Politics & Policy

An Unsettling Glimpse at CPAC Texas

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Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake looks on during an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas, August 5, 2022. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Recently, the Conservative Political Action Conference was in Dallas. Conferences of this sort are often strange affairs, and have been for a long time. But Chris Schlak, an ISI Fellow for USA Today who attended the conference, found unpleasant oddities attached to the proceedings beyond what is reasonable to expect.

It is one thing for Americans to defend the conduct of Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary in that nation’s European context, where its actions seem reasonably popular to its citizens. It is a different thing entirely to argue that Orbán has lessons that American conservatives can apply directly in our own country. Yet that was the implication both of CPAC’s decision to invite Orbán to Dallas, and of Orbán’s speech. Shlak reports, moreover, that the CPAC audience ate up Orban’s remarks, carefully prepared for American-conservative consumption, “because he used the ‘right’ slogans and attacked the ‘right’ enemies.”

Schlak also discovered stolen-election nonsense in abundance in and around the conference. On one panel, a speaker openly hoped for Republican gubernatorial candidates Kari Lake and Doug Mastriano, of Arizona and Pennsylvania, respectively, to win in the fall so that they can decertify the results of the 2020 election in their states. “If that brings on a constitutional crisis, bring it,” the speaker said. Schlak also found the conference replete with positive references to Dinesh D’Souza’s discredited stolen-election documentary 2,000 Mules.

PHOTOS: CPAC Dallas

Strangest of all, however, was the January 6 “performance art,” as Schlak calls it, that he chanced upon. The performance artist was Brandon Straka, a Capitol riot participant convicted of charges of disorderly and disruptive conduct on Capitol grounds and sentenced in January to three months of house arrest and three years of probation, and also fined and given community-service obligations. At CPAC, Straka pretended to be a prisoner in a fake prison cell. He was, at one point, joined by Representative Marjorie Greene of Georgia.

“It was like watching a WWE wrestling match,” Schlak writes. “Everyone knew it was all fake, but everyone played along anyway.”

Schlak came away from the conference distraught about the state of conservatism. Based on his account, this is understandable. One hopes, however, that it was not a representative experience.

Politics & Policy

You Either Support Free Speech or You Don’t

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Salman Rushdie during an interview with Reuters in 2012. (Paul Hackett/Reuters)

Political types love to classify themselves. I can be guilty of it myself. But, when it comes to free speech, I’ve never especially cared about all that. The stabbing of Salman Rushdie reminds me why. Because, really, there are only two sides to it. There are the people who believe in free speech, and there are the people who don’t. The person who does believe in free speech is currently in the hospital. The person who doesn’t believe in free speech stabbed him.

Certainly, the people who don’t believe in free speech have different reasons for their opposition: They want to protect people’s feelings or to aid public virtue; they think that the religion they believe in is too important; they fear the consequences of bad people hearing bad words. But, really, who cares? The root question is whether or not we are to have a clerisy of people who, via direct violence (murder, acid) or indirect violence (government) are able to tell everyone else what they may or may not say.

If we are not, then the arguments offered up by the would-be members of that clerisy are irrelevant. I don’t care why the person who stabbed Rushdie thought he needed to be punished for his writing. I don’t care why the men who attacked Charlie Hebdo felt upset with that magazine. I don’t care why the British government is trying to add yet more censorship powers to its already bulging stack. I don’t care why Charlie Kirk thinks he’s found the one true exception to the First Amendment. I don’t care why the wokesters believe they can remedy structural inequality with Red Ink. I don’t care. Pick a side.

Politics & Policy

Warning Shot in the Gender-Clinic Wars

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The Tavistock Centre NHS clinic is seen in London, England, July 28, 2022. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

Maddy Kearns brings her journalistic expertise to bear on the news of the Tavistock gender-clinic closure. The clinic was shut down after a review found there were “huge concerns over the lack of follow-up, the lack of transparency, the overlooking of blatant co-morbidities.” Kearns says on the latest episode of the Editors that “children with gender dysphoria will be treated at hospitals where mental health will be the focus — which is huge.”

Rich reminds listeners that this has been Michael’s point for some time now: We’ll start to see the end of this madness with the advent of a mass class-action lawsuit. “Maddy says this is a ‘shot heard ‘round the world,’ Michael said, “but I’m a little afraid that the Tavistock clinic is going to be used as a scapegoat and it will eat all the institutional sin this time, but other clinics are going to rise in its place.” While he does view what the NHS has done as a “huge warning shot,” he thinks “the victory is still pretty far off.”

Closer to home, the U.S. media is still abuzz over the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago. Inside job? Major mess-up? Speculation abounds, but the editors stick to the core of the issue and engage in some serious legal-terminology parsing.

Our editors also consider Donald Trump’s grip on the GOP. Like him or not, his charisma and larger-than-life personality are keeping him in the public eye, and the GOP needs to decide how it will handle this come 2024. 

Listen below to hear the whole conversation. 

Politics & Policy

If Criticisms of George Soros Are Antisemitic, So Are Criticisms of Sheldon Adelson

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In response to Can We Criticize Soros?

On the Corner yesterday, Michael Brendan Dougherty noted that “Democrats have decided that all criticism of George Soros is coded antisemitism”: “There are ways of criticizing Soros that do play with antisemitic tropes,” Michael writes, “but noting his extraordinary intervention into American justice is not one of them.”

One thing I’d add is that there’s actually an easy way to test if left-wing allegations of antisemitism vis-à-vis Soros are made in good faith. The Right’s criticisms of Soros tend to revolve around the Hungarian-born billionaire’s support for left-wing causes. But the Right had its own Jewish billionaire donor: the late Sheldon Adelson. And the analogous criticisms of Adelson from progressives are rarely, if ever, subject to cries of antisemitism. 

When Adelson bought a Nevada newspaper in 2015, Robert Reich wrote that “the purchase marks another step toward oligarchic control of America.” “Meet the shady billionaire that just backed Donald Trump,” Mic proclaimed in 2016. The left-leaning German publication DW profiled Adelson with a piece titled “Pulling the strings.” When the Jewish billionaire passed away in early 2021, the Nation ran an article titled, “Even in Death, Sheldon Adelson Will Keep Undermining Democracy.” (“Wherever the casino magnate went, corruption—be it moral, legal, political, or cultural—was never far behind,” the subtitle read.)

If the Left wants to argue that any criticisms of Jewish political donors are, by virtue of the donors’ being Jewish, antisemitic, they’re going to need to condemn the attacks on Adelson, too. I won’t hold my breath.

Politics & Policy

On Hillary, Trump, and Whataboutism: A Response to My Critics

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Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks to reporters after making a statement about the FBI’s search warrant served at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida during an appearance at the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C., August 11, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

I’d like to respond to three critiques of my Corner post from yesterday, titled “Yes, Her Emails.” In it, I argue that “anyone — either on the anti-Trump left or the Trump-skeptical right,”

who thinks that the FBI and Department of Justice’s credibility can survive in the eyes of the average, normie American if it prosecutes Donald J. Trump on very, very similar mishandling-of-classified-documents charges that Hillary [Clinton] avoided with nary a slap on the wrist is naïve to the point of lunacy.

You can read the whole thing here.

Let me address a few of the most common lines of argument.

1. What Hillary did with her emails isn’t comparable to what Trump has done.

Here’s a representative sample from the ongoing disaster that is my Twitter timeline:

“Clinton’s emails were mostly about her yoga schedule. Trump’s are about our nuclear arsenal. These are not equivalent.”

“Finding three emails that were retroactively classified is totes the same as stealing TS documents regarding nuclear weapons. Genius.”

“This defines weak, base spinning, whataboutism ‘journalism’. Her email server and return of government documents were well within the laws at the time. Trump & company may be looking at the full Rosenberg for their actions. There are no parallels here.”

I’m honestly perplexed by this response. I don’t know if it’s just the passage of time or a genuine lack of knowledge about the gravity and irresponsibility of Clinton’s actions during 2016’s “Emailgate.”

As my colleague Andy McCarthy took the time to note last night after Attorney General Garland’s remarks, then–FBI director Jim Comey — who conducted the investigation and infamously decided to not pursue criminal charges — didn’t think Hillary Clinton’s emails were merely about her yoga schedule. From Comey’s public comments on July 5, 2016:

Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.

For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation. In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails).

None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail. [Emphasis mine.]

I’ll note that — as someone who has gone through the U.S. military’s security-clearance process — material is classified as “Top Secret” if it can be reasonably expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security if released.

What Hillary did was, at minimum, “extremely careless” in the handling of extraordinarily sensitive information. Hillary’s “yoga routine” excuse was a dodge then, and it’s a dodge now.

2. You don’t actually care about the institutional credibility of the FBI and DOJ.

Actually, yes I do. I care deeply about the strength and credibility of our institutions, public and private. Institutions — from the Boy Scouts to the Marine Corps to the NFL — must husband and conserve their credibility because, once lost, it’s almost impossible to recover. We all know what it’s like to live in a country in which institutions that once were held in general esteem have suffered atrophy and collapse. The American conception of “ordered liberty” is like a tree in the desert without strong institutions watering our common soil. Over the last couple of days, I have been trying to make the point — perhaps ineffectively — both through sarcasm and through polemic, that the FBI and DOJ are already on thin ice credibility-wise with half of the American people.

The execution of the search warrant on Mar-a-Lago was a grave event in American history. Neither the Right — with its clownish hysterics — nor the Left — with its Major Kong–style celebrations — is helping.

3. Why are you defending/excusing/protecting Trump?

At no time have I defended or excused Trump in this matter. As I wrote days ago, “I think that anyone who egregiously mishandles classified documents has likely committed a felony and should be investigated and probably prosecuted, regardless of whether he or she happens to be a politician or potential candidate for president.”

If Trump is shown to have broken the law, he deserves to face the consequences of his actions.

But it is not excusing or defending Trump to point out that every decision has a cost as well as a benefit.

I am much less concerned about Trump facing the music in this matter than I am about holding the Republic together. You’re free to disagree — after all, it’s a free country — but I believe that the best way to move past Trump is through politics, not lawfare. A shortsighted focus on putting Trump in the dock may be satisfying to his enemies, but they’re not the ones who need convincing that this process is fair. Like it or not — and entirely to Trump’s demagogic discredit — millions upon millions of Americans believe that the 2020 election was stolen from him and that the institutions and powers of government have been unfairly used against him in a years-long “witch hunt.” You may not believe that. Hell, I don’t believe that. But something like a full third of the country does.

