The ‘Billy Graham rule’ doesn’t honor your wife. It demeans her — and all women.

It’s charitable to first assume our fellow humans are acting in good faith, so let’s first assume that Robert Foster genuinely believes he is the hero of this story. Let’s assume that when the Mississippi gubernatorial candidate denied a female journalist access to his campaign because she is female, he truly saw himself as a bulwark against moral decay. This doesn’t make him right, of course, but it does give context to the problem — albeit a context that should terrify us all.

Larrison Campbell, a female reporter with Mississippi Today, revealed this week that she had asked to shadow Foster for a day on the campaign trail. Two of her colleagues were already following other contenders, but Foster turned down Campbell’s request — unless, that is, she brought along a male colleague. The reason? He obeys the “Billy Graham rule,” refusing to be alone with any woman other than his wife, or, as he put it, “avoid any decision that may evoke suspicion or compromise of our marriage.”

Criticism followed, and Foster bristled at it: “The liberal left . . . can’t believe, that even in 2019, someone still values their relationship with their wife and upholds their Christian Faith,” he tweeted.

But unfortunately, there’s not a single inch of moral high ground achieved via the Billy Graham rule, which purports to honor marriage vows. In similar fashion, Vice President Pence once said he would not dine alone with a woman to whom he wasn’t married. But rules like these don’t honor your wife. They just presume that your marriage vows are so flimsy that you can’t be trusted to uphold them unless a babysitter monitors you. It’s rather like a thief sanctimoniously announcing that he brings a parole officer every time he goes to the bank to make sure he doesn’t rob it. Good for you, dude, for knowing your own limitations — but it doesn’t make you better than the rest of us, who manage to regularly not steal things even when we’re completely alone.

Or, as writer Jeremy White offered: “[The rule] presumes either:

A) you can’t be trusted or

B) women can’t be trusted.

Everyone invoking that rule should be prepared to answer which is true.”

At other points, Foster’s camp seemed to imply that the issue wasn’t about his marriage vows but about optics. “We’re really concerned about bad publicity,” Campbell said Foster’s campaign director told her. The director mentioned the possibility of a rival campaign taking photographs of the pair together, which would put Foster in a “compromising position.”

There’s so much wrong with this logic that it’s difficult to know where to start.

It implies that a man and woman together are necessarily engaging in compromising activities. Even if they are in public. Even if one of them, like Campbell, is gay. Even if one of them is a candidate on the campaign trail and the other is holding a notebook and wearing a press badge, and they’re making the rounds of public events and rubber chicken dinners. (Truly, if this is what Foster considers being caught in flagrante, I feel deeply sad about his sex life.) It implies that Campbell is a love interest before she’s a journalist, even when she’s specifically there as a journalist.

This logic further implies that Foster’s silly, specious perception of a “compromised position” is more important than the actual compromised position that his policy creates for Campbell. She has been assigned a job that she is now unable to do. Her news outlet must decide whether to short its readers on coverage of a gubernatorial candidate on a matter of principle or capitulate to the candidate’s insulting demands. (They rightly chose the former and skipped the assignment).

The most harmful aspect of the Graham/Pence rule is this: It keeps women out of the room. It says that men can forward their careers via mentoring sessions, golf games and brainstorming lunches, but women cannot.

Are we to gather that, because of this rule, Foster would also never employ a female chief of staff, attorney or accountant and never visit a female doctor, dentist or physical therapist, since all of those roles would necessitate occasional alone time?

These might be acceptable, if dispiriting, choices for a private citizen to make in his own life, but a governor making them has cascading effects for hundreds of thousands of people within his bureaucracy. The Graham/Pence rule prevents women from climbing to the top of their careers because the men who have the power to help them get there won’t even let them in the room.

To add insult to injury, the men barring the door get to use their faith as the deadbolt. Their discrimination is wrapped in piety; their disdain for women is disguised as honor for wives. Rather than figuring out how to do something truly moral, like create a world in which all genders are equally able to succeed, they create a delusion where women must be protected into oblivion.

Can you imagine if Foster’s faith-based rationale was rooted in any faith but Christianity? Can you imagine if a Muslim male candidate refused to be shadowed by a female reporter? What then do you suppose would be the reaction of far-right conservative evangelicals?

Can you imagine what a positive impact Foster could have had if he’d chosen a different route — highlighting his respect for women in professional roles, for example, or building enough trust in his marriage that it didn’t need to be governed by arbitrary rules? If he was uncomfortable with Campbell coming along alone,

  • he could have provided his own campaign staffer, rather than asking her to bring a colleague.
  • He could have brought his wife.
  • He could have live-streamed the trip for video evidence of its propriety. He had options.

But late Wednesday night, Foster was still defending his position, presenting himself as the wronged party. “My wife and the State of Mississippi deserve a governor who doesn’t compromise their beliefs,” he wrote. And then, a vaguer tweet that also seemed to allude to the incident: “I will not be intimidated into a corner of silence by a group of radical Socialists and Communists whose goal in life is to dismantle America.”

Dismantle America. Two professional, clothed, adults riding together in a car, in the process of doing their respective jobs, is dismantling America.

The only upside of Foster continuing to dig this hole was that, by the end of the day, it was difficult to imagine any woman wanting to spend 15 hours in a car with him. Not alone, not with a chaperone, not for work, not for fun. He can’t be in a car with a woman doing her job? Fine. Leave him in the dust, by the side of the road.

The Catastrophic Performance of Bill Barr

The attorney general misled the public in seven key ways.

was willing to give Bill Barr a chance. Consider me burned.

