Miscasting an Argument About Gratitude

Rep Ilhan Omar speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill, July 15, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

At New York magazine, Eric Levitz responds to my response to David French on the topic of immigrants and gratitude. But, rather than take on what I argued, which was in reaction to a fairly specific argument made by David, Levitz shifts to what he wants me to have argued, which is that Ilhan Omar should never talk about race. To achieve this, Levitz adds a bunch of explanatory clauses that are taken wholly from his imagination, and then alternates between suggesting that I (a) don’t know about America’s history of racial inequality, and (b) that I do know about it, but that I’m indifferent, neither of which is true.

As it happens, I — an immigrant myself — am fully aware of America’s checkered history, and have written a great deal about it. For a few samples, you can look here, here, and here. This is representative:

That the Founders fought their war anyway was admirable. That the leading voices of their era had the presence of mind to hijack the American revolution and to codify a set of radical principles into a national charter was even more so. Indeed, we might today learn a great deal from a political culture that, per Burke, preferred to detect “ill principle” not by “actual grievance” but instead to “judge of the pressure of the grievance by the badness of the principle” and to “augur misgovernment at a distance; and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.” And yet our celebration of their fortitude is rendered as folly if we forget that, for all that the rebels went through, they were not facing down evil in its purest form.

That task would fall to other Americans — many of whom would pay a terrible price for their rebellions. Eventually, after a century-long struggle and a series of yo-yoing attempts, the twin horrors of slavery and segregation would indeed fall to posterity — but only after they had presented challenges that eclipsed those that were posed during the Revolution. The two eras are essentially incomparable. The crime of the British in America was to deny British conceptions of good government to a people who had become accustomed to it, and to do so capriciously. The crime of white supremacy in the South was, in the words of Ida B. Wells, to “cut off ears, toes, and fingers, strips off flesh, and distribute portions” of any person whom the majority disliked, and to do so in many cases as a matter of established public policy. When Paul Revere warned that “the regulars are coming,” he was alerting his neighbors against an invading force to which more than half the country felt it belonged; when a teenaged Rosa Parks conceded that she wanted to see her grandfather “kill a Ku-Kluxer,” she was fighting for her very survival.

So is this:

For most of America’s story, an entire class of people was, as a matter of course, enslaved, beaten, lynched, subjected to the most egregious miscarriages of justice, and excluded either explicitly or practically from the body politic. We prefer today to reserve the word “tyranny” for its original target, King George III, or to apply it to foreign despots. But what other characterization can be reasonably applied to the governments that, ignoring the words of the Declaration of Independence, enacted and enforced the Fugitive Slave Act? How else can we see the men who crushed Reconstruction? How might we view the recalcitrant American South in the early 20th century? “It” did “happen here.”

As for Levitz’s second argument — which is that, as a result of my indifference, I don’t want anyone else to talk about race, and/or that I believe it is ungrateful for immigrants to do so — that, too, is wrong. Indeed, my objection to Beto O’Rourke’s words (which Levitz rather euphemizes) is not that they address the history of race in America per se, but that they give new immigrants to America a false impression of what it is like now, and in so doing make things worse for a group that should, by rights, be more favorable to America than most. As is the case with far too many contemporary progressives, O’Rourke has a bad habit of casting the Founding in terms that would have been more familiar to Alexander Stephens than to Abraham Lincoln or to Frederick Douglass — that is, of asserting that “racial inequality was fundamental to our nation’s founding” (as Levitz himself puts it), rather than casting it as a pervasive stain that contradicted the beautiful, radical, and ultimately emancipatory ideas that were introduced in the era’s most famous documents.

Rather underhandedly, Levitz asks, “If Cooke regards the public airing of [Beto’s] sentiment as an invitation to ‘cultural suicide,’ one must ask whose culture he wishes to preserve.” Well, I’ll tell him: Lincoln’s, as expressed in his 1859 letter to Henry L. Pierce:

But soberly, it is now no child’s play to save the principles of Jefferson from total overthrow in this nation.

One would start with great confidence that he could convince any sane child that the simpler propositions of Euclid are true; but, nevertheless, he would fail, utterly, with one who should deny the definitions and axioms. The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society.

And yet they are denied and evaded, with no small show of success.

