Jan 5, 2021

Today's Georgia election.

Today's Georgia election.

Plus, what's the difference between left and right?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 11 minutes.

The Georgia Senate runoffs today. Plus, a question about defining “left” and “right

Joe Biden (right) on stage with Raphael Warnock (center) and Jon Ossoff (left). Photo: Screenshot, BBC News

Quick hits.

  1. The United Kingdom’s Boris Johnson reimposed a third wave of harsh lockdowns after the new strain of coronavirus began spreading very rapidly there.
  2. President Donald Trump held a rally in Georgia where he publicly pressured his vice president to intervene in the electoral college process set to take place Wednesday. “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” he said. “He's a great guy. 'Course, if he doesn't come through, I won't like him quite as much."
  3. Dominion Voting Systems says it is suing attorney Sidney Powell for defamation and exploring similar lawsuits against President Trump and others who have falsely claimed its machines were part of a ploy to overturn the election.
  4. The most likely Trump successors for 2024 are divided over a plan to oppose the electoral college results, with some getting on board while others chart their own paths forward.
  5. U.S. stocks edged higher Tuesday morning after stocks tumbled Monday over concerns about the new strain of coronavirus spreading globally.

What D.C. is talking about.

Georgia. Once again, the Peach State is in the limelight, and this time it’s for control of the U.S. Senate. Joe Biden won the state by less than 12,000 votes. Now, Democrats need to win both of the Senate runoff elections in order to force a 50-50 tie in the Senate, which would effectively give them the majority (vice president Kamala Harris would be the tie breaking vote). If Republicans win one or both of the seats, they will retain their majority, which means Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would have control over what nominees, judges and pieces of legislation are considered for a vote.

Republicans are running Sen. David Perdue, whose term just expired, for a second term, alongside Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to her seat after it was vacated by Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned for health reasons. Democrats are running Jon Ossoff, a 33-year-old former congressional staffer, filmmaker and failed House candidate, against Perdue and Rev. Raphael Warnock, an Atlanta pastor, against Loeffler.

Once again, we are in for more than just an “election day.” More than three million people have voted early, and 100,000 of them were first-time voters. By Georgia law, early votes cannot be counted until polls close at 7 p.m. EST. That means, once again, you can expect Republicans (who are more likely to vote in person) to jump out to an early lead as results are reported. Meanwhile, Democrats are likely to make up some ground with early voting. Provisional and military votes could be counted as late as Friday, meaning this may unfold over the course of several days if it’s close.

It’s also not at all clear who has the advantage, given that polls were unreliable in 2020 and very few have come out since November. The mainstream consensus is that Republicans are still at an advantage, and that Joe Biden was put over the top by centrist and Republican suburban voters turning on Trump. Still, Democrats are enthusiastic about the first-time voters showing up, and the historic early voting turnout is fueling optimism about their chances.

What the right is saying.

Most Republicans are pleading with voters to show up and cast ballots for Loeffler and Perdue, even if they have doubts about the integrity of the election.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board laid out “what’s at stake” in the election, pointing to all the differences between 51 or 52 Republicans in the Senate versus a 50-50 split.

“Start with control of committees, which would shift markedly leftward,” the board said. “Republicans would lose their ability to investigate issues like FBI abuse and Hunter Biden’s China dealings. A GOP Senate is likely to approve most of Mr. Biden’s cabinet picks, but Democrats would whisk through even controversial nominees like Neera Tanden at the White House budget office or Xavier Becerra at HHS. There would be no check on judicial nominees… Congress needs only a simple majority to repeal Trump Administration regulations under the Congressional Review Act. Say goodbye to the new rule speeding environmental reviews on public works. A 50-vote Senate (with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties) also guarantees a huge tax increase since current rules allow a simple majority to pass a budget.

“If the filibuster goes, so do bipartisan restraints,” it added. “Statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico become possible, with four new Senate seats to cement a Democratic majority. Mr. Biden’s aggressive union agenda has a chance, including overtime pay mandates and easier organizing of franchise chains. So do nationwide mandates for ballot harvesting and mail-in voting, a ban on arbitration in business contracts, price controls on drugs, huge subsidies for green energy and perhaps a carbon tax. We could go on.”

In a Fox News op-ed, Timothy Head wrote that the choice for Christian voters is clear in Georgia: Loeffler and Perdue.

