This is the transcript from episode 161 of The Editors.
Rich: Omar and Tlaib need a new travel agency. America needs a new founding, at least according to the New York Times. We will discuss all this and more on this week’s edition of The Editors. I’m Rich Lowry, and I’m joined as always by the right, honorable Charles C. W. Cooke, the pride of Tennessee, David French, and the notorious MBD, Michael Brendan Dougherty, joining us this week from inside his town’s local water tower.
You, my friends, are listening to a National Review podcast. Our sponsor this week is . . . Sarah thought that was amusing, at least.
Charlie: We all laughed. We just kept it quiet so we didn’t . . .
Rich: Okay. I think your laughter couldn’t be heard over the weird ambient noise in Michael’s feed. That’s probably what’s going —
Charlie: Michael can’t laugh because it would echo for about a week.
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David, we’ve had this flap for about a week now over this planned trip that Tlaib and Omar wanted to make to Israel and to the West Bank. Trump tweeted about it. Netanyahu canceled their trip, then backed down a little and said, okay, Tlaib can visit her grandmother on humanitarian grounds. They’ve obviously been playing this for all they’re worth. Tlaib declined to accept that humanitarian exception. They stayed home, held a big press conference the other day denouncing Israel and calling for a cutoff of U.S. aid and all the rest of it. What do you make of it?
David: Well, two things at one time. One, I have a little bit of trouble really caring about whether or not Israel is going to allow congresswomen into the country who are actively cooperating in an anti-Semitic initiative of BDS. I don’t think it’s that big a deal that Israel says no to that. I think it’s up to Israel. I don’t necessarily like it when Israel appears to change its mind on the basis of a Trump tweet, but I just have trouble getting exercised about the entire controversy about whether or not Tlaib and Omar were going to be invited in, especially when there was a large bipartisan congressional delegation that they probably could’ve joined without any kind of controversy.
But that larger congressional delegation wasn’t going to be explicitly partnering with an organization . . . This is the part of the story that I think the mainstream media needs to pick up on a lot more than it has, although some have. This larger congressional delegation wasn’t partnering, the way Tlaib and Omar were, with a vicious and vile anti-Semitic organization in the West Bank. This was an organization called Miftah, which had published articles that contained blood libel, in other words, the idea that Jews use the blood of Gentiles in Passover celebrations. It has published American neo-Nazi propaganda. It has published articles calling for Palestinians to honor some of the worst terrorists.
There was an article called “Let Us Honor Our Own,” where a Miftah contributor described this woman named Dalal Al Mughrabi as a Palestinian fighter who was killed during a military operation against Israel in 1978, and described her as one of the Palestinian people’s national heroes. Well, this military operation was something called the Coastal Road Massacre, and it may have been one of the worst, if not the worst, terror attack in Israeli history. They killed 38 civilians in a bus, including 13 children.
And they’ve celebrated Palestinian female suicide bombers. The founder of Miftah, this person that is a longstanding Palestinian politician, has said, “You cannot adopt the language of either the international community or the occupier by describing anybody who resists as a terrorist.” This is an organization that has published articles that are just so far beyond the pale that I think every mainstream media reporter should be asking Tlaib and Omar, “Why are you partnering with voices like this? And if you’re partnering with voices like this, why should Israel say ‘come on in,’ even if you are a member of the United States Congress?” This is completely inexcusable.
I know Jake Tapper covered it on CNN, which earned him the ire of Linda Sarsour, and some others have covered it. Rich, you had a notable confrontation on CNN about this very issue. But very few people have been covering this, and I think it’s inexcusable. If you’re going to talk about the controversy of Israel refusing entry to two Democratic congresswomen, talk about it in full. Talk about the whole context.
Rich: Yeah. I had this argument with Peter Beinart over this on CNN. He got quite exercised, and the argument continued after the cameras were off. One thing he said to me is, “Come on, you didn’t hear about this organization, Miftah, until today.” If I had been quicker on my feet, I would’ve said, “No, I heard about it five days ago because David French wrote about it on our website.” David, to your credit, you were one of the first to highlight the nature of this group.
Charlie, you are famously a liberal guy. Where do you come down on the balance here between a liberal society, just being open to people coming, including highly critical people, and whatever right Israel has to ban people that it considers hostile to its very being and waging a campaign to isolate it and delegitimize it?
Charlie: Well, I should preface this by saying that, as far as I know, I have never written or uttered a single world about Israel or Palestine. This isn’t a topic I opine on. It’s not a topic I know a great deal about. I’m happy to leave the debate to others.
I have two views on this controversy. The first is that, if it were up to me, I would’ve let them in. That is in no way to endorse what they have said or to endorse this ugly organization with which they partnered. I just, as a rule, prefer to allow people to hang themselves than to turn them into martyrs by giving them the chance to say, “See? I’m being silenced,” and to make the implication that they’re being silenced because they’re right or they’re saying something that is uncomfortable.
