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David Plotz: Hello and welcome to the Slate Political Gabfest for November 8, 2013, the “It's Not Plagiarism If You Say It in a Loud Voice” Edition. I’m David Plotz, the editor of Slate. I have got a cold. I am feeling logey, slow, ailing. So, Slate’s chief political correspondent, John Dickerson, by my side, as he gets infected with my illness. He’s going to have to—
Emily Bazelon: Lucky him!
David Plotz: He’s going to have to carry the show on his own.
John Dickerson: I feel like my whole life is one big dodging of contagion. There’s you. The kids are sick. I’ve been on planes and trains recently where people are not practicing good—
Emily Bazelon: There must be a piece of wilted lettuce you could complain about, John.
John Dickerson: Yes, where people—you’re the one who’s the guardian of the wilted lettuce, constantly carrying around in a little packet pieces of wilted lettuce that you fling in front of people.
Emily Bazelon: I like to sprinkle it on all of your food.
John Dickerson: Yeah, oh my God.
David Plotz: That, dear friends, is of course Slate Senior Editor Emily Bazelon in New Haven. Emily Bazelon, Nazi Hunter, as I know her. She is fresh off a triumphant story that we’ll talk about later in the show.
This week’s Political Gabfest, for the first time in months we will not talk about either Obamacare or the shutdown. So, if you came expecting us to talk about Obamacare or the shutdown, try another podcast. Toddle on over to Obamacare News Today or some other Obamacare podcast, because you’re not going to get that here.
Instead we’re going to talk about what Chris Christie’s huge victory in New Jersey means for the future of the GOP, means for the 2016 election, and means for Chris Christie’s himself. Did you see that “The Elephant in the Room” headline?
Emily Bazelon: That was so bad, huh?
John Dickerson: It was the cover of Time.
Emily Bazelon: With that yucky picture.
David Plotz: Why did they do that?
Emily Bazelon: They’re rude.
David Plotz: Did they make him look elephantine? I didn’t see—
John Dickerson: Wait a minute! As an editor you ask this question? Because would we have been talking about if they would have been like, “The GOP Civil War," or, you know, “Christie - The Race is On,” or some other crap.
David Plotz: Did they make him look big?
John Dickerson: Not particularly.
Emily Bazelon: It’s not that hard to do that.
David Plotz: Did they make him look Rob Ford-like?
John Dickerson: But I mean, you put a silhouette and the word “elephant” on the cover and—
Emily Bazelon: Yeah, they made him look like he had a triple chin.
David Plotz: But it doesn’t make me think well of Time. I didn’t actually go read the story.
John Dickerson: No, but I mean, you know, and the old argument that any publicity is good publicity.
David Plotz: I don’t know.
John Dickerson: It just seems, you could be more clever than that.
Emily Bazelon: Though, I have to say, John, it exactly fits what you said about Christie’s weight issue, which is that it’s just going to keep coming up.
John Dickerson: Yeah, I did say that, didn’t I. Although—yeah.
Emily Bazelon: Mm-hmm.
David Plotz: Well, let’s talk about that in a minute. Let me run through the other topics. Sorry, I took us off track there. The second topic we’ll talk about is Rand Paul’s plagiarism. The Kentucky senator caught stealing left, right, and center. Actually, stealing basically right, right, and right.
John Dickerson: Ha!
David Plotz: I just made that up. I appreciate the gut laugh there.
John Dickerson: That was an honest reaction.
David Plotz: So, is that going to affect his national ambitions, particularly his presidential ambitions for 2016 or not? And our third topic will be Emily extraordinary story about Nazi anatomy experiments and how they still weirdly shape modern American abortion politics. Plus, we’ll have cocktail chatter, of course.
Before we get started, an incredulous announcement. I do not understand it. We are a week later. There are still some tickets left for our Brooklyn live show on Tuesday November 19 at the Bell House in Brooklyn. There are still a few tickets left. Please go now to Slate.com/nygabfest. Pick up those last few tickets. I know it’s Tuesday night and all, but come on! We need to see bodies in seats. We can’t wait to see you all there. So, Slate.com/nygabfest.
Chris Christie won reelection as the Governor of New Jersey easily this week, setting the stage for his 2016 presidential campaign, and launching the battle—the war that’s going to excite the Republican Party for the next three years.
Meanwhile, Ken Cuccinelli, the Tea Party favorite Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, lost in a surprisingly close race. He was expected to lose by a lot more to Terry McAuliffe, the Clinton crony/Democratic fundraiser/nominee in Virginia.
So, we’re going to talk today about what these off-year elections mean for in particular for Republican politics going forward, and most specifically about the Republican presidential race in 2016, because Chris Christie at the moment is a frontrunner, the frontrunner. John and Emily will give us the determinative judgment in a moment for that election, but there are huge questions about whether he is too un-conservative to win, or whether his willingness to cooperate with Democrats makes him a fatally flawed candidate for the Republican primary.
Emily, why is it that Christie was able to win by such huge margins, do you think?
Emily Bazelon: He has real appeal to different groups. I mean, look, I want to emphasize of course the moderate/centrist thread in all of this. He is pro-immigration reform. He backed down on his anti-gay marriage stand recently. And he’s, you know, part of a kind of endangered species in the Republican Party, not someone who aligns with Tea Party values and principles. And he got handsomely rewarded for that in New Jersey which, of course, is a blue state, which helps explain why he’s taken those positions and also why he benefitted from them.
David Plotz: And John, now take us to the Cuccinelli. So, Cuccinelli lost this race for governor in Virginia. To me it was almost a victory, the fact that he got as close as he did. I mean, it’s a state that’s hugely anti-Obamacare. There had been this corrupt governor who shadowed him. The shutdown really hurt him as a Republican. And yet he still got within a point basically of winning the governor’s office.
John Dickerson: Yes, although with some important wrinkles. I think in the end it turns out he’s probably going to have lost by closer to three points, which means—Barack Obama won the state by four points. So, there’s a debate here about why he lost, and whether the race really tightened at the end, and whether Obamacare was a factor in the race tightening at the end.