We know that prosecuting Trump, if he committed a crime, would have a benefit: That is justice and it would be self-evident. But why are so many so dismissive of the costs?

Prudence requires weighing the cost of our actions. My argument is not that Donald J. Trump did not or could not have done anything criminal in his conduct relating to classified materials, much less that his actions should be excused, waived off as nothing, or memory-holed.

My argument is that half the country will not accept criminal charges for conduct largely similar to what his onetime political opponent received a slap on the wrist for.

If your response is, “I don’t care about any of that; Trump’s guilty, so charge him,” or, “Trump’s supporters will never be convinced, so ignore them,” or, “to hell with prudence, I want Trump’s scalp mounted on my wall,” then you don’t care about the health of the Republic. You don’t care about finding a way back towards national comity. You don’t care that many of your fellow citizens will never forgive you or ever again trust that their government is fair-minded.

We must find a path towards stopping the ceaseless, one-way political ratchet and eye-for-an-eye vindictiveness and revenge that have characterized our politics for so many years.

Here’s a hint: If you can’t see the reasonableness of that imperative and understand why, at a minimum, any actions against Trump outside the political process should be weighed very carefully against the downstream costs, you’re blinded by partisanship or hatred of the man.

I stand behind no one in my desire to see Donald Trump go away. I’ve argued for years that he has been a malign influence on American life and the conservative movement. But he’s not going to go away by pushing a ticky-tack criminal charge on him or by nailing him for something that your and my partisan, tribal lizard-brains will never forget was waived away when it was Hillary Clinton with her hand in the cookie jar. Even if Trump deserves it — and he probably does — criminal charges in this matter won’t end Trump. They’ll supercharge him.

Trump will go away when center-right Americans affirmatively choose another leader through the political process — at the ballot box.

Fiscal Policy

More Democrat Duplicitousness on IRS Funding

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(marcnorman/iStock/Getty Images)

This morning, I wrote about how Janet Yellen’s math doesn’t add up on the claim that the expanded IRS resulting from the Democrats’ reconciliation bill will audit only the highest-income earners. Now, a Congressional Budget Office estimate is providing more evidence of Democrats’ duplicitousness.

During the reconciliation bill process in the Senate, any senator can introduce an amendment. That meant that many Republicans offered amendments to force Democrats to take votes they might not have wanted to take. One such amendment was from Senator Mike Crapo (R., Idaho). It would have added to the IRS funding portion of the reconciliation bill that “none of the funds . . . may be used to audit taxpayers with taxable incomes below $400,000.”

That is exactly the line that Yellen, in her letter to the IRS commissioner, was saying Democrats support. Yet, when given the chance to vote on putting that language in the bill, all 50 Senate Democrats voted against the amendment.

Today, the Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee said the CBO has estimated that the cost of Crapo’s amendment would have been at least $20 billion. That would mean that the CBO expects at least $20 billion of the new revenue Democrats were counting on from increased tax enforcement to come from audits of taxpayers making less than $400,000.

Democrats have always been all over the map on how much money increased tax enforcement would raise, with the Washington Post reporting in July of last year that some Democrats thought they could get $1 trillion in new revenue over the next decade. The CBO has been consistent for years in telling lawmakers from both parties that tax enforcement is not the revenue panacea they want it to be, with their estimate this time being a net revenue gain of $124 billion. But now we know that estimate was counting on $20 billion of it coming from people who, according to Yellen, will not be forced to pay.

The likeliest outcome here is not an army of auditors crashing through the doors of middle-class Americans. Rather, it is that the IRS gets a bunch of taxpayer money and little else happens. Remember, most IRS employees are represented by the National Treasury Employees Union, which donates almost entirely to Democrats. One of the primary missions of the Democratic Party, in practice, is shoveling taxpayer money to unionized government employees. No matter who gets audited, that mission is accomplished by the reconciliation bill.

But from here on out, Democrats are the party of doubling the IRS. The IRS is still going to audit people making less than $400,000. Even if those people would have been audited anyway and the audit rate doesn’t change at all, Democrats should expect Republicans to make an issue of it on the campaign trail. As the estimated revenue raised by the provision continues to get chipped away, the payoff might not be worth it for some House Democrats come November. And now, because of Crapo’s amendment, every Senate Democrat is on the record opposing the $400,000 barrier. Those ads write themselves.

Politics & Policy

Conservatism and Mediating Institutions

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Alexis de Tocqueville (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

In response to Conservatives for Community

I commend National Review Institute summer intern Frank Filocomo on his strong first piece for National Review, posted on the Corner earlier today. The piece, titled “Conservatives for Community,” emphasizes the importance of “what Buckley called the ‘libertarian’ streak” as “an essential part of the American character” but cautions that “it must be counterbalanced by a complementary communitarian streak,” arguing that “what we need right now is a synthesis of these two aspects of America’s unique identity.” Filocomo makes the case “for a more Tocquevillian America, as opposed to one characterized solely or mostly by a liberal (in the purely classical sense) ethos,” renewing the communitarian aspect of the American — and conservative — tradition:

Individual freedom, moreover, is not the only part of the Founding legacy, nor is it the totality of the conservative tradition. There is also a vital communitarian strain within conservatism, one that is often underappreciated. Though not always: In the 1960s and 1970s, Russell Kirk’s Modern Age, for example, contained a plethora of essays emphasizing the importance of civic engagement and local associational membership. Though there is obvious merit in individual freedom, it would be foolish for us to understate the advantages of community, social capital, and societal togetherness. Alexis de Tocqueville, for example, said that associations are “stronger and more formidable than a simple individual can be.”

It’s a welcome contribution, particularly in a moment of increasingly extreme atomization and social breakdown. I share Filocomo’s criticisms of the fact that “at times, those on the right are overly sympathetic to a simplistic reading of the libertarian ethos that sees civic relations as being only between individuals and the state, and individual freedom and its derivatives as the only things worth valuing.” I doubt he would disagree, but I’d also just add that the traditional conservative preference for limited government, properly understood, can and should be harmonized with the Tocquevillian communitarian ethic. Defending and stewarding the civic associations that sit in the space between the individual and the state requires preventing a burgeoning government bureaucracy from “crowding out” those institutions. So in setting themselves against the “libertarian ethos” that does not recognize the existence of the “mediating institutions” that stand between individuals and state actors, conservatives must also oppose the statist, bureaucratic progressivism that essentially does the same but in reverse — the kind of political philosophy that operates on the assumption that, as an infamous 2012 Democratic National Committee video put it, “the government is the only thing we all belong to.”

In their famous 1977 study of “mediating structures,” Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus argued that “one of the most debilitating results of modernization is a feeling of powerlessness in the face of institutions controlled by those whom we do not know and whose values we often do not share.” To renew a Tocquevillian America, centered around connection to place, people, and local community, conservatives must seek to renew the institutions that are tied to those local associations. Government can and should seek to support those institutions wherever and whenever possible, but it cannot take their place.

Politics & Policy

Mr. President, Learn a Little on Your South Carolina Vacation

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President Joe Biden salutes before boarding Air Force One to depart for Kiawah Island, S.C., from Joint Base Andrews, August 10, 2022. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Dear President Biden:

We in South Carolina welcome you to the shores of the Palmetto State, one of the most beautiful and free states in the union.

One can hardly blame you, Mr. President, and your family for visiting Kiawah Island, a barrier island with miles of pristine beach along the Atlantic, a maritime forest, and saltwater marshes. This unique place is just a half-hour drive from Charleston and has world-class accommodations, and golf and tennis that rival the best in the world.

Mr. Biden, you were soundly defeated by Donald Trump here, 55 percent to 43 percent, but you did win Charleston County, where you are vacationing, 56 percent to 43 percent, so you will have some supporters to visit.

We in South Carolina take freedom seriously. South Carolina was at the center of activity in the American Revolution with more than 200 battles and skirmishes fought. We still value our independence and freedom. We took a different path from you, President Biden, and your central planners on the issue of Covid-19. As Governor Henry McMaster boldly stated when the Omicron variant was in full force:

There is no need for a state of emergency in South Carolina to address the increase in Covid infections caused by the omicron virus. There is no need for us to shut down. We are not going to close schools. We haven’t and we will not close businesses. We will not impose mandates for face masks, vaccines or anything else.

Voters in South Carolina give McMaster high marks. According to a recent South Carolina Policy Council poll, he is at a strong 66 percent job approval among likely voters, while only 31 percent disapprove. Part of McMasters’s high ratings are based on strong reviews of his pandemic performance, including keeping South Carolina open for business. Voters in South Carolina also greatly approve of political leaders trying to defeat your tax-and-spend agenda. Sixty percent of voters see Senator Tim Scott favorably.

But fewer than four in ten South Carolina voters (39 percent) approve of the job you are doing, Mr. President. The rest of the country largely agrees, with your national job approval at right about 40 percent in the RealClearPolitics average.

Mr. President, it would have been better if you had not tried to push your recent $700 million tax-and-spend bill as the “Inflation Reduction Act.” South Carolinians are hardworking and wise people. We know paying people not to work, creating money out of thin air, and spending billions on green-energy scams causes inflation. And your inflation is walloping South Carolina citizens. Eighty-two percent of South Carolinians say inflation and the rising cost of goods have them concerned about paying their family’s bills. Their concerns are bipartisan. Ninety percent of self-identified GOP voters declare themselves concerned, along with 75 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of independents.

We are proud of our leaders for standing up against this nonsense coming from your administration. Senator Lindsey Graham and McMaster stood together to condemn your latest spending boondoggle on behalf of South Carolinians. Graham pointed to a new gas tax of 16.4 cents per barrel on imported oil at a time the nation is becoming more dependent on imported oil.

“This starts with pennies; it becomes dimes and eventually dollars,” Graham said. “So I’m adamantly opposed to any new gas taxes on the American consumer and the South Carolina driving public.” McMaster added, “There’s never a good time to raise taxes.”

Graham also criticized the plan to increase the size of the Internal Revenue Service by 87,000 employees — more new auditors than can fit in three-time national champion Clemson University’s football stadium. “So when you go to the football game this fall, just imagine everybody to your left and right being an IRS agent,” said Graham.

Mr. Biden could learn a thing or two from South Carolina about managing a budget. We in South Carolina don’t spend money we don’t have; and, of course, we can’t just print it. Instead of raising taxes, South Carolina is cutting them. South Carolina taxpayers will be receiving tax-refund checks by the end of the year after McMaster signed a historic tax-relief package that included slashing and simplifying our state income tax.