I also think that we should be disgusted that two members of the United States Congress partnered with this organization and hold the views that they do. Those are separate questions. The organization David wrote about is hideous. It’s reprinted neo-Nazi propaganda, as David says. It advances the blood libel. If this were an organization that made similar arguments against African Americans, for example, everyone would instantly be able to see how inappropriate the endeavor was.
I think the double standard here is rightly upsetting me. During the Florida gubernatorial election last year, Ron DeSantis, who went on to win, was criticized for, and these are what the headlines said, speaking at a controversial conference. It turned out that he had spoken at a conservative conference at which David Horowitz had also spoken. This dominated not just local headlines, but national news for a while. He spoke at the same conference as somebody who can be overly, in my view, provocative. Omar and Tlaib actively got into bed with this organization. Why is this not a national scandal?
I think what was missed in your argument with Peter Beinart, by Peter Beinart, was that the problem here is that two congresswomen did this. The argument here is not, because this organization exists, nobody can ever criticize Israel. The argument is not, because this organization exists, every single defense of the Palestinian people is tainted. The argument here is not, because this organization exists, this decision should’ve been taken differently by the Israeli government. The argument here is that these two congresswomen have allied themselves with a disgusting, disgusting organization that in any other context would’ve ended their careers. Again, if you look at it another way around, if this were an organization that had similar views toward African Americans, and, say, Steve King had joined, that would be it. Of course, he’s already been marginalized.
I personally would’ve preferred for Israel to have let them in. It’s not my call, but that’s my view. I would certainly have preferred that any contact Donald Trump had with the Israeli government were private. I think tweeting about it was unseemly from a U.S. president. But I don’t think that changes the fact that this is an extraordinary lapse of judgment at best, and an indication of rotten hearts at worst.
Rich: Michael, feel free to react to anything you’ve heard, but also I’m just curious, I don’t think we’ve heard from you in our years of podcasting together, what your basic take is on Israel and the question of the Palestinian territories. You come from a paleo-realist school of thought on foreign policy which often thinks that conventional conservatives are too unthinkingly defensive of Israel in every instance.
Michael: I guess I come from the little corner of that corner world where one of the benefits of being an America-firster is having a little bit of Charlie’s view of saying Israel needs to pursue its own interests how it sees fit. I realize there are some potential costs to us in the larger Arab world for our historic support of the Israeli state, but that’s also changed in recent years as Sunni states have been . . . At least, their leadership has been much more pragmatic about relationships with both the United States and Israel.
On this particular controversy, the thing that it occasioned for me is just a question about whether Bibi Netanyahu has begun costing Israel the goodwill it had among Democrats. I can obviously see the point David made about not wanting people who have joined in this kind of anti-Semitic discourse to come to Israel, but there have been Bibi Netanyahu’s public sparring with Obama, his speech before Congress during the Obama years, and this latest incident. I would worry, as an outsider and well-wisher for Israel, that Israel is now part and parcel of this mutual alienation between the American center-Left or the American Left and Israel itself. That would worry me for them. It obviously is a process that begins when you have figures like Omar getting elected to Congress, but it’s a worrisome political development for Israel.
This hasn’t quite happened in the U.K., where, as anti-Semitic elements have popped up on the Labour side, most Labour leaders, excluding Jeremy Corbyn, have at least listened to British Jewish criticism of the party and have tried to take it to heart. I worry that in America, American Jews are starting to look at Israel as allied with the Republican party, and that’s a dangerous dynamic for Israel, I think.
Rich: David, where do you come down on this larger question, and it came up in that exchange with Peter Beinart, that the Palestinians are an oppressed people; oppressed peoples traditionally resort to “violent resistance.” I don’t know why anyone would in any way suggest there’s a whisper of a justification for suicide bombings and blowing up innocent people. Guerrilla insurgency is one thing; flat-out terrorism is another.
How should we think of oppressed people and the resort to “violent resistance,” one, and, two, what would you make of his point that even if you have nasty elements who are anti-Semitic or are supporting violent tactics that people should oppose, that shouldn’t color our view of their rights and their case for self-determination?
David: Yeah, so on the topic of violent resistance, in many ways I almost feel as if it’s moot because at no point in the history of the conflict with Israel have the Palestinians engaged in the kind of revolutionary combat or the kind of revolutionary tactics that comply in any way, shape, or form with the international law of armed conflict. They just haven’t, and they haven’t as a matter of purpose and strategy. You’re talking about an intentional massacre of civilians time and time again for decades.
In some ways, this idea about whether or not there is a theoretical version or armed resistance that could be appropriate, I would like to see . . . In many ways, okay, that’s just an entirely academic discussion because the reality that Israel has faced has been intentional violations of the law of armed conflict from Day One, both from its irregular guerrilla insurgencies against it and from, frankly, the conventional forces arrayed against it that violated the U.N. charter by trying to annihilate a sovereign state from Day One.