I think the view I’m kind of tumbling towards at the end here is that basically the state—these are two unpopular candidates. Essentially it was a base election, as you would expect an off-year non-presidential election to be. And that the state basically reverted to form. A three-point win by McAuliffe is close to the four-point win by Obama. That this a state—it is the bell weather state that has matched the presidential outcome for the last two elections, that it is a state that maybe we could argue most closely resembles the country, at least in the way it finally splits out. I mean, the physical shape of the state and the way the votes spread are not matched elsewhere.
But, so the question is was there anything special, or did basically the state shake out the way sort of generic Republican versus generic Democrat would have run. I think you’re right, David, that Cuccinelli had a lot of problems. You know, he wasn’t a great candidate. He had a Libertarian candidate who may have siphoned off voters, although if you look at the exit polls there’s no evidence for that, so that’s one thing that’s still sort of up in the air.
There were a lot of polls that showed him down by double digits. The Washington Post poll had him down by 12 points a couple of weeks ago. And so it appeared that maybe he had like shrunk the margin based on a last minute push against Obamacare. But, the Democratic pollster from McAuliffe’s campaign said they always had it at three points going out the last couple of week. The Republican Governors Association, which did a poll in late September, had it at three points when they looked at exactly who was going to vote.
So, I think you could argue at the end of the day while there are lots of interesting parts of the race that we will talk about, that there may not be huge lessons that you can take here, or there’s enough for both sides to take lessons that will continue then basically making the cases they’ve made before.
David Plotz: So, if you’re a Tea Party conservative, you don’t come away completely disheartened?
John Dickerson: Oh God, no. No, no, no.
David Plotz: You come away with a sense like, okay, we ran a Tea Party conservative and he—
John Dickerson: He almost won.
David Plotz: Against a stiff win, and he almost won.
John Dickerson: Yeah, here’s the way you see it with him. You say, “Oh, the polls had him out by 12 points. He wasn’t supported by the Republican National Committee and the Republican Governors Association. He was supported, but not at the levels they had supported Bob McDonnell four years earlier. The establishment abandoned him.” Even so, when he ran hard on Obamacare it shrunk the margin at the end and he almost pulled it off, if only the establishment hadn’t abandoned him. This is proof that if you run on your principles you can almost do it. Because he was outspent by like $15 million maybe, so massively underdog, and he almost did it.
Now, that relies on ignoring some things, but that’s all the evidence you would take, and you would be full of vim and vigor that nothing was undermined here by this race in terms of the Tea Party view of things.
David Plotz: So, Emily, what’s the narrative that the Chris Christie supporters are going to use—God, I just used narrative in a non-ironic way, like John Dickerson. Oh my God!
John Dickerson: I haven’t used it in years!
David Plotz: I’m really sick. I’m definitely sick. What’s the story they’re going to tell that they’re going to use for the 2016, as they prep for the 2016 campaign that’s going to persuade Tea Partiers and conservatives that they’ve got to hold their nose and get behind Christie?
Emily Bazelon: Christie is a plain-speaking truth-talker. You may not like everything he says but you can trust him. He is by far the best we’re going to get. And in style you should love him, and if the substance isn’t quite to your liking, well, you’re going to like it a lot better than the Democratic opponent.
David Plotz: Oh, but Emily. Emily, we ran Mitt Romney in 2012. He was another one of those RINO governors from a blue state and he bombed out.
Emily Bazelon: Temperamentally he couldn’t be more different from Chris Christie. So, you may not—
David Plotz: Yeah, Chris Christie has got a temper. Chris Christie is a bully.
Emily Bazelon: But he’s someone you can trust to keep sticking it to the man. He’s going to say with you. You can rely on him. Mitt Romney wobbled and weebled all over the place, changed his views—
David Plotz: That’s not even a word.
Emily Bazelon: -- put his finger to the wind. Chris Christie does not do those things.
John Dickerson: There’s no weebling in him. Can I just pull us back from the brink here a little bit, which is the question on Christie’s conservatism, I mean, he is—he did cut taxes in New Jersey. He did go after unions quite hard. He is pro-life. So, he has a better record—
Emily Bazelon: He checks some boxes.
John Dickerson: Right. He has a better record to run on than Romney does with conservatives. Now, that doesn’t mean they aren’t suspicious. I mean, they look at his support for gun control. Emily mentioned the same-sex marriage issue. And he took Medicaid money as a part of the president’s Affordable Healthcare Act, which as we all know is not the favorite piece of legislation from conservative Republicans.
Emily Bazelon: Though, he’s not alone among Republican governors. And there are some purple state Republican governors that have done the same.
John Dickerson: Right. But they get the same ire from the conservatives who are questioning Christie.
Emily Bazelon: Right, true.
John Dickerson: So, that doesn’t help him. But, also, almost the issues don’t matter. If you go back and look at the Republican Party since the forties, there has always been an establishment candidate a not-establishment candidate. And most often the Republicans nominate the establishment candidate. And Christie is the establish candidate, not just for his views, but because during the 2012 election when people were unhappy with Mitt Romney—people by which I mean the establishment—they hauled Christie into one of those fancy clubs with enormous rooms all full of polished wood and surrounded with a table full of people worth billions of dollars, all of whom are in the Republican establishment, and said, “Please run.”
So, his friends and the people who like him and think he’s awesome are the establishment of the party. And by the way, also, he’s the favorite. He sort of has the John McCain/John Huntsman role in terms of being the Republican editors and news producers like the most. So, he has all the—
Emily Bazelon: Will that be a kiss of death? That doesn’t sound good. You bring up John Huntsman, that’s bad.
David Plotz: And also the role of this establishment candidate, the establishment is getting weaker and weaker in some ways.
John Dickerson: Well, I don’t know, it depends what you mean. But, that’s the point is that he has the wrong kind of friends for the grass roots. Your point, David, is interesting. I mean, the establishment is getting weaker with respect to congressional races. The question is really are they getting, I mean, they have a stronger case at the presidential level. Although, again, as you said, David, you can flip that on its head. I mean, they have a stronger case except for you could argue the establishment-type candidates that they’ve run are losing and that’s why they’re losing.
David Plotz: But why isn’t somebody like Scott Walker, who is like Chris Christie a governor, like Chris Christie a bully, or, if you prefer, someone who takes on hard issues and is aggressive about them, and has a record of accomplishment he can run on—unlike everybody in Congress—why isn’t he a much more appealing candidate than Christie is?
