If You’re Really Good, It Isn’t Stealing

In response to Strains

I enjoyed reading Jay on Andrew Lloyd Webber and Puccini. Webber has his detractors, of course — one of them described his style of musical composition as “logo-first,” a hall-of-fame put-down — but there’s no arguing with his ear for melody. If he stole from Puccini, it was an act of good taste. As T. S. Eliot explained: “Immature artists imitate — mature artists steal.”

One of my favorite bits of looting from the classical catalogue comes from the Toys, a largely forgotten 1960s girl group, who released “A Lover’s Concerto” in 1965. It’s a pretty straightforward pop song, typical of the era, except that the music is lifted almost entirely from a Bach minuet, the one that everybody learns when first learning to play guitar. Fans of heavy metal appreciate that the genre would be much diminished if there were no thievery from the classics.

(There was a time when classical music was known as “longhair music.” Some things do change.)

Puccini wasn’t above borrowing — but when you’re Puccini, they call it “quotation,” as in his incorporation of the “Star-Spangled Banner” when introducing an American character in Madama Butterfly.

Here’s Charlie Parker reworking a little bit of Stravinsky. You can’t argue with it.


Who Doesn’t Want to Visit Greece with VDH as Your Guide?

Our esteemed colleague is not only a brilliant historian, professor, columnist, author, classicist, and farmer: Victor Davis Hanson also has a little bit of travel agent in his DNA (more than Elizabeth Warren has Cherokee). For the last dozen years he has been leading late-Spring military tours and cruises in Europe, and next May (the actual dates are May 29 to June 8) he will be leading (along with fellow historians Tom Conner and Bruce Thornton) a Journey to the Other Greece expedition that will take a small and exclusive group of serious history buffs on an exciting itinerary he’s calling from “Classical Sparta to Alexander the Great.” How about I let Victor explain in his own words:

For our twelfth annual military history tour of Europe, we plan in 2019 to return to Greece, the site of our first tour. Yet this time, we will visit an “Other Greece,” one not usually visited by tourists.

The vale of Sparta and the environs of Mt. Taygetus were the crossroads of war and conquest from classical times to the end of Byzantine Greece, with the catastrophic fall of Mistras and the Morea in the late 15th-century, now one of the best preserved Byzantine Greek sites in the world.

On the way through the Peloponnese, we will visit the valley of Mantinea, and the sites of the great battles fought there, especially the terrible ordeal of 362 B.C. where Epaminondas the Theban liberator fell. We will also visit many of the places in a novel The End of Sparta that I wrote about the liberation of the Messenian helots from their Spartan overlords.

The other less traveled Greece is also to the north. Our drive there will take us through the historic ‘dancing floor of war’ where ancient Greek armies met from the flatlands of Thebes to the vast expanses of Thessaly.

Upon arrival in ancient Macedon, we will make our base of operations in the historic city of Thessaloniki, the nexus of conflict from Macedonian times until World War II and the subsequent Greek Civil War. From Thessaloniki, the most scenic and important sites of the classical era of Athenian imperial power and of the Hellenistic world of Philip and Alexander the Great are just short drives away, such as Amphipolis, Meteora, Pella, Philippi, and Vergina.

In addition to visiting the usual landmark sites of Greece—Athens, Corinth, Nauplion, and Epidaurus—our 2019 visit will include a Greece rarely seen by tourists, but one replete with literary, historical, and military sites that figure prominently in the Western tradition, from the gallant last stand of the 300 at Thermopylae to the great Theban battle sites where Socrates fought at the battle of Delium.

The itinerary and scheduled events and talks look amazing. And it’s well known that VDH’s sojourns are first-rate, professional and top-notch service in every way, from meals to accommodations and everything else you can imagine.

Speaking of imagining, I imagine, post-trip, Spouse 1 will say to Spouse 2: “That is one of the best things we ever did.” And Spouse 2 will reply to Spouse 1: “For once, I’m glad I listened to you. Yeah, it was beyond anything I imagined it would be.”