All of that, I think it’s a theoretical discussion. It has no bearing on what Israel has practically endured and the actual reality of PLO resistance to Israel, Hamas resistance to Israel, Hezbollah attacks on Israels. All of them violate the law of armed conflict systematically, intentionally. That’s what Israel is dealing with, and you cannot then evaluate Israeli responses in the West Bank and in Gaza without understanding that reality.
This is the problem that I continually have with . . . I’m not excusing all Israeli actions. When you have two people involved in that much friction and that much conflict, and there’s human beings on both sides, you’re going to be able to point to Israeli actions that are wrong. You’re going to be able to point to Israeli actions that constitute atrocities or violations of the law. Israel, to its credit, as a general rule, will prosecute violators.
But any evaluation of Israeli reactions in the West Bank and Gaza has to account for the fact that Israel has not encountered enemies that fight according to international law. They systematically violate it. That puts Israel in extremely difficult positions as to figuring out how to protect their citizens against people who intentionally blend into the civilian population, against terrorists who intentionally blend into the civilian population, who intentionally use civilians as human shields, who have demonstrated that when peace talks break down, they will often resort to systematic campaigns of terror. That’s the security challenge.
Look, when I was in Iraq, we encountered a similar security challenge in Diyala Province, where I served. Believe me when I say it is extraordinarily difficult to create security, much less peace, but just basic security when your enemy is intentionally blending into the civilian population, is intentionally killing civilians, is intentionally killing civilians in any place where civilians can be found.
What I would like for critics of Israel to do, rather than say, well, theoretically there’s a right of armed resistance, theoretically there’s a way in which Palestinians could arm themselves to confront Israel in a way that would comport with the law of armed conflict, all true, but what’s the reality of the security challenge that Israel faces? The reality of the armed resistance is comprehensive terrorism directed at civilians.
Part of this is ever since law school, I’ve had this resistance to debates over hypotheticals. Let’s debate over realities. The reality is Israel faces a systematic terror threat from people who violate international law as a matter of strategy. Let’s deal with that, and let’s talk about how realistically Israel can control that threat without engaging in some of the tactics that it’s engaged in.
Rich: Charlie, any thoughts on that?
Charlie: I accept Israel is different in some ways. It’s surrounded by countries that want it to be gone. As David says, it does face a heightened threat in the way that the United States, for example, does not, and it is home to a people who have been historically persecuted, most notably in the last century. But I think that the question remains, which course of action handed a greater propaganda victory to its enemies? Was it allowing these two women in, or was it keeping them out? Again, it’s not my call, but my view is, accepting all that David has said, that Israel has, and I don’t know to what extent the Trump administration was involved in this decision, that Israel has given Omar and Tlaib and those people who think that they are great truth-tellers an advantage here.
One of the reasons that Westerners tend to side with Israel, especially in the United States and, to a slightly lesser extent, in Britain, is that Israel is a democracy, and Israel has more classically liberal provisions within its constitution and its culture than do the surrounding nations. Even if it is for a good reason, every time you limit a democratic principle, and free speech is one of those, every time you make an exception, you damage your capacity to stand up above all of the other nations as an example for the rest of the world.
Again, I’m not saying Israel should’ve ignored its law. It has a law in place. I’m not saying that Omar and Tlaib have a good case. It’s very odd to me that they would say, “We’re going to boycott Israel. Why won’t Israel let us in?” I am saying that, on balance, I would probably have said, “We’re an open society. We let U.S. congressmen, congresswomen in. We’re not going to make an exception for these two, even though we of course find their views abhorrent.”
David: I actually —
Rich: Exit question to you. . . . Sorry, go ahead.
David: I actually agree with Charlie on that point. I was responding mainly to the Beinart point about resistance. I think that as just a strategic matter for Israel, saying we’re going to bar these women from entering, members of the U.S. Congress, probably, on balance, a mistake, but I understand the decision. I understand the reasoning. Probably, on balance, from a propaganda standpoint, a mistake. They could’ve allowed them to come in and then continually highlighted who this Miftah organization is. But on that tactical point, I think I agree with Charlie.
Rich: MBD, exit question to you. In the medium term, the BDS movement via the advocacy of the likes of Omar and Tlaib will gain more or less support?
Michael: It’s going to gain more for now, but it will be more slowly than the sort of anti-Israel movements that have risen up on the left in Europe, just because there are fewer Muslims in America whose primary sympathy is for the Palestinians. But it will grow.
Rich: David French?
David: I think it’ll grow, in part because of negative partisanship. If Trump is against something, there’s going to be some people who are going to just default to be for it.
Can I just note, I wonder how much Nancy Pelosi regrets that Rolling Stone cover after the election? Otherwise, without that Democratic leadership seal of approval on Omar and on AOC and others, how much would we really be talking about them?