One dashingly calls them “glittering generalities”; another bluntly calls them “self evident lies”; and still others insidiously argue that they apply only to “superior races.”

These expressions, differing in form, are identical in object and effect–the supplanting the principles of free government, and restoring those of classification, caste, and legitimacy. They would delight a convocation of crowned heads, plotting against the people. They are the van-guard–the miners, and sappers–of returning despotism.

We must repulse them, or they will subjugate us.

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.

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 to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.

I would contrast this approach with that of O’Rourke, who told his crowd of newcomers that “this country was founded on white supremacy,” and then vastly overstated the scale of the remaining problems while downplaying the progress that has been made. It is fine, of course, if Levitz disagrees with me on this. Perhaps he thinks that the current state of race relations in America is worse than I do? Perhaps he disagrees with me about the Founding? Perhaps he thinks that we make more progress by telling new arrivals to America that our institutions are still mostly stained, rather than by selling them on the virtues of the system as designed? Whatever his view, however, it would be nice if he’d refrain from pretending that I am entirely blind to the debate.

As for Ilhan Omar — a woman who was saved by America, accepted as a citizen, and then elected to Congress, but who remains disappointed by America on a scale that does not comport with the opportunities she has been afforded — well, I have broadly the same problem with her as I do with Beto O’Rourke. As I argued in my response to David, I think that immigrants of all stripes have a certain duty to look for the good in the places that taken them in or saved their lives. And, across the board, I see Omar as doing precisely the opposite. It is telling that, in the Washington Post profile of Omar, the very first anecdote on offer shows her telling a story about “American racism, cruelty and injustice” that is flatly untrue, and that, in fact, seems to have been cribbed from Les Miserables — a book about early nineteenth century France. Her rhetoric tends that way in general; on economics, on foreign policy, on Israel, on immigration, on our constitutional order. And she’s wrong.

Later in his essay, Levitz himself concedes that “Omar’s critiques of the U.S. are certainly radical and not always tactful” — but then, as if to change the subject before this concession lands, he adds, “But the same is true of Trump’s,” before implying that I am annoyed by one and not the other because “Omar’s critique challenges America’s racial innocence, while Trump’s does not.” Were I on board with Trump’s criticisms of the United States, this might be a useful digression (albeit an odd one given that I was writing about immigrants). But I am not on board with Trump’s criticisms. I do not think that we are in the midst of “American carnage,” that we are being “screwed” by foreign nations, or that the “Flight 93” mentality is useful — all of which I have said. Who, I wonder, does Levitz believe he is writing about?

I’m not sure it can be me, given that Levitz ends up making a broad argument in favor of dissent — “the cause of [Omar’s] disappointment,” he writes, “is the discrepancy between her country’s egalitarian ideals and its inequitable realities” — that I have made at length. Perhaps this is why Levitz seeks to make an argument about gratitude and attitude about race instead. As I wrote, I believe that immigrants such as myself ought to be extremely grateful to be in America, and that we have a certain obligation to adopt and cherish its creed, its ideals, and its Constitution. I also believe that Omar and O’Rourke and co. are wildly off in their estimation of that discrepancy, and that conveying that error to newcomers is a sin. I do not need, or expect, Eric Levitz to agree with me. My own colleague, David French, does not, which is where this debate started. But it would be good, at least, to be debated on the ground I actually occupied.


Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (July 16, 2019)

1. Some items on the State Department’s Second Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, an effort for a real global movement to not only shine a light on religious persecution but help save the lives – and future existence of — persecuted religious minority communities around the world:

Some of the people being recognized.

An NPR write-up

2. I think this is my favorite Leana Wen out at Planned Parenthood take:

And there’s also this, from a former Planned Parenthood director who runs a ministry to help people out of the abortion industry:

A not unrelated thought

3. Also from Abby Johnson: I went to border to help people. Members of Congress were shocked when I asked them to help, too

4. Foster parents needed for unaccompanied migrant children

5. NPR: More Kids Are Getting Placed In Foster Care Because Of Parents’ Drug Use

6. NPR: Democrats Have The Religious Left. Can They Win The Religious Middle?

6. Greg Erlandson: How far would you drive to go to Mass? In the future, it might not be optional

Continue reading “Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (July 16, 2019)”


Joe Biden’s Wake-Up Call

Joe Biden greets audience members during a campaign stop in Londonderry, N.H., July 13, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The evidence continues to mount that the first Democratic debate was a wake-up call for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Brian Schwartz of CNBC reports that Team Biden hired Democratic fixer Michael Sheehan for “strategic consulting” on the day after the debate.