There is still space available for the May, 2019 “Journey to the Other Greece” – but likely won’t be in a matter of weeks. Consider going – you will not regret it. Not one iota . . . in Iona. Or anywhere else.

Complete information about the trip can be found at Victor’s site, VDH Historical Tours.


McConnell: Republicans Can’t Fix Entitlements

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told Bloomberg News that rising spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are driving increases in the national debt — and that solving the problem “may well be difficult if not impossible to achieve when you have unified government.”

Nancy Pelosi responded, “Like clockwork, Republicans in Congress are setting in motion their plan to destroy the Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security that seniors and families rely on.”

Of course, McConnell did not suggest that Republicans had any “plan” to make significant changes to those programs; he suggested that he thought any such effort was doomed for failure without Democratic support.

Some journalists are helping push the Democrats’ rewriting of McConnell’s words along. In Newsweek, Nicole Goodkind wrote:

Democrats, meanwhile, jumped on McConnell’s admission as proof that Republicans had long planned to cut entitlement spending to fund the tax cuts that largely benefit corporations and wealthy Americans. “The truth comes out! This was their deceptive plan all along,” said Representative Lois Frankel of Florida.

What admission? And what plan?

Goodkind’s readers never find out what McConnell said about the necessity of bipartisan action. They do, however, get to hear another Democrat decrying “Mitch McConnell’s plan to cut Medicare and Social Security.” (This is not the first time Goodkind has applied this kind of spin.)

Even policy experts are getting in on the act. Here’s how Teresa Ghilarducci rewrote the news: “Today Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said that Republican leaders will focus on cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.” (Headline: “Senate Republicans Set Sights On Cutting Social Security.”)

You can certainly make the case that Republicans should be seeking to rein in the growth of those programs; I’ve made that case myself. But there’s no sign that they have any plans to take up this challenge after the elections.


Toobin’s College-Admissions Straw Man

Jeffrey Toobin writes:

The argument against affirmative action in college admissions (and in favor of the plaintiffs in the Harvard case) rests on a claim of objectivity — that grades and test scores, which can be reduced to numbers, are the only legitimate grounds on which to differentiate students from one another.

No serious person argues that it is illegitimate for colleges to take into account artistic talent, athletic ability, and many other factors besides grades and test scores, many of which cannot be reduced to numbers. What the people on the other side of this issue from Toobin actually argue is that discrimination on the basis of race is unjust, unwise, and illegal.

There is, naturally, no discussion of any constitutional or statutory provision in Toobin’s article, although there is a great deal of imputation of motives.

Health Care

In Canada, Euthanasia Yes — Palliative Care, Not so Much

Canada has created a positive right to euthanasia — including coercing dissenting doctors into participating in the deed in Ontario. Yet, according to a study published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, only 15 percent of dying Canadians have access to quality palliative care in their last year of life. But that dry statistic doesn’t reveal the true depth of the problem, according to Globe and Mail columnist, André Picard:

The numbers, as appalling as they are, don’t adequately convey how badly dying patients are treated by the failure to provide palliative care in the community.

They are, in dry academic language, “subject to multiple transitions of care.” That means very sick patients are shuffled – often repeatedly – from home/nursing home to emergency, then up to the ward, and back home again.

We all know that in Canada, an ER visit for a frail elderly person (the main clientele for palliative care) means lying on a gurney in a hallway for hours. That is the last place a dying person – often confused, incontinent and in pain – should be. This kind of humiliation is untenable and we should be ashamed at how commonplace it is.

Good grief! No wonder so many Canadians seem to be embracing euthanasia. They are being herded by poor-quality care into that awful choice — which in a single-payer system, not coincidentally, is also far less expensive.

The legalization of euthanasia didn’t cause this problem. But I suspect that its widespread availability will make it much more difficult to correct.


