TIME politics

Here’s Who Conan O’Brien Would Cast in a Movie About the 2016 Candidates

Ted Cruz gets Kevin from The Office, and Bernie Sanders just gets a bowl of coleslaw

Since there are about 850 candidates running for the Republican nomination, according to Conan O’Brien, it’s about time to start casting a made-for-TV movie about the election. And Conan has some very specific ideas about who should play each character.

Hillary Clinton will be played by David Spade and Chris Christie by Mama June from Honey Boo Boo. Naturally. But then Carly Fiorina will be played by lime cat? And Bernie Sanders by a bowl of coleslaw?

Conan’s personal favorite seems to be Ted Cruz being played by Kevin from The Office. Watch the clip and the devastating side-by-side images, and see what you think.

TIME politics

See This ‘Superhero’ Kid Get an Obama Fist Bump

President Barack Obama greets Luca Martinez, 4, with a fist-bump as he walks from the White House to board Marine One in Washington on May 2, 2015.
Carolyn Kaster—AP President Barack Obama greets Luca Martinez, 4, with a fist-bump as he walks from the White House to board Marine One in Washington on May 2, 2015.

A young boy is the recipient of a presidential pound

Royal babies get all the attention in England, but what’s the perk of being the son of a press photographer? A once-in-a-lifetime fist-bump with the President.

On Saturday, four-year-old Luca Martinez accompanied his father, Associated Press photographer Pablo, to the South Lawn to see President Obama’s helicopter up close. Luca wore superhero clothes and goggles to protect his eyes during takeoff and covered his ears against the noise, according to CNN.

The President strode out and saw Luca, and gave him a pound for the ages, complete with exploding fist.

It was fun, Luca said when reporters asked him about it.


TIME Nepal

These Are the 5 Facts That Explain Nepal’s Devastating Earthquake

Destroyed villages sit on mountain tops near the epicenter of Saturday's massive earthquake, in the Gorkha District of Nepal on April 29, 2015.
Wally Santana—AP Destroyed villages sit on mountain tops near the epicenter of the massive earthquake, in the Gorkha District of Nepal on April 29, 2015.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake will hamper Nepal for years

The earthquake that ravaged Nepal, killing at least 5,000 people, has revealed the best and worst both in the Himalayan nation and those rushing to its aid. These 5 facts explain what’s shaping the domestic and international responses to the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, and where Nepal goes from here.

1. Quick to aid

Aid pledges are pouring in: $10 million from the US, $7.6 million from the UK, and $3.9 million from Australia, among others. But as welcome as this influx of funds is, the sad reality is that Nepal is ill-equipped to make full use of these resources. That is why countries are lining up to donate technical expertise via disaster response teams as well. China has sent a 62-member search-and-rescue team to help the recovery effort. Israel has sent 260 rescue experts in addition to a 200-person strong medical team, while Japan has sent another 70 people as part of a disaster relief team. The United Nations, in addition to releasing $15 million from its central emergency-response fund, is busy trying to coordinate international efforts to maximize their effectiveness.

(TIME, Quartz, Wall Street Journal)

2. A weak base

Nepal’s infrastructure was critically feeble even before disaster struck. With per capita GDP less than $700 a year, many Nepalese build their own houses without oversight from trained engineers. Nepal tried to institute a building code in 1994 following another earthquake that claimed the lives of 700 people, but it turned out to be essentially unenforceable. To make matters worse, a shortage of paved roads in the country means that assistance can’t reach remote regions where it’s needed most. Local authorities are simply overwhelmed, as is Nepal’s sole international airport in Kathmandu. Planes filled with blankets, food and medicine are idling on tarmacs because there are not enough terminals available.

(TIME, Washington Post, TIME)

3. Half a year’s output gone?

The economic cost of the earthquake is estimated to be anywhere between $1 billion to $10 billion, for a country with an annual GDP of approximately $20 billion. The economic impact will be lasting. Tourism is crucial to the Nepalese economy, accounting for about 8 percent of the total economy and employing more than a million people. Mount Everest, a dangerous destination under the best of circumstances, is the heart of that industry. The earthquake this past weekend triggered an avalanche that took the lives of at least 17 climbers, and as many as 200 people are still stranded on the mountain.