Rich: Charlie Cooke?
Charlie: Yeah, I agree with what David said, and for the same reasons. I think if we do see Israel become a strictly partisan issue, then by definition you’re going to see more people, if not explicitly siding with the views of Omar and Tlaib and others, at least being less upset by them, purely because they are within the same tribe.
Rich: I agree. Unfortunately, I think the answer is more support. I think these two and others have unfortunately succeeded in shifting the Overton window a bit, and I agree with David and Charlie about, Michael made this point earlier as well, about Israel increasingly becoming a partisan issue, which will open up people to get to this really dark place and dark position.
Michael, we had a big controversy this week over the nature of the United States of America, prompted by a project at the New York Times called the 1619 Project. I would say worthy in its less ambitious and sweeping aims to highlight the stories associated with African slavery, chattel slavery in this country, but it’s a much more ambitious project than just that. As one of the editors stipulated, the Times is hoping to reframe the history of America to establish the idea that this country was somehow founded in 1619 when the first slaves from Africa were imported here. What do you make of it?
Michael: Well, listen, I agree with your characterization that there is a very worthy element to this project. I think a lot of lay readers of American history will at least be exposed to stories in our history and even some perspectives in our history that are at least worth considering. The reaction to it, I think, has been particularly bad among conservatives, not just because of some potential overstatement, both by the editors of the New York Times and in some of the essays themselves, but because I think the release of this comes at a time just after a meeting at the New York Times was leaked in which the editor kind of said, oh, well, we were doing the Russia story for two years. Now we’re going to focus on racial issues because the Russia story didn’t turn out the way maybe the Times led readers to expect it would. I think conservatives detect a partisan agenda at work, and it’s been definitely true in some of the pieces.
However, I do think it’s been an occasion for misunderstanding. For instance, Zack Beauchamp at Vox has a piece today trying to explain conservative objections to this, saying that conservatives want to believe in a pure founding of 1776, or that everyone in 1776 was innocent in some way, that slavery wasn’t in the warp and weft of the Founding. I don’t think that is true exactly. There may be some tub-thumpers who say things that could be confused for that, but I think most conservatives acknowledge that slavery was something many Founders practiced, that some of them defended.
The view on the conservative right has mainly been the view Lincoln espoused, which was that the Founders maybe didn’t think that there was anything to be done significantly to uproot slavery at the Founding, but that they had marked it for eventual extinction in the ideas that they enunciated, and they had provided the tools for that in the Constitution itself. I don’t think it’s a pure innocence. I do think conservatives recognize that very important figures of the Founding like Gouverneur Morris were essentially abolitionists, while others defended slavery, or at least practiced it.
I personally am hoping that the conservative response to this will continue to be productive, basically. The New York Times may be mainstreaming some of the more avant-garde academic theories through this project, but we have the tools to engage those and respond appropriately when we think they’re too sweeping. The fact is that the Founders did not, as some Confederates did, take an explicit view of white supremacy as part of their founding ideal. It was a legal reality that they ratified. But the ideals that they championed were for human liberty, and they recognized at the time the tension or incompatibility of that ideal with the practice of slavery.
Rich: Charlie, we were talking about this offline yesterday. I really think the most important opinion writer in the last decade or so is far and away Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has totally defined now the Left and the center-Left’s view of race in America. Beto O’Rourke is a Ta-Nehisi Coates-ite. The editors of the New York Times are Ta-Nehisi Coates-ites, where they just think it’s racism through and through, and racism from the beginning to the end.
The harsh way to look at the way they’re portraying the Founding is as agreement, basically, with Roger Taney, that this was a country founded by and for white men, end of the story, or the Stephen Douglas side of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. More charitable way would be to say they’re Garrisonians, this radical abolitionist who thought the Constitution was a pact with the devil, a view that I think was incorrect and a practical dead end, which is why great statesmen like Frederick Douglass initially was of that view and then moderated over time and came to, in my estimation, a more accurate view of the Founding, but also one that was much more practical and realistic, and he eventually found common ground with Lincoln on that.
What’s your take?
Charlie: Well, I think it is always a good thing when we remember the tyranny that existed in the United States under slavery and then under Jim Crow. I’ve written a great deal about this. Madison and his fellow Founders were alarmed by the prospect of the United States falling under an autocrat. That is one form of tyranny. It’s a form of tyranny we should all worry about, especially given the history of the 20th century. But America did host a tyranny within its borders, and it was a tyranny far, far worse than that of George III. It was a tyranny far, far worse than most misgovernment in world history. To acknowledge that is important.
I have a few problems with this project, though. I have some specific problems. I think it is preposterous to suggest that the revolutionaries in 1775, ’76, were driven by a desire to maintain slavery. I think that in some parts, the package of essays is intended to use the egregious history of slavery in the United States to win modern political debates. One of the essays is about capitalism. I think its claims are wrong. One of the essays is about the Senate and the protection of minority rights in America. I think its presumptions are wrong. One of the essays is about traffic in Atlanta. I think that, as Damon Linker has pointed out, is borderline farcical.