New British TV Show about a ‘Trans Child’ Is Deeply Irresponsible

When dealing with subjects of life-altering (even life-ending) gravity such as sex-changes and suicide, and especially when exploring how they affect children, what might an appropriate narrative be? Surely a cautious, evidence-based one?

But that’s not the narrative by the creators of Butterfly, a new TV drama in the U.K., which tells the story of an eleven-year-old boy who wants to become a girl. In the TV show, Max who believes himself to be Maxine slits his wrists and declares that a transgender identity the only solution to his misery. His family supports his decision to transition.

There is compelling evidence to suggest that the uptick in gender dysphoria in youth may be partly due to social contagion. Similarly, “suicide clusters” are also well recognized as having a social-psychological component. Two very good reasons to be cautious when broaching such subjects in mainstream media, then.

Understandably, therefore, Butterfly has sparked considerable protest from many parents and specialists who consider such a storyline to be deeply irresponsible. Indeed, the National Health Service’s only gender specialist clinic has expressed concern, calling the story “not helpful” and pointing out that it “would be very unusual for a child of that age to attempt suicide.”

Nevertheless, certain transgender campaign groups, such as Mermaids U.K., who were heavily consulted during the making of the series, prefer to throw caution to the wind. Mermaids, incidentally, receive considerable public funding: £35,000 from the Department for Education and £128,000 from Children in Need. They also provide mandatory training for teachers on how to help “transgender youth.”

Meanwhile, many parents are now asking themselves how it is that such a radical propaganda is cropping up on their TVs and in their schools.


Campaign Trail Scuttlebutt

I reached out to a bunch of veteran GOP campaign staffers, past and present, and asked them what they were hearing and seeing on the campaign trail.

In the Senate . . .

  • “Tennessee’s squared away for Blackburn, barring some huge unexpected development.”
  • “McCaskill is in deep trouble.”
  • “Conventional wisdom was that [Joe] Manchin’s vote for Kavanaugh would put the race away, but don’t write off Patrick Morrisey in West Virginia yet. The polls are tightening, Morrisey out-raised Manchin in the last quarter.” (The polls for Morrisey are a bit better lately, but I’m not sure how much the fundraising advantage will help; Manchin has near-universal name-ID, and West Virginia is not a particularly expensive state to run a Senate race.)
  • “I notice that in Indiana, [Democrat incumbent] Joe Donnelly is running ads slamming socialists, “the radical left,” and touting his support for ICE, ‘President Trump’s border wall, and praising Reagan. I wonder if voting against Kavanaugh left him needing to reestablish his centrist credentials fast.”

One GOP veteran-campaign worker was plugged in on three competitive House races in Virginia.

  • In Virginia’s second congressional district, incumbent Republican Scott Taylor looks secure against Elaine Luria. This is classified an R+3 district, covers Accomack and Northhampton counties, and includes Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, and parts of Norfolk and Hamption.
  • Up north in the D.C. suburbs in Virginia’s tenth district, longtime friend of NR Barbara Comstock faces every bit the tough race the GOP feared — these are the moderate, wealthy, suburban communities where Hillary Clinton and Democratic governor Ralph Northam ran up the large margins driving their statewide wins. Polls show Democratic challenger Jennifer Wexton with a lead, but Comstock’s overcome tough odds before. She won by 53-47 while Clinton was carrying her district, 52 percent to Trump’s 42 percent.
  • Republicans are also still nervous about Dave Brat keeping his seat in Virginia’s seventh district, which centers on Richmond’s western suburbs and stretches up to Culpeper. My GOP source says Brat’s survival hinges upon the support of Republicans who preferred Eric Cantor in Brat’s big upset back in 2014. Trump won this district, but Gillespie only won it by 3 points in last year’s governors race. The Brat campaign saw improving momentum during the Kavanaugh fight, but they expect this one to be close.

Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of . . . Reihan Salam

The Wide World of NR Institute will be traveling across these United States over the next weeks and months to host Reihan as he discusses his acclaimed new book, Melting Pot or Civil War?: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders.

If you live in or near Ann Arbor, chop chop: He will be there tomorrow, so get RSVPing. And next week, Reihan will be in Tampa and Orlando. For your convenience, you can find Salam USA Tour info here. But because we have your eyes right now, scan the following to see if/when he is coming to a neighborhood near you (and check back because more dates will be added soon):

October 17, 2018 | Ann Arbor, MI: Co-hosted by U Michigan’s AEI Executive Council and Young America’s for Freedom. RSVP HERE

October 23, 2018 | Tampa, FL: Co-hosted by the Tampa Bay Federalist Society. RSVP HERE

October 23, 2018 | Orlando, FL: Co-hosted by the Orlando Federalist Society. RSVP HERE

October 29, 2018 | Baltimore, MD: Co-hosted by the Baltimore Maryland Public Policy Institute. RSVP HERE

October 30, 2018 | Washington, D.C.: Co-hosted by the GWU Young Americans for Liberty. RSVP HERE

November 1, 2018 | Washington, D.C.: Co-hosted by the Hudson Institute. Registration opening soon

November 15, 2018 | Jackson, MS: Co-hosted by the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. RSVP HERE

February 20, 2018 | Kansas City, MO: Co-hosted by the Kansas City Public Library. Registration opening soon

Hey, do you want a book excerpt? Here’s an excerpt. And do you want to see a glowing review? Here’s a glowing review. But be warned: Do not stare too long at it because the relentless brightness might damage your peepers.


A Reminder of What Binds Us

In these divisive times, one constant for all Americans has been the hallowed work of the American Battle Monuments Commission, the small and sometimes unheralded federal agency created in 1923 to establish, operate, and oversee foreign cemeteries of American war dead, largely from the First and Second World Wars, as well as a number of commemorative sites.

I was a board member of the commission in 2008 and learned of its remarkable history and the American icons (John J. Pershing, George C. Marshall, Jacob Devers, Mark Clark, etc.) who have directed the commission. Now, Thomas Conner, the well-known military historian at Hillsdale College, has written the first history and comprehensive account of the commission — War and Remembrance: The Story of the American Battle Monuments Commission — how it originated, grew, and now cares for the graves of American war dead abroad. The result is a superb scholarly account that is riveting and again reminds us how much we owe to past generations, who envisioned and developed the unique commission, and who left to us, the current generation, to continue their sacred work.

Politics & Policy

Can a Democrat Be Pro-Life?

Supporters of Planned Parenthood rally outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Detroit, February 11, 2017. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

I recommend reading Sabrina Tavernise’s report in the New York Times today, in which she considers the situation of Missouri Democratic activist Joan Barry and the wider question of whether it is possible to be a pro-life Democrat.

(Short answer: Not on your life.)

Barry was responsible for inserting a plank into the Missouri Democratic party platform that did not commit the party to any sort of anti-abortion agenda but merely affirmed that those who oppose abortion are welcome in the party. The results were more or less what you would expect from today’s Democratic party: rage, vitriol, death threats, tearful recriminations, ordinary snobbery, etc.

The demand is for absolutism and uniformity. From Tavernise’s report:

“I don’t understand Democrats who quote Truman and F.D.R. and then act like they are terrified to run as an actual Democrat,” said Ms. Merritt, 45, who lives in St. Louis. “You have to believe in something in order for somebody to believe in you. You can’t be such a watered-down thing.”

(You’ll note that the above is not an argument for abortion rights; it is an argument against political compromise.)

There are many subjects on which today’s Democrats would be uncomfortable quoting Franklin Roosevelt or Harry S. Truman. But how about Ted Kennedy on abortion?

“While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy,” he wrote, “it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized — the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.”