“One of the biggest issues for American evangelicals is abortion,” he wrote. “Evangelicals are decidedly pro-life; Pew research has found that a whopping 77% of evangelicals support making abortion illegal in all or most cases. And with good reason, too. Strong pro-life values come straight from the Bible, and Christianity clearly teaches respect for life at all stages, from conception until natural death… But you wouldn’t know that if you listened to the Democrats on the ballot Tuesday. Warnock has repeatedly expressed his belief that abortion is consistent with Christianity and has proclaimed he will ‘always fight for reproductive justice.’

“But the runoff elections will have much larger implications for voters of faith,” he added. “The Democrats would be that much closer to packing the Supreme Court to legislate the liberal agenda from the bench. Leading Democrats and even Joe Biden himself have already signaled their willingness to repeal the Hyde Amendment, a vital piece of legislation that ensures no federal funding supports abortions. That’s not even to mention the Democrats' growing hostility to true religious liberty for Christians.”

In The New York Times, Ross Douthat — a conservative who opposes President Trump — took a different approach. He wrote that he hopes Loeffler and Perdue lose, if only to teach the GOP a lesson and move the country a step farther away from Trumpism.

“It’s still the Trump era, the Trump show, the last crazy act (until he runs in 2024, that is), with everything dialed up as far as he can take it: the wildest conspiracy theories, the most perfect phone calls to beleaguered state officials and the most depressing sort of voter-fraud pandering from the irresponsibility caucus among congressional Republicans,” he wrote. “Even though the party richly deserved some sort of punishment, I didn’t want the G.O.P. to be destroyed by its affiliation with Trump, because I’m one of those Americans who don’t want to be ruled by liberalism in its current incarnation, let alone whatever form is slowly being born. But now that the party has survived four years of Trumpism without handing the Democrats a congressional supermajority, and now that Amy Coney Barrett is on the Supreme Court and Joe Manchin, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney will hold real power in the Senate, whatever happens in Georgia — well, now I do want Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to lose these races, mostly because I don’t want the Republican Party to be permanently ruled by Donald J. Trump.”

What the left is saying.

The left is hoping for an upset, and pleading with voters to see the absurdity — and danger — of the lengths Loeffler and Perdue have gone to to protect Trump.

William Saletan wrote that the two senators are “abetting Trump’s coup attempt.”

“Since Election Day, Trump has been trying to invalidate or tamper with Georgia’s ballot count, which he narrowly lost,” Saletan wrote. “He has threatened every official—most notably, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—who followed the law and stood in his way. Perdue and Loeffler have sided with Trump, parroting his lies and demanding Raffensperger’s resignation. Even now, three weeks after the Electoral College confirmed Joe Biden’s victory, the Georgia senators continue to brush aside court rulings and spread lies about ‘nefarious activities’ that somehow swung the election. Perdue says Republicans should seek ‘revenge’ for fraud ‘perpetrated’ by Democrats.

“On Sunday, Perdue endorsed a move in Congress to defy the election results by objecting, in a procedural challenge on Wednesday, to Biden’s win in the Electoral College. ‘I’m encouraging my colleagues to object,’ said Perdue, dismissing his own state’s certified ballot count,” Saletan added. “Meanwhile, in a Fox News interview, Loeffler suggested that if she and Perdue were to win the runoffs on Tuesday, that would be a mandate to fight for Trump in Congress the next day… Loeffler announced on Monday that she would support the congressional movement to reject the president’s defeat in the Electoral College.”

In Jacobin Magazine, David Sirota and Andrew Perez hammered Loeffler and Perdue as “millionaire senators” who were ignoring starving Georgians and preventing a vote on $2,000 stimulus checks, even as they offered muted support for the checks. This is how they described the Senate choice:

“One of the senate races features Republican Kelly Loeffler, who was plucked out of the financial industry and appointed to the Senate,” they wrote. “There, she quickly made lucrative stock trades after a government briefing about the pandemic, and also got herself named to a panel regulating the agency that polices her husband’s business empire. The other senate race features Republican David Perdue, who has also spent his time in the Senate making stock trades to boost his personal wealth after running Dollar General, where he faced allegations of wage theft.

“As if this cartoonish corruption wasn’t enough for a made-for-TV drama, the two zillionaire Republican incumbents are running against Reverend Raphael Warnock, the anti-poverty crusader who runs Martin Luther King Jr’s church; and Jon Ossoff, a Pete Buttigieg–like Saturday Night Live caricature of a blank-slate political candidate who has rightly zeroed in on the issue, calling the GOP’s proposal for just $600 ‘a joke.’”

