Gail Collins: Bret, October is my favorite month. And now that the Senate has decided not to default on the national debt, really, what could be better?Bret Stephens: If the Yankees hadn’t been trounced by the Red Sox, Gail, October would have been better.Gail: Thanks to my husband’s Boston roots, we’re cheering on the Red Sox. Along with — oh, I’d guess about four other people in our section of the city.Bret: Looks like we’ve discovered the root of our differences. But yes, for sure, it’s a good thing we’ve deferred defaulting on the debt … till December. Any other good news?Gail: Well, we’ve been disagreeing strongly about Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, one of the two Democrats holding up the Biden agenda. You like her spunk; I think she’s hurting the president just so she can brag about her independence in the next election.Bret: A politician looking out for her next election. What’s the world coming to?Gail: But I believe we can find a moment of accord on the principle that anti-Sinema activists should not try to make their point by pursuing their target into the restroom.Bret: Totally agree. And it reminded me of similarly despicable behavior against Mitt Romney in some airport terminal in early January. There’s an old line about how, on both ends of the economic spectrum, there lies a leisure class. Well, on both ends of the political spectrum, there lies a lunatic class.On a more positive note, Gail, I’m happy to see President Biden show some realism about what he can achieve on his spending bill. As things stand now, the administration needs some kind of legislative win, not just a big top-line number. Or do you feel this is a letdown for Democrats?Gail: Given that I was a fan of the Biden original, I do feel let down. It looks like child care subsidies might be more narrowly distributed, and the battle against climate change won’t be as well-funded. Sigh.Bret: Phew.Gail: But in my capacity as a person who’s covered American politics for a really long time, I can’t say I’m shocked or stunned.
Will the Democrats face a midterm wipeout?
Guess the best approach now is to get some big money targeted at infrastructure. You’re kinda an infrastructure fan, aren’t you?Bret: I am, especially if it concerns adding extra lanes to the F.D.R. Drive between 42nd and 116th streets.Gail: As a Cincinnati native I’m really into fixing the notoriously dangerous bridge between Ohio and Kentucky. Even if it does make Mitch McConnell happy.Bret: Heaven forfend. More to the point, I’m a fan of anything that gives Biden a bipartisan legislative win that will be popular with middle-of-the-road voters and arrest the decline in his poll numbers.On that front, I was struck by a fascinating column by our colleague Ezra Klein, based on his interviews with the superstar data analyst David Shor. The long-and-short of it, as Ezra paraphrases Shor, is that “Democrats are sleepwalking into catastrophe.” Shor thinks the Senate will soon slip out of Democratic hands, largely because the party has lost touch with both its white and nonwhite working-class voters. Many Democratic strategists think the way to shore up the Democratic majority is by offering statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., but I think that would just further alienate the very voters Dems need to win back. Hence my political enthusiasm for job-creating stuff like infrastructure.Gail: For most of our very enjoyable tenure at conversing, you’ve been dedicated to wiping Donald Trump off the political map, in part because he’s bad for the Republican Party.Bret: My main objection is that he’s an existential threat to liberal democracy.Gail: But I’ve always thought you were rooting for Republican majorities in Congress to keep Democratic big government and big spending in check. Have you come around to my side? Shuffling over to Chuck Schumer’s side of the aisle?Bret: Naaaaaaaaaaaah.Here’s my entire politics in a paragraph: I’m to the right of Dick Cheney on foreign policy. On domestic policy I’m either a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican, depending on the issue and the day of the week. I favor lower taxes and less regulation. I’m pro-choice and think that gay marriage is the greatest civil-rights triumph of my lifetime. I believe in divided government on the principle that government is best which governs least. I’d be happy if we pared entitlements, modestly, and increased immigration, majorly. My senatorial heroes are John McCain, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Bob Kerrey. Ted Cruz is to my brain what durian fruit is to my nose. My No. 1 political priority is stopping Trump from returning to the White House. My No. 1 ideological priority is recovering Lincolnian conservatism from populists.All that being said, I’m personally fond of Schumer and think he would make a terrific minority leader.Gail: Sure the senator will find that very amusing.I go way back with Schumer — can’t remember if I told you that years ago I wrote a feature about him being one of the very few members of Congress with both young children and a full-time working spouse.Bret: Iris is Chuck’s better half.Hey, switching subjects: Our esteemed mayor Bill de Blasio is ending the “gifted and talented” programs in New York City public schools, at least in the early grades. Grateful for your thoughts.Gail: The “gifted and talented” programs were designed to offer a more challenging curriculum to kids who were academically ahead of the curve. The parents who were socially or politically more sophisticated glommed onto the idea and started working to make sure their children were included. There are even special tutoring programs to prepare for kindergarten entrance testing.All that is totally natural. The problem is that there’s a huge racial division in the outcome. We need to come up with a system that gives low-income, disadvantaged kids a better break.Your opinion?Bret: Another Big Blas Botch, which I can only hope Eric Adams reverses the moment he becomes mayor.Many lower-income families, often of South or East Asian background, consider the program instrumental to their kid’s’ success. Those programs, frequently leading to elite public schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, are critical escalators of economic and social mobility for kids who don’t have the opportunity or the desire to go to expensive private schools. And they also help ensure that gifted kids don’t get ignored or bored in larger classrooms that are teaching to lower-performing kids.I really think this is one of those issues that separate liberals who still care about personal merit and opportunity and progressives who are obsessed with equality of outcome, even when it means holding people back.Gail: There’s a difference between being obsessed with everybody coming out the same and trying to make sure everybody has equal opportunity.That is, the same chance to go to a school that’s known for high achievement, even if their grade school didn’t prepare them to score at the top on entrance exams. If kids from some neighborhoods just aren’t showing up in the elite high schools, then there needs to be a better system.Here’s my bottom line: Accept that every kid is going to be competing for success from pre-K on. But also appreciate that the odds are stacked against some, and they deserve a literal head start with great early childhood education. Fair?Bret: Perfect. Let’s make the case that Republicans should fund early-childhood education as part of a stripped down package of social spending, and, in exchange, Democrats can do more to fund nonprofit charter schools so that parents can have better options for their kids beyond the local public school.Gail: I’m not an enemy of charter schools. Particularly the ones that specialize in helping low-achieving kids who have great potential.Bret: We’ve got a deal.Gail: But we have to be sure they aren’t just being used as a haven for middle-class kids who want to escape the public school system without paying private school tuition. If there’s nobody but low-income kids going to the regular city schools, the city’s going to feel less pressure to make those schools excellent.Bret: Fodder for our next conversation. By the way, before we say goodbye for the week, I want to be sure you saw Alex Vadukul’s beautiful obituary for Debby King, who was the “artist liaison” at Carnegie Hall for many years. It was my favorite obit in The Times last week, which is always a high bar. Not a famous name, other than to artists like Frank Sinatra or Isaac Stern who adored her, but surely an example of a beautiful spirit who lived a life worth celebrating.Gail: Thanks for bringing that up. The world tends to think of Times obituaries as a celebration of great people on their passing, but they’re so much more. Opening up the lives of folks who make the world run in so many normally unseen, unappreciated ways.Not that I’m looking forward to being the subject of one myself.