ethics Committee report on Santos does make for delightful reading. My favorite bit: “During the 2020 campaign, a $1,500 purchase on the campaign debit card was made at Mirza Aesthetics; this expense was not reported to the F.E.C. and was noted as ‘Botox’ in expense spreadsheets ….” Santos would have been around 32 years old at the time.

Gail: You’re right. Makes me cheery just hearing it.

Bret: On a loftier plane, I was delighted to see Joe Biden describe Xi Jinping as, well, “a dictator” of a “Communist country” while Antony Blinken, his secretary of state, visibly winced. That was another wonderful moment.

Gail: I can see how Biden felt a little cornered when a reporter asked him if he still believed Xi was a dictator. I mean, what was he supposed to say? “No, I think he’s changed a lot?”

But it also does seem as if it’s the kind of question he should have been a tad better prepared to handle.

Feel free to perk me up again …

Bret: I loved Biden’s answer. It reminded me of Ronald Reagan calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire” to the consternation of diplomats and pundits but to the relief of anyone who liked hearing an American president state the obvious and essential truth. I also think it’s worth celebrating the fact that inflation seems to have been tamed without cratering the rest of the economy in the process. That might not help Biden’s campaign, since a lot of price increases are now baked into the system, but at least things aren’t getting worse.

OK, now your turn.

Gail: Hey, this is a president who has really kept the economy under control, who has a great program for building new roads, bridges, mass transit and who always keeps climate change in mind when he’s working out an agenda.

… And who does not seek out cheap headlines by saying things that are both wrong and wrongheaded just to get attention.

Bret: Like Elon Musk?

Gail: OK, never been grateful for Elon Musk. He has, however, made me more appreciative of stupendously rich people who don’t get involved in public debates. Happy Thanksgiving, hermit billionaires!

Bret: He’s also made me more appreciative of normal billionaires who, unlike him, don’t promote crackpot antisemitic conspiracy theories on their social-media platforms. I’m also appreciative of companies, like IBM, Paramount, Apple and Disney, that have pulled their advertising dollars from X, formerly known as Twitter, out of disgust for his views. Now I’m rooting for Tesla owners to trade in their Model 3s for a Rivian or any other electric car that doesn’t run on a high-voltage blend of bottomless narcissism, knee-jerk bigotry and probably too much weed.

Gail: Well said. Moving on to politics, I’m grateful that some Republican presidential candidates other than He Who Shall Not Be Named are getting some attention. Particularly your fave, Nikki Haley.

On that topic, tell me what you think about the primaries. Trump is way ahead nationally, but do you think Haley could do something impressive in the early primaries? If, say, Chris Christie dropped out and endorsed her?

Bret: My gut tells me that primary voters prefer a contest to a coronation, but then my brain remembers that the G.O.P. has turned into a cult. As the field narrows, Haley will pick up Christie voters and maybe some DeSantis voters too. But Trump will pick up other DeSantis voters, plus Ramaswamy’s.

I’m about as thankful for Trump’s dominance as I would be for a terminal cancer diagnosis. But, hey, aren’t we trying to keep things optimistic?

Gail: Maybe it’s my desperation that creates these imagined scenarios in which Haley impresses New Hampshire voters, who are always up for a script in which they get to pick the new star. And then the campaign gets a real jolt when Chris Christie drops out and gives her his endorsement.

Bret: I like this fantasy. Say more.

Gail: Then Haley starts a serious campaign that draws terrific interest among rich Americans who don’t want a president who has to spend half his time in court, trying to prove that he didn’t actually try to fix the last election; that his real estate empire isn’t just a fairyland of debt; that — I could go on. If Haley could get the serious-alternative attention, and funding, it’d be quite a ride,

And oh — did I mention that I’d be thankful if she rethinks her position on a six-week abortion bill?

Bret: Gail, I bet this is the first time you wish the One Percent were more like the majority, at least in terms of attitudes about Republican candidates. If Park Avenue got to decide the G.O.P. primary, Haley would be the nominee in a heartbeat.

And speaking of heartbeats … Biden turns 81 this week. Happy birthday, Mr. President. May you live to 100, but please, please, please retire. We’ll all pitch in to buy you a new Corvette, at least before we have to take away the keys.

Gail: Sigh. Once again I’m gonna have to follow up my praise of Biden in office with a plea for him to leave it. If you’re in good health like he is, your 80s can be a great time of achievement. Or your 90s — look at Jimmy Carter and all his charitable work, and Rosalynn, who just passed away at 96. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good time to be president of the United States.

If our president really wants to make me thankful this season, he knows what he can do …

Bret: Let’s face it, there’s just not a lot to be thankful for, politically speaking. So, um, read any good books lately?

Gail: Well, right now I’m on “Romney,” the Mitt biography by McKay Coppins — although Romney himself was so wildly cooperative it feels as if he should get some kind of co-author status. So far, it’s a very good read.

And I just finished our colleague Adam Nagourney’s book “The Times,” which is about … well, us. Adam’s a friend and a terrific reporter. Bet anyone who’s a devoted Times reader will gobble it up.

Finally — I sort of have a thing for presidential biographies and if anybody’s looking for a really fine one, I’d recommend “Washington,” by Ron Chernow. Always good to start at the beginning.

How about you?

Bret: Generally, I hate books about the media by the media: Solipsism is one of the curses of our profession. But everyone who has read Adam’s book tells me it’s terrific, and I’ve promised myself to get to it before the year’s out.

I’m making my way through two books right now, one to feed the mind and the other the soul. The first is Yascha Mounk’s “The Identity Trap,” an intellectual tour de force by the Johns Hopkins scholar about the origins of identity politics and the threat it presents to genuine, honest, old-fashioned liberalism. The second is “My Effin’ Life,” by the greatest living Canadian: singer and bassist Geddy Lee of the band Rush. It’s a story about how an improbable trio of geeks from Ontario rose to the pinnacle of rock ’n’ roll stardom while somehow holding on to their wits, souls and marriages.

I’m sure you can’t wait to read it. I’m guessing you’d rather talk about budget negotiations.

Gail: Well, one ongoing story line that’s driving me crazy is the House Republicans’ insistence that pretty much everything be tied to a cut in the I.R.S. budget.

Now I know it’s natural for people to hate tax collectors. But the idea that you make the country more stable by making it easier for folks to conceal income and illicitly expand deductions is beyond me.

Bret: Hope it won’t surprise you to learn that, while I’m all for lowering taxes, majorly, I’m also for collecting them, fully. The Republican war on the I.R.S. isn’t pro-growth; it’s just anti-government.

As for the big picture: We can’t go on like this, from one short-term spending bill to another, one budget crisis to another, one House speaker to another. This is banana republic governance — and by “banana” I mean bananas. Pramila Jayapal, the progressive congresswoman from Seattle with whom I agree roughly once every 500 years, was right when she said, “It’s the same menu, different waiter.”

Gail: In a normal — thinking non-Trump — era, the Republicans would have taken over the House by a more substantial margin. Usually happens when one party gets the presidency, as you know. Voters get nervous and want to put up some barricades against extremely partisan behavior.

But this time the Republicans won by only a hair, in part because there were a number of awful Trump-promoted Republican candidates.

So you’ve got a House run by a deeply inexperienced leader with a tiny majority. And everything bad that happens is going to be the Republicans’ fault.

… Except, I guess, if Biden’s dog Commander comes back to the White House and bites more people.

Hey, before we go — Happy Thanksgiving, Bret. Very grateful for the chance to converse with you every week.

Bret: And to you!