When Barr was nominated, I wrote a cautious piece for this magazine declining to give him “a character reference” and acknowledging “legitimate reasons to be concerned about [his] nomination,” but nonetheless concluding that “I suspect that he is likely as good as we’re going to get. And he might well be good enough. Because most of all, what the department needs right now is honest leadership that will insulate it from the predations of the president.”

When he wrote his first letter to Congress announcing the principal conclusions of the Mueller report, I wrote another piece saying, “For the next two weeks, let’s give Attorney General William Barr the benefit of the doubt” on the question of releasing the report in a timely and not-too-redacted fashion.

I took a lot of criticism for these pieces—particularly the second one, in which I specifically said we should evaluate Barr’s actual performance in regard to releasing the Mueller report, and thus wait for him to act, rather than denouncing him preemptively.

Barr has now acted, and we can now evaluate his actual, rather than his hypothesized, performance.

It has been catastrophic. Not in my memory has a sitting attorney general more diminished the credibility of his department on any subject. It is a kind of trope of political opposition in every administration that the attorney general—whoever he or she is—is politicizing the Justice Department and acting as a defense lawyer for the president. In this case it is true.

Barr has consistently sought to spin his department’s work in a highly political fashion, and he has done so to cast the president’s conduct in the most favorable possible light. Trump serially complained that Jeff Sessions didn’t act to “protect” him. Matthew Whitaker never had the stature or internal clout to do so effectively. In Barr, Trump has found his man.

‘Riling Up the Crazies’

As long as I’ve covered politics, Republicans have been trying to scare me.

Sometimes, it has been about gays and transgender people and uppity women looming, but usually it has been about people with darker skin looming.

They’re coming, always coming, to take things and change things and hurt people.

A Democratic president coined the expression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But it was Republicans who flipped the sentiment and turned it into a powerful and remorseless campaign ethos: Make voters fear fear itself.

The president has, after all, put a tremendous effort into the sulfurous stew of lies, racially charged rhetoric and scaremongering that he has been serving up as an election closer. He has been inspired to new depths of delusion, tweeting that “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.

He has been twinning the words “caravan” and “Kavanaugh” in a mellifluous poem to white male hegemony. Whites should be afraid of the migrant caravan traveling from Central America, especially since “unknown Middle Easterners” were hidden in its midst, an alternative fact that he cheerfully acknowledged was based on nothing.

The word “Kavanaugh” is meant to evoke the fear that aggrieved women will hurtle out of the past to tear down men from their rightful perches of privilege.

Naomi Wolf told Bill Clinton, and later Al Gore, they should present themselves as the Good Father, strong enough to protect the home (America) from invaders.

Trump’s rhetorical schizophrenia is easy to see through

And so, on one day, we had an unhinged and divisive rant by President Trump in Phoenix. Then, the next day in Reno, Nev., a call for national unity and reconciliation. Multiple political personality disorder. Rhetorical schizophrenia.

The gap between Trump extemporaneous and Trump scripted is canyon-like. The normal role of a speechwriter is to find, refine and elevate the voice of a leader. The greatest professional victory comes when a president thinks: This is the way I would sound if I had more time to write and more talent with language. In these circumstances, speechwriting is not deception; it is amplification.

.. But what about speechwriting that is designed to give a leader a different voice? Here moral issues begin to lurk. Is it ethical to make a cynical leader appear principled? A violent leader seem pacific? A cruel leader seem compassionate?

.. Or maybe a speechwriter can hope a president will eventually rise to the level of his teleprompter.

.. he plays rhetorical games with the artificial (for him) constraints of being presidential. “Nobody wants me to talk about your other senator — who’s weak on borders, weak on crime,” he said of (conservative Republican) Jeff Flake. “Now everybody’s happy.” Here the “nobody” clearly included his own concerned advisers. Trump often uses speeches (and Twitter) to cut the strings of their counsel.
  • .. So it was the real voice that we heard in Phoenix, attacking a man with brain cancer — Republican Sen. John McCain — without any wish for his recovery.
  • The real voice defending a supporter who had been fired by CNN for writing “Sieg Heil” on Twitter.
  • The real voice making fun of a TV anchor’s height. The real voice again widening racial divisions by defending Confederate monuments as “our history and our heritage.
  • It was the real voice expressing greater passion in criticizing journalists than white supremacists.

.. his transparency reveals a disordered personality.

his Phoenix remarks indicate a loose connection to reality.

  • His response to the violence in Charlottesville was, in his view, “perfect.”
  • The North Koreans, he claimed, are learning to “respect” America (for which there is no evidence).
  • “I don’t believe that any president has accomplished as much as this president in the first six or seven months,” Trump claimed of himself. “I really do not believe it.”

What if Trump really believes what he claims? Then he would be not deceptive, but deluded.

.. Trump is not merely acting unpresidential; he is erratic and grandiose.

On the evidence of the Phoenix speech, Trump believes that a government shutdown is preferable to giving up on funding for the southern border wall. This involves a different type of delusion. Poll after poll demonstrates that about 35 percent of Americans support Trump’s wall. You can’t hold national parks and veterans’ payments hostage over an issue like this and expect to win.

..  “It also takes careful management of the levers available to the administration in a shutdown to keep it from becoming a nightmare immediately, and OMB [Office of Management and Budget] is not doing the work to prepare. Incompetence is the death of these guys over and over.”

.. The unified control of House, Senate and presidency means little when the president lives in a reality of his own.