While Biden’s confrontation with Kamala Harris over busing was the main story of the night, Biden’s aides could not have been cheered by his overall performance. He stumbled, appeared confused, and was wavering in many of his answers. Afterward, Jill Biden had to rescue him from a semi-incoherent interview with NBC’s Garrett Haake.

The debate took a toll. Biden remains the frontrunner, but his national lead is shrinking and his lead in New Hampshire has narrowed as well. (At this writing, there’s been no significant polling out of Iowa since the debate, and his lead in South Carolina remains huge.) Hiring Sheehan is a sign that the Biden campaign recognizes he can’t win without sharper answers.

Since the debate, Biden has also apologized for his remarks about working with segregationist Democrats. He’s come out swinging against Medicare for All. He’s acting like he really does want the Democratic nomination. We’ll see in two weeks if these adjustments are enough to bring Biden victory in a debate. Or if the fundamental problem is the candidate himself.

Politics & Policy

Planned Parenthood President Ousted after Less Than a Year in Charge

Planned Parenthood president Dr. Leana Wen speaks at a protest against anti-abortion legislation at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2019. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

Leana Wen, a physician who has led Planned Parenthood since last fall, announced via Twitter this afternoon that she has been ousted from her position by the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Wen, a physician who was most recently a health commissioner in Baltimore, said the board voted to replace her at a “secret meeting,” even as they “were engaged in good faith negotiations about [her] departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.”

According to the New York Times report this afternoon, sources said “there had been internal strife over [Wen’s] management” and Planned Parenthood leaders believed the group “needed a more aggressive political leader to fight the efforts to roll back access to abortions.”

Wen was appointed to lead Planned Parenthood last September after the resignation of Cecile Richards, who had served as the group’s president for twelve years. Wen gave more context on her ouster in a statement released on Twitter just after the news broke:

As a physician and public health leader, I came to Planned Parenthood to lead a national health care organization that provides essential primary and preventive care to millions of underserved women and families, and to advocate for a broad range of policies that affect our patients’ health. I believe that the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a health care one, and that we can expand support for reproductive rights by finding common ground with the large majority of Americans who understand reproductive health care as the fundamental health care that it is.

I am leaving because the new Board Chairs and I have philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood. It has been an honor and privilege to serve alongside our dedicated doctors, nurses, clinicians, staff, and volunteers who are on the frontlines of health care in our country. I will always stand with Planned Parenthood, as I continue my life’s work and mission of caring for and fighting for women, families, and communities.

Wen’s short tenure had been largely free of controversy. Though she evidently wasn’t as polished as Richards nor nearly as adept at presenting the group’s talking points, she managed to avoid any significant missteps. The biggest blip came in January, when she gave an interview to BuzzFeed outlining her strategy to expand provision of routine health-care services for women. The piece also noted Wen’s supposed effort to refocus the group away from politics: “People aren’t coming to Planned Parenthood to make a political statement,” Wen said at the time.

But after the profile came out, the Planned Parenthood president claimed to be unhappy with the final product. “I am always happy to do interviews, but these headlines completely misconstrue my vision for Planned Parenthood,” she tweeted the morning the BuzzFeed piece dropped. “Our core mission is providing, protecting and expanding access to abortion and reproductive health care.”

This episode, though not itself a death knell for her presidency, was revealing. Unlike Richards, Wen didn’t have a knack for balancing Planned Parenthood’s self-contradictory talking points. The group’s executives ritually parrot the false statistic that abortion is a mere 3 percent of its services. Its latest PR campaign revolved around the slogan “This is health care,” clearly an effort to redirect away from discussion of abortion and recast it as a health-care procedure. With her attempt to backtrack from what appeared to be insufficient dedication to abortion rights, Wen accidentally revealed that Planned Parenthood sees itself, first and foremost, as an abortion provider.