South Carolina also knows how to live within its means. While the federal government is printing money as fast as it can, South Carolina entered the current fiscal year with its largest-ever, multibillion-dollar budget surplus.

As you drive around, Mr. President, you’ll be seeing signs celebrating the South Carolina Gamecocks’ women’s basketball national championship.

We take our college sports seriously here, including our women’s sports, which we believe should be reserved just for women.

Earlier this year, Mr. President, you engaged in some dangerous demagoguery involved in states that were revamping voting procedures. At a speech in neighboring Georgia, you accused the Peach State, along with 19 other states looking at reforming election procedures, of wanting to “turn the will of the voters into a mere suggestion — something states can respect or ignore.”

Further, you accused these states of engaging in Jim Crow tactics, which is extremely toxic rhetoric from a U.S. president.

“Jim Crow 2.0 is about two insidious things: voter suppression and election subversion,” you said. “It’s no longer about who gets to vote; it’s about making it harder to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote and whether your vote counts at all.”

Questions of voting access and security are difficult and complicated. However, Republicans and Democrats in South Carolina joined together to pass historic, bipartisan voting-reform legislation that makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat.

The South Carolina Policy Council’s poll found that four out of five voters responded positively toward the new law, with 92 percent approval among Republicans and 59 percent approval among Democrats.

South Carolina’s wildly popular voter-I.D. requirements now apply to all voters, including those voting early, by mail, or dropping off a ballot. Auditing and counting procedures were clarified. In a compromise, Republicans agreed to add in-person early voting, while Democrats accepted limitations to mail voting and drop boxes.

Mr. Biden, you could learn something about actually bringing two sides together to solve difficult problems from us in South Carolina.

President Biden, enjoy your stay. But if the only thing you take back with your return to D.C. is a suntan, you have missed a great opportunity to learn some valuable lessons.

Dallas Woodhouse is the executive director of the South Carolina Policy Council.

Culture

Lines Must Be Drawn, Even in the Midwest

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In response to Butler’s Midwestern Fish Folly

Luther writes, “Ultimately, the Midwest defies state lines just as it does certainty — mainly on account of Midwesterners being too polite to tell places such as Missouri that they don’t count.”

I’ll say it: Missouri does not count. Neither does Pennsylvania. Sorry, not sorry.

But wherever two or three Packers fans are gathered, there is Midwest in the midst of them.

National Security & Defense

U.S. Intel Official Turned TikTok Lawyer Claims ‘Anti-China Xenophobia’

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The U.S. head office of TikTok in Culver City, Calif., September 15, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

A cybersecurity lawyer for TikTok blasted proposals to ban the Chinese Communist Party–linked app as driven “solely” by anti-China racism, in a Twitter post that has since been deleted. That attorney, Dondi West, formerly worked for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and other government agencies, a fact that might raise new questions about TikTok’s hiring from the U.S. intelligence community, given the company’s ties to the Chinese government.

On Tuesday, West replied to a tweet by Chuck Flint, a former chief of staff to Senator Marsha Blackburn, promoting an op-ed that called for banning TikTok. Flint’s tweet had called the app “an arm of Communist China.” West accused proponents of a ban of advocating hateful policies. “Laws and policies driven solely by anti-China xenophobia, with no evidence proving an actual threat, is also a threat to national security, and also contribute to anti-Asian hate,” he tweeted.

West’s tweet also linked to a September 2021 column in The Scientist magazine that sharply criticized the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) for its “anti-China undertones.” Mandatory disclosures show that the government relations team representing TikTok lobbied Congressional offices on that bill. Although an initial version of the legislation included a provision barring the use of TikTok on government devices, that measure was removed at some point before Congress passed the package this year.

After Flint replied to West’s tweet, asking if he speaks for TikTok, West deleted it.

West’s Twitter profile identifies him as a cybersecurity attorney for TikTok and lists several of his other former employers, including the National Security Agency, U.S. Cybercommand, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Questioned over Twitter by National Review about whether he stands by the since-deleted comments, West did not reply, and at some point after receiving NR’s message he set his account to private.

Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokesperson, said that West does not speak on behalf of the company and referred NR to his profile on LinkedIn to assess “his qualifications to opine on these issues.” (While his Twitter account does state “Tweets are mine,” it also clearly indicates that he works for TikTok.)

West’s LinkedIn profile indicates that he worked as a contractor in various roles with federal government agencies until 2016, when he entered the private sector. During his tenure at U.S. Cyber Command, he took part in efforts to counter Russian cyber threats. While working for ODNI, he was a senior cyber-staff officer, a role in which he says he worked with the White House. His LinkedIn profile does not provide information on whether he currently holds a security clearance.

As TikTok has faced criticism for its ties to the Chinese government in recent years, the company’s defenders have attempted to portray its detractors as racist and xenophobic. However, TikTok and ByteDance, its parent company, have extensively documented ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

ByteDance has an internal CCP committee, where employees discuss “Xi Jinping Thought” and other facets of the party doctrine. In addition, hundreds of ByteDance and TikTok employees formerly worked for the party’s propaganda organs, as Forbes reported this week. A BuzzFeed News article recently revealed that Beijing-based employees of ByteDance regularly accessed U.S. TikTok users’ data, prompting lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to investigate the app.

Update: This article has been updated to add that West’s tweet cited as support a column that attacked the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act for its “anti-China undertones.”

Media

#DarkBrandon: Death of a Meme

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A “Let’s Go Brandon” sign stands in Ortonville, Mich., November 20, 2021. (Emily Elconin/Reuters)

Readers will likely be familiar with the “Brandon” meme, which became something of a bumper-sticker slogan on the right in late 2021 after a NASCAR commentator misinterpreted a “f*** Joe Biden” chant as “let’s go, Brandon.” The Associated Press reported:

It started at an Oct. 2 NASCAR race at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Brandon Brown, a 28-year-old driver, had won his first Xfinity Series and was being interviewed by an NBC Sports reporter. The crowd behind him was chanting something at first difficult to make out. The reporter suggested they were chanting “Let’s go, Brandon” to cheer the driver. But it became increasingly clear they were saying: “F—- Joe Biden.” 

NASCAR and NBC have since taken steps to limit “ambient crowd noise” during interviews, but it was too late — the phrase already had taken off.

Since then, the phrase has appeared on T-shirts, flags, and posters and has been tweeted incessantly. It was even used in House floor-speech sign-offs. Like many a meme, it’s pretty much been beaten to death. But more recently, amid an unusually good couple of weeks for the Biden administration, White House officials have attempted to repurpose “Brandon” for their own ends:

Tweets and memes from Biden officials featuring “Dark Brandon,” replete with laser-eye portraits of the president, have been received gleefully by the press. A Vox explainer outlines “how ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ and ‘Dark MAGA’ combined to celebrate Joe Biden’s policy wins.” A headline in the Hill declares that “the ‘Dark Brandon’ meme . . . has taken the White House by storm.The Independent crows: “Inside ‘Dark Brandon’: What is the growing meme phenomenon?” Here’s the Daily Beast: “Dark Brandon’: How the Left Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Biden’s Alter Ego. And here’s Politico: Dark Brandon Begins: How WH aides appropriated the meme of their boss as an underworld kin.” 

Internet culture relies on irony and a certain level of transgressiveness — a meme is funny only so long as it represents a certain kind of insider humor. The overeager attempt to boost the #DarkBrandon meme in the legacy press is the joke’s death knell. R.I.P. Brandon, 2021–2022. 

Politics & Policy

Conservatives for Community

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A Trump supporter holds an American flag at a rally in Madison, Ala., February 2016. (Marvin Gentry/Reuters)

Conservatives have long prized individual freedom. They try to embody it in their lives, their political aspirations, and even in the names of the groups that populate the conservative movement (“Young Americans for Freedom”) and the Republican Party (“House Freedom Caucus”). It is appropriate to accept and honor this as part of the political and cultural inheritance of our Founding, and as the source of important classical-liberal tenets in our public life, such as free speech, civic liberty, and limited government. There is no question that individual freedom is integral to what America stands for.

Unfortunately, at times, those on the right are overly sympathetic to a simplistic reading of the libertarian ethos that sees civic relations as being only between individuals and the state, and individual freedom and its derivatives as the only things worth valuing. Consider, as an extreme example of this view, the libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, who once argued for a “purely free society” that would, among other things, “have a flourishing free market in children” bought and sold as goods by parents. Rothbard is an odd case, to be sure, and not necessarily representative. (“Yes, Murray Rothbard believed in freedom, and yes, David Koresh believed in God,” William F. Buckley Jr. wrote in his obituary for Rothbard.) But it is nevertheless true that freedom alone cannot sustain a cohesive people.

Individual freedom, moreover, is not the only part of the Founding legacy, nor is it the totality of the conservative tradition. There is also a vital communitarian strain within conservatism, one that is often underappreciated. Though not always: In the 1960s and 1970s, Russell Kirk’s Modern Age, for example, contained a plethora of essays emphasizing the importance of civic engagement and local associational membership. Though there is obvious merit in individual freedom, it would be foolish for us to understate the advantages of community, social capital, and societal togetherness. Alexis de Tocqueville, for example, said that associations are “stronger and more formidable than a simple individual can be.”

A new eye-opening study from the peer-reviewed journal Nature affirms his point. The study, which breaks down social capital into three categories — economic connectedness, social cohesion, and civic engagement — found that children have a much greater chance of being upwardly mobile if they reside in communities with high levels of “economic connectedness.” Economic connectedness (EC) refers to the integration of people from different economic backgrounds. The study concludes that levels of EC vary depending on one’s geographical residence. Impoverished inner-city areas, for example, have remarkably low levels of EC, since most residents occupy the same socioeconomic stratum. Conversely, an area with a healthy combination of high-income and low-income residents increases the odds of economic success for low-income individuals.

In social-capital literature, economic connectedness would fall under the category of “bridging.” Bridging, though, can take place only when people go out of their way to interact and socialize. This often requires individuals to venture outside of their comfort zones. Thus, another key component of bridging is that it facilitates the integration of people who normally would not associate with each other.

This study strengthens the argument for a more Tocquevillian America, as opposed to one characterized solely or mostly by a liberal (in the purely classical sense) ethos. It is not the only such study. Alan Ehrenhalt, contributing editor to Governing Magazine and author of The Lost City, has written passionately about the dangerous effects of the decline, over the past couple of decades, of American community life. Other conservatives, such as William Schambra, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, have written extensively about the importance of local associations and what Robert Putnam has called “we-ness.” We should listen to them.