John Dickerson: It’s the piece that I’m writing, which is that if you want to have a civil war, it’s going to happen, so there’s no point in pretending it’s not going to happen. It always happens in the Republican Party. I mean, it happens in the Democratic Party, too, just in different ways. But, it’s going to happen, so there’s no point in imaging it’s not going to happen.
If it’s going to happen and you don’t like Chris Christie, your real fear is that Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, all the ABCs, Anybody But Christies, split the vote—he walks in, it’s over. So, pick your guy now. And if you’re going to pick a guy, don’t pick one of these one-term senators who have never run a lemonade stand and who prove it every day, but pick a governor. Pick a guy who can go toe-to-toe on accomplishment achievement, because Christie’s message in his acceptance speech—which is a fun thing to look at and we can talk about it if you want to—but he said we got the job done. He was mostly talking about Hurricane Sandy, something that helped him build that great coalition where he won a third of Democrats, a majority of women, and 50% of Hispanics. That’s a special thing in New Jersey. He’s not going to be able to carry that nationally. But he kept saying, “I’m going to get the job done. Get job done.”
Well, that’s a national message to the four-fifths of voters who think Washington can’t do anything and they want somebody in there who can get stuff done.
David Plotz: Right, it’s clear the Republicans—
Emily Bazelon: And it’s a smart message.
John Dickerson: Yeah.
David Plotz: Yeah. The Republicans have to nominate a governor, don’t they? I mean, they would be crazy to nominate like a Paul or a Ryan who has just got this trivial congressional experience.
John Dickerson: I should think so, and so that all argues for Scott Walker, who has credibility with the Tea Party, took on the tough fights, is a governor, comes from an important swing state, you know.
David Plotz: Is there any other governor who is legitimate? What’s her name, Nikki Haley? Is Nikki Haley reasonable.
John Dickerson: No. No, I mean—
David Plotz: Or the New Mexico one? Susana Martinez?
John Dickerson: No, she’s not. No. I mean, some people talk about Jeb Bush, but Jeb Bush is further to the left of—
Emily Bazelon: Those women. Just dismiss them out of hand, John.
John Dickerson: Yeah, that’s what it is. It’s gender. I didn’t even think of their gender until you brought it up.
David Plotz: Oh yeah.
Emily Bazelon: Oh yeah. Uh-huh. Because it’s subconscious.
John Dickerson: Yeah. Jeb Bush has even more problems than Chris Christie. So, he would be the other governor type that you might think about, and nobody is talking about Mitch Daniels anymore.
David Plotz: And Rick Perry—Oh, Mitch Daniels, what happened to Mitch Daniels? Or John Kasich?
John Dickerson: He’s now in West Lafayette. He’s the president of Purdue.
David Plotz: President of Purdue.
John Dickerson: And he’s moving and grooving there. You know, Rick Perry might run again—
David Plotz: And Kasich is not possible?
John Dickerson: -- and late night comedians are going to have to like do extra special knee bends to prepare for the Perry candidacy.
David Plotz: Kasich?
John Dickerson: Kasich, same Medicaid money problem. He might, I mean, Kasich is an interesting—I mean, it would be fun to have him in the race.
David Plotz: He’s smart.
John Dickerson: Yeah.
David Plotz: He’s a smart guy.
Emily Bazelon: Can I ask a question about Walker, John? Because to you, or at least I read you and I think that your argument is Christie’s potentially fatal flaw is his temper. Can he really make it through the grind of a long campaign? What about Scott Walker? What’s his potential fatal flaw?
John Dickerson: My point with Christie wasn’t so much that it was a fatal flaw. It’s that if people look at his election in New Jersey and say, “Wait, he won in a state with a 700,000 Democratic voter registration advantage?” Then that’s a great general election message for him, right? He can get Democrats to come together and he pitches this thing that voters say they want, which is somebody who can get both sides to work together. I guess my point was that one of the possibilities through the Republican primary process for him is that he warps himself in the battle, either by doing what Romney did, which is taking positions that don’t make any sense in terms of his own personal story. Or—
Emily Bazelon: But I just told you he’s not going to do that.
John Dickerson: Right. But, well, I got to get the rest of the sentence out. Or, he engages in fights where he has these explosions and eruptions that people in New Jersey love but that don’t wear well with a national audience. And so that makes him—he might get through the primaries just fine, but he gets through damaged in a way, because of his own personal thing.
I think the Scott Walker problem is he doesn’t have Christie’s dynamism. I think Christie conveys strength. He conveys the thing that we don’t know how to put our finger on, but it is what he’s selling—
Emily Bazelon: Charisma.
John Dickerson: -- which is—it’s not so much charisma. It’s like he’s going to get in a room and get something done. People won’t like it. But he makes his own weather.
David Plotz: Yeah.
Emily Bazelon: Yeah.
David Plotz: That was a good phrase.
John Dickerson: And you don’t think that necessarily about Scott Walker.
David Plotz: Yeah. I think that’s so well put. I mean, he is—
Emily Bazelon: It’s kind of Bill Clintonesque, right, larger than life?
David Plotz: Right.
John Dickerson: Yeah. And I think people who like Walker and are going to push Walker will make that case about him. And, look, he took on a big fight and weathered it. That’s not a small thing. There was a time in our American politics where all we were doing was talking about Scott Walker. And that wasn’t just because he was some like weak-kneed person.
So, he has talents, but he just happens to be going up against a guy who has got them, too.
David Plotz: The Republicans just have to be smart enough to put Christie up as their nominee. He has that charisma. He has that populist—
Emily Bazelon: David’s falling in love again.
David Plotz: Yeah.
Emily Bazelon: He’s David’s next man crush.
David Plotz: Well, no, I’m scared of—I don’t have a man crush.
Emily Bazelon: Michael Bloomberg is not even cold in his grave, man.
David Plotz: Yeah, I don’t have a man crush on Christie. All things being equal, I prefer your cerebral Bloomberg/Obama type politician, but how can the Republicans not be smart enough to put this guy up, who is so charismatic, who is like, I don’t even get it. I can’t even finish the sentence, I’m so flummoxed.