In USA Today, Takeo Spikes made the case that rural Black voters in Georgia could determine the future of the country.

“Since the November election, attention has been rightfully paid to the role of Black voters — and Black organizers — in flipping Georgia for President-elect Joe Biden,” he wrote. “This attention is warranted, and long overdue, but often overlooked is the role of rural Black voters in particular. After decades of political neglect, emboldened rural Georgian voters are turning out in droves and forcing themselves into the political conversation. Rural Black voters played a central role in helping Biden win Georgia, and now have the chance to decide which party controls the U.S. Senate… A third of rural Georgians are people of color and one in four voters outside the Atlanta metro area are Black. In fact, most of the 20 majority-Black counties in Georgia are in rural areas — including Washington County, where I grew up.

“While it did not start in 2018, Stacey Abrams’ near-win that year showed the country that Georgia is purple, and it showed rural Georgians their political power,” he said. “Abrams went all across the state, including to rural areas like where I grew up. She showed rural Georgians that they could make a difference and be heard by their leaders. Rural Black voters saw that Georgia was winnable for Democrats and that they could be a part of it…For the first time, back in my hometown, and in towns like it all across the state, there is a feeling of hope.”

My take.

Tangle’s policy is and will always be that we don’t make endorsements. We didn’t in the 2020 presidential election, and I’ve never believed that a news outlet telling you who you should vote for does anything other than convince you of that outlet’s bias or lack of independence. If you read Tangle closely enough, you should get a myriad of political views on every issue and be able to make up your mind on your own with a holistic view of an event or issue. You can likely deduce my personal feelings about a topic by reading the “My take” section — which is the entire point. I’m trying to be honest and transparent while separating my views from the rest of the newsletter.

So I’ll say the same thing I said about this race a month ago: This is not an endorsement of anyone’s policies or any candidates, but I am hoping Loeffler and Perdue lose. Not because I think one make-up of the Senate is definitively better than the other, not because I dislike their tax policies or stances on immigration, but because what they are doing — openly calling to overturn an election result that is unambiguous — is a disgusting dereliction of duty. Here’s what I wrote in early December:

I don’t care about their politics or positions, I just don’t want them at the helm. I hope Loeffler and Perdue lose for what they’re doing — and I hope all the Republicans who are peddling this crap then understand why the runoffs blew up in their faces. I’d rather have Democrats like Jon Tester, Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema — all moderates and some conservative — holding the center in the Senate with deciding votes for a judge or cabinet pick. I’d rather have Republicans like Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski holding the keys to a larger majority in the upper chamber. Why pay any heed to this nonsense? Why bring back two ultra-wealthy, shady, insider stock trading, conspiracy-peddling Republicans when we’re already headed for a split Senate and a moderate U.S. government anyway? Regardless of my politics, I can’t lend any credence to candidates who are unwilling to acknowledge the clear outcome of an election. I just can’t.

All of this still holds up a month later. If anything, my conviction is even stronger. Since then, a half dozen more court cases have been thrown out, every state has certified its vote, several states have audited and recounted their elections, and Trump loyalists have yet to provide any “evidence” of fraud that holds up under the slightest scrutiny. That’s to say nothing of the president literally demanding Georgia’s Secretary of State find votes he thinks he needs to win, only for Loeffler and Perdue to nod along as if that were somehow normal.

On top of that, the Supreme Court is already decidedly conservative, the Senate will be split, the Democrats’ majority in the House is razor thin, the federal courts have been remade in a conservative image, and the left got hammered at the state level. The idea that Democrats would have runaway power with a 50-50 split in the Senate is simply not true. In fact, a 50-50 split would move the Senate’s power centers decidedly to the middle and away from the fringes. The most centrist, moderate Democrats and Republicans — the ones still interested in legislating and bipartisan cooperation — would have more power than they’ve had in a decade.

At this point, I’m not rooting for a candidate or a policy position — I’m just rooting for some kind of accountability and consequences for the politicians who have been lying so brazenly to Americans while simultaneously trying to steal their votes. I still think Republicans have the edge, and I’d still be surprised if Democrats managed to win one or both seats, but I’m holding out hope we can snuff out some of the radicalism that’s been spreading like wildfire in the Senate.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Can you please explain what it means to be left? Right? The difference between the two?

— Dan, San Francisco, California

Tangle: Thinking about this question, it occurred to me how difficult it is to parse America’s political leanings. One of the weird contradictions of Tangle is that I’m trying to both turn the temperature down on polarization and give people a better understanding of “the other side’s” positions while using a format that is inherently divisive: left versus right.