Of course, he changed his mind. Ambition is a jealous god. I am skeptical of politicians who have radical changes of heart on fundamental questions of life and death after the age of 40, especially when that change is in a direction that facilitates the advancement of their political careers. (At least Mitt Romney evolved in the right direction; more joy in Heaven and all that.) Senator Kennedy was a young Democratic senator with his eye on the presidency when he wrote those words in 1971, at or near the Democratic party’s high-water mark for postwar liberalism.

The argument against abortion has not changed since Senator Kennedy made it so succinctly. What has changed is the Democratic party, which demands absolute fealty on the issue of abortion and whose members regard pro-life views as a scarlet letter identifying a person as one of those people. This is as much social as political (probably more). From the Times:

She recalled a cocktail party conversation with a woman who asked why she was not seeking help from Naral during her run for State Senate in 2008.

“I said, ‘Oh boy, you know I don’t think that would work,’” Ms. Barry replied. When she explained that she opposed abortion, the woman “looked at me like I had the plague. She had this horrible look on her face of just disgust and she walked away from me.”

As a purely literary aside, I appreciated Tavernise’s noting that the original debate over the Missouri Democratic party’s platform took place among activists meeting at a Panera Bread. I love that. As a shorthand for early 21st-century despair, debating abortion at a Panera could hardly be improved upon. Unless it was Arby’s.


Baptists & Bootleggers: Media Edition

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

I know we’re all moving on to the “Horseface porn star” storyline, but I have a slight dissent — or maybe just a caution — on the Elizabeth Warren conventional wisdom on the right. Oh, I agree with the thrust of the conservative critique. For instance, David French writes:

Earlier today, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren released DNA test results that confirmed that she misled employers, students, and the public about her Native American heritage for years. Bizarrely, all too many members of the media treated the results as vindicating her. Down is up. Black is white. The imperatives of the resistance apparently dictate propping up a liar — as long as she might be able to beat President Trump in 2020.

Here are the facts. For an extended period of time — at a key point in her professional life — Warren identified herself as a Native American woman. She listed herself as Native American on a key legal directory reviewed by deans and hiring committees. Former employers — such as the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School — listed Warren as a minority faculty member. Harvard Law School even trumpeted her as the school’s first tenured “woman of color.”

Warren contributed to a Native American recipe book called — I kid you not — “Pow Wow Chow.” She has told people that her parents eloped because her father’s parents said he couldn’t marry her mother “because she is part Cherokee and part Delaware.”

David goes on to run through all the rest of it, including all the DNA brouhaha. But I want to revisit that first paragraph. It’s entirely possible that a bunch of journalists sat there, looked at the evidence, and reached the same conclusion reached by folks like me and David but then proceeded to pretend Warren was vindicated. But I doubt it.

We are navigating through a deep fog of motivated reasoning and negative polarization these days. Remember the story about Donald Trump’s Twitter team deliberately misspelling words in his tweets because they concluded that getting attacked for spelling like a “real American” worked for him?

Some staff members even relish the scoldings Trump gets from elites shocked by the Trumpian language they strive to imitate, thinking that debates over presidential typos fortify the belief within Trump’s base that he has the common touch.

Last month, I wrote a column speculating that Hillary Clinton’s false tweets about Brett Kavanaugh’s view of birth control — which already had been widely debunked by fact-checkers after Kamala Harris floated the same argument days earlier — was a deliberate attempt to get attacked by the “right people.” Newt Gingrich almost won the 2012 primaries because he brilliantly and unrelentingly turned almost every question against the media (foreshadowing Donald Trump’s tactics to come). Many Republicans loved Newt because he hated the media and the media hated him.

Similarly, I’ve been told that some political consultants think it is advantageous for Republicans to “accidentally” offer racially tinged “gaffes” — such as Ron DeSantis’s “monkey” comment — not to “dog whistle”at racists, but to goad the media and liberals into unfairly attacking Republican candidates. (Note: There’s no evidence that this was actually DeSantis’s intention; I just use it by way of illustration because that’s exactly what happened with him.)