Emily Bazelon: Well, they haven’t not yet. So, you don’t have to be too critical.
John Dickerson: Can I exceed my word limit and make two more points before we go? One is that in Christie’s acceptance speech he made what I thought was an interesting argument for basically effective government. He talked about being able to get things done using government, which is so much different than the Tea Party acceptance speech that we hear from Tea Party candidates, which is all about going to Washington, or going into government to dismantle it, shrink it, and that leads to good—
David Plotz: But governors don’t say that.
John Dickerson: Well, I know, but—
David Plotz: Governors always say, “I’m going to the capitol to,” blah, blah—they don’t say, “To destroy our state.”
John Dickerson: I know. But I’m just saying in terms of this ongoing civil war. And then the other one last piece is in Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli’s top strategist said it was the government shutdown that possibly hurt Cuccinelli. It took all that time away from being able to talk about how bad Obamacare was.
What’s interesting about that is Ken Cuccinelli ran as a “take your stand,” principled conservative who did everything he could to kill Obamacare. Well, that’s what the guys who were involved in the shutdown were doing, everything they could to take a principled stand. And their argument was that it would benefit the Republican Party. Both of those camps can’t be right.
David Plotz: Chris Christie had a great week. One of his potential rivals for the GOP nomination in 2016, not so much. The Rand Paul plagiarism scandal unfolded this week. It began when Rachel Maddow caught Paul plagiarizing from the Wikipedia page about the movie Gattaca. BuzzFeed then cottoned onto this and located many other examples of Paul’s plagiarism, both in a recent book of his where he appears to have plagiarized from the Cato Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, Forbes Magazine, Regulation Magazine, and also in a Washington Times column as well.
The Washington Times then dropped Paul’s column, which was immediately picked up by another conservative media outlet, Breitbart.com. In a series of combative interviews, Paul acknowledged that stuff had been lifted without credit. He wrote it off as improper footnoting and sourcing rather than plagiarism. Why are you grinning?
John Dickerson: Well, it’s just so funny. It’s a typical thing, but you know, he grabbed one example, said it was bad footnoting, and then ignored the like 9,000 other examples which were wholesale grabbing—
David Plotz: He said it’s the media haters like John Dickerson. He didn’t use John’s name explicitly, but he meant it. John Dickerson. Media haters like John Dickerson and Emily Bazelon were trying to bring him down. That a lot of these supposed plagiarisms were things in speeches, or I guess also in books.
John Dickerson: Yeah, he said speeches, but it was in books, yeah.
David Plotz: But then it turned out that there was a lot in the book.
Emily Bazelon: More and more in the book. Like every second there’s a new book revelation.
David Plotz: Yeah, okay, all right. There’s a ton of plagiarism in the book. So, Emily, is Rand Paul a plagiarist?
Emily Bazelon: Yes. Certainly. Is he an intellectual thief? A slightly harder question. We are really good at dinging people for stealing actual passages, and I get that. I think it’s a little trivial to say that in a speech someone used the Wikipedia description of a movie. I mean, seriously, like who cares?
But now we’re to the point with the book where he does seem to have been taking the ideas of a couple of different academics and not necessarily even footnoting them, which is different from, “I left the quotation marks out but I did give Cato credit in the sourcing.”
David Plotz: John? Is he a plagiarist?
John Dickerson: Yeah. Yeah. You can’t, I mean, that’s easy. This is easy. You can’t just take huge paragraphs and just move them from one place to another. So, yeah. Now, the question is whether it matters. We obviously can all remember Joe Biden’s 1988 campaign where his trying to pass off quotations from Neil Kinnock—
Emily Bazelon: Not just quotations! The man’s whole personal story.
David Plotz: Yeah. Biden tried to do that. Yes.
Emily Bazelon: I mean, that was worse. Right?
David Plotz: That was much worse.
John Dickerson: That ended his—well, but—
David Plotz: It was much worse because he was saying it in a speech. He was making claims about his own life in his speech—
Emily Bazelon: He was going around saying, I’m the son of a coal miner, practically.
John Dickerson: Right. Well, but I mean, my point is that it was—it ended his candidacy. I mean, was it really that much different—
David Plotz: It was much different.
John Dickerson: Okay. All right.
David Plotz: It was much different. I’m about to explain why it’s much different. I feel like this is unusual that I’m about to be merciful in a way that you guys—John may have been about to be merciful. Emily didn’t sound like she was going to be merciful.
There is no doubt this is plagiarism of the highest order. They stole, and stole, and stole. I would be shocked if Rand Paul had anything to do with it. Shocked.
Emily Bazelon: Right. It was all is staff.
David Plotz: His staff did it. He took on faith the idea that his staff was writing material for him, that he could speak and publish under his name, that he’s taking the fall for his staff. Now, we all take the fall for, you know, anyone who is a boss takes the fall for their employees all the time.
Emily Bazelon: Hmm—John, what can we do to make David take the fall for us?
David Plotz: It is a little bit high-minded and faux-naïve for people to sit there and accuse Rand Paul of plagiarism when it’s very unlikely that he wrote or read much of what he’s being accused of plagiarizing.
Emily Bazelon: Don’t you think, though, that if you’re going to put your name on a book you should have some assurance that the material in it is original?
David Plotz: Of course. But the famous people don’t do this.
Emily Bazelon: I mean, if nothing else he didn’t ask the right questions.
David Plotz: Famous people do not do this. Famous people have other people do the work for them.
Emily Bazelon: But then you would want to say to those other minions, ‘Hey, by the way—‘
David Plotz: Don’t plagiarize. Yes.
Emily Bazelon: Did you use quotation marks?
John Dickerson: Just going back to the Biden situation. I think you’re exactly right is that he was telling a life story and basically cribbing from Kinnock’s. Although, it turns out in one case he had cited Neil Kinnock for something that Kinnock actually never had said. But, you know, when you think about it, what are you trying to do when you’re stealing someone’s life story? You’re trying to basically pass off the romance and experiences of another person as your own. And here you’re trying to pass off the ideas of another person as your own.
And it seems like the romance and life experience of another person, you’re gaining more by that fakery than in this case when you’re just doing boilerplate—
Emily Bazelon: And it's lamer.
