White House

Oh, Good — More ‘You Didn’t Build That’-ism!

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President Joe Biden speaks about his $2 trillion infrastructure plan in Pittsburgh, Pa., March 31, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Joe Biden says: “Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country. And unions built the middle class.”

Like so much that comes out of President Biden’s mouth, this is part dishonesty and part stupidity. If you think investment didn’t build this country — and many cases, literally build it — then you are . . . very possibly a doddering old goofus who was never very bright to begin with.

But the claim about unions is worth looking at. Did unions build the middle class?

Consider that before the New Deal, very few Americans belonged to a labor union. The number was around 5 million in the 1920s and declined to about 3 million in the 1930s. And few of those unionized workers were employed in big industrial concerns such as steel or automobiles. They were mostly in craft unions.

Are we to believe that the United States did not have a middle class until 16 decades after the revolution? That is preposterous.

Given how much of the middle class’s wealth takes the form of equity in real estate — along with stocks held in retirement accounts — how central the financial-services industry has been in making that happen, and how few private-sector workers belong to a union, I think Wall Street has a better claim to having built the middle class than the union goons do.

And I’m pretty sure the Vanderbilts have built more infrastructure than the Bidens have.

Immigration

Ahead of Joint Session Speech, GOP Rep Pans Biden’s ‘Foreign Policy Blunder’ at the Border

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A family of migrants cross the Rio Bravo River to turn themselves in to U.S Border Patrol agents to request asylum in El Paso, Texas, seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, March 30, 2021. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee called President Joe Biden’s handling of the border “the biggest failure of this administration.”

During an interview with National Review on Wednesday evening ahead of Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress, Representative Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who serves as the committee’s ranking member, discussed his expectations for the speech and reflected on the president’s handling of foreign affairs in his first 100 days in office.

Essentially, it’s been a mixed bag. Although he accused the White House of taking the “partisan route” on COVID relief, infrastructure, and, now, a healthcare-and-education plan announced this morning, he praised the administration’s efforts to engage Congress on foreign policy. “Secretary Blinken and Jake Sullivan sort of day one reached out. They’ve been in very close communication about what they’re doing,” he said, also giving the administration credit for rallying U.S. allies in Europe to confront China and for trying to have “a tough meeting with China in Alaska.”

He was more critical of the White House’s refusal to impose sanctions on entities involved in the Russia-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline and on its efforts to reenter the Iran nuclear deal: “We really warned them not to lift these sanctions before they get concessions from the Iranians.”

But the Texas Republican reserved his harshest criticism for the Biden administration’s revocation of Trump-era migration agreements with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

“I call it a foreign policy blunder because from day one, the president rescinded the Remain in Mexico policy and the Asylum Cooperation Agreements, which, regardless of what you think about Trump — and I think that’s why he rescinded them is just because it had Trump’s name on it — these policies were actually working,” he said.

The Biden administration revoked the agreements in February, arguing that they put asylum seekers in danger as they awaited rulings on their claims. Instead, top officials have advocated an approach to addressing “the root causes” of migration, an initiative headed by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Under those agreements, migrants who appeared at the Southern border to declare asylum could be asked to stay in Mexico or wait in a Northern Triangle country as their claims were processed. Proponents of the policies said that they effectively deterred potential asylum seekers with weak claims from making the dangerous journey to the border. During an interview with National Review in March, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that implementing Remain in Mexico “was to turn off the magnet.”

McCaul attributes the recent influx of migrants at the Southern border to the decision to do away with the agreements. “It’s not a seasonal thing as the Democrats will tell you. It’s direct cause and effect and the reversal of policy,” he said. “It was self-inflicted.”

“I don’t think the president’s going to talk about that much tonight because obviously it’s where he polls the worst, and they don’t want to go to the border because the optics are so bad.”

Going forward, McCaul expects further opportunities for cooperation between Hill Republicans and the administration on China, particularly on securing America’s supply chains and on responding to the Uyghur genocide.