One way to look at her departure is through the lens of that BuzzFeed interview, especially in light of her statement today. Was Wen sincerely more concerned with expanding real health-care options at Planned Parenthood, and less concerned with expanding its provision of abortion — and that’s why she was unceremoniously dismissed? Possibly. But it’s difficult to imagine that could be true of someone so willing to lie in service of preserving a regime of unlimited abortion on demand.


Life Is Rough When You’re a Second-Tier Democratic Presidential Candidate

New Jersey senator Cory Booker speaks at Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in Los Angeles, Calif., April 22, 2019. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The second-quarter fundraising reports for the Democratic presidential candidates are in, and if your name isn’t Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris, you’re in trouble.

The writing is on the wall for everybody else. A lot of these campaigns are running on fumes. Gillibrand has $8.2 million left in cash on hand, but twelve have less than $3 million.

The above quintet is the top five in national polling, Iowa polling, New Hampshire polling and South Carolina polling. In the RealClearPolitics averages, the closest sixth-place finisher is Cory Booker in South Carolina… at 4 percent. Sure, something could change, but most of the candidates have had their televised debate debuts. We saw during the last round how difficult it was to have a breakout moment on a crowded debate stage with moderators most interested in the frontrunners. Julian Castro had some good moments knocking around Beto O’Rourke, but that didn’t turn into a monumental wave of donations. He raised $2.8 million in this past quarter. That’s good enough to rank 12th out of 22 candidates; Buttigieg raised about nine times as much.

Until the formal end of their campaigns, I’ll have a lot of fun mocking this small army of candidates known as The Asterisks. But for now, let’s pause and have a few molecules of sympathy for those “rising star” politicians who are painfully learning that their stars will rise no further. You work hard, you have success at the state level, you think you have impressive accomplishments, you think you’re charismatic and like-able, and then one morning you wake up to find you’ve got less support in New Hampshire than the Hollywood New Age guru. Politics is rough, man.

John Hickenlooper had the kind of resume that usually looks good: two-term mayor, two-term governor of what was, not long ago, a hard-fought purple state. He’s got a quirky sense of humor, which you would think would be worth something, but nope. He can’t break past one percent anywhere.

As far back as 2017, publications like Vogue gave Kirsten Gillibrand the glossy “she could be the next president” treatment. She had replaced Hillary Clinton in the Senate, cosponsored a slew of bills, voted against every Trump nominee. Her fans raved about her retail politicking skills, but apparently they’re worthless. She’s visited New Hampshire 55 times! Five of the last six polls in that state have her at one percent.

Back in 2012, Julian Castro was the rising star among in the Democratic Party, and a lot of publications labeled him “the Latino Obama.” He’s the only Latino candidate in the Democratic field. But forget nationally or the early primary states; Castro can’t even break out in his home state in Texas. In the six surveys of likely Democratic primary voters in Texas this year, Castro was named the first choice of 3, 4, 2, 4, 5, and 4 percent.

Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet are all multi-term senators with law degrees from good schools, and they’re all still trying to break out of that “oh yeah, that person’s running, too” category. (Bennet can at least boast he’s gotten George Will’s endorsement, for all the good that will do him in the Democratic primary.) All three adopted some vague somewhat-centrist strategy for this presidential cycle – Booker is trying to be uplifting and talk about love and unity, Klobuchar is attempting to showcase “Minnesota nice,” Bennet is talking about empowering citizens. Whatever they’re selling, few Democratic voters seem to be buying it so far.

Most of these lawmakers adopted some version of Barack Obama’s path to the presidency. Serve in the Senate, mix up some bipartisan cooperation on less controversial legislation with some “tough” stances to show the grassroots you’re a fighter, suck up to the interest groups that traditionally power the party, promise the moon and figure out how to pay for it later, and hope that personal charisma can carry you the rest of the way.

Maybe that only works if you’re as naturally talented on the stump as Barack Obama in 2007 and 2008. Or maybe even the Barack Obama of 2007 and 2008 would have a hard time standing out in a crowd of 25 candidates.

National Review

The Great James L. Buckley, Still Great

At the National Conservatism conference in Washington, ambling amidst the crowd is James L. Buckley, much revered in these parts — and all parts of the conservative movement — hero-worshipped as he passes by, smiling and humble, some of us knowing we are in the presence of a truly great American. Earlier today, this correspondent was invited to a lunch at the headquarters of The Fund for the American Studies, featuring the retired federal jurist discussing federalism — referring to the remarks he gave at the recent NRI Ideas Summit — with a group of law students (he is pictured here with, to his left, TFAS president Roger Ream). It was a wonderful gathering, with His Honor making a profound defense of constitutional originalism, and in particular expressing his admiration for Justice Clarence Thomas.