David Plotz: First of all, there’s no—no, no, no, no, no. First of all, if you’re Rand Paul and you’ve got this, it’s very likely that someone wrote this speech for you. You just simply don’t even know that it’s plagiarized. You do not realize that Regulation Magazine has been plundered for you to give a speech.
If you’re Joe Biden and giving a speech, which has someone else’s life story in it, you realize as you’re reading it, “This is not true. This is a lie.”
John Dickerson: Yeah.
Emily Bazelon: But that’s no, “No, no, no.” That completely backs up John’s point. It’s worse.
John Dickerson: Yeah. That was my point.
Emily Bazelon: And one reason it’s worse is we can’t imagine how it could come out of your mouth.
David Plotz: I didn’t understand what John was saying.
John Dickerson: I was just trying to—
Emily Bazelon: You were so busy contradicting.
John Dickerson: I was just trying to make the, because I had fumbled on the Biden thing. I just wanted to make it more precise. But I think back to your point, David, also another thing that’s true here is that, I mean, we basically assume that these books that they’re writing and put out, they have almost nothing to do with.
David Plotz: Right.
John Dickerson: Now, that is in and of itself an act of deception and fakery that they should be dinged for. And actually, the funny thing in that case, the one book that actually is supposed to be pretty good on this score is Joe Biden’s, who by the way like his story about his wife and her death and his children—he’s got a pretty amazing --
David Plotz: Right. He didn’t even need to make up a life story.
John Dickerson: Yeah, he’s got a pretty compelling set of challenges that have shaped his life. So, but anyway, they’re just like shoveling crap all the time.
David Plotz: Paul basically acknowledged this. Paul said that—essentially his solution was, we need to work on the manufacturing process here. It was all about the process of getting this stuff made. It’s like, we took on too much. It was basically saying we were manufacturing too many fraudulent speeches.
Emily Bazelon: So, I have a question. Are either of you surprised that he’s taken such umbrage? I mean, I know that since Rachel Maddow—
John Dickerson: That’s what he does.
Emily Bazelon: -- was the first to attack, he can act like this is all the left, but it seems to me a little strange that he’s coming out so pugilistically when he’s clearly in the wrong.
John Dickerson: Yeah, he said this would have been ground for a duel.
Emily Bazelon: I mean, come on! He’s lifted passage after passage. He did not. In his name, passage after passage were lifted.
John Dickerson: Yeah, well, it’s funny, you’ve got, I mean, if he runs for president and Chris Christie runs for president you will have a competition to see which has the thinner skin. Because Christie, while on the one hand tough as nails on some things, also some of those eruptions come from when he’s been kind of poked in a way he doesn’t like. And Rand Paul has a bit of that side to him, too.
You know who doesn’t seem to is Ted Cruz. All the stuff that’s been written about Ted Cruz, all the hatred that’s been aimed at him both from his own party and without—
David Plotz: That’s because Ted Cruz went to the Ivy League, where he was a conservative among a bunch of liberals. And he just spent his life learning to smile.
Emily Bazelon: And figuring out how to cry and feel like a true believer.
David Plotz: Whereas Rand Paul and Chris Christie do not.
John Dickerson: But is that true? Because think about Rand Paul’s father who played the role—I mean, it was in Texas, but I mean, he played the role of the constant outcast, right? Always being booed. I mean, sometimes he was getting more cheers than anyone else, but in the Republican primary process he was kind of permanently cranky but he didn’t seem to let it get personal in the way that his son seems to take umbrage a little more than the father, who was just kind of this like cranky but kind of happy warrior.
Rand Paul doesn’t seem to have that happier warrior side.
David Plotz: No. So, let’s wrap this with a question of whether you guys think that this plagiarism is going to affect Paul’s chances for larger ambition, his 2016 presidential campaign at all. Is this something that will hang on him or does it not matter?
John Dickerson: Doesn’t matter.
Emily Bazelon: I don’t think it matters very much. I also think his chances are really low anyway.
David Plotz: All right. I agree with you both. That was easy. Can’t one of you say it matters?
Emily Bazelon: It’s crucial!
David Plotz: God, Emily, are you crazy, Emily? What are you talking about?
Emily Bazelon: We’re going to be parsing these speeches forever.
David Plotz: What are you talking about Emily? God.
Emily Bazelon: Okay.
John Dickerson: If he said something that was worth listening to, would that matter? In other words, what if he said something or wrote something that was incredibly well received? It wasn’t this boilerplate blather.
David Plotz: You mean, if he plagiarized something—
John Dickerson: If that ended up being plagiarized. Does the seriousness of the offense depend on how good the writing is?
David Plotz: Yeah. I remember one, the Ruth Shalit who plagiarized at The New Republic back in the early 90s. And her defense was, “I just plagiarized all the boilerplate stuff. Like the stuff I plagiarized, it wasn’t even good writing,” which was so insulting to the people that she plagiarized.
Emily Bazelon: Yeah, that’s not going to get you any friends.
David Plotz: All right, anyway, let’s leave Rand Paul there. He’s certainly very indignant. I look forward to much more indignation from him as the years go on.
David Plotz: Emily Bazelon, noted Slate Political Gabfest co-host Emily Bazelon, published a stunning piece of work in Slate this week, "The Unburying." It’s about the horrors of the Nazi anatomists, the German and Austrian doctors who needed corpses for medical research and medical education during World War II and took advantage of corpses created by the Nazis to do nefarious deeds, including political prisoners and children.
And Emily, in really an amazing long piece in Slate talks about some of the crimes they committed, but then the long process of discovering what it is that they’d done, facing up to it, and honoring those who died in order that these researchers could do their dirty work. So, Emily, could you tell us a little bit about the story and how it came about?
Emily Bazelon: Yeah, sure. And thank you.
I got completely absorbed in this history, which I knew nothing about. And what really pulled me in was learning about these Nazi resistors I had never heard of before. They were part of a group that the Nazis called The Red Orchestra. And they were these high society Berliners who from the late 30s decided that Hitler was terrible news for Germany and for the world and really did their best to warn the Americans and the Soviets about what was happening.