(Quartz, Deutsche Welle, Wall Street Journal, The Independent)

4. Internal political barriers

Nepal’s domestic politics are not helping. Nepal’s 1996-2006 civil war claimed the lives of at least 12,000 Nepalese, and the country’s political system has never really recovered. The government that stood before the quake was woefully ill-prepared to deal with a disaster of such scale. There have been no elections at the district, village or municipal level for nearly 20 years, and the committees in charge of local councils are not organized enough to deal with the difficult task of coordinating emergency assistance. Things are not much better at the national level, where Kathmandu has seen nine prime ministers in eight years.

(Washington Post, New York Times, TIME)

5. A competition for influence

Not all foreign aid is altruistic, and some countries never miss an opportunity to capitalize on tragedy. For years, Nepal has been an object of competition between India and China. For India, Nepal has been a useful buffer state between itself and China ever since Beijing gained control over Tibet. Relative to China, India and Nepal are much closer linguistically and culturally. Nepalese soldiers train in India, and New Delhi is a main weapons supplier to Nepal. For China, Nepal is an important component of its “New Silk Road” plan to link Asia with Europe, and offers a useful ally against Tibetan independence. China was already Nepal’s biggest foreign investor as of 2014. While in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake both Asian powers are providing significant assistance, it’s in the reconstruction phase where the true competition between the two will emerge. Pay particular attention to the race to build hydroelectric power plants: both Beijing and New Delhi have been positioning themselves to take advantage of Nepal’s 6,000 rivers to feed their respective energy needs.

(Quartz, BBC, TIME)

TIME politics

Veep Creator on Hillary Clinton and the Intense Pressure to Say Nothing

Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting in LeClaire, Iowa on April 14, 2015.
Charlie Neibergall—AP Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting in LeClaire, Iowa on April 14, 2015.

Candidates running now define themselves by their inaction

It’s possibly no coincidence that Hillary Clinton started her presidential run the same week that astronomical scientists at the University of Hawaii in Manoa announced the discovery of a Supervoid, a structure in space 18 billion light-years across and “distinguished by its unusual emptiness.” The Supervoid sits in a part of the cosmos known as the Cold Spot, where there’s far less matter to observe than elsewhere throughout the universe.

It’s a perfect analogy for how Hillary Clinton’s opponents seek to characterize her: as someone who is profoundly visible yet hard to identify. She is politics’ Dark Matter: We know she’s there, but we just can’t describe her. Is she on the left or the right, is she a friend of the rich or the poor, is she a testosterone-fueled superhawk or a grandmatronly van-driver popping into Chipotle for a chat with the staff?

Yet Hillary’s identity problem is prominent only because she has been on the public stage for so long. It’s a magnified version of a debilitating crisis of identity that sits at the heart of national American politics, the real Supervoid that constricts and confines most presidential candidates: and that is, the intense pressure to say nothing. Knowing that your every speech and interview sits in the digital archive, ready to be analyzed by an army of opponents with time to spare and money to spend, can kill spontaneity dead. Far better to sit contentious debates out. If you hold public office, be careful how you vote on any piece of legislation, no matter how obscure. Your voting record will be used by your opponents just as savagely as if it were a criminal one.

And far better to stand for president before you’ve done anything. It worked for Obama, who moved swiftly in the space of two years from senator to president and kept out of trouble as much as he could while still in the Senate chamber. It’s the same be-a-senator-for-a-few-years-then-jump strategy now being used by Marco Rubio. When you’ve not got much to show for yourself other than your face, you enter the presidential race without baggage and with the opportunity to attack all those who have. You enter not as someone with a legacy but someone who is a brand. The difference with Hillary is that she’s been around a lot longer, so she has had more time in which to try not doing very much. That’s a tougher challenge, and the fact she’s more or less managed it shows what a formidable candidate she’s going to be.

When I first started researching Veep, my comedy show for HBO with Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing Vice President Selina Meyer, I was much taken by the portrayal of LBJ in Robert Caro’s monumental biography of the president. What hooked me was the tragicomic dilemma of a once-powerful senator found sitting in his vice president’s office twiddling his thumbs and waiting for something to do. Looking at it again, I’m reminded of a state of politics now gone: When Johnson was major­ity leader, he got things done. Here was a Democrat, working alongside a Republican White House under Eisenhower and getting legislation passed by extending a hand across the aisle. He sometimes twisted the arm that was extended back; the negotiations certainly weren’t pretty, but they did achieve positive results. This was a time when the two parties in Congress talked to each other and found common ground. It’s worth remembering the Constitution is predicated on people at opposite ends of the political spectrum being forced to compromise.