My main objection is to what the New York Times says the collection is supposed to achieve, which is, as you suggested, to cast 1619 as the real founding, or at least as the main point on which we should focus in American history. I think that would be an egregious mistake. The aberration in American history and, in my view, in world history was the Founding. It was the Declaration of Independence, it was the Constitution, and it was the intellectual activity that informed and surrounded the publication and adoption of those documents.
Slavery preexisted those documents, and it survived them. The best charge that one can level at the Founders is that they were hypocrites. Many of them were. To write all men are created equal in a country that boasted chattel slavery was hypocritical. Nevertheless, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution served almost immediately as north stars to which Americans could look. They have continued to do so.
They helped to get rid of the slave trade. The 1808 deadline in the Constitution was taken literally. The first possible moment that the slave trade could be abolished, it was. The claims in the Declaration of Independence were used by Frederick Douglass, by Abraham Lincoln, and by Martin Luther King. The premise is a promissory note.
Abraham Lincoln was vexed in the 1850s because he felt that the premises contained within the Declaration and the Constitution were being ignored, not that they were insufficient. He complains in a letter to Henry Pierce that the Southerners, in particular, and some in the North, are dismissing the Founding as glittering generalities. He says, “All honor to Jefferson,” who was of course a slave owner. The hypocrisy point stands. “All honor to Jefferson, to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document an abstract truth applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that today and in all coming days it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.”
That is the moment, and one does not need to downplay slavery to ignore slavery, to whitewash slavery, to agree with that. One can think, as I do, that slavery was an enormous sin, that it is America’s original sin, that it turned the Founders into hypocrites, that it was a tyranny, and also recognize that the founding of the United States was what eventually destroyed it and has served as a beacon for Americans and for people all around the world looking for liberty and for manumission.
If we buy the narrative espoused in the introduction to the 1619 Project, we will be diminishing that beacon and that north star. We will be limiting its practical effects. We will be downplaying its historical record. I think that would be an enormous mistake. Although I think that this argument has been made quite stupidly in some ways, I do think that it would be to let the cornerstone speech prevail and the Gettysburg Address subside.
Rich: No less an authority than Gordon Wood, the eminent historian who is emphatically not one of us on the radicalism of the American Revolution, argues that the revolution began a questioning of slavery, when, prior to that, it was taken for granted, and began a steady anti-slavery move in the North that eventually led to the Civil War and the end of slavery.
David, feel free to take on any aspect of this that you want or anything you’ve heard. I would say, I’ve only read the lead essay in The New York Times Magazine package, and something I really liked about it . . . I think there are many ridiculous and overwrought claims throughout the body of the piece . . . but was at the end when the author was making the case that African Americans are more American than anyone else. I don’t know about that contention, but I really think conservatives need to more deeply engage with African-American history.
I have no problem with Juneteenth becoming a real holiday. I think an African American should be on the currency. I think Frederick Douglass was born to be on the currency. He just has the look. If you go by tenure, time in this country, most African Americans have been here longer than European Americans. If you just take freedom fighting, if you take fighting for their own rights and freedoms, if you take service in the U.S. military, if you take holding to American ideals in the most dire and evil of circumstances, by all those standards, the emphasis on the phrase African American has to be on American.
David: Right. I look at the discourse that surrounded this 1619 Project as almost a microcosm of what’s been wrong with a lot of our discourse about race, particularly over the last few years, as questions around intersectionality and identity politics have surged. It goes something like this. I think you begin . . . step one is there is a really important issue and a really important milestone that should require a clear-eyed degree of self-reflection in our country, and that’s the 400-year anniversary of the first slaves coming to our shore. It should remind us that slavery has an incredibly long history in this country.
Going beyond slavery into Jim Crow, think about this. It was more than 340 years of formal legal subjugation of black Americans, more than 340 years of formal legal subjugation in this country. That’s a ridiculously long time. It was only in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act that the federal government stepped in and essentially swept away not just the formal legal subjugation of the states, but also the subjugation that private enterprise, particularly in the South, comprehensively imposed on African Americans. That’s a really long time.
What that means is there’s going to be an awful lot of implications for that to this day. You don’t just sort of reboot the computer with the Civil Rights Act. There is an enormous legacy from all of this that we should look at as clear-eyed as possible, not from a defensive standpoint, but from just an honest standpoint. That’s step one. I think that’s absolutely true.
Then you go to the step two, which is often so typical of our discourse, and that is there’s at least some of that analysis that goes beyond what the facts warrant, in some cases well beyond. The argument that you’re going to reframe the American Founding as 1619 and not 1776, that’s a bold . . . What’s the quote from the movie Dodgeball? “Bold move, Cotton”?