In fact, Stalin dismissed their warnings that they had really laid out for him detail, the Nazi’s plan to invade the Soviet Union. And there was a whole series of what-ifs I kept asking myself if Stalin, or in fact if the American ambassador had just listened to them more closely.
So, then it turns out there is this macabre coda to their stories, which is that they turned into research material, in particular for this anatomist I got really fascinated by who wanted to study the effect of trauma on women’s reproductive systems. And his research is—it’s not a factually accurate claim, but it turned out to be the only underpinning for the claim made by some Republicans in the last couple of years that rape doesn’t cause pregnancy, or rarely causes pregnancy.
What this doctor actually found doesn’t prove that, but that’s like the shred that’s underlying that, which is such a weird ending.
David Plotz: Emily, tell the story in a little bit more detail. Who is the doctor? What was he studying? And how is it that that then winds its way sinisterly into American politics in 2012?
Emily Bazelon: The doctor’s name is Hermann Stieve, and he was the Head of the Anatomy Department at the University of Berlin. He was an esteemed academic. And he really had this true scientific interest in women. And so in the 20’s and 30’s it was really frustrating for him to get the human material, because while he had access to the bodies of executed prisoners, none of them were female.
And so in thinking about this kind of slide into immorality, there’s a lot of gray area here. It was pretty standard at the time to use the bodies of executed prisoners, not just in Germany but throughout Europe, and there was all kinds of grave robbing going on earlier in the United States and other countries. So, you know, you do have to remember the context here for anatomy is a long dubious history of how you get the corpses you need for education and research.
John Dickerson: Indeed, in Yale wasn’t there a famous riot over grave robbing?
Emily Bazelon: Yes! There’s totally grave robbing here at Yale, which weirdly I had written about several years ago. I seem to return to this morbid topic. But, yes, that’s true. The Yale medical students got into a big town-gown battle over doing this earlier. But, yeah, it did happen. In any case, that was the sort of backdrop.
But then what Hermann Stieve and many other German and Austrian anatomists did was to accept these bodies from the Nazis which they knew were bodies of political prisoners. And the Nazis were executing, judicially executing thousands of people for everything from looting to not doing enough to support the Nazi regime.
And then Stieve also sent people into the prison to make arrangements and to get these detailed medical history from these women, because what he wanted to see was what the effect of an impending execution would be on their ovulation and menstruation. And that starts to seem very chilling.
David Plotz: Just to pause for one second. So, they have a problem getting women in the ‘20s and ‘30s because the only people that are being executed are criminals who are men, essentially.
Emily Bazelon: Men.
David Plotz: The Germans, the Nazis show up, and they start executing lots and lots of—tons of people, including for the first time a significant fraction who are women, so Stieve gets access to all these women. These young women.
Emily Bazelon: Exactly. And he creates this list of 182 women in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s and keeps very careful track of their cycles and is able to show that if you are under the chronic stress of awaiting your own execution you are very likely not to ovulate. So, that’s one of his key findings. And it has, you know, whatever you want to think about the ethics here, his scientific methodology is pretty good.
So, then that gets cited without any reference to the tainted part of this for years and what probably happened next was there was a conference at Georgetown University where some other doctor talked about Stieve’s work. At this point Stieve was dead. He died in the ‘50s. He never was punished in any way. He kept his position the whole time and his obituary talks about his love for mountaineering.
But anyway, in the ‘60s this kind of trickled over to the United States. And then in the early 1970s a pro-life doctor named Fred Mecklenburg published an essay claiming that women cannot get pregnant from rape, or very rarely do, and he dropped a footnote to a Nazi experiment.
So, I found that essay a couple of years ago. Actually, it was not me who found it. The St. Louis Post Dispatch found it. And I just got weirdly, what was this Nazi experiment? And then finally last summer a German historian named Sabine Hildebrand wrote to me and said, “You know what? I know what this is.” And she was the one who pointed me in the direction of Hermann Stieve. She has written a lot about him and about these women who were his victims, who she has been working very hard to individually memorialize.
So, to me the story has this interesting medical ethics question, but also this very compelling human story about who these people were. And in some ways I sort of separated it in my mind. I kept the kind of bizarre science away from thinking about the lives of these women. There are biographies of them. We have the last letters of them and their husbands. And I was just totally drawn into their world in Berlin of trying to resist Hitler.
David Plotz: So, almost every Nazi story, I feel like, has been told a billion times. Like, you can’t get up without hearing some version of something you’ve heard before. And what’s striking to me about ‘The Unburying? is that actually this is a story that I hadn’t heard.
We’ve heard, of course, of the crimes of Josef Mengele and the horrific medical experimentations conducted on live prisoners at Auschwitz and so forth. But this is one that hasn’t really been told. Why is it that it’s taken this long for this particular horror, which is a minor horror, as horrors go. As Nazi horrors go, this is like a B+. Why has it taken so long for this to come out?
Emily Bazelon: Well, I think precisely because it’s minor in the sense that immediately after the war, when you look at the Nuremburg Trials of doctors, it was only the very worst people like Mengele. He wasn’t actually punished then, but people like him who selected, you know, stood on the ramp at Auschwitz and selected for death, or did experiments on live people.
We’ve been, I think, in some ways numbed to the things that happened in the universities because the horrors of the camps were just incredibly urgent. Then, you have these university people essentially keeping their positions, having obviously a big disincentive to really talk about—
David Plotz: Keeping their positions after the war.
Emily Bazelon: Yes. After the war. So, they all kept their positions, and then their students were loyal to them. And so in the late 1980s, when a third generation of medical students—the sort of grandchildren generation started asking questions, their teachers essentially told them to be quiet. Said they were dirtying the nest. There is some lovely German word for that that I can’t remember, of course.
But then what happened was that the issue couldn’t go away because in all of the anatomical collections of these universities, the cells and tissues and bones of these victims was still there. And, in fact, that’s still true to this day very likely in a lot of German and Austrian universities that have never really investigated.
David Plotz: So, if you’re an Austrian medical student and you’re looking at—they want to show you a slide of what a diseased heart looks like, it might be...
Emily Bazelon: Or a healthy heart.
David Plotz: Or a healthy heart, more likely, yeah.