Now, though, that doesn’t happen. The conversation is stalled, the vote delayed, the bill dropped. Which is why candidates running now define themselves by their inaction: “Vote for me because I voted against this, I stopped it from happening, I got this overturned, I will oppose this measure, I’ll make sure this is thrown out.”

This is the ultimate Supervoid now at the heart of politics. It’s the reason why for most presiden­tial candidates today, the only significant thing they can say about themselves is that they are running for president.

Iannucci is the creator and executive producer of HBO’s ‘Veep.’

This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Cuban Americans Are Finally Home in the U.S.

Mike Gonzalez is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for International Studies and the author of A Race for the Future: How Conservatives Can Break the Liberal Monopoly on Hispanic Americans.

Two Cuban Americans presidential candidates—and Obama's recognition of the Castro regime—are signs that their voyage to America is complete

This year is shaping up as a milestone for an immigrant group that has often felt little-understood (or liked) by the news media. Cuban Americans are coming of age as two Cuban Americans run for president. Yet the candidacies of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz coincide with one of the community’s most stinging political defeats ever: President Barack Obama’s decision to recognize the government of Raul Castro.

These two watershed events are related. Obama’s decision may force those who still harbor hopes of returning to their ancestral land once it is free to realize that that moment may not come within their lifetimes. Hearing Cruz’s and Rubio’s stirring tributes to America may make them accept their own American identity. Both signify to Cuban Americans that their voyage to America is complete.

Political scientist and journalist Michael Barone estimates that it usually takes about 80 years for members of an immigrant group to fully converge to the American mainstream. This was the case with the Italians and East European Jews, who began to arrive in full force in the 1890s, and with the Germans, whose great migration began in earnest in the 1850s. The Irish, roughly contemporary with the Germans but many of whom were unskilled laborers, took a bit longer—about 120 years.

Yet Cuban Americans have made it in only 55 years. Today, U.S.-born Cuban Americans have a higher average household income than non-Hispanic whites, $50,000 vs. $48,000, and 39% of U.S.-born Cuban Americans have at least a four-year college degree, compared with 33% of non-Hispanic whites. They measure up well in terms of poverty rate, too—only 13% under age 18 fall below the poverty line, just three percentage points higher than non-Hispanic whites. As for marrying outside their group, an important indicator of assimilation, more than two thirds of Cuban-Americans do so. That’s an extremely high rate.

Politically, Cuban Americans account for just 0.5% of the American population, yet they currently hold three of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate and five of the 435 seats in the House. These congressmen are also geographically dispersed, representing Florida (Rubio), New Jersey (Robert Menendez) and Texas (Cruz) in the Senate, and Florida (with three seats), New Jersey and West Virginia in the House.

No one knows how far Cruz and Rubio may advance in their bid for the presidency. But the very fact that they are in the running may be as important a milestone as Andrew Jackson’s 1828 presidential run or John F. Kennedy’s one in 1960. Jackson was not only the first president from outside of Massachusetts or Virginia, he was our first non-English president. His win was a victory for the common man, who tended to be of the Scots-Irish stock Jackson embodied. Kennedy did the same for native Irish Catholics. His grandfather, former Boston Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, danced a jig and sang “Sweet Adeline” when Kennedy first won a congressional seat.

In looking at Rubio and Cruz, Cuban Americans will likewise feel a special tug at the heart—something akin to the pride my Cuban immigrant family felt in Queens while watching Tony Perez and Luis Tiant square off against each other in the 1975 World Series.

But their campaigns may have a longer impact than that pinch of pride. The political persona of both candidates is that of someone who is proud of his parents’ immigrant experience but also fully confident in his own American identity. Rubio is the ultimate Florida boy, Cruz the prototypical boots-wearing Texan. (In this they exhibit the trait of successful assimilation that David Hackett Fischer called the tendency “to adopt the folkways of the regions in which they settled.”) Their love of America, the celebration of its virtues and reverence for its traditions is a central part of their message.

Upon hearing it, Cuban Americans will reflect on what that message means for them, especially now that the prospects of making a go of it in a Cuba Libre of the Castros have dimmed. That trade and tourism will be forces too intense for the Communist party to hang on to power in Havana sounds nice in theory, it just hasn’t happened that way anywhere else. In fact, it’s been exactly the opposite case in China, Vietnam and, more recently, Burma.