What Buckley called the “libertarian” streak is an essential part of the American character. But it must be counterbalanced by a complementary communitarian streak. What we need right now is a synthesis of these two aspects of America’s unique identity.

Economy & Business

If Inflation Cools, What Is the Republican Plan B?

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy listens to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speak to reporters at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 12, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The inflation crisis, which has caused significant stress for Americans, has been a political gift for Republicans. It has been a major contributor to President Biden’s awful approval ratings, it has boosted GOP prospects of retaking power, and it’s provided them a ready way to deflect any questions about Donald Trump or January 6. It has also relieved the pressure for them to come up with any sort of governing agenda.

But all Republicans should be asking themselves: What is Plan B if inflation cools? What is their message? What tangible policies would they like to see implemented were they to regain control of Washington?

To be clear, I am not joining the media chorus in declaring the inflation crisis prematurely over. It would be irresponsible to attribute too much to one report showing inflation flat month over month. The fact that inflation was flat in July still means that prices are higher than they were in May, and 8.5 percent higher than they were last summer.

Also, a deeper look at the numbers shows that food inflation was up 1.1 percent in July after going up 1 percent in June. That means not only did food costs go up again, but the rate of increase was faster. The big driver of the flat month-over-month report was that oil prices started coming back down, and the broader energy category actually declined 4.6 percent. Another way of looking at this is that it means that it took nearly a 5 percent decline in energy over the course of a month just to keep inflation flat, with overall prices still at elevated levels relative to even a few months ago. There’s a question of what the floor is for the current decline in oil prices. As soon as oil hits one, more and more goods will have to start to fall to tame inflation. Furthermore, even if inflation were to settle at around 4 or 5 percent annually, it would still be much higher than we’ve been used to in recent history, and especially bad if accompanied by a Fed-induced recession. So, there are plenty of reasons to believe that we are not out of the woods.

That having been said, we’re about two years out from the 2024 political conventions. That’s a long time, and there is of course the possibility of the optimistic case of inflation easing as the effects of Covid start to cycle out, and of the economy having a relatively soft landing.

If that is the case, it’s a challenge to really see anything resembling a Republican agenda — on taxes, health care, entitlements — or much of anything else. There is an overall zeitgeist among conservatives surrounding various cultural issues, woke capitalism, Big Tech, the “deep state,” and so on. But that has not yet been translated into clear policy goals, and certainly not any policies that would resemble any sort of consensus among Republicans.

On health care, an issue I have focused on more than any other, we saw the damage that this sort of policy vacuum could create. Republicans spent seven years being clever about scoring daily messaging victories against Obamacare, used its problems to regain control of Washington, but never did the hard work of agreeing on what they wanted to do on health care instead. And so, once they were in a position to do something about Obamacare, they ended up with nothing. And now Democrats have retaken power and expanded Obamacare.

Simply put, Republicans need a Plan B.

Education

Today in Capital Matters: IRS and Student Loans

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I write about Janet Yellen’s unconvincing mathematics in her letter to the IRS commissioner about the agency’s new funding:

If Democrats truly want to increase tax enforcement only on a tiny sliver of the highest-earning citizens, they did not need $80 billion and 87,000 new IRS employees to do it. At best, if they keep their word, there will be a whole lot of fresh IRS employees with not a lot of work to do.

Jon Hartley of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity write on alternatives to student loans:

Major changes in federal policy toward student debt have been in the news recently, chiefly with the Biden administration considering some amount of student-loan forgiveness. Meanwhile, very quietly, a more innovative, free-market solution to the student-debt crisis is being attacked. The Biden Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been cracking down on income-share agreements (ISAs), an innovative solution popularized by Milton Friedman in a 1955 essay titled “The Role of Government in Education” that ultimately made its way into Friedman’s 1962 classic, Capitalism and Freedom. With income-share agreements, students have to pay back a fraction of their future earnings over a fixed amount of time, as opposed to the case with traditional student debt where students often have to pay back a fixed amount of debt payments.

Fortunately, in early August, bipartisan legislation, known as the ISA Student Protection Act, was reintroduced in the Senate by Mark Warner and Chris Coons, two Democrats, along with Todd Young and Marco Rubio, two Republicans. The legislation seeks to combat the Biden administration’s overreach in this area by providing a regulatory framework for such ISAs to exist without regulatory uncertainty and to take steps to eliminate predatory practices by lenders. By providing guardrails such as limits on how high ISA rates can be, the legislation in return exempts ISAs from usury laws and other state regulation, as well as from federal-agency regulation by the CFPB.

And David Bahnsen talks to Steven Teles of the Niskanen Center about political economy. You can listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Politics & Policy

Continuing the Conversation about ‘National Conservatism’

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(rozbyshaka/Getty Images)

Earlier this summer, the Edmund Burke Foundation released a statement of principles outlining the tenets of “national conservatism.” Accompanying the statement was also a list of signatories expressing agreement with its principles. Amid a resurgence of the ever-present debates within conservatism, the statement has attracted considerable attention. It has also provided an occasion for what Heritage Foundation president Kevin Roberts and Intercollegiate Studies Institute president John A. Burtka IV called the “urgent and honest debate” that has always been an essential part of conservatism. In this spirit, then, it is worth looking at four recent appraisals of the statement.

Let’s begin with Henry Olsen, Washington Post columnist and senior fellow at EPPC. He is sympathetic with several national-conservative tenets, such as openness to greater government involvement in domestic life and skepticism of excessive devotion to free markets. He nonetheless believes that the statement lacks fealty to American principles:

The national conservative statement never mentions the idea of human or natural rights. Indeed, it implicitly rejects the core American notion when it claims that each nation “should chart its own course in accordance with its own particular constitutional, linguistic, and religious inheritance.”

The document makes specific statements about the signatories’ belief in limited government, self-government and recognition of minority beliefs. Its avoidance of any clear statement that the citizens of those nations have rights that a just government must recognize to be legitimate, however, sunders those beliefs from any firm grounding. They become mere preferences, which a national majority can ignore in the self-proclaimed national interest. Black Americans whose ancestors lived in the Jim Crow South understand the fault of that thinking.

If a nation’s “particular inheritance” is not democratic, for example, then a self-governing nation could legitimately form a nondemocratic government — much as Russian President Vladimir Putin openly draws inspiration from his nation’s despotic, czarist past. National conservative principles would apparently have nothing to say against these tyrannical pursuits . . .

The national conservative effort to effectively write the Declaration out of American nationhood is manifest. It cites the Constitution and lifts language from it, but never does the same for the Declaration. It contends that “all men are created in the image of God” but says nothing about being created equal. Indeed, though it frequently praises nations and liberty, it never states the basic truth of human equality, which is the starting point for America’s founding principles.

Olsen therefore finds the statement and the principles it outlines “wanting.”

David Tucker, a senior fellow at the Ashbrook Center, makes a similar critique in Law & Liberty. Tucker notes the appearance of several individuals affiliated with the Claremont Institute in its list of signatories, and wonders how compatible national conservatism is with the principles of Harry Jaffa, the political philosopher on whose thinking (and by whose students) the Institute was founded. Jaffa, Tucker notes, “fought traditionalist conservatism relentlessly, since in the United States it was associated with slavery, and above all because it rejected the principles of the Declaration of Independence.” Yet the statement seeks to ground itself primarily in tradition, and in the Constitution, not in the Declaration. By this metric, Tucker argues, national conservatism falls short — again, for neglecting the Declaration:

Some of the policies of national conservatism are compatible with those derived from the Declaration, but on fundamental principles, we must conclude, national conservatism and the Declaration are opposed. Furthermore, without the guidance of the Declaration’s principles, the preferences of national conservatism have no inherent tendency to oppose religious oppression or discrimination. The statement of principles does not hesitate to quote from the Constitution and cite it as an authority, but American slaveowners could do the same thing. What saved the Constitution, through Lincoln’s statesmanship, was its connection to the Declaration.

“There is nothing good that national conservatism aims to achieve,” Tucker concludes, “that cannot be achieved through the prudent application of the principles of the Declaration of Independence.”

Also writing for Law & Liberty, Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, similarly questions the national-conservative orientation toward religion. Tooley finds portions of the statement’s assertions on religion “manifestly true,” as when it notes the importance of belief in God and both the moral and the civilizational value of the Bible. He considers the section that deals with religious questions “brief but potent.” But he has questions about the nature of the statement’s desire to instantiate explicitly Christian principles in public life. Such as:

Does this section [of the statement] call for the state establishment of Christianity? It does not say so explicitly but arguably implies it. What does it mean for “public life” to be rooted in Christianity? What does it mean for the state to “honor” Christianity’s paramountcy? How should non-Christian private institutions “honor” Christianity? Is this expectation to honor Christianity mandated by law or upheld by social custom? If Jews and other non-Christians are “protected” to practice their faith in their own communities, is their religion then subordinated in public life by law or by custom? And if adults are protected from “religious or ideological coercion” in their private lives, are their public lives potentially subject to coercion, legal or social, in favor of Christianity?

He adds that:

Incorporating Christianity specifically into a political manifesto, especially in America, is vexing. For two centuries, religion in America has not rested on state power. Its vitality, and its failures, are its own doing. Any revival of Christianity in America, or anywhere, depends on persons and communities, apart from government, seeking God through faith, prayer, and a thirst for holiness, with acts of mercy and love.

Tooley concludes that “public life in America will become more ‘rooted in Christianity’ and transcendence only if American Christianity itself experiences a revival.”

American Institute of Economic Research distinguished fellow in political economy (and National Review contributor) Samuel Gregg also has thoughts about the statement. Gregg was a participant in the very economic forum that Roberts and Burtka described as an example of the kind of debate conservatives have long had. Writing for the National Interest, Gregg finds some of the statement’s principles, meant as criticisms of libertarians too skeptical of government at home and of neoconservatives too enthusiastic about American involvement abroad, somewhat familiar. He considers the statement’s rejecting “any transfer of sovereignty to international organizations” a “commendable” view, but also notes that “it doesn’t represent any departure from post-1950s American conservatism which has long expressed skepticism of institutions with pretensions to transnational sovereignty.” He also sees familiar conservative touchstones in the statement’s opposition to the administrative state and support for the rule of law and federalism, though considers it odd that federalism is “prescribed as a type of concession to experimentation and freedom at the level of states rather than characterized as one of America’s fundamental contributions to Western constitutional thought.”