Emily Bazelon: Yeah. Exactly. I mean, I read this really interesting article from the University of Jena which just did this very comprehensive investigation. They were cataloguing everything they found. And this was like in the last three years. They were still finding human samples from Nazi era people who they had to assume were executed victims, including skulls marked “concentration camp victim.”
This is still there. And so that’s why it finally had to come to light.
David Plotz: So, is it morally more right for universities to use this material that was obtained through crime and through slaughter—is it morally right to use that material? It doesn’t make the death have a purpose, but at least it puts some utility on the horror that was committed? Or is it more right to dispose of all this material and start over?
Emily Bazelon: Well, there’s been actually a really great debate about that going on in the comments section for my article. And, I guess I would say this. I mean, to me the idea that you continue to use it without acknowledging its origins seems like a desecration. Because these people didn’t consent.
I mean, I personally totally support body donation and organ donation and think about giving my own body to a medical school and have a very pragmatic feeling about corpses. They’re not people anymore, right? They’re dead.
But, I think a consent is really crucial here. And I was really convinced of that reading the history of anatomy because when you don’t have consent, the people who end up in the lab are the poor and the marginalized. That’s just always how it plays out.
So, I think you have to acknowledge the origins, and then I think also it’s important to memorialize. What seems to have been a mistake, however, was the initial move that some of the universities made when they first got questioned about this in the ‘80s was to just put everything into a big mass grave and kind of say, “Oh, we’re all done. It’s dispose.” As if the specimens were themselves dirtying the university.
That, of course, is also problematic. So, to me, this move to actually try to find out who the victims were and remember them as individual people, I mean, that, the most compelling part of working on this story for me was finding the actual photographs of people. And they’re from the era of our grandparents. This is all very recent and their dilemmas and lives and tribulations felt like they were jumping off the page to me.
David Plotz: The story is amazing. It’s called “The Unburying.” Look for it in Slate. Emily, congratulations. It was great work.
Emily Bazelon: Thank you guys. That was so kind of you. Thank you.
David Plotz: So, let’s turn to cocktail chatter. John Dickerson, when you’re relaxing this weekend, driving a child to a soccer game, baseball game—
Emily Bazelon: Baseball in the Dickerson house.
David Plotz: Jujitsu tournament. When you’re drinking and driving, what will you be chattering about?
John Dickerson: Fall baseball season is over, so we’re in the brief interregnum between fall baseball season and winter workouts. So, I looked—[dogs bark in background]
David Plotz: There’s a dog.
John Dickerson: There’s a dog.
David Plotz: There’s a dog chasing Emily.
Emily Bazelon: It’s being shushed. Sorry everybody.
John Dickerson: When Senator Rand Paul said in response to the plagiarism charges that if this had been in olden times it would have been grounds for a duel, he was right. Because in olden times, anything was grounds for a duel. When he brought this up, I went back and looked at American dueling and when it used to happen.
And it turns out that the last sort of legal duel in the Washington areas was in fact—
David Plotz: Wait, can we guess the year?
John Dickerson: Yeah, guess the year.
Emily Bazelon: 1846.
David Plotz: I’m going to go a little earlier. 1830.
John Dickerson: 1838 was this incident.
Emily Bazelon: Ooh, yes! Right in between. Oh my God, that was awesome.
John Dickerson: There’s a distinction between legal duels and illegal ones. And the one I’m going to tell you about is the duel that caused a congressional investigation and then the outlawing of duels in Washington, DC, which was supposed to stop the dueling among congressmen, although there was a senator who had a duel later, so it didn’t really work out.
But it turns out that this duel that was supposed to be the last legal one was in fact perpetrated by, or participated in by a Kentucky congressman, which makes it all the better. I don’t think that’s what Rand Paul was talking about, but William Jordan Graves was a Whig from Kentucky. And basically it starts with a columnist in the Courier and Inquirer, a New York newspaper, that basically said there’s been some influence peddling.
Congressman Cilley, [Silly] I think is the way you pronounce it, from Maine stands up and says, “We can’t believe this charge because the editor of this newspaper, basically he lined his pockets with loans from the Jackson Bank.”
Well, this was sort of an unspecific charge in response to another unspecific charge. Well, the Whigs freaked out. The editor of this newspaper, Webb, a fellow named Webb, who was known to fight editors from rival newspapers in the street, came to Washington to a dinner party to try to find somebody to take up his charge against this Maine congressman.
And he found somebody, this fellow Graves, who would deliver his request to Cilley, the Maine congressman, for an explanation of what he was saying. What was he saying about this newspaper editor and the loans that he had gotten from the Bank of New York.
Well, when Graves brought the charge to his Maine colleague, he refused to accept it, because he said he had denounced him on the floor of the house and he just wasn’t going to accept it. Well, that can’t be led to stand, so Graves then went at him a second time with a request. And Cilley said he wouldn’t explain himself, wouldn’t respond to it.
Well, now at this point it becomes a matter of gentlemanly honor, not between Webb, the newspaper publisher, and the congressman from Maine, but the congressman from Maine and his colleague, Mr. Graves from Kentucky. This goes several more rounds in which they basically could easily resolve it with a little like, yeah, well, whatever. Let’s go have a drink. They don’t.
They scheduled the damn duel. They meet out in, I think, they meet out in Maryland and they decide to shoot rifles. And what’s fun about trying to reconstruct this is that there are now two alternate histories, because of course, after the event the Whigs get control of the storyline and the Democrats do, too. And so in the Whig story basically Cilley from Maine is an expert marksman, has been hunting his whole life. And then, of course, the Democratic explanation of what happened is that Graves was a great marksman.
So, anyway, they go. They fire their first shots with these long rifles at 80 yards. They miss. They load them up again. They do a second round. Fire. They miss.
Third round. This is the third, final round in repayment of the insult from the Maine congressman popping off on the floor of Congress, charge taken up by Congressman Graves who hits him in the, I think, carotid artery.
David Plotz: He hits Cilley?
John Dickerson: He hits Cilley from Maine. Drops dead almost instantaneous from blood loss. That’s it. There’s a huge outcry as a result. There is a congressional investigation and there are hearings. It was the femoral artery. Did I say the carotid? The femoral artery.