Cuban Americans are well steeped in the realities of the Asian models that Castro and his generals are trying to copy. That’s why so many of them put Obama’s rapprochement with the Castros on a par with their two other historical catastrophes: Kennedy’s decision to abandon armed exiles to their fate at Bay of Pigs in 1961 and President Bill Clinton’s returning Elian Gonzalez to Cuba in 2000. Obama’s actions, and the message conveyed by the campaigns of Rubio and Cruz, may finally convince those who still harbored wishes of returning that the United States is indeed their only and permanent home.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

The Wire Creator Blames Martin O’Malley for Baltimore Police Problems

Win McNamee—Getty Images, Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images (L-R) Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD) and David Simon, creator of the HBO show, The Wire

David Simon lashes out against the former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Governor amid this week's unrest

David Simon, the creator of the iconic Baltimore-based HBO series The Wire, lashed out in a lengthy interview against Martin O’Malley, saying in the wake of this week’s riots and curfew that the former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Governor was the “stake through the heart of police procedure” in the city.

Protests that have erupted following the April 19 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal spinal injury while in police custody, have highlighted the deep racial and socio-economic divide in Baltimore and the distrust between the community and law enforcement officers.

Speaking with The Marshall Project, Simon traces his wariness back to O’Malley’s time as Mayor between 1999 and 2007, when Simon says he made “mass arrests” of citizens for minor offenses to pad crime statistics. “[W]hat happened under his watch as Baltimore’s mayor was that he wanted to be governor. And at a certain point, with the crime rate high … he put no faith in real policing.”

Simon, a crime reporter at the Baltimore Sun for more than 10 years before he moved to television writing, has been an outspoken critic of O’Malley for years. He has even said that the Wire character Tommy Carcetti, an ambitious politician who manipulates crime reduction statistics, is partly based on O’Malley, a presumed Democratic presidential candidate.

Read the full interview at The Marshall Project


Message to Baltimore Protesters: ‘Fight On’

APTOPIX Suspect Dies Baltimore
Patrick Semansky—AP A demonstrator raises his fist as police stand in formation as a store burns during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore on Monday, April 27, 2015.

Phillip Agnew is mission director of the activist group Dream Defenders.

"The destruction of property, the fighting back—that’s starting the conversation"

Seeing the protests in Baltimore has filled me with a sense of pride in seeing a community come together with empathy and sharing the very human emotion of anguish at the senseless death of Freddie Gray and many others. It shouldn’t be a surprise when a reaction like this bubbles to the surface. People are fed up. We feel it very acutely when someone in our community dies. We are the ones left to pick up the pieces. This began long before this week; we’re just now being jolted.

The police reaction to the protests is a continuation of the wrong-minded, heavy-handed, militarized response that we’ve come to expect. This is the current state of American policing—Police seem to believe that citizens are enemy combatants, and that is how they’re treating us. There is a culture of contempt for black, Latino, poor, and young people. No cosmetic legislation or body camera can fix that. An uprising will.

The debate about the role of violence in protests gets brought up when people stand up to the government. I don’t see a distinction between violent and nonviolent protests. What I see is protest.

Consider that we’re shipwrecked on an island. We’ve written S.O.S. on the sand, we’ve put a message in a bottle, and we’ve screamed at the top of the lungs. But planes and boats never came to our aid. Then we decide to set our boat on fire, and people finally take notice.

In Baltimore, I see people who have tried everything in their disposal to be heard, and they’ve gotten no response. The destruction of property, the fighting back—that’s starting the conversation. They’re setting a fire so people will notice. This will happen again.

This looks a lot like the protests in Ferguson, and it looks like the months in Florida after the Trayvon Martin murder. This is not the last time this is going to happen. The ingredients are there in every city in this country. You have people who believe they have no opportunity, you have police departments who see their community as the enemy, and you have racism as an underlying issue that must still be addressed.

