Opinion: Joe Biden and Elon Musk, at opposite ends of leadership equation

Opinion by Richard Galant, CNNUpdated: Sun, 20 Nov 2022 15:06:29 GMTSource: CNNEditor's Note: Sign up to get this weekly column as a newsletter. We're looking back at the strongest, smartest

Opinion by Richard Galant, CNN

Updated: Sun, 20 Nov 2022 15:06:29 GMT

Source: CNN

Editor's Note: Sign up to get this weekly column as a newsletter. We're looking back at the strongest, smartest opinion takes of the week from CNN and other outlets.

"If at eighty," novelist Henry Miller wrote, "...you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin' and keepin' power."

Similar thoughts about being -- or soon becoming -- an octogenarian must surely come to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who's 82, former President Donald Trump, who's 76, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who's 80, and President Joe Biden, who turns 80 today. All four were in the news last week, with their political futures at issue.

Pelosi chose to step down as leader of her party after it narrowly lost control of the House. Trump announced he's running for president again. McConnell fended off a challenge to his GOP Senate leadership. And Biden, whose party scored an unexpectedly good performance in the midterms, has said he will decide in the next few months whether to make good on his intention of running again in 2024.

"The verve and drive of older leaders is admirable at an age when many people are long retired -- and an example to society that the elderly are just as capable and worthy as younger generations," wrote Stephen Collinson for CNN Politics. "Yet the prominence of the seventy-and-eighty somethings at the top of the political tree does also raise questions about whether it is healthy that younger politicians are not at this moment in American history taking more responsibility or have more power."

In corporate America, "genius" is often seen as a substitute for the experience of age. Elon Musk, a 51-year-old who's the richest person in the world, has been called a genius for his entrepreneurial skill at Tesla and SpaceX and even for his ambition to go to Mars. Yet "Musk's actions since taking over Twitter on Oct. 27 have been so destructive to the platform's functioning and reputation that the question is raised of whether, rather than being a genius, Musk is in fact an idiot," wrote Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times. "Perhaps that's extreme. But it's proper to examine how and why someone so unquestionably successful in his business career thus far has gone off the rails now."

While others are leaving Twitter (read Roxanne Jones' recent take), David Perry would really like to stay. "Twitter changed my life in ways both sublime and ridiculous, profound, beautiful, professional and sadly often terrible," he observed. "And now, due seemingly to the chaotic, often cruel, whims of a billionaire, the whole edifice seems about to collapse." On Saturday, Musk cited an online poll as he reinstated Trump's Twitter account, lifting the permanent ban the platform imposed after the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot.

Sam Bankman-Fried, the 30-year-old who went from lionized billionaire to reviled executive of a bankrupt company within a few days, is a vaunted "genius" now under a harsh light. Writing in the New York Times, Paul Krugman cited the story of Bankman-Fried's company, FTX, to question the future of crypto finance: "The government supervises banks, regulates the risks they can take and guarantees many deposits, while crypto operates largely without oversight. So investors must rely on the honesty and competence of entrepreneurs; when they offer exceptionally good deals, investors must believe not just in their competence but in their genius."

"How has that been working out?"

Timing is... almost everything

Word that the Democrats kept control of the Senate had to be an ego boost for Biden, who met with China's leader, Xi Jinping, in Bali, Indonesia, on Monday. As Frida Ghitis noted, "The timing could not have been any better..."

"With democracy suddenly looking like it's on firmer ground and key autocracies facing serious problems, it was an ideal moment for Biden to speak frankly to Xi about areas of disagreement between the two superpowers while trying to build safeguards to prevent the rivalry from careening into conflict as the relationship has deteriorated to its most tense state in decades."

But life may get especially uncomfortable for Biden early next year. "With Republicans in control of the House," Julian Zelizer wrote, "the Biden administration will likely encounter a combination of investigations, conservative-agenda setting and obstruction. ... Despite all the media speculation about whether the election will push Republicans away from Trumpism, the safe bet is that ... they will dive deeper into the sea of red."

Still, the Republicans could overreach and give Democrats an opening. Zelizer recalled the maxim popularized by the Spider-Man franchise: "With great power comes great responsibility."

Former Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican, observed, "Assuming Kevin McCarthy manages to win the vote for the speakership on the House floor in January, his governing challenge could prove much more frustrating and difficult than what John Boehner faced a decade ago."

"House Republican votes will be needed to raise the debt ceiling, fund the government and enter into other agreements with the Senate and President Joe Biden," Dent noted. The "election outcome has made McCarthy's task not only more difficult but perilous. McCarthy has no breathing room, as extreme elements within the House GOP conference feel emboldened with their leverage."