Charlie: “I hope it pays off.”
David: “That’s a bold move.” Then the conversation on the conservative side tends to then focus almost exclusively on the excesses and the perceived excesses of the project itself. You have a worthwhile project, you have some excesses in the project, and then the conservative response, rather than look at the totality of it, if you’re going to just go by what’s going on online, just drills down and focuses on the excesses and says, “Look at those guys. Look at what they’re doing.”
This happens time and time and time again, and I don’t know the way out of it because the dynamics on the left in many ways invite these excesses. What can you say about American capitalism and slavery? Well, there are arguments to be made about the influence of slavery on American capitalism, but to say American capitalism is, in essence, defined by slavery, wow, that’s bold. There’s this dynamic on the left that invites this excess.
I think the Coates influence is interesting to note because that was a hallmark of his later writing. A lot of his later writing seemed to follow a pattern that went kind of like this. It would say there’s this horrifying thing that occurred in 1919 or this horrifying policy from 1933 or this dreadful thing that occurred in 1860, and then fast-forward to 2017, and that’s why we have what we have, or in many ways we haven’t fundamentally changed from that. Wait a minute. Hold on. I was with you, but you skipped some steps.
That was a form and a style of argument that began to emerge, and so it sort of encouraged this move toward making a bolder and greater statement than perhaps the facts warrant. That then gives an awful lot of people on the right who are very defensive about these issues, something to just focus on to the exclusion of everything else.
There have been some essays in that series that I think are really, really thought-provoking, and one of them . . . I don’t have the title of it off the top of my head, but essentially that African Americans were absolutely indispensable in America becoming a more fully democratic, small-L liberal nation, I think is outstanding reading. Just outstanding reading.
When you look at history, and as you were alluding to, Rich, some of the first people to notice . . . The first people to notice the aspirations of the Declaration versus the reality of the present condition of African Americans in the United States in a condition of subjugation and slavery were African Americans who said, “Wait a minute, let’s look at the principles of the Founding.”
There’s the letter written by Benjamin Banneker to Thomas Jefferson, and he says, “In detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, you should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves” — that, look, physician, heal thyself, when you’re talking about the tension between the principles of the Founding and slavery.
There was no greater champion of freedom of free speech in early American history than Frederick Douglass. He says liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. He said, “Free speech is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power.”
Then you have Martin Luther King calling on the nation to finally deliver on this what he called a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. You just go on and on and on, and the history of African-American resistance to subjugation by appealing to the founding values of this country, to me, is one of the most inspiring stories in American history. I think it’s something that I feel like an awful lot of conservatives who live in this permanent defensive crouch about questions of race need to be much more forthright in understanding and acknowledging. Instead, what we often do is we focus, to the exclusion of other things, on excesses of the Left. That’s been what’s frustrating to watch this whole conversation unfold.
Rich: MBD, exit question to you. A couple of decades from now, the founding of this country will be known as 1607, 1619, 1620, 1776, 1865, or 1964?
Michael: In how many years?
Rich: A couple decades.
Michael: In a couple decades? It’ll be whatever year that AOC is elected president.
No, it is going to be 1776. I think the next step after maybe this exploration of 1619, which I think will eventually generate other healthy responses, I think will be a look at the globalism of the 16th and 17th centuries and the global slave trade’s role in political development in Africa, and Europe and South America as well. Whatever the excesses, I think the conversation started was a good one.
Rich: Charlie Cooke, 1607, 1619, 1620, 1776, 1865, or 1964?
Charlie: No, it will be 1776 because the principles that were outlined there are so important and so beautiful. One change I could see coming, and I think we would all be better off for it, is a broader understanding that the Civil War was primarily fought over slavery, that the Confederacy was rotten to its core and needed smashing, and that the values that were outlined in 1776 could not be fully extended without what happened in the Civil War. That’s not, for the record, to say they were fully extended straightaway. They weren’t. But the recalibration of our understanding of the Civil War would be a much better outcome, and is I think a much more likely outcome of anything that flows from the 1619 Project, than the replacement of 1776 as the American Founding with 1619.
Rich: David French?
David: 1776, without question. This is a news-cycle blip, this conversation. There will be many more other race-based conversations to come, to the point where we will forget about this project in relatively short order, in spite of the fact that some of it is really, really good.
Yeah, one of the things, just to call back to our wars over liberalism fought recently, I think what we have to understand — a reality of the secession movement in 1861 is that the principles of the Founding, by the time 1861 rolls around, the principles of the Founding had begun to assume this incredible, inexorable momentum against slavery, and the South recognized that. The South recognized that their regime was doomed if they stayed, and so they just opted out, tried to opt out of it entirely.