James L. Buckley

Read his remarks to get a flavor of what he told the young lawyers. And if you cannot get enough of this unique American, and are inclined to nostalgia, you may enjoy this 1971 Firing Line episode, in which younger brother Bill interviews his recently elected older brother. It’s a terrific slice of American and conservative history.

And think about attending the forthcoming (September 12th in NYC) TFAS Journalism Awards Dinner.

Politics & Policy


President George W. Bush leads a conversation on Social Security in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2005. (Jason Reed / Reuters)

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If the federal deficit and federal debt are problems, but no one talks about them, do they cease to be problems?

We can ask the same about social-welfare entitlements, too.

A headline yesterday read, “WH projects $1 trillion deficit for 2019.” (Article here.) The federal debt is now at $22.5 trillion. (Check the clock.) Romney and Ryan warned about these things during the 2012 campaign. See the thanks they got?

Here is a nugget from a report on Sunday: “Trump recently told West Wing aides that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told him no politician had ever lost office for spending more money.” He is a canny ol’ bird, McConnell.

Here is a headline from late last year: “Trump is reportedly not worried about a massive US debt crisis as he’ll be out of office by then.” (Article here.)

But it’s not just Trump — it’s everybody, pretty much. Everyone is willing to “kick the can down the road” and let future generations deal with the mess. Romney called this “immoral.” (Typical moral preening by a goody-goody and spoilsport.)

Running for the presidency in 2016, there were 17 Republicans. Fifteen of them said that entitlements were a big problem, calling out for reform. The other two were Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee. Trump said that reform was unnecessary — that what we had to do was ferret out “waste, fraud, and abuse” in the federal government. Dukakis and others used to talk this way, and we conservatives laughed at them.

Huckabee was a little different. He said that we had promised citizens that they would have their Social Security. They had paid into the system. And we could not break our promise and let them down.

He did not really disagree with George W. Bush, the great Social Security reformer, or would-be reformer. Bush said over and over that his reforms would not affect people counting on their Social Security. He said that anyone could opt to remain in the current system. But he wanted to give younger workers different options — because those workers, not without reason, were doubtful that Social Security would be there for them.

Bush had touched the “third rail of American politics.” He did it with abandon, you might even say reckless abandon. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Joe Andrew, said that his party would “fry” Bush on that rail. Bush said that he was “runnin’ for a reason” — he wanted to effect necessary changes, not simply mark time in office.

I am speaking of the 2000 campaign. Bush won that year — but he almost lost Florida, owing in large part to his stance on Social Security. (You may remember a post-election battle, too.)

In his first term, Bush did not do much about entitlements. He had other priorities, chiefly a war on terror. When he won reelection, he said he had the wind at his back and political capital to spend. He chose to spend it on Social Security reform. That’s how important he thought it was. He got nowhere with it, however.

Democrats, of course, called him a would-be murderer of grandmothers, and Republicans were very anxious. They held back. I have long thought that Americans will not rouse themselves to do anything until the crisis hits. No one wants to repair the roof while the sun is shining. Then, when the storm hits, they scramble up, in desperation.

Almost certainly, 2020 will be a write-off year, where these matters are concerned. The Left, represented by the Democratic presidential nominee, won’t talk about them. And the nationalist-populist Right, represented by President Trump, won’t talk about them. So, in all likelihood, it’ll be another four years.

How about 2024? Who will be brave? Who will be truth-telling? In my view, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney — and Paul Ryan — were. And they are now seen, by the Right at large, as untrue conservatives. This relates to our ongoing debate: What is conservatism?

I do know one thing, I think — that, as Margaret Thatcher said, the facts of life are conservative. And they will reassert themselves, good and hard, whether we want to face them or not.