I would tell protesters in Baltimore: Fight on. That’s the only way anything is ever changed. The greatest changes in the history of this country have come about by people rising up and not taking “No” for an answer. Increasingly the world is watching a country that has claimed to be a stalwart defender of human rights now have that veneer come down. This must happen. This must continue.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

My Family Was Collateral Damage in a War Against Immigrants

Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

A single illegal border crossing broke apart my famliy for good

On November 20, 2014, President Obama gave a historic speech on immigration. Despite how profoundly personal this issue is to me, I didn’t watch. For the past decade, I have deliberately avoided any mention of immigration reform—hearing or reading about it causes my chest to tighten and my stomach to churn.

The topic inevitably brings me back to a window in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in 2004. The five minutes I spent there damaged my life irrevocably. With the swipe of a pen, a blank-faced clerk denied my husband’s application for a marriage visa and shattered our family.

We had met four years earlier, working as food servers at a Mexican restaurant in a small town in Southern California. We became fast friends, then fell in love, spending hours talking after the restaurant closed and until the sun came up. He told me about how his mother had died when he was young, and his father descended into depression and debilitating alcoholism. He and his nine brothers and sisters had to fend for themselves. He arrived in the U.S. at 17, finished high school, and got three jobs to support his younger siblings in Mexico. And because he had entered the country illegally, he did all this without documents.

We got married in 2002, then moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, so I could earn a master’s degree in public policy at Harvard University. We had a beautiful, irrepressible baby boy. On the weekends, we’d go to the park and I would watch my husband do cartwheels and make faces for our giggling baby. At night, we would pile into the cheap black futon in our one-bedroom apartment. We were happy and grateful.

But we knew we couldn’t build a stable life for our son without regularizing my husband’s immigration status. So we applied for a marriage visa and, about one year later, were relieved to get the letter approving us for a visa and setting an appointment at the American Consulate in Ciudad Juarez on April 17, 2004. We had to leave the country for our appointment because anyone applying for a visa at that time had to have legal standing to receive an appointment inside the U.S. Since my husband did not have legal documents to be here in the United States, he was required to accept an appointment in Mexico. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) knew he had entered illegally, and an official representative informed me that because of his illegal presence, there would likely be a fine and a waiting period of a few months before he would be issued his visa.

So we flew to California, left our son with family, and hopped a bus to Ciudad Juarez. The morning of our appointment we found the waiting room of the American Consulate filled with couples like us. I had a thick packet of paperwork, including letters attesting to my husband’s good character from his high school teacher, city councilman, and the local police department. He had done his physical evaluation. We were as ready as we could be.

The clerk called us to the window. My husband raised his right hand and promised to tell the truth. She never looked at our documents. She only asked one question: Have you ever crossed illegally besides your initial entrance? Yes, he answered. He had returned to visit his ailing grandmother before she passed away. The clerk then shoved a piece of paper at us and informed us that my husband was barred from entering the United States for life. He was not coming home with me and never would. We were in utter shock. Can we appeal? No. In 10 years you can request a waiver, but it isn’t something many people get. It has to be special circumstances, like you have a child who is dying. She called the next couple.

When I returned to Cambridge without my family, my expectant friends were bewildered. This man was my husband, he had no criminal record, and we had an American child! Didn’t that mean he could legalize? The answer was no.

There had been no way I could care for a toddler alone while studying and working two jobs, so I left my son in Mexico, too. I came back to an empty crib and an empty bed. My husband did not come home late after his shift at a restaurant and crawl into bed, pulling me to his warm chest. My son did not cry out for chocolate when we walked past our corner bakery. I felt as though my limbs had been torn from my body. My family was gone.

I was forced to relive my trauma every time I told my story to anyone I thought could help me. I managed to find a top immigration lawyer who agreed to see me pro bono. He delivered the bad news. The permanent bar was because of the second illegal crossing. There was absolutely nothing he could do.

There is a legal principle called proportionality, which says the punishment should fit the crime. My husband had not broken any criminal laws. By visiting his grandmother, he had violated immigration regulations. For that, he was given a life sentence with no parole.

My family became collateral damage in a war against immigrants. My marriage seemed worthless in the eyes of the law—a law that left my innocent son with parents broken apart against their will. It was cruel. Draconian.

Our justice system is weighted heavily toward keeping families together. Children are sent back to abusive homes on a regular basis on the principle of the sanctity of family. But this was not the case with my family. In my son’s adoring eyes, his father is a superhero. Yet for over a decade now,my government has thrown up roadblock after roadblock to keep them apart.