We have to understand, in discussing the origins of the Civil War, that the role the Founding and the principles of the Founding played in, by 1861, creating a nation that was inexorably moving against slavery so decisively that the Southern states decided they couldn’t stay anymore if they wanted to maintain this institution. I think that those who would minimize the role of slavery and secession . . . I don’t even know what to say to those folks anymore. Just read the documents.
Rich: Another part of that was not just the drift of sentiment in the North, but just the power and the economic dynamics, where a capitalism not dependent on slave labor was much more dynamic than the Southern economy dependent on slave labor. Immigrants didn’t want to settle in a slave society when they came. They wanted to go to the North. The North was growing in terms of economic power, in terms of population, and the South worried, justifiably, that it was going to be overwhelmed and went to try to save its system while it thought it could.
My answer is also 1776, although I believe the American nation existed prior to 1776. I can’t give you a date, but this is one of the themes of my book, by the way, A Case for Nationalism, now available for preorder on Amazon. The question about the . . . I think this date, 1776, is going to be under pressure, and part of the answer goes to, is this just a fever we’re experiencing on the left, or is this a secular trend where they’re going to get actually more radical? I think the answer is more radical, so 1776 is going to be contested, and contested more in the future than it is today.
We wanted to get to Elizabeth Warren, but we’ve got to get Michael out of here and out of that water tower, get him extracted somehow, in, what is it, about eight minutes, five minutes maybe.
Really quickly, exit question style, I’ll go to you first, Michael. Odds that Elizabeth Warren . . . If you just look at sheer polling, you’d think this is really the only thing that has happened over the last three or four months, is that Elizabeth Warren has gained relative to the other candidates. Elizabeth Warren’s percentage odds of winning the nomination?
Michael: It’s tough. I would say they’re at 20 percent, but it’s hard to judge because the break point for her really is whether and when Bernie Sanders will stand down and allow that section of the party to consolidate its vote. I have to say 20 percent because I don’t anticipate him doing so in time for her.
Rich: Charlie Cooke?
Charlie: I think it’s pretty low, just because I can’t see the coalition coming together for her. I think if Biden does collapse, there are other people better placed to pick up his pieces. I’m going to say maybe 20 percent, just because if she were to crush it in Iowa or New Hampshire, maybe that changes the dynamic, maybe people think, “Well, she’s the one who can win,” but I think it’s low.
Rich: David French?
David: I think she’s second most likely behind Biden at the moment, but I don’t know. I’m even rethinking that as I say those words out loud because I feel that she might be having one of those moments now, where those of us who recall the 2012 Republican primary and the 2016 Republican primary, you kept having these contenders who would surge forward for a little while, who had a moment. 2012, Herman Cain had a moment, Rick Perry had a moment, Newt Gingrich had a moment, until Rick Santorum settled in as the final anti-Romney or not-Romney candidate standing. 2016, you had a series of people who surged forward as the primary alternative to Trump.
I get a feeling we’re in a cycle like that with the Democrats. I’m very curious as to who might have . . . I think we’re going to have one or two more candidates who have some sort of moment between now and the first votes being cast.
I’m with Charlie. Being quite specific, I’m not quite sure of her appeal to black voters as the primaries move to the South. I’m not sure how she gets that coalition together. Biden is so strong with black voters. He’s going to have to be really shaken. He’s going to have to be seriously shaken before the South Carolina primary, for example, for his core constituency to desert him.
Rich: I put her odds a little bit above Biden’s. I don’t see this as a blip or a moment. I see it as a steady rise. She feels and looks to me like someone who could win the Democratic nomination. She had 12,000 people at a rally somewhere the other day. It might’ve been in Minnesota. I think her general election polling against Trump will probably tick up. It’s not quite as strong as Biden’s, but as she strengthens in the nomination fight, I think those numbers will also look a little better.
If she wins early, which she can do in Iowa and New Hampshire, it could collapse Biden. Certainly, if Biden loses Iowa and New Hampshire, winning the nomination becomes really, really hard for him, might be the end of his campaign. If she’s a winner, then I think the possibility is for her to make inroads among black voters, although she’s obviously not a natural fit there.
Michael, let’s hit a few other things before we go. If you need to go after hitting Master and Commander, the movie that you have been watching, just let us know, and we’ll release you.
Michael: I have been watching Master and Commander, actually watched the first half of it last night as my son was needing to drift back to sleep after waking up. It’s the movie featuring Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey from a very famous series of novels about the British navy during its high era. The movie itself perfectly captures this almost 19th-century Burkean spirit, where each person on the ship has a role, and living up to that role is their honorific challenge in life, and the sum of their roles together add up to this great adventure that they take on collectively together against great odds.
It’s a beautiful film. It beautifully sums up many debates that were happening in the 19th century in an elegant way. Just the screenwriting, and also the directing by Peter Weir, are just superlative, and it’s a shame that it was never a series of movies like the series of books.
Rich: David, you’ve been watching Hark Knocks on HBO?