Economy & Business

Strawman Elegy

The Wall Street bull in New York, March 7, 2017. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

I like and admire our friend J. D. Vance, but I do want to throttle him just a little bit — just a little! — when he says things like this: “The question conservatives confront at this key moment is this: Whom do we serve? Do we serve pure, unfettered commercial freedom? Do we serve commerce at the expense of the public good? Or do we serve something higher, and are we willing to use political power to actually accomplish those things?”

Is there a conservative who actually endorses “pure, unfettered commercial freedom”? I know conservatives who want to make it a little easier to operate a hair-braiding business without a license and 500 hours of “professional education,” and I know conservatives who think you should be able to start a moving company without asking permission from a preexisting cartel of moving companies, and conservatives who want Americans to be able to work from home without having to file tax returns in multiple jurisdictions. Vance works in venture capital. He no doubt has been within smelling distance of the SEC. Conservatives do not (in the main; there’s always that one guy) propose to abolish the SEC, or to leave banks unregulated, in spite of the constant Democratic claims to the contrary. Who is the champion of “unfettered commercial freedom”? Who? It is nobody in the Republican party, and, as far as I can tell, nobody writing in National Review.

Fetter away!

Vance worries about serving “commerce at the expense of the public good,” as indeed do most other conservatives. But that gets pretty complicated pretty quickly. On balance, commerce overwhelmingly serves the public good, and attempts to use the fat fingers and long nose of Washington to disentangle commerce and its social effects in a Goldilocks-satisfying manner historically have not gone very well. His complaint with Facebook et al. is that people enjoy using these products too much. I agree, though I’d argue that the real root of that evil is the mobile phone itself. (I’m in an airport lounge, listening to one of those cretins who insist on using a speaker phone in a public place. Brilliant conversation you’re having there, Caitlyn.) The press is full of panicked parents complaining about their children’s use of social media or, lately, Fortnite. I do not have a great deal of confidence in the parents of this country — I have met your children, America — but I nonetheless believe that they are better suited to deal with the addictive features of social media than is, say, Ilhan Omar.

But on the broader point: Who is it that Vance imagines is on the opposite side of that argument? We may disagree about how to go about best regulating business and nudging the profit motive toward service of the public good, but I can think of few conservatives, even radical libertarians such as myself, who in principle seek to serve commerce “at the expense of the public good” or who believe we should be indifferent to the question.

“Do we serve something higher,” Vance asks, “and are we willing to use political power to actually accomplish those things?” Our strange new nationalists (neopaleocons, I suppose we should call them) ask the strangest questions. Paul Ryan was often held up by conservatives of this stripe as the mascot for soulless, market-dominated, Chamber of Commerce conservatism. But would anybody say that Paul Ryan had no conception of the national good and no sense of higher moral purpose, or that he was unwilling to use political power to accomplish those things? Every Tom, Dick, and Hillary in our nation’s hideous capital has some high sentiment to share and zero hesitation about using political power in pursuit of their own often eccentric moral visions. Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are precisely alike in that much at least.

How does that work out in fact? American cities are governed by people who spend millions of dollars on inclusion-and-diversity programs while the roads have potholes of practically lunar circumference. The nice people in Washington are practically Jimi Hendrixing on fine and noble sentiment (’scuse me while I puke and die) and will talk your ear off about “serving something higher,” but they can’t balance the books, secure the border, or win a war to save their useless lives. They cannot manage the federal version of fixing potholes, and the potholes need fixing.

Is there someone who actually believes the things Vance here is criticizing? If so — who? Because it is a mystery to me, and you’d think I’d know, running dog of capitalism that I am.

If the situation is not as Vance describes it — if in fact we disagree about how rather than whether to serve the public good — then that is a different conversation. And that might be a good conversation to have. But if you are telling me that the problem is Mark Zuckerberg and the solution is Donald Trump, I’m moving to Switzerland.


Brace Yourselves, America. Mark Sanford Might Be Coming.

Mark Sanford (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Any GOP presidential primary challenge against Donald Trump is going to be the longest of long shots. From 2015 to today, Republicans who didn’t like Trump largely stopped thinking of themselves as Republicans, and the Republicans who remain are largely supportive, with the percentage expressing approval usually in the eighties. There just aren’t that many Republican primary voters who are eager to shop around for another option this cycle.

As Jack Crowe notes, former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford is thinking of running for president this cycle. Sanford told the Charleston Post and Courier that “he will take the next month to formulate whether he will mount a potential run against Trump as a way of pushing a national debate about America’s mounting debt, deficit and government spending.”