Early readers may remember that the original Tangle format was “What Democrats are saying” vs “What Republicans are saying.” I eventually abandoned that format because it felt too divisive. I also didn’t like it because it was too limiting; the progressive left and younger Americans have very little party loyalty to Democrats while the Republican party has been remade in Donald Trump’s image, and I don’t think Trump is at all a Republican in the traditional sense.

So Left vs. Right felt more accurate, and easier to parse, than Democrats vs. Republicans. As an example: A dear friend once described the political alignment in 2016 of Bernie Sanders vs. Donald Trump as “not 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock, but 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock.” His point was that they are closer to each other than traditional Republicans and Democrats, even though at the time they were being framed as far-left and far-right.

Still, to me, “the left” today is defined by a general alignment with Democratic principles, an expansive view of the government’s role in our everyday lives, a belief that government regulation can address major economic issues, and a tendency to view immigrants as a strength, and America’s role in the “global society” favorably. Perhaps most importantly, left-wing politics are centered around pursuing equality of opportunity, a belief that societal inequalities can and need to be solved, and a general opposition to what they see as an unfair social hierarchy that exists in America today.

On the other hand, “the right” is still defined by a general alignment with Republican policies, a desire for limited government in our everyday lives to preserve freedom, a belief that government regulation can stifle economic growth, and a desire to favor U.S. citizens over those of other nations while also limiting immigration. Perhaps most importantly, right-wing politics generally accept societal hierarchies and argue that they are a natural component of human nature, unavoidable and perhaps even something we should want. There is a strong desire to sustain and encourage what they see as a meritocracy in America.

Nuances abound, of course. Topics like abortion can flip these dichotomies on their heads (i.e. many Americans with right-wing policies want robust regulation and prohibition of abortion, while the left generally wants government out of such a personal decision). Similarly, the right does not simply think the destitute should be left for destitution (many contend less government involvement is the answer to poverty) nor does everyone on the left think capitalism is irredeemable (many contend a more regulated capitalism is the best path forward). It’s also worth noting that “right” and “left” have different connotations depending on what country you are in.

The reason we call it “right” and “left” actually comes from the seating arrangement in the 19th-century French parliament. Those sitting on the right and left of the chamber were generally lumped into two divergent belief systems, and that language has somehow persisted to political alignments globally ever since. There are other ways to describe political alignments, too. One reader suggested I use “open” and “closed” instead of right and left, a terminology that David Brooks mainstreamed in a 2016 column in The New York Times.

Regardless, when I talk about right and left, I am generally imagining these short descriptions — and trying to quote people who consistently align themselves on the right or left worldview. It’s not always easy, and when it’s more nuanced, I try to say so.

A story that matters.

Because of a quirk in the COVID-19 stimulus package, Americans who received unemployment benefits will get a smaller — or totally nonexistent — tax refund this year, Axios reports. Part of the tax law will count unemployment as taxable income, which means those Americans who received it will actually owe money to the federal government, which could reverse or eliminate any tax refunds they were expecting to collect at the end of the year. When 2021 rolls around, they’ll have to declare their benefits as income. “Even if tax authorities are lenient with their rules because of the pandemic, the fact remains that huge numbers of Americans of all income levels are going to miss out on the tax refunds they typically use to pay bills (including medical ones) or build their nest eggs,” Axios reported.


  • 2.1 million. The number of Americans who have had to withdraw money from their 401(k) plans during the pandemic to cover basic expenses.
  • 2.5 million. The number of COVID-19 vaccine doses that have been distributed to nursing home residents and staff.
  • 14%. The percentage of those doses that have actually been administered.
  • $253 million. The amount of money spent in the Perdue-Ossoff Georgia Senate race, the most in any Senate race in U.S. history.
  • $238 million. The amount of money spent in the Loeffler-Warnock Georgia Senate race, the third-most in any Senate race in U.S. history.
  • 15. The number of days until Joe Biden is inaugurated.

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Have a nice day.

After an oncologist in Arkansas closed down his practice, he took the extraordinary step of forgiving more than $650,000 of medical debt that was owed by his patients. Dr. Omar Atiq said when he moved to start collecting payments from patients, he realized many of them were in no position to pay off the debt they owed. "We thought there was not a better time to do this than during a pandemic that has decimated homes, people's lives and businesses and all sorts of stuff," Atiq said. "We just thought we could do it, and we wanted to, so we went ahead and did it."

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