For more:

David Axelrod: Nancy Pelosi will be remembered as a political star

Nevada decides the Senate

The Senate race in Nevada was a nailbiter that ended with the re-election of Catherine Cortez Masto, guaranteeing Democrats continued control of the Senate. She "campaigned vigorously throughout the Silver State, running a textbook campaign, even earning endorsements from high-profile Republicans throughout the state who praised her bipartisan leadership, work ethic and integrity," wrote Sheila Leslie, a Democrat and former state legislator in Nevada. "This was in contrast to (Republican Adam) Laxalt, who many viewed as a carpet-bagging Virginian, capitalizing on his grandfather's sterling reputation in the state."

One Senate seat remains to be decided: Georgia will choose between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican football legend Herschel Walker in a December 6 runoff. The state's outgoing lieutenant governor, Geoff Duncan, a Republican, urged Walker to make three calls -- to Trump, urging him to stay out of the contest, to Gov. Brian Kemp, seeking his help after the governor's decisive reelection victory and to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who handily beat challenger Charlie Crist in his reelection.

"If the GOP can't best a Democratic Party led by a president with an approval rating in the low 40s, something must change because the status quo isn't cutting it," Duncan wrote.

As for GOP leadership in the Senate, Rick Scott failed in his attempt to oust McConnell from the party's top post. Patrick T. Brown, a fellow at a conservative think tank, applauded McConnell's victory and called Scott "the perfect example of a Republican politician who has seemingly learned all the wrong lessons from the Trump earthquake of 2016."

Yet he argued that some of McConnell's critics have a point: "McConnell, who was reelected to his seventh term as senator in 2020, will be needing to hand the reins off at some point soon -- and the younger voices are right to look for a leader who can tell America not just what the Republican Party is against, but what it is for."

For more:

Mark Zandi: A divided government will be disastrous for the US economy

David Axelrod: Why Democrats' Senate win in Nevada may be a blessing in disguise for the GOP

Jennifer Rodgers: Special counsel on Trump won't calm the political waters

Kara Alaimo: How to build a new generation of Biden-McCain friendships

Tired of losing?

On the day Trump announced his 2024 presidential run, one of his administration officials had a simple question for Republicans: "Are you tired of losing yet?"

"Let's move on from Trump -- or rest assured we'll be having this same conversation in the days following the 2024 presidential election," wrote Gavin J. Smith. As a candidate, Trump promised Republicans, "We're going to win so much. You're going to get sick and tired of winning."

But after Trump's victory in 2016, Republicans have fared poorly in national elections. "We must ask ourselves: Will we continue to be the party of divisiveness and conspiracy theories, dominated by the likes of Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and failed-Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake? Or will the Republican Party finally part ways with them?"

Election deniers' downfall

Four days before election day, Kari Lake, the Phoenix news anchor turned MAGA gubernatorial candidate, said at a rally, "We don't have any McCain Republicans in here, do we. Alright, get the hell out. Boy, Arizona has delivered some losers, haven't they?" As Jon Gabriel wrote, trashing backers of the late Sen. John McCain was a huge mistake.

"McCain Republicans overlap with those who crossed party lines to support President Joe Biden, turning the state blue in 2020. They tend to be centrist, business-friendly, middle- to upper-middle-class folks who live in the nicer neighborhoods of Phoenix and its close-in suburbs. They want lower taxes, efficient government and absolutely no drama."

"They don't make up the majority of the party -- not by a long shot -- but they exceed that single percentage point Lake needed to best (Democrat Katie) Hobbs."

"They heard Lake's call to 'get the hell out,' and did as they were told."

Lake's defeat is understandable, as was Doug Mastriano's loss in Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race, Christopher Beem observed. "A majority of voters have had enough of the performative chaos and spurning of norms that have roiled our politics and our polity since Trump came down the escalator more than seven years ago. Never far from mind is the other unforgettable image that bookended his presidency: the scene of mayhem at the US Capitol, overrun by his supporters and their grievance-fueled violence that he stoked."

"This midterm election, voters rejected all of that."

Millions in airline refunds

Jill Filipovic's flight to Lisbon in the spring of 2020 was one of thousands cancelled in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. "That's understandable -- I didn't expect to board a flight during a global pandemic," she wrote. "But given that the flight didn't fly, I did expect my money back. For more than a year and a half, I didn't get it, despite messages and calls to both TAP (Air Portugal) and Expedia. Eventually, in December 2021, I received a partial refund, though still far below the full cost of the ticket."