I know that there are thousands of children like my son all over the country who have lost a loving parent as a result of our immigration laws. The damage—trauma, depression, anxiety—is permanent. Such losses poison their childhoods and affect them into adulthood.

Months later, I finally read President Obama’s speech on immigration. His executive order prevents people from being deported if they have American children. It’s designed to protect kids like my son until Congress passes something more permanent. But a federal judge in Texas has put the executive order on hold; an appeals court heard oral arguments on April 17 and will rule soon, but the case may eventually go to the Supreme Court. In the meantime I think of these children, and my son, as I pray for a ruling that will keep other families from suffering as we have.

Rebekah Rodriguez-Lynn studied politics at UCLA and public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She lives in Southern California with her son and her chihuahua. She wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Backlash Against Gay Men Who Hosted Ted Cruz Dinner Is Counterproductive

Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz leaves the stage after speaking during the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on April 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Mille—Getty Images Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz leaves the stage after speaking during the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on April 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Steve Friess is a freelance writer.

Attacking a known ally because he fed the enemy can only end one way—with more anger

The weekend before the Supreme Court was set to consider the question of same-sex marriage, critics in the gay community in New York City found a new target: two gay men who dared host a dinner with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

The angst may have been justified if the presidential contender had been there to raise money. Or if he had been there to campaign about gay issues. Or if the hosts were not two of the most well-intentioned gay men in the New York-area LGBT community, Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass, who have created and successfully managed wonderful spaces for LGBT travelers to enjoy in Fire Island and Manhattan and given often and selflessly to the gay-rights cause.

No, no. They allowed Cruz — to be sure, an anti-gay demagogue of the highest order — to eat with them and talk about the political issues with which they agree. And for that, the men became radioactive until they asked for mercy in the same virtual space where they had been critiqued: Facebook.

“I made a terrible mistake,” Reisner wrote. “I was ignorant, naive and much too quick in accepting a request to co-host a dinner with Cruz at my home without taking the time to completely understand all of his positions on gay rights.”

That’s not the mistake he made. The mistake he made was not taking heed from other firmly pro-gay figures who have had their motives and reputations questioned by noisy busybodies with hair-trigger tempers. In the 1970s, Billy Crystal played an openly gay character on TV at a time when that could have ended his career; he was recently attacked for being prudish about sex on TV. Actress Rose McGowan, a solid LGBT ally, was targeted for daring to suggest on a podcast with American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis that “gay men are as misogynistic as straight men, if not more so.”

In the Cruz case, Reisner didn’t do himself any favors by suggesting that he didn’t know that the senator was stuck in 1985 when it comes to homosexuality. (If Reisner is so far behind, then maybe he shouldn’t be opining about other political issues — Reisner, Weiderpass and Cruz discussed Israeli-Palestinian relations at the dinner.)

Still, the idea that people with radically different backgrounds can break bread with one another is, dare I say it, a good thing. It may not always — or often! — produce a valuable result, but the people who are willing and able to do so are to be admired. When the Rev. Al Sharpton sits down in Harlem with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, that’s progress. When we hear that Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are best friends and celebrate holidays together, it should provide hope that other people of different views can get to know one another as people.

In the earlier phases of the gay-rights movement, advocates insisted that getting to know gay people would help the nation to like gay people. Now look at the polls.

Here’s what Reisner and Weiderpass should have said to their critics: “Guys, it was dinner. We ate dinner with one of the most powerful politicians in the world, elected by one of the most populous states in America. We can ignore that he and his views exist, or we can build bridges, however tenuous.”

We all bemoan the coarsening of our politics, the unbreachable chasms that prevent the likes of Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren from finding any common cause the way former Republican President Ronald Reagan and former Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill once could. Anti-gay views aren’t going away, and, in Cruz’s case, they can come out of the basest and most cynical political instincts. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be a dialogue. It doesn’t mean that anyone who dares be kind and respectful — even to those who are not kind or respectful in return — must be shunned.

There is something to be said for being secure enough in your convictions and confident enough in the righteousness of your cause to be able to hear what other people have to say. Critics insist that the backlash against Reisner and Weiderpass show the newfound strength of the gay movement. It doesn’t. It merely adds credibility to the usually specious argument that LGBT advocates are intolerant. It’s petty and, worse than that, rude.

Protest laws that allow same-sex discrimination, for sure. But attacking a known ally because he fed the enemy can only end one way — with more anger, more distrust and more fear.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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