The whole dynamic is like a media version of Baptists and Bootleggers, where everybody gets what they want because everyone has a different constituency that they are trying to entertain.

Now, I think it is possibly — even probably — the case that Warren blundered in the rollout of her big DNA reveal. But I think the press’s initial instinct to think that it vindicated her wasn’t the product of deliberate dishonesty but of this phenomenon. And that may be a sign that the rollout might still work for Warren with Democrats generally. The entire Democratic party is in a fierce competition not only to be the best practitioner of Avenatti-ism — unapologetic pugnaciousness towards Trump and the GOP — but also to be anointed the person Trump hates the most. We see it everywhere. Hillary rejects civility. Eric Holder promises to kick Republicans when they go low as if he’s Crispin Glover on Letterman. Etc.

And that was the smart part about Warren’s reveal. She made it about her and Trump, and she got Trump to denounce her and the entire rightwing media-industrial complex to attack her for an entire news cycle.


Dehumanizing Men

A protester screams from the lap of “Lady Justice” outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., October 6, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

“I announced that I hate all men and wish all men were dead.”

Those words appeared in the Washington Post, when nearly 70-year-old Victoria Bissell Brown described addressing her husband, in a fit of rage. She recognized that the statement was “ridiculous,” but it was not so ridiculous, apparently, as to prevent her from repeating it in a major newspaper in order to make the point that something is very wrong with men today.

Something is certainly very wrong, but it’s with a culture that is increasingly comfortable with such broad-brush denunciations of men as a group.

It isn’t enough to note that a newspaper like the Washington Post wouldn’t publish such a statement about any other group.  There are legitimate reasons why the statement “I hate men” is less discomfiting than “I hate women” would be.  Men have historically enjoyed more power than and dominance over women, so demeaning or abusive statements about them don’t carry the same implicit threat or impact.  Jokes about Great Britain or France, longtime world powerhouses, can just be funny, whereas making fun of a weaker or historically disadvantaged country comes off as mean.  This holds for other groups and identifies, and most can sense these distinctions instinctively.

Yet today’s anti-male rhetoric isn’t humorous or apt criticism, but rather seems to seek to make men, particularly white men, an outgroup.  It makes it easier to hold them responsible for societal ills or to find them guilty without evidence suggesting personal culpability, since they are part of the larger problem anyway.  This isn’t only unfair to these men, but it’s bad for everyone who engages in such clumsy stereotyping.

Obviously, such groupings miss all the nuance in each individual story. No one is just a “white man.” Each has other identities:  whether gay or straight, religious or non-religious (and of what kind), some come from rich families, some from poor; some are athletic and talented while others are not.  We’ve gone through this exercise before when the term “white privilege” was entering our lexicon:  We learned how someone who at first glance had a lot of privilege as a white male might have had that privilege mitigated due to a physical or mental handicap, immigrant background, association with drug addiction or other hardship.

But even this is to miss the point:  Even the classically privileged, white, male, Protestant, Ivy League son of a Cleaver-esque family is an individual who deserves to be treated with respect and to be judged based on his actions— not to be belittled based on the circumstances of his birth.

It seems bizarre, especially in the wake of years of appreciation for gender-fluidity, that so many would now seem to want to make sex determinative, as if the male classification alone makes one as good as guilty of being a predator or an enabler of a wholly abusive society.

Even if we only cared about the fate of women, the current dehumanization of men would still be an error.  How does it encourage better, more respectful behavior of women to throw guys who do treat women well, and commit no greater sin against society than failing to sit with their knees together, in with the Harvey Weinsteins of the world?

And anyway, we shouldn’t only care about the fate of women.  Boys and men are human beings who should be encouraged to make the most of their unique, individual talents and to pursue their own visions of happiness, without being saddled with a sense of guilt just for being who they are.