So Filipovic was pleased to hear the US Department of Transportation was taking action. "Six airlines have been forced to issue $600 million in refunds. The DOT is also fining the airlines $7.25 million for flights that were canceled during Covid and not refunded."

"It's about time this industry saw some consequences. The airline industry posted record profits this past summer, while also canceling and delaying a huge number of flights. When an industry is failing at doing its one job properly and yet is still making money hand over fist, there's a big problem -- and it's one being borne by consumers."

RSV surge

Cases of respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, are surging in the US, wrote epidemiologist Syra Madad. "For most people, RSV causes mild, cold-like symptoms, typically lasting for a week or two. But for infants, young children, the elderly and those with a weakened immune system, it can be dangerous, leading to dehydration, bronchiolitis and pneumonia."

Madad's own 2-year-old daughter recently came down with the disease.

"It started with Laila becoming clingy and irritable -- a telltale sign for me that she's about to come down with something. Shortly after, she had a runny nose and congestion. A day or two later, Laila spiked a fever of 103 degrees that continued for nearly two-and-a-half days, accompanied by a decreased appetite, and a whole lot of congestion and coughing (not to mention sleepless nights for both her and me). By day five, she was on the mend and feeling better -- or so I thought. Then came on the viral rash."

Madad's piece includes information on when to seek urgent care for children who develop RSV.

For more on health:

Matthew Bossons: In zero-Covid China, a different death toll emerges

8 billion people, one trillion trees

It took hundreds of thousands of years, up until 1804, for the world's population to hit one billion. Last week, the UN said, Earth crossed the 8 billion threshold. It was a reminder of the challenges involved in managing the resources needed to support human life while also contending with the consequences of burning vast amounts of fossil fuels.

Two years ago, Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff and Jad Daley, head of the nonprofit American Forests, helped launch a global effort to plant one trillion trees by 2030 as a way to absorb carbon emissions. "When we joined with countries, companies and NGOs two years ago to launch the global partnership 1t.org, we knew it would not be a panacea for climate change. Leaders across the forest-climate movement, including ourselves, have always made clear that the most important step we must take to fight climate change is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

The effort has been criticized by those who warn "against pretending that planting trees is a permanent climate solution, concerned that reliance on trees will slacken other climate efforts. Others have worried that planting the wrong trees will lead to forests that are less resilient and less biologically diverse."

But, Daley and Benioff argued, "it would be a profound mistake to ignore or diminish the indispensable role that protecting and growing trees can play in addressing climate change. In the United States, for example, our forests captured approximately 13% of gross US greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. In addition to protecting our existing forests, there are millions of acres across America where we can plant and grow more trees, such as reforesting burned areas and planting trees in urban areas."

Holiday joy

As poet Tess Taylor reminded us days before Thanksgiving, "The holidays are coming. The world is going to try to sell us the kind of joy we can buy in stores. What I'm hoping for also -- for each of us -- is that we find some togetherness, some real community. I'm hoping that we make it to that potluck, where we laugh and laugh and laugh." Read her take on how three new books help chart the journey to joy.

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Ticketmaster, Taylor and mom

Amy Bass, who has been an avid concertgoer for decades, recalled being just 15 when her mother drove her and a friend to a Ramones concert "with the intention of reading a good book in the parking lot." But her mom ended up coming to their rescue when they got stopped at the door for being underage and without ID.

"While I remember every detail of that epic show, perhaps especially the moment when Joey Ramone handed me a guitar pick, more important to me now is the heroic example of parenting set by my mom."

Bass has tried to model her mother's behavior by going to concerts with her own daughter, who's now 15.

"When (Taylor) Swift announced the Eras Tour on November 1, a pit of apprehension grew in my stomach. Her first tour since 2018, her oeuvre now includes so much material that she has never played live, with so many fans who have never really had a chance to see her. My one experience with Ticketmaster's 'verified fan' process, designed, allegedly, to keep out scalpers, had gone badly; I got the email telling me I was chosen, but I never got the text with the code."

Bass was only able to secure tickets through a friend who had better luck getting a pre-sale code. "When Ticketmaster announced the cancellation of the scheduled public sale for the Eras Tour on Thursday, claiming 'insufficient inventory' after a 'staggering number of bot attacks' during the presale, my heart broke for the thousands upon thousands of fans now officially left empty-handed, and the parents and grandparents and friends who tried so hard to get them there."