The true novelty of the statement, in Gregg’s view, is in economics. Though the statement “affirms free enterprise and private property and rejects socialism,” its other provisions on this matter amount to what Gregg calls a kind of “state capitalism,” involving industrial policy, the state picking economic winners and losers, and the like. About this, Gregg has serious doubts:

Leaving aside all the well-documented problems with industrial policy — the opportunity costs, how it is invariably captured by rent-seekers, the notorious difficulty in establishing causality between particular economic outcomes and specific industrial policies, to name just a few — there is no recognition of industrial policy’s documented failures in country after country after country, not to mention the ways in which it inflicts real political damage upon nations that deploy it.

That makes it somewhat ironic that the National Conservative statement’s economic reflections end with a condemnation of crony capitalism. For if there is anything that we know about industrial policy, it is that it breeds the cronyism that infests places like Washington, DC, and its surrounding environs.

Gregg concludes that the statement “provides few answers” to important questions about what it actually wants, and about the possible contradictions in its aims. Such as, for example, “Who will implement the interventionist policies designed to serve the general welfare if not the administrative agencies that the national conservatives say they want to curtail?”

These are only a few parts of the important conversation occasioned by the release of this statement of principles. Conservatism, properly understood, will benefit from the continuation of this conversation.

Law & the Courts

Whose Nuclear What?

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FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

There are, as I discussed yesterday, three major possibilities in the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago:

  1. They genuinely went in looking just to reclaim classified documents improperly retained by Donald Trump and were genuinely surprised that Trump reacted by making a big public issue of the search;
  2. They got tricked into doing so by an informant who was working for Trump or fed information by Trump’s people in order to create this controversy; or
  3. They were using classified records as a pretext to search for material on some other issue — most likely January 6–related information.

Judging by the reaction thus far by Merrick Garland and in the leaks pouring out of the Justice Department and the FBI, it seems most unlikely that a pretextual search — if one was intended — was successful. Instead, the DOJ and the FBI are in damage-control mode, trying to convince the public that a search limited to classified records was necessary and legitimate. The vaguely menacing explanation that emerged was published through leaks to Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, Perry Stein, and Shane Harris of the Washington Post:

Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence on Monday, according to people familiar with the investigation. Experts in classified information said the unusual search underscores deep concern among government officials about the types of information they thought could be located at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and potentially in danger of falling into the wrong hands.

Trump, predictably, calls this a “hoax,” which tells us nothing: That’s what Trump would say if it were true, and it’s what he’d say if it was a gigantic lie. But . . . what exactly does “relating to nuclear weapons” mean? Much of the immediate reaction has assumed that this means something on the order of “Trump has the schematics to build a nuke” or “Trump is giving away our nuclear firing codes” or something. Historian Michael Beschloss compared Trump to the Rosenbergs, who were executed for handing over U.S. nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union when it was trying to catch up to us in nuclear capabilities early in the Cold War:

The Post offers no information and couches the possibilities in terms that suggest that its writers have no idea what kind of information they’re talking about:

Material about nuclear weapons is especially sensitive and usually restricted to a small number of government officials, experts said. Publicizing details about U.S. weapons could provide an intelligence road map to adversaries seeking to build ways of countering those systems. And other countries might view exposing their nuclear secrets as a threat, experts said.

Whose nuclear secrets matters quite a bit, and so does what sort of information we’re talking about. In both cases, the reader is asked for blind trust. You never know with Trump, but the most irrational possibility is Trump having retained information on American nuclear capabilities. Whereas the thing that is most likely to cause political alarm in the Biden administration is Trump retaining information bearing on the nuclear ambitions of Iran or North Korea. Given the extensive track record of, yes, anti-Trump hoaxes that were originally run up the flagpole through anonymous leaks to the press — remember Alfa Bank, or the Afghan bounties story? — it would be prudent to wait and see on this one.

Law & the Courts

The Downside for Garland in Speaking

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A.G. Merrick Garland speaks about the FBI’s search warrant served at former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Washington, D.C., August 11, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

I did a post late last night (or was it earlier this morning) regarding Attorney General Merrick Garland’s short press statement on Thursday.

With more time to think about it and additional information coming in from various places, I still think there is some advantage for the Justice Department in having the AG break protocol and make remarks. Coverage on the Trump-friendly side is amusing this morning if you understand where we’re at. It is running with “Trump demands release of the warrant.” I don’t understand why you would demand that someone else release something that it’s been completely within your power to release.

Trump has had the warrant and the inventory of items seized since the FBI executed the search on Monday. He doesn’t need court permission to publicize it. He could have done that at any time. He could do it this very moment and at least be able to say that he did it before the court did it. He only started to “demand release of the warrant” when Garland said that the DOJ would ask the court for permission to unseal it — which Garland only did because Trump was talking about the search but withholding the warrant . . . while some people close to Trump were suggesting to media allies that he hadn’t seen it, and that the FBI might have flouted their legal obligation to provide Trump’s representatives with a copy of it.

All that said, however, there is a downside for Garland in speaking.

What people most wanted to hear from the AG yesterday was why it was supposedly necessary to proceed with a highly intrusive, historically unprecedented search of a former president’s home at this point. Was Trump uncooperative? Did the DOJ ask him for something he refused to provide? Did the DOJ issue a subpoena that he refused to comply with? Did something happen between the last time the DOJ officials met with Trump and his team in June that created an emergency requiring an unprecedented search warrant in August?

And is Garland sure that the materials in Trump’s possession are classified?

Last night, the Washington Post claimed that Trump had retained top-secret nuclear-weapons intelligence. The report relies on anonymous sources whom the paper does not even claim are agents involved in the investigation. Trump has denied it (“Nuclear weapons is a hoax, just like Russia, Russia, Russia was a hoax”). Let’s assume for argument’s sake, though, that what the government is leaking is true. Sure, it would be humiliating for the former president if his defense is that he declassified precious national-defense secrets just so he could keep them at his house as a cool souvenir. But humiliation is very different from criminal misconduct.

For the Justice Department to obtain a search warrant, it needs a crime. The obvious crime here would be mishandling highly classified information. Yet, if Trump declassified documents while he was still president, then they no longer constitute classified information that he could criminally mishandle. It would be totally understandable that the Justice Department and intelligence agencies would want the physical information back, but getting it back by search warrant requires probable cause of a crime, not a demonstration of governmental prudence.

This is important. There is a good deal of reporting about Trump’s having likely violated the Presidential Records Act. But the PRA is not a criminal statute. Violating it may be illegal, but it’s not criminal.

That doesn’t make the PRA irrelevant. I believe the Justice Department would take the position that, once the agents had a valid warrant to search for classified information, the PRA would justify their seizure of any government records (on the principle that agents are not required to turn a blind eye to illegality just because it is not covered by the search warrant). Indeed, to repeat myself, I don’t believe this escapade is about classified information — at least not primarily; I believe the FBI and the DOJ are fishing for evidence that could help them make a January 6 case against the former president. But regardless of whether I am right about that, the fact remains that they need probable cause of a crime to get a warrant, and under the circumstances, we must presume that the relevant crime is the mishandling of classified information.

Of course, here, the suspect just happens to have been the one official in all of government who could declassify whatever information he chose to declassify. Even if the information at issue is highly sensitive, top-secret, “special-access program” intelligence, it would not be classified if he declassified it.

So here is what people are interested in: Did Trump do something hostile or uncooperative which left Garland no reasonable alternative but to seek a warrant — something worth blowing up a 230-year norm of not using hardball investigative tactics against a former president of the United States? And is Garland sure there was probable cause of a crime here that justify the issuance of a search warrant?

If Garland had made no statement, we would assume affirmative answers to these questions. We would assume that he just wasn’t explicitly providing such answers because (a) the DOJ does not speak publicly about investigations, and (b) he got a magistrate-judge to sign the warrant, so he can bank on the court’s finding of probable cause.

But he did speak. If you’re going to speak, you’ve got to address the questions that actually matter to people. He didn’t.

In the meantime, Trump is speaking. He says he cooperated with the FBI and the DOJ and is stunned that, after two months of silence, they suddenly went to DEFCON 5 with a warrant to rifle through his home. When Garland speaks but does not refute, or even attempt to refute, what the former president has said publicly, it is reasonable for people to deduce that he is not in a position to rebut Trump’s claims.

One final, related point. The more one thinks about it, the more incredible it seems that the White House knew nothing about this. The Justice Department — in particular, those leaking on its behalf — speaks as if the issue here were the peril the nation would be in if the intelligence in Trump’s possession fell into the wrong hands. That’s not a law-enforcement problem; it’s a national-security problem. Even if Biden were right that he must never “interfere” in the Justice Department’s work (and he’s constitutionally illiterate on this point because the Justice Department exercises his power as his delegate), we are not talking here about political interference in the administration of justice. We are talking about the defense of the United States from hostile forces. That is one of the president’s main duties — probably his most consequential and solemn duty.

So how does Garland not tell Biden? How does Biden not call Trump, behind the scenes and without political noise, and beseech him to cooperate in returning and safeguarding this intelligence, regardless of whether Trump had already declassified it? How does Biden not call, say, Senator Lindsey Graham and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and say, “Look, he listens to and trusts you guys. Go down there and talk to him. Get him to help us get this stuff back where it belongs. Let’s not turn this into a debacle.”

I can think of a million things they might have done short of a search warrant. But I can’t think of a single scenario in which, if the facts are as government sources claim they are, Biden would not have been in the loop.

Politics & Policy

Even If You Think Trump Was Wronged, It Doesn’t Mean He Should Be President Again

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(Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Back during the shock-jock radio era, Howard Stern was highly effective at channeling listener resentment toward his own benefit. The way to send a message to the FCC, the rest of the media, and all the other people you hated, was to listen to his show, buy his books, and see his movie. Donald Trump successfully employed the same strategy to boost his political career, as there was no better way to stick it to the elites than to make him president.

The FBI’s action in Mar-a-Lago has once again created a rally-around-Trump effect. As I wrote yesterday, the news reestablished Trump as the alpha dog among Republicans by putting him at the center of the controversy that has been animating the base. Republican voters who take the cynical view toward the FBI’s search of his residence may be tempted to believe that the ultimate way to give the middle finger to the deep state is to get behind Trump.

But even if one believes that he is wrongly being targeted as part of a politically motivated witch hunt, it does not necessarily follow that he would be the best nominee for Republicans in 2024.