David: Yeah. This is filling the void in my sports life between the end of the NBA playoffs and free agency and the start of college football. I always enjoy it. If you like football at all, it’s just a tremendous show every year, to see the drama of the storylines going into the season, the undrafted free agents who are trying to make the team, but this time it’s got the added bonus of one Jon Gruden, who is quite a character.
It’s almost as if he has adopted the persona of a caricature of a football coach. Watching it unfold and just watching him address the team, watching him talk about how now is not the time for dreams, now is the time for nightmares, because he wants a team that’s going to take everyone else’s dream and turn them into nightmares, you just can’t make it up. Strongly endorse, especially for those of you who are thirsting for some real sports in this desert of August, turn in to Hard Knocks.
Rich: Charlie, you’ve been doing some swimming with the little ones.
Charlie: I have.
David, my favorite-ever tweet, out of every tweet that has ever been sent, is about Jon Gruden. This guy said, “Jon Gruden looks like the guy sitting next to you at hibachi who elbows you in the side and says, ‘It’s showtime,’ when the chef lights the onion ring volcano.” So true.
David: So perfect.
Charlie: Eldest children always complain that they have to be the trailblazers and then the youngest kids get away with murder, and I think that’s true. The other advantage, I think, of being a youngest kid is that you get to watch your older brother or sister and copy them. My year-and-a-half-old son has been watching his three-and-almost-a-half-year-old brother swimming and has decided he can do all of that, and he can.
It’s incredible. He’s swimming now without help. He jumps into the pool because he sees his brother do it. He’s about a year ahead of his brother just because he has that example on display, so I’m very, very proud of him at one-and-a-half being able to do all of that.
Rich: I spent a little time away at the beach and just got transfixed by digging holes. Once you start digging a hole, you got to make it deeper; you got to make it better. It got to the point where I was telling other people, “No, you go ahead. Have lunch. Have a drink. I’ll just be here digging this hole.”
I did pretty well, I think, digging the hole I was working on, but inevitably, the beach being the beach, there’s some other guy with a bigger and better hole, and you can’t catch up to him. When all the other kids are coming around, they want to go in his hole and take pictures instead of yours. But I tried my level best. Next time I go to the beach, I’m going to take a real professional shovel and really get the job done.
Charlie: You can ask Peter Beinart, Rich. He’s pretty good at that.
Rich: Well done, Charlie. Charlie, what’s your editor’s pick?
Charlie: My editor’s pick is John McCormack on why Republican governors are more popular, and they really are. It’s amazing. If you look at the rankings, it’s not just that there are more of them, they are far more popular than their Democratic compatriots. John McCormack suggests that this is because they promise less, and so they disappoint less. They are aware that they have limited time in office, they’re aware they have limited resources, where they have to balance the budget, so they make smaller promises which they keep, then they stay popular and get reelected.
Rich: David, what’s your pick?
David: Kyle Smith talking about, well, mainly Ricky Gervais, but the potential of comedians to break this national fever around extreme intolerance and excessive wokeness. The comedy industry has been under strain, shall we say, because the ability to make jokes . . . If you look at everyone from Jerry Seinfeld to Chris Rock and others, they’ve talked about reluctance to go on college campuses. Comics are losing jobs because of tweets from a few years ago, from skits a few years ago that people thought were funny at the time, even some that were intentioned toward wokeness, such as a Sarah Silverman skit that she lost a job for recently. It was refreshing to read Kyle’s summary of Gervais’s attacks on this trend, and at least give some hope that some folks in Hollywood might have the guts to stand up to the excesses of the illiberal, intolerant left.
Rich: I’m going to set . . . I think Michael has left because actually I can hear myself think now without that ambient noise. Sarah, if you’re as incomparable as we say, maybe Sarah will get the ambient noise gone, and no one will know what we’re talking about, but I think that might be even beyond Sarah.
My pick, and this sets a land record on this podcast for backscratching colleagues, is pieces by David, Michael, and Charlie in the new issue of National Review, which is devoted to short pieces with writers just writing about what they love about America. David wrote a piece about bad movies, praising bad movies. You know that’s what they are, David, in your heart of hearts.
Rich: You know that’s what they are. Michael wrote a piece about the shore of Maine being so beautiful. And Charlie wrote just, I think, something that should be in an anthology. It’s one of the best things Charlie has ever written that’s not an attack piece on someone else, which is his appreciation of dive bars and what a great American institution they are. I hope everyone checks out that issue.
That’s it for us. You’ve been listening to a National Review podcast. Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of this game without the express written permission of National Review magazine is strictly prohibited. This podcast has been produced by the aforementioned incomparable Sarah Schutte, who has her work cut out for her, trying to make us sound better than we deserve.
Thank you, Charlie. Thank you, Michael. Thank you, David. Thanks to City Journal’s podcast, 10 Blocks. Please check it out. Thanks especially to all of you for listening. We are The Editors, and we’ll see you next time.