Not only would Sanford have a near-impossible time winning the nomination, not only would he have a hard time winning the state (Trump’s approval rating among south Carolina Republicans was at 79 percent in April), at this point it’s an open question if Sanford would win more votes in his old House district.

Down in South Carolina’s first Congressional District, Katie Arrington beat Mark Sanford in the 2018 House primary, making the primary fight almost a referendum on loyalty to the president. Sanford lost narrowly — 46.5 percent to Arrington’s 50.6 percent — and no doubt that loss was surprising and deeply disappointing to the incumbent. Sanford chose to not endorse her in the general election, and it is believed that a considerable number of Sanford donors and allies sat out the general election.

In November, Arrington lost to Democrat Joe Cunningham, 49.2 percent to Cunningham’s 50.6 percent. She explicitly blamed Sanford: “We lost because Mark Sanford could not understand that this race was about the conservative movement — and not about him.”

All of this assumes, of course, that South Carolina even has a GOP presidential primary next year. Since 2017, South Carolina Republicans have sounded skeptical about whether they would hold a primary, suggesting they would only hold one if Trump had serious competition. This morning, State GOP chairman Drew McKissick was already denouncing Sanford: “The last time Mark Sanford had an idea this dumb, it killed his governorship.”

This is all separate from the question of whether America’s mounting debt, deficit and government spending” is an issue that Republicans particularly care about at this moment. We can argue that they ought to, but the evidence is that by and large, they do not.

This isn’t to say Sanford’s announcement wouldn’t have any impact. He’s probably unnerving William Weld, former Massachusetts governor and Libertarian candidate for vice president, who announced a 2020 bid.


How National Is “National Conservatism”?

The “national conservatism” conference underway in D.C. is making a strong case that nationalism can be a benign force — but the nationalism the speakers are describing doesn’t sound a lot like President Trump’s version of it. At Bloomberg Opinion, I suggest that nationalists ought to address the difference.


Josh Hawley Takes Aim at Higher Ed

Senator Josh Hawley in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., July 11, 2019. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Over on the home page I have some thoughts about the true nature of the student-debt “crisis” and some ideas for how to deal with it. Coincidentally, today Josh Hawley announced some very relevant reforms.

Per his press release:


U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is introducing two pieces of legislation this week that will expand federal aid for people pursuing vocational education and will put higher education institutions on the hook for students unable to repay student loans.

It’s an odd definition of “monopoly” that encompasses a sector with thousands of competing options, but okay: Higher ed is pretty dysfunctional and these reforms target two big problems with it.

Hawley’s first bill will “make more job-training and certification programs, like employer-based apprenticeships and digital boot camps, eligible to receive Pell Grants through an alternative accreditation process.” This is a good idea. There’s no reason we should be subsidizing college to the exclusion of other ways to learn important skills.

His second bill requires “colleges and universities to pay off 50 percent of the balance of student loans accrued while attending their institution for students who default, and forbids them from increasing the cost of attendance to offset their liability.”

The idea of a “money-back guarantee” for college isn’t crazy; it forces schools to take responsibility for their students’ outcomes, rather than accepting students who don’t have the skills to graduate, collecting tuition for a few years, and then sending the kids along poorer, indebted, and lacking a credential.

But I’m not sold on the idea of forbidding colleges “from increasing the cost of attendance to offset their liability.” I’m not sure it’s possible to enforce such a rule — and while higher ed in general is inefficient, I’m not sure it’s possible for every college to shoulder a new liability without raising its prices at all. Further, if tuition hikes resulted from this legislation, they would basically “price in” half the school’s default risk, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It would be better to require these payments — providing schools a big incentive to be careful about whom they admit and to teach students marketable skills — and let the market handle it from there. Rather than forcing schools to make cuts until they can cover the liability without a tuition hike, let them strike a balance between service cuts and price hikes and compete to see who figured out the best one.

Couple other things: Might it encourage students to default if doing so will force their college to “pay off” half their loans, especially once they miss payments for a while and start getting close to that threshold? (The consequences of defaulting are pretty severe, so maybe not, but it’s worth thinking about.) And should colleges be liable for the interest their former students rack up, or just for the money they actually collected in tuition payments etc.?