The question of his suitability for a second term relative to the other options open to Republican primary voters should be treated as a distinct one from whatever you believe about the FBI raid.

Religion

NYT Publishes Catholic Writer, Outrage Ensues

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(aaron007/Getty Images)

In today’s “Nobody Is Allowed to Hold Views at Variance with My Own” essay, Molly Olmstead demands in Slate: “Uh, Can the NYT Please Not Treat Catholic Reactionaries as a Fun Sexy Trend Story?” The gist of the piece is that the Times is wrong to let a First Things editor publish a piece that is sympathetic to conservative Catholics. Seriously, that’s pretty much it.

Olmstead asserts, with no obvious support: “There’s no denying the influence the religion has had in shaping the country: Just look at its role in the reasoning of the justices who overturned Roe v. Wade.”

Really? What role would that be? The Dobbs decision is pretty plain in its argument: The Roe Court was not engaged in jurisprudence at all, but in lawmaking. The tender concern for democracy in Dobbs is not exactly 100 percent consistent with historical Catholic priorities.

Read it for yourself and see if you can tell me where the covert popery is to be found:

Like the infamous decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, Roe was also egregiously wrong and on a collision course with the Constitution from the day it was decided. Casey perpetuated its errors, calling both sides of the national controversy to resolve their debate, but in doing so, Casey necessarily declared a winning side. Those on the losing side—those who sought to advance the State’s interest in fetal life—could no longer seek to persuade their elected representatives to adopt policies consistent with their views. The Court short-circuited the democratic process by closing it to the large number of Americans who disagreed with Roe. . . .

Without any grounding in the constitutional text, history, or precedent, Roe imposed on the entire country a detailed set of rules for pregnancy divided into trimesters much like those that one might expect to find in a statute or regulation. . . . Roe’s failure even to note the overwhelming consensus of state laws in effect in 1868 is striking, and what it said about the common law was simply wrong. Then, after surveying history, the opinion spent many paragraphs conducting the sort of fact- finding that might be undertaken by a legislative committee, and did not explain why the sources on which it relied shed light on the meaning of the Constitution. As to precedent, citing a broad array of cases, the Court found support for a constitutional “right of personal privacy.” . . . But Roe conflated the right to shield information from dis- closure and the right to make and implement important personal decisions without governmental interference. . . . None of these decisions involved what is distinctive about abortion: its effect on what Roe termed “potential life.” When the Court summarized the basis for the scheme it imposed on the country, it asserted that its rules were “consistent with,” among other things, “the relative weights of the respective interests involved” and “the demands of the profound problems of the present day.” . . . These are precisely the sort of considerations that legislative bodies often take into account when they draw lines that accommodate competing interests. The scheme Roe produced looked like legislation, and the Court provided the sort of explanation that might be expected from a legislative body.

For the 10,000th time: The fact that there are opinions in opinion journalism is not a license to ignore the facts of the case.

U.S.

Butler’s Midwestern Fish Folly

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Fish Rack with dried fish (Lutefisk) (AmyDreves/Getty Images)

In response to What Is the Midwest?

Jack Butler wrote recently about the challenges and intricacies of defining the Midwest. Ultimately, he found that the freshwater walleye fish is the most decisive metric, though even the worthy fish is an imperfect gauge. For my money, the Midwest can best be established by its relationship with waterways combined with its status as a stronghold of free states preceding the Civil War. From these two points, there can be drawn ethnic, cultural, and religious similarities that stay near-consistent across a thousand-mile span. 

Any American land within about 150 miles of the Great Lakes should be considered Midwestern, with the Mississippi river beginning the West — sorry, Iowa. Central Europeans and Scandinavians decamped from their native lands, crossed the Atlantic entering the Great Lakes chain, and found the soil of their adopted land good and useful. 

These settlers de-stumped and de-stoned acres upon acres with their neighbors and established churches and schools that preached and taught in their native tongues — likely without permits and EPA oversight. Drive through the countryside of Wisconsin or Michigan, and one can tell by the denominations and architecture whether the Dutch or the Polish farmed the surrounding land. Because of this immigrant sedimentation, upstate New York closely resembles Minnesota and all places in-between. 

Just as crucial to the Midwestern self-conception as immigrant farmers and loggers is the relative progressivism that saw them vociferously maintain their status as free states decades before the Civil War — Wisconsin going as far as to tell the federal government where to stick its Fugitive Slave Act. It’s no accident that the anti-slavery Republican Party began in Ripon, Wis., and that Abraham Lincoln was an Illinois boy. Religious distaste for slavery, as well as a Protestant emphasis on a personal work ethic that sickened at the decadent plantation model, made the chattel-slavery system of the South an unpalatable proposition to the small farms dotting the brooding forests of the Midwest. 

Ultimately, the Midwest defies state lines just as it does certainty — mainly on account of Midwesterners being too polite to tell places such as Missouri that they don’t count. It’s an amorphous blob of cultural and religious tradition extending from the East and traveling parallel to the Great Lakes, taking the route of French fur traders and generations of Europeans thereafter. What I can tell you is that it’s where casseroles and hotdish are synonymous, lutefisk is unironically served, and “yeah, no” means “no.” Yeah? 

Politics & Policy

Of ‘Turncoats’ and ‘Show Trials’

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With all due respect to Armond White, it is the people who attacked the government of this country on January 6 who are the turncoats, not the people investigating that assault. To call the January 6 hearings “show trials,” calling to mind the Stalinist festivals of brutality, is foolish and irresponsible.

As for Kevin Costner, it is true that movie stars sometimes say ill-considered things about politics. Movie critics, too.

Woke Culture

History Goes Woke

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Most academic fields have succumbed to some degree to leftist demands that scholarship and teaching be reoriented toward its obsessions (race, power relations, equality, “marginalized” groups, etc.). One that has gone furthest is history, where “woke” considerations now pervade almost everywhere.

A good piece of evidence is the American Historical Review, and, in today’s Martin Center article, David Randall of the National Association of Scholars looks into its most recent issue to see what it foretells.

Randall writes, “To begin with, a transcript of American Historical Association president Jacqueline Jones’s recent conference address reviews similar speeches by previous AHA presidents. Her judgment repeats the self-satisfied conclusions of the new historians: that the old historians were narrow-minded white men who delighted to write about other white men (pp. 3, 7-8) and that the new history is ‘inclusive’ (p. 2) and thus superior. Jones’s ‘inclusive’ history dovetails with a perception of current events that aligns remarkably well with every talking point of the Democratic party (pp. 1, 24, 27-28) and with an unselfconscious embrace of radical advocacy. Her presidential address dedicates the historical profession to the political agenda of the new radical establishment.”

In short, she means to transform history. What will be covered in the future will be those things that support the “progressive” view that our past has been one of unmitigated misery, calling for radical change in the present.

Randall proceeds to briefly discuss the other articles in the issue. They’re all aligned with Jones’s view of what good history writing should do. All contain large amounts of leftist theory and speculation surrounding a scanty structure of facts.

Students thinking of going into history should beware — if they aren’t sufficiently “woke,” they’ll have a hard time in the new environment of history.

Randall concludes, “All told, the AHR is tendentious and trivial. It possesses some historical value, but it is a sad register of the decline of the American historical profession.”

Education

Sex Education

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I have a piece in the latest issue of the magazine about how parental rights demand parental responsibilities.

Woke Culture

Episcopal Church Endorses ‘Gender-Affirming’ Mutilations of Children

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(AlxeyPnferov/Getty Images)

The Episcopal Church has endorsed “gender-affirming care” at all ages, including mastectomies and “bottom” surgeries that sterilize and cause sexual dysfunction. From the Episcopal House of Deputies Resolution:

Resolved, that the 80th General Convention calls for the Episcopal Church to advocate for access to gender affirming care in all forms (social, medical, or any other) and at all ages as part of our Baptismal call to “respect the dignity of every human being”; and be it further

Resolved, that the 80th General Convention affirms that all Episcopalians should be able to partake in gender affirming care with no restriction on movement, autonomy, or timing; and be it further

Resolved, that the 80th General Convention understands that the protection of religious liberty extends to all Episcopalians who may need or desire to access, to utilize, to aid others in the procurement of, or to offer gender affirming care; and be it further

Resolved, that this 80th General Convention supports public policies at the local, state, and national levels in all our countries to support gender affirming care.

This means puberty blockers that can impede proper bone growth and hormones that can have deleterious side effects that have not been fully studied. Castration of boys who believe they are girls. Destroying the vaginas of girls who believe they are boys.

This, at a time when major medical-negligence lawsuits are soon to be filed in the U.K. against Tavistock Gender Clinic because it did not properly protect children from exactly the interventions the Episcopal Church has endorsed, as health authorities in France, Finland, and Sweden are hitting the brakes on this awful approach to caring for children with gender dysphoria, not to mention the bitter testimonials of detransitioners furious that they were not protected from such actions by doctors and parents.

The Episcopal Church believes it is being affirming of human dignity, when it is endorsing actions that really entail the opposite. Children have to be protected — even, sometimes, from themselves.

Thoughts on AG Garland’s Remarks

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Attorney General Merrick Garland refuses to answer questions after speaking about the FBI’s search warrant served at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate during a statement at the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C., August 11, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE A ttorney general Merrick Garland decided to make a statement about the Don’t You Dare Call It a “Raid” in Mar-a-Lago.Clearly the statement wasn’t planned: It was abruptly announced, he ran several minutes late in scrambling to get started, spoke for maybe five minutes, and took no questions.

Some thoughts.

1. The slapdash nature indicates that Garland is reacting, which is never a position the Justice Department wants to be in. Law enforcement likes to be on offense and doesn’t do defense with aplomb. In part, the AG is reacting to former President Trump’s public statements — more on that in a moment.

Yes, Her Emails

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Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters following the 2016 presidential election in Manhattan, November 9, 2016. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

“If you’re talking about Hillary Clinton right now,” an old friend of mine wrote on Twitter, “you clearly have no argument.”

Unfortunately for every American, Hillary Rodham Clinton is very relevant right now.

Listen, I am no one’s idea of a Trump fan. I didn’t vote for him. And I believe strongly that he should have been convicted by the Senate in January 2021 and shot into outer political darkness for his assault on the Constitution and his complicity in the assault on Congress.

But anyone — either on the anti-Trump left or the Trump-skeptical right — who thinks that the FBI and

Elections

Americans Want Abortion on the Ballot: Are Republicans Up to the Task?