From the climax of Puccini’s Fanciulla del West at the Metropolitan Opera (Ken Howard)

My latest Jaywalking has the usual political blather — some of it important — and some music, including by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Or Puccini? Or both? “The Music of the Night” is a beautiful song. It has a h/t, as we’d say today, to Puccini, composer of La fanciulla del West, among many other operas. I reviewed a performance of Fanciulla last week, which is why the subject is on my mind. Lloyd Webber reproduces certain strains from the opera in his song.

Plagiarism? Borrowing? Homage? Unconscious influence? Coincidence? It’s very hard to say. I don’t see any malicious intent. At any rate, Puccini’s heirs saw dollars, or liras, or whatever the currency was, and they sued. There was a settlement: terms undisclosed.

The Phantom of the Opera (from which “The Music of the Night” comes) is a lot better-known than La fanciulla del West. That is “a whole ’nother” problem, which we can take up another time. (I touch on some of these issues in a recent interview, conducted by an official of the Smithsonian.)

Economy & Business

The Worker and the Person

Over at the American Interest, Oren Cass has a great essay adapted from his enormously important forthcoming book The Once and Future Worker, set to be published next month.

I think Cass’s book stands with Reihan Salam’s new book on immigration in the very top ranks of sustained efforts to make some policy sense of the political realities of our era. It offers a vision of the sort of direction the American right should have taken in recent years if it were actually responsive to the challenges and pressures the country now confronts, rather than succumbing to a frantic cult of personality moved by every batty whim of a raving narcissist. And so it offers a vision of where the right could still go in the post-Trump era if we’re lucky.

Cass begins by questioning a foundational assumption of modern macroeconomics: that prosperity is best measured by the ability to consume. There is obviously some truth to this assumption, but is it a sufficient idea of prosperity in which to root our entire understanding of political economy? “What if people’s ability to produce matters more than how much they can consume?” he asks. What if work is important not just as a means to improve our purchasing power but also as a way to give us a role and a place and a purpose and a sense of responsibility and worth? That “ability to produce,” Cass notes, can’t be redistributed the way consumption power can, so if it matters that much then our public policy around work really needs to be rethought.

The labor market does more for us than provide us with money to spend. And this points to Cass’s core thesis: “a labor market in which workers can support strong families and communities is the central determinant of long-term prosperity and should be the central focus of public policy.”

This idea can reorient how we think about economic policy by putting our commitment to overall growth in some perspective, helping us see the connection between what we normally think of as economic issues and what we usually call social issues, and allowing for some accommodations between our political camps that now seem out of reach. It can help us think differently about regulation, education, immigration, trade, and labor relations, among other crucial questions — charting a course that isn’t quite where either party has been in recent decades.

It can also help us see through some of the more dangerous policy temptations of our era. Cass ably takes apart the case for a universal basic income, for instance, noting that if the economy is not just a GDP machine, and if work is more than a necessary evil, then a UBI would make our problems worse:

A basic income would be entirely unresponsive to the nation’s challenges; indeed, the idea represents an explosive charge planted directly at the weakest points in society’s foundation. It would make work optional and render self-reliance moot; consumption would become an entitlement officially disconnected from production. A community in which people capable of making positive contributions are not expected to do so is unlikely to be one that thrives on any dimension in which productive contributions are needed.

Cass’s argument has something in it to make everyone uncomfortable. He proposes some significant departures from Republican orthodoxy in areas like taxes and wage subsidies while making a forceful case for markets. He counsels some populist moves on immigration and trade while criticizing the way the Trump administration has often approached those questions. And he eviscerates the Left’s claims to represent the interests of workers in our economy even as he criticizes the right for ignoring those interests.