Tuesday links

On July 16, 1945, the atomic age began with the Trinity nuclear test. Related, this 1954 PSA, How a Clean, Tidy Home Can Help You Survive the Atomic Bomb, and a rather naively optimistic 1957 Disney classroom film — Our Friend the Atom.

An experimental pneumatic subway secretly built in Manhattan in the late 19th century.

Why Red M&M’s Disappeared for a Decade.

The Physics of How Lawn Mower Blades Cut Grass (at 50K frames per second).

The Torturous History of the Treadmill — it was originally designed to exploit prison labor.

Gallery: The serious side of historical games.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include poorly translated English language T-shirts spotted in Asia, that time America air-dropped pianos for troops in battlefields, the evolution of the Army helmet, and the eating habits of Medieval peasants.


‘Ilhan Omar Is Completely Assimilated’

I wrote about the controversy over  Ilhan Omar today:

American has two assimilation problems. One is immigrants feeling only a tenuous connection to America, and getting isolated in ethnic enclaves. The other is immigrants like Omar — and some of her second-generation colleagues — assimilating into the America of identity politics and grievance.

They have learned to speak not just English, but the language of oppression. They understand our system (at least no less than the average officeholder), but hold it in low regard. They know our history, as taught by an instructor cribbing from Howard Zinn.

They may be citizens, but they are certainly outraged victims.


Politics & Policy

J. D. Vance: ‘American Dream Is Undoubtedly in Decline’

J.D. Vance (Operation Hope via YouTube)

Washington, D.C. — In a talk this morning at the National Conservatism Conference, author J. D. Vance said the conservative movement needs to move “beyond libertarianism” to address the fact that the simple American dream of giving one’s family a better life than you had as a kid is “undoubtedly in decline.” His remarks focused on lamenting various social ills and criticizing libertarianism for failing to use political power to fix them.

“I believe that conservatives have outsourced our economic- and domestic-policy thinking to libertarians,” Vance said. He defined libertarianism as “the view that so long as public outcomes and social goods are produced by free individual choices, we shouldn’t be too concerned about what those goods ultimately produce.”

Vance gave the example of neuroscientists in Silicon Valley making more at tech companies such as Apple and Facebook to, as he put it, “addict our children to devices that warp their brains” than they do developing cures for diseases. According to Vance, libertarians aren’t concerned about that, because it is a situation produced by individual choices.

“Conservatives should be concerned about it,” he said. “We should care about a whole host of public goods and actually be willing to use politics and political power to accomplish some of those public goods.”

He returned to this theme later in his remarks after discussing the ravages of the opioid epidemic, which is the chief cause of declining life expectancies in the U.S.

“Libertarians are not heartless and I don’t mean to suggest that they are,” Vance conceded. “They often recognize many of the same problems that we recognize, but they are so uncomfortable with political power or so skeptical of whether political power can accomplish anything that they don’t want to actually use it to solve or even help address some of these problems.” He went on:

To me, ignoring the fact that we have political choices or pretending that there aren’t political choices to be made is itself a political choice. The failure to use political power that the public has given us a choice, and it’s a choice that increasingly has had and increasingly will have incredibly dire consequences for ourselves and our families.

Vance referenced someone whom he called “a very popular libertarian author,” but declined to name any names. The author, he said, talks a lot about isolation; the decline of community, family, and marriage; addiction to social media; and the skyrocketing rates of youth suicide.

“If you think those things are problems,” Vance said, “if you think children killing themselves are problems, if you think people not having families, not being married, feeling more isolated are problems, then you need to be willing to use political power when it’s appropriate to solve those problems.”

“If people are spending too much time addicted to devices that are designed to addict them, we can’t just blame consumer choice,” he added. “We have to blame ourselves for not doing something to stop it. If people are killing themselves because they’re being bullied in online chatrooms, we can’t just say parents need to exercise more responsibility.”

“We live in environment and in a culture that is shaped by our laws and public policy, and we can’t hide from that fact anymore,” Vance concluded. “The question conservatives confront at this key moment is this: Whom do we serve? Do we serve pure, unfettered commercial freedom? Do we serve commerce at the expense of the public good? Or do we serve something higher, and are we willing to use political power to actually accomplish those things?”

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