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Yard sign urges residents to vote on an amendment to Kansas’ constitution that would assert there is no right to abortion in Wichita, Kan., July 11, 2022. (Gabriella Borter/Reuters)

According to a new poll released on Wednesday by Ipsos/USA Today, 70 percent of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, would favor voting on an abortion ballot measure at the state level. A total of 1,018 adults were interviewed for the poll, 70 more Democrats than Republicans.

The poll asked, “If there was a ballot measure in your state to decide abortion rights, would you vote in favor or against making abortion legal?” Fifty-four percent of Americans would vote to keep abortion legal while only 28 percent would vote against abortion legality, according to the poll.

Seventy-six percent of Democrats said they support abortion legality as did 52 percent of independents and 34 percent of Republicans. Only 10 percent of Democrats are against abortion legality, 27 percent of independents, and 54 percent of Republicans.

The poll also asked, “When you think about abortion, which of the following is closest to your personal opinion?” Twenty-eight percent said they believe abortion should be legal in all cases while 32 percent believe it should be legal in most cases. Meanwhile, 9 percent believe abortion should be illegal in all cases while 28 percent believe it should be illegal in most cases. 

The poll was conducted after Kansans voted against a constitutional amendment on August 2 that would have said that nothing in the state constitution establishes a right to abortion, with 58.8 percent voting “No” and 41.2 percent voting “Yes.”

This November, voters in four states — Kentucky, California, Vermont, and Montana — will be deciding policies regarding abortion.

Following their defeat in Kansas, pro-life Republicans may have something to worry about. The GOP and pro-life activist groups such as Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and Live Action need to devote their resources to Kentucky and Montana, where they may have a chance of success.

This means there must be less time spent on the defensive, such as responding to Democrats’ ludicrous claims that pro-life laws will criminalize miscarriages and prevent women from getting treated for ectopic pregnancies, and more time devoted to exposing Americans to the gruesome and cruel realities of abortion.

World

‘Correct Understanding of China’: Another Chinese Diplomat Advocates ‘Reeducation’ of Taiwan

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Chinese Ambassador Xiao Qian speaks at Australia’s National Press Club, August 9, 2022. (ABC News (Australia)/YouTube)

China’s ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, strongly suggested that Beijing aims to “reeducate” the Taiwanese population, seeming to endorse remarks that another Chinese envoy made last week.

Xiao addressed Australia’s National Press Club on Wednesday, offering standard Chinese Communist Party rhetoric on Taiwan and hinting at future military aggression targeting the country. He told reporters there that China would “never rule out” the use of “all necessary means” to bring about the “peaceful reunification” of Taiwan. The word reunification is the party’s preferred euphemism with which to refer to a takeover of the island; Taiwan has never been ruled by the CCP-controlled People’s Republic of China. That was a stark threat, in light of Beijing’s heightened military activity in the Taiwan Strait this month.

Xiao’s comments also stand out because they hint at what Beijing plans to do to Taiwan’s 23 million inhabitants after the democracy’s potential absorption by the communist regime.

Last week, China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, said during two separate interviews that Beijing would implement a “reeducation” of Taiwan’s population after the party achieves reunification; his use of that phrase drew international condemnation, as it sounds similar to Beijing’s use of language regarding its brutal policies intended to destroy the Uyghur ethnicity in Xinjiang.

Pressed by a reporter to confirm whether post-reunification “reeducation” is an official Chinese government policy, Xiao denied having read about Lu’s remarks or such an official policy, emphasizing that Taiwan’s residents are Chinese citizens. He did not deny that there could be such a push.

“My personal understanding is that once Taiwan is reunited, coming back to the motherland, there might be a process for the people in Taiwan to have a correct understanding of China,” he said.

When the reporter asked if that reeducation process could resemble the Xinjiang camps, Xiao said, “I’d rather not use the word reeducation” and pushed back on the idea that the two topics are related.

“The people in Xinjiang are also Chinese citizens, and they receive education in school, in colleges, in universities about China, about their motherland. That’s pretty normal,” he said.

Politics & Policy

Can We Criticize Soros?

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Jamie Kirchick writes a smart piece in Tablet about how Democrats have decided that all criticism of George Soros is coded antisemitism.

The argument that the mere mention of the name “Soros” is tantamount to antisemitism, which is effectively the position of the progressive political, media, and activist elite, is made entirely in bad faith. Stating the plain and observable fact that some prosecutors are “Soros-backed” is no more of an attack on Jews than the broadcaster Soledad O’Brien’s warning to “full-time Florida residents,” an antisemitic dog whistle about God’s waiting room. If the mind of a Soros supporter, upon hearing his name, races immediately to an image of a “Jew,” and one who serves as a stand-in for “the Jews,” it’s probably not the motives of the critic that need questioning.

To which I would only add that I bet a significant number of people who hear the rhetoric about “Soros-backed” prosecutors have no idea that George Soros is Jewish.

There are ways of criticizing Soros that do play with antisemitic tropes. But noting his extraordinary intervention into American justice is not one of them.

Politics & Policy

Manchin Net Favorable Rating Drops 29 Points after Reconciliation Deal

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) attends the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 1, 2022. (Al Drago/Pool via Reuters)

Senator Joe Manchin’s favorable ratings are in free fall since striking a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass the reconciliation bill.

Earlier, Charlie flagged a YouGov poll finding that just 12 percent of Americans believe the bill, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, would actually reduce inflation.

But the polling for Manchin is also brutal. It finds that 51 percent of registered voters now have an unfavorable opinion of him, compared to just 21 percent who have a favorable view. In the same poll last month, Manchin was nearly even, with 34 percent favorable and 35 percent favorable.

That means that in a matter of a few weeks, Manchin’s favorability dropped a net 29 points! And there’s no way that can be attributable to anything other than his public support for the Democrats tax, spend, Obamacare expansion, and IRS audit bill.

To be clear, this is not a poll of his home state of West Virginia, and it is unclear whether Manchin will even run again when he is up for reelection in 2024.

But it does undercut the idea that this bill is broadly popular and will give Democrats a big boost in November.

In fact, it’s looking more politically toxic by the day.

Politics & Policy

Another NYT Attempt to Cast Normal Conservative Views as ‘on the Fringes’

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Arizona Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters speaks during former President Donald Trump’s rally ahead of Arizona primary elections, in Prescott Valley, Ariz., July 22, 2022. (Rebecca Noble/Reuters)

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a piece by Blake Hounshell titled “How a New Class of Republicans Could Push America to the Right.” Some of these candidates have endorsed Donald Trump’s baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen, but Hounshell’s article does not dwell on that. It focuses instead on what he casts as their extreme conservative positions on other issues. But on those issues, there’s very little in the article, if anything, that suggests a substantive departure from conservative orthodoxy.  

On climate change, the article cites Republican Senate candidates such as Mehmet Oz, running in Pennsylvania, and Herschel Walker, running in Georgia, making some silly and uninformed comments about the science of global warming. I tend to think those comments are just that — silly and uninformed — but they do not represent a substantive break with the GOP’s traditional position on climate policy. 

On education, the article cites Republicans such as Eric Schmitt, running for the Senate in Missouri, floating “the idea of getting rid of the Education Department and reallocating the money in block grants to states instead.” But that, too, has been a conservative policy ambition for some time — none other than Ronald Reagan campaigned on closing down the agency. Hounshell acknowledges as much, and points out that Reagan “didn’t succeed in doing so despite serving two terms as president.” Yet he says that today’s Republicans “go further.” As far as I can tell, the goal of eliminating the department is pretty much the same. Where, exactly, is the rightward shift?

On same-sex marriage, the Times points to the opposition of Blake Masters, running for Senate in Arizona, while noting that several Republican Senate candidates “have expressed their opposition to same-sex marriage in . . . muted terms.” The GOP’s policy platform, as it stands today, still opposes same-sex marriage. What’s more, the article cites Senator Ron Johnson’s plans to vote for the Democratic bill codifying gay marriage when it comes to the Senate. If anything, the “muted” opposition to same-sex marriage expressed by some Republicans, and the active support for it expressed by others, represents a significant leftward movement on the issue.

Perhaps most notably, on abortion, the Times reports that Republicans such as Kari Lake, running to be Arizona’s governor, Masters, and Doug Mastriano, running to be Pennsylvania governor, support bans on abortion without exceptions for rape and incest. That’s a pretty standard pro-life position. While many Republicans support rape and incest exceptions, some of them for political reasons, the philosophically consistent pro-life view holds that unborn children have a right to life regardless of the nature of their conception: Even if the child was conceived by an act as horrific and evil as rape, the child is innocent. The Times notes that ​​Masters “has also raised questions about whether Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court decision granting couples the federal right to use contraception, was correctly decided — but he does not support a ban on contraception.” That, too, is standard conservative jurisprudence. One can believe that the constitutional argument for Griswold was unconvincing while also opposing a ban on contraception. Yet the Times is unwilling — or unable — to draw distinctions between a preferred policy outcome and the constitutional merits of a particular case.

Politics & Policy

California’s ‘Safe Injection Site’ Experiment

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A worker holds a tray and injection kit at an injection site for addicts in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

The California state senate and house this week passed Senate Bill 57, which would permit drug users to safely inject or smoke drugs while at supervised facilities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland. Senate Republicans all voted “no” on the bill. State senate Republican leader Scott Wilk said the bill was “one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation that I’ve seen sent to the governor.” S.B. 57 now heads to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk.

If the bill becomes law, the three cities would be able to maintain safe-injection sites until 2028. Drug users could inject themselves with drugs they bring to the sites. The sites would be staffed by employees trained to monitor drug users and would offer sanitized supplies; staff would make referrals to substance-abuse treatment programs. Those enrolled in the safe-injection-site program would get immunity from professional discipline, civil liability, and current criminal laws because of good-faith behavior and compliance with the program. However, users would not be allowed to exchange illegal drugs with other users at the sites.

The injection sites are intended to prevent overdoses on drugs such as fentanyl, methamphetamine, and heroin as well as guard against the transmission of diseases such as hepatitis and HIV. It is a pricey endeavor — the sites could cost millions to operate annually. California has seen a large increase in overdose deaths recently. Los Angeles County had a 48 percent increase in accidental drug-overdose deaths during the first five months of the Covid pandemic compared to the same time period in 2019. San Francisco had 297 accidental overdose deaths from January to June 2022. 