Emily Bazelon: Oh, good thing you corrected that.
John Dickerson: Well, we just had that big anatomy lesson. I didn’t want to get it wrong. Anyway, there’s a big hearing. Dueling is outlawed. It actually then becomes a big issue in the next presidential campaign, but I won’t go into that.
David Plotz: That was the best chatter ever. Why don’t you write that up as a story?
John Dickerson: I will.
David Plotz: How did you come across it?
John Dickerson: Well, I was just interested in when the last duel was. And then I searched for Kentucky duels because I thought Kentucky senator. And then it turns out the last one was this congressman—
David Plotz: You’ve got to write that up.
Emily Bazelon: That was really great, John.
John Dickerson: I do. And it’s also a story, and I will hope not to get distracted from this, but it’s funny how both sides took control of the storyline, and so you have these totally conflicting narratives about who is the better marksman. But when you look at the letters back and forth and the things they said about each other and to each other, they were—talk about your taking umbrage. I mean, these guys were like losing their minds over basically what today would be considered a very weak and forgettable insult.
David Plotz: Emily, I pity you for having to follow that chatter.
Emily Bazelon: I know. I pity me, too. The other story I’ve been following this week, in addition to the fact that the Supreme Court had an argument in a couple of big cases—I’m just going to give a shout-out to that—but what I really have been fascinated by is this NFL bullying story involving the Miami Dolphins were Jonathan Martin, a rookie, walked off the team after saying—well, he didn’t first say exactly what had happened. But essentially he felt intimidated and ganged up on, it’s come to light.
And then Richie Incognito, the kind of dirty player of the year, thug-like Dolphin ended up indefinitely suspended, probably because he was dumb enough to leave a racist voicemail on Martin’s phone.
So, what has really struck me in the last two days is that the fall from the story on the Dolphins had been that a few Dolphins have come forward and just blasted Martin. Defended Incognito. Said that Martin should be manning up. That he broke the code by going to the press. That he can never be trusted again. And that essentially it’s all his fault. If he couldn’t hack it in the locker room, whatever kind of hazing was going on, then that’s his problem.
And what I want to know is what about all these Dolphins who are just standing by silently? They need to speak up and stop being passive bystanders and do some self-examination and say, hey wait a second, maybe this football locker room culture that involves so much intimidation and exclusion, because that was part of what was happening reportedly, maybe we need to think about whether that’s the kind of locker room we really need to have in the NFL.
So, I want to hear from them instead of just these people who are doing all this victim blaming.
David Plotz: All right. Let’s see if we have any Gabfest listeners on the Fins. What do you think? Unlikely.
John Dickerson: I don’t know. I was saddened to hear, also—did you hear Tony Dorsett—
David Plotz: Yeah.
John Dickerson: That he got in his car and couldn’t remember how to get his kids to school. Got on a plane, he didn’t know where he was going because basically so many years getting bashed in.
David Plotz: It’s a bad week in football.
John Dickerson: Do you think football will exist in the United States of America in 100 years, David Plotz?
David Plotz: Yes. Do you?
Emily Bazelon: Because it will be safer?
John Dickerson: It will all be done by robots.
Emily Bazelon: How are they going to deal with the liability problems?
David Plotz: Oh, now it’s all known. Now they don’t need to deal with it. It’s all disclosed.
John Dickerson: Yeah.
Emily Bazelon: Huh.
John Dickerson: And just the helmets will get enormous. Although my dad was saying, and of course, this is a totally true thing. When he played, of course, they had no face masks. And he’s like we never, you know, there was no problem because nobody used their head to spear people.
David Plotz: No, that’s what people say about mixed martial arts. Why is mixed martial arts actually less damaging to people than boxing. You’d think like, oh, mixed martial arts, you can do anything, there are basically no rules. But the reason is that mixed martial arts, you’re not wearing heavy gloves which protect—if you’re boxing somebody and you punch them, you’re wearing a heavy glove, it protects your hand.
If you’re doing mixed martial arts against them, you don’t have your hand protected, so you actually can’t punch someone in the head that many times without breaking your hand. So, you have to find other ways to defeat them. So, people don’t take a lot of head blows the way that they do in boxing.
So, it’s safer because there’s less padding. That’s the theory. I don’t know.
My chatter. So, I’m working on this story which I’ve been working on forever, and I finally vowed I was going to finish this week. And so I’m just going to chatter about it. And if I’ve chattered about this before, forgive me, because I actually couldn’t figure out if I chattered about it before, and I can’t remember because, I don’t know why. Repeated head blows, possibly.
John Dickerson: You should stop typing with gloves on!
David Plotz: I bought this 1945 bound volume of Life Magazine over the summer, and it is just the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. It was the July-September issues of Life Magazine. 13 issues. I would argue it is the best magazine ever published in human history anywhere. If you read it, everything in it is incredible.
First of all, they just have things that are unbelievably memorable, like the most famous photograph of World War II, the Einsenstaedt picture of the sailor kissing the woman in Times Square on VE Day. That’s a picture that like just ran in Life Magazine. Oh, it’s the greatest picture of World War II.
Then there’s the famous Vannevar Bush essay about networking that becomes the basis—the intellectual basis for the Internet. There’s all the stuff about the inventions that are going to change the post-war world. Life is just predicting what’s going to change. And it’s like they’re totally right. It’s stuff on air-conditioning and Plexi-glass, and there’s amazing stuff about nuclear strategy, because the atomic bomb is dropped during this period. And even within a week they’re thinking about what nuclear strategy is going to be and how the world is going to change.
And the pleasure of sitting there and reading—
John Dickerson: And twerking.
David Plotz: And twerking. They also predicted twerking. It was crazy. Actually, the one thing they did get wrong is there is this great essay on bathing suits. And it says, "Bathing suits, they can’t go any further." And they show these women in bathing suits that your grandmother would feel comfortable wearing. Your grandmother would be like, "This is perfectly modest." And they’re like, no, there’s no more—
John Dickerson: They look like judicial robes.
David Plotz: They were wrong about that. But, anyway, the pleasure of wading through the 70-year-old or 68-year-old magazine has been so profound for me.
Thanks to Paul M. Garton, Inc. for providing the transcript.