Ideas that make us uncomfortable are exactly the sorts of ideas we all now need to confront, so that we can at least consider how the political earthquakes of the last few years ought to alter our perspectives. Just about everyone in our politics has found ways to treat those earthquakes as confirming what they (that is, we) believed before. Some have done this by attributing to Donald Trump various sophisticated views about nationalism or foreign or domestic policy — a notion that can only be sustained if you make sure to never actually listen to Trump try to talk about those policy matters, or about anything else. Others have done it by treating the politics of the last couple of years as a mere aberration soon to be remedied, or as just proof of the degeneracy of the other side of our politics. So actually trying to confront a coherent policy vision that takes these earthquakes seriously and gestures toward ideas outside the comfort zone of our politics is helpful.

In fact, I left Cass’s book, and his American Interest essay previewing it, wondering if his ideas actually point beyond his own comfort zone — and so if he might be underselling them. Cass treats his core insight as a different way to think about economic policy. But I think it’s more like an assertion of the limitations of economic policy, and economic thinking.

As Cass notes, an emphasis on consumption is at the heart of modern capitalism. It was Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, who argued that “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.” But Smith was contrasting such a consumer focus with a focus not on workers but on what we now would call corporations — or at least on the owners of manufacturing and trading companies. He was suggesting a more constructive way to think about how to increase overall national wealth. Cass is proposing something else. He wants to focus economic policy on the interest of the citizen in contributing and producing something, not just on the interest of the citizen in deriving and consuming something. In other words, he wants us to understand that the participants in our economy are whole human persons who want to belong and participate, who need to be needed, who strive to be moved by their obligations and not just their appetites, who play key roles in families and communities, and who care about their neighbors and their cities and their states and their country.

That’s not so much a healthier way to orient economic policy as a healthier perspective on society that can help us keep economics in its place. It implies a politics rooted in a kind of social conservatism, broadly understood, that sees markets and even prosperity as means and not ends. The end is supplied by an idea of human flourishing rooted in the nature of the human person as understood by the great traditions of our civilization.

Maybe that goes further than Cass intends. But it’s what his important new book suggests to this reader. This is a book you’re not going to want to miss.

National Review

The McCarthy Report Looks at FISA Surveillance and the Clinton Media Blitz

In relying on the Steele dossier to obtain surveillance warrants against a former Trump campaign adviser, did the Obama Justice Department and FBI become enmeshed in a Clinton campaign blitz – including an intense appeal to the media – seeking to tie candidate Donald Trump to the Kremlin?

In this week’s episode of our NR podcast, The McCarthy Report, Rich and I consider the timeline from summer to autumn of 2016, which includes:

  • August 2016: The “insurance policy” meeting described in a text by FBI agent Peter Strzok after the FBI started to get Steele-dossier info;
  • July – September 2016: Steele-dossier claims of Trump-campaign complicity in Kremlin cyber-espionage conspiracy against election;
  • August 2016: Obama’s CIA Director Brennan told Senate minority leader Harry Reid that, according to intelligence sources, Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was designed to help the Trump campaign;
  • September 2016: Fusion GPS, which had been brought in by Clinton campaign and DNC law firm Perkins Coie to conduct anti-Trump research, organized press briefings for the rabidly anti-Trump former British spy Christopher Steele to leak that the Trump campaign (through Carter Page) was complicit in Russia’s hacking plot against the election;
  • September 2016: Journalist Michael Isikoff, after being briefed by Steele, reported that Reid was demanding that the FBI investigate “intelligence reports” (i.e., Steele’s allegations) that the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia;
  • September 2016: Perkins Coie’s Michael Sussman met with FBI general counsel James Baker to convey information about Russia’s interference in election;
  • October 2016: FBI/DOJ obtain FISA warrant on Carter Page, asserting in application that FBI believes Trump campaign was coordinating in Russia’s election interference.

Rich and I try to put things in context in the podcast and consider the implications for the Mueller investigation and the Justice Department’s ongoing investigations of how the Trump investigation was handled.

You can subscribe (for free) to The McCarthy Report, and other NR podcasts, on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. Don’t forget to rate us, especially if you enjoy the podcast. It is also available, of course, on our website. You can find this week’s episode here.

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