Progressives have pushed for the embrace of safe-injection sites, which they view as compassionate policy. Some studies do suggest that these safe-injection sites will lead to fewer overdoses and HIV infections. However, the evidence does not appear conclusive by any means. Safe-injection sites do not have a good track record of directing drug users toward treatment and recovery; in some cases, referral rates are as low as 1 percent. In 2017, five cities around Seattle passed local ordinances prohibiting safe-injection sites, demonstrating that there is opposition to these programs even in progressive areas. Common sense suggests that providing safe-injection sites will incentivize drug abusers to continue using. If addicts believe they can shoot up safely, they will have less of a reason to try to stop. Common sense also suggests that a better policy would be to help users of potentially deadly drugs into treatment.

Will Newsom sign S.B. 57 into law? It’s not guaranteed. He may realize that, while this effort may be driven by good intentions, it will likely have deleterious consequences.

Politics & Policy

Very Simple Question

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Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Delaware, Ohio, April 23, 2022. (Gaelen Morse/Reuters)

Why isn’t Donald Trump making a bigger deal of the search of Mar-a-Lago?

Every Trump fan in my life thinks this was a big moment in American politics. And almost every non-Trumpy conservative thinks this was a huge moment and that the FBI needed to have something more serious than a matter with the National Archives to justify going about its business this way.

I would have expected lurid descriptions of how the FBI tossed one of the most famous residences in America. And yet for now, Trump seems to be missing his own moment. Maybe there is less here than meets the eye?

Film & TV

Vengeance

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I saw the new movie Vengeance a week or so ago. It’s a dark comedy — written and directed by a guy from The Office — about a New York writer who gets dragged into a family drama in Texas. The set-up is implausible, and the characters annoying and clichéd. But as the plot proceeds, they become richer and more likable, and by the end, the movie really delivers. I’d definitely recommend seeing Minions: The Rise of Gru first, or maybe twice, before going to Vengeance, but it’s interesting and funny.

Politics & Policy

Re: Alpha Dog

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I’m completely with Phil, who writes on the home page today on how the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago helps Trump.

I wrote my Politico column about the same thing today:

The episode and its fallout show how Trump — off of Twitter and out of office — can still blot out the sun. The magnitude of the controversy and attention he generates is beyond what anyone else, even the brightest stars in the party, can hope to match.

Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended a woke county prosecutor who pledged not to enforce laws that he opposed. For a couple of days, this felt like a big deal. DeSantis was denounced as a strongman by his enemies and celebrated as a brave champion of law and order by his allies. Yet, compared with the action at Mar-a-Lago, the firing was a picayune dispute over county government — local theater compared with Broadway; Hollywood, Florida compared with Hollywood, California.

Politics & Policy

Bad News for Democrats: Hispanics Are Patriotic 

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Another good post by Ruy Teixeira on how Democrats got Hispanics wrong:

In retrospect, it seems clear that Democrats, in fact, seriously erred by lumping Hispanics in with “people of color” and assuming they embraced the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer. This was a flawed assumption. In reality, Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly an upwardly mobile, patriotic population with practical and down to earth concerns focused on jobs, the economy, health care, effective schools and public safety.

Media

Why We Talk about Miscarriage Differently from Abortion

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Pro-abortion rights activists protest outside the Supreme Court building, ahead of arguments in the Mississippi abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

An op-ed in the New York Times last week asked the question, “Why Do We Talk About Miscarriage Differently From Abortion?” aimed at legitimizing elective abortion by comparing it to miscarriage.

The immediate answer to this question is obvious to those of us considering it sincerely rather than using it merely as a means of justifying elective abortion. A miscarriage takes place when an unborn child dies spontaneously, whereas abortion directly and intentionally kills an unborn child.

The reason for the attempted conflation is likewise obvious. The authors label both miscarriage and abortion different forms of “pregnancy loss” in an effort to imply that, for various reasons, some pregnancies just don’t happen to work out, thus obfuscating the essential difference between a child’s spontaneous death and a child’s death brought about on purpose by someone’s active choice to kill him. (A related issue is abortion supporters’ recent promotion of the lie that D&C procedures — used both in elective abortions and to treat women after they’ve suffered a miscarriage — will no longer be allowed in cases of miscarriage once pro-life laws are in place. In fact, no pro-life law in the country prevents doctors from using a D&C procedure to remove a child who has died due to miscarriage; what’s disallowed is using a D&C to intentionally kill a living unborn child.)

Though the authors evidently posed this question in an effort to justify elective abortion, it’s actually a fair question considered from another angle. Why does our culture speak about miscarriage and abortion differently when it comes to the matter of recognizing what — or, rather, who — is lost in both instances? When parents suffer a miscarriage, they are likely to receive a great deal of sympathy; most people recognize with sadness the loss of the unborn child who parents never got to meet. But when a woman has an abortion, we are meant to pretend that she’s doing nothing more than eliminating a “clump of cells” or a “parasite,” or making a routine health-care decision that has nothing to do with any loss of human life. In this way, our society’s acceptance of elective abortion has actually undermined our ability to recognize and mourn the loss of miscarriage, because abortion promotes the notion that a pregnant woman isn’t a mother at all necessarily and that the human life growing inside her might not be that valuable after all.

Elections

There Are Blow-Outs, and Then There’s What Liz Cheney Is about to Experience

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Unless there’s something shocking going on that no one is picking up, Liz Cheney is far behind in her primary and losing ground. Of course, she made her decision that this wasn’t important to her long ago, and maybe the bigger the blowout, the better for her legacy as a lonely crusader against the tide in her party. But every indication is that it’s going to be ugly:

Politics & Policy

Pelosi’s Proxy-Voting Boondoggle Has Nothing to Do with Covid

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) answers questions during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., August 10, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

NR’s Diana Glebova reports that Nancy Pelosi has extended Covid-era proxy voting for the House . . . again:

Nancy Pelosi extended proxy voting for the House on Tuesday, continuing the pandemic-era rule until late September, despite numerous members of Congress using it as an excuse to go on vacation and campaign for reelection.

The extension until late September was proclaimed due to a “public health emergency” caused by Covid-19, the speaker of the House said in a letter to her colleagues.

As Diana notes, “A host of representatives were caught misusing the pandemic rule to go on vacation or to campaign for reelection while Congress was in session. Some of the lawmakers have used proxy votes several hundred times since it’s been enacted, including Pelosi’s fellow Californian, Eric Swalwell.”

As I wrote back in March, this is a continuing (mostly) Democratic boondoggle that has nothing to do with public health and everything to do with politics:

“No one has benefited more from the arrangement than Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” the New York Times reported. “It has allowed Ms. Pelosi, whose majority is so slim that she can afford to lose no more than four Democrats if every member is present and voting, to all but ensure that absences alone do not cost her pivotal support.” According to a CNN analysis of Congress from January to July 2021, 73 percent of House Democrats utilized proxy voting at least once, in contrast with just 37 percent of House Republicans.

The proxy-voting provision, which allows for “virtual hearings, markups, and depositions . . . with Members participating from any location,” “was originally set to expire after 45 days, but it has been continually extended by House Democratic leadership — first through the end of the 116th Congress, then again through the end of 2021,” I wrote. “In a body where the vast majority of its members are vaccinated, any Covid-related justification for proxy voting is an insult to the American people’s intelligence. What’s more, the Senate has never implemented remote voting, despite the fact that the average senator is four years older than the average representative.” 

When it comes to the border, Democrats tell us the pandemic is over — that’s the rationale for the push to end the pandemic-era Title 42 provision “that turned away asylum-seekers to prevent the spread of Covid,” as NR’s editors wrote in April. But Covid is still very much with us insofar as it allows Pelosi to squeeze as much juice as possible out of her slim House majority. Go figure.

Media

The New York Times Misleads on Kansas Pro-Life Defeat

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The New York Times Building in New York, June 29, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

Last week’s defeat of the “Value Them Both” amendment in Kansas — which would have reversed a state supreme court ruling finding a right to abortion in the state constitution — has had mainstream-media commentators swooning. Pundits claim the results demonstrate strong support for permissive abortion laws, even in conservative states, as well as that efforts to use direct democracy to protect the preborn in other states are doomed to fail.

Interestingly, when abortion wins at the ballot box, commentators are quick to argue that such elections are politically important and portend future victories for legal abortion. But the media typically ignore pro-life political wins or claim that such victories are the result of gerrymandering, luck, or mere circumstance.

Perhaps the most flawed analysis of the Kansas election results was authored by Nate Cohn and in the New York Times blog “The Upshot.” Cohn claims that based on the results in Kansas, we can determine that voters in only seven states would support an amendment similar to “Value Them Both.” Cohn’s exact methodology is unclear, but he appears to predict how a similar amendment would do in other states based on public attitudes toward abortion. Since “Value Them Both” received only 41 percent support in Kansas, he argues that a similar amendment would succeed only in states whose pro-life sentiment is at least nine points higher than in the Sunflower State.

Cohn and other pundits are reading too much into the results of one election. Research on direct democracy suggests that many factors affect the success or failure of ballot questions, including the exact wording of the question, the timing of election, the presence of other ballot questions, and fundraising and spending on both sides of the question.

Additionally, data from other states reveal issues with Cohn’s analysis. In 2020, the Louisiana ballot contained a constitutional amendment similar to “Value them Both,” making it explicit that the state constitution does not contain a right to abortion. Cohn’s model predicts that such a ballot question would receive only about 55 percent of the vote in Louisiana. However, the amendment actually was approved by more than 62 percent of the voters. Similar constitutional amendments were approved by voters in Tennessee in 2014 and voters in Alabama in 2018. In both cases, public support for the measures exceeded Cohn’s predictions.

Furthermore, there were a number of circumstantial reasons why the particular amendment in Kansas was defeated. For one thing, it was drafted well before the Dobbs decision was handed down, and the pro-life organizers in favor of the measure likely failed to anticipate the onslaught of outside money and publicity. The wording of the amendment was somewhat confusing, and post-Dobbs media coverage of life issues has been more biased and partisan than ever. All of these factors played a role in the amendment’s defeat.

Propositions pertaining to abortion are likely to be on the ballot in five other states this fall. Separate ballot questions in California and Vermont would place the right to an abortion in their respective state constitutions. These will be difficult for pro-lifers to defeat. However, a proposed amendment to place a right to “reproductive freedom” in the Michigan constitution provides a unique opportunity for pro-lifers. Fifty years ago, pro-lifers won an unexpected victory in the Wolverine State when they resoundingly defeated Proposal B, which would have legalized abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. History may well repeat itself in 2022. As always, pro-lifers would do well keep up the fight.