He also expressed concern about a New York Times report that U.S. climate envoy John Kerry disclosed information about Israeli strikes on targets in Syria to Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, though he stopped short of calling for the former U.S. secretary of state to step down.

“I find that odd, that he would meet with an adversary nation’s foreign minister and cultivate a relationship, even after he’s out of office, much less divulge allegedly classified information regarding Israel’s activities,” he said.

“So not the best record. We will be watching that one very closely.”

Immigration

The Pause That Refreshed

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An immigration officer administers the oath during a swearing-in of newly naturalized United States citizens in a parking lot in Santa Ana, Calif., July 29, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

I’m afraid Henry Olsen erred in a recent column about a draft document by the aborted America First Caucus. (Ramesh referred to Olsen’s column in making a different point than mine.)

Olsen wrote that the caucus draft had “a warped, nativist view of America” because it praised the assimilative benefits of past “pauses in immigration.” He arrived at this conclusion because, “the 1924 quotas and similar quotas passed in 1917 and 1920 are the only examples of legally enforced immigration ‘pauses’ in U.S. history,” and those pauses were based on national-origins quotas that preferred northern Europeans over others.

I have no “windows into men’s souls,” as Queen Elizabeth I put it, so maybe the author(s) of the draft do have “a warped, nativist view of America,” but the evidence Olsen provided does not support such a stark conclusion.

I think we can all agree that selecting immigrants based on national origin is an idea best left in the past (though it lives on in today’s egregious green-card lottery). But just because the legislation that effected the 1924–65 immigration pause was flawed doesn’t mean the pause itself was bad policy. As with the natural pause in immigration from the French and Indian War until the Irish Potato Famine, the 20th-century slowdown in immigration was indeed “absolutely essential in assimilating the new arrivals,” as the draft said. And it was a slowdown, not a shutoff; we took 7.3 million legal immigrants in the 40 years from 1925 to 1965, but during the prior four decades, we’d taken more than triple that, 23 million, and badly needed to dial back on new arrivals.

That pause allowed for what Washington had described as the mark of a successful immigration policy: “by an intermixture with our people, they, or their descendants, get assimilated to our customs, manners and laws: in a word, soon become one people.” It pulled both whites and blacks from the backward areas of the South into the dynamic modern economy of northern cities, unified us for the trials of depression and war, and made possible a broadly shared post-war prosperity.

The immigration pause especially improved the condition of black workers. The black-run magazine The Messenger wrote in 1925 that the immigration cut “also gives the Negro worker a strategic position. It gives him power to exact a higher wage . . . on the one hand, and to compel organized labor to let down the bars of discrimination against him, on the other.”

That improvement contributed to the eventual success of the Civil-Rights movement, ironically leading to the passage of the 1965 immigration law that did away with the national-origins quotas that Olsen rightly decries. But the supporters of the 1965 law saw it almost exclusively as a civil-rights change; i.e., it was intended only to clean out the discriminatory elements of immigration law without increasing the number of immigrants. Even Jack Kennedy, the moving force for what became, after his death, the 1965 law, wrote in his politically influential book A Nation of Immigrants that we should keep the immigration pause in place but merely change the mechanism for selecting immigrants:

We no longer need settlers for virgin lands, and our economy is growing more slowly than in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. . . . [My proposals] will have little effect on the number of immigrants admitted . . . The clash of opinion arises not over the number of immigrants to be admitted but over the test for admissions.

Of course, it didn’t work out that way — the 1965 law kick-started an even larger immigration wave than the 1848–1924 one. And 56 years later, we need another pause, one that avoids the mistakes of a century ago, but delivers the same benefits. In the words of then Senator Jeff Sessions, “What we need now is immigration moderation: slowing the pace of new arrivals so that wages can rise, welfare rolls can shrink and the forces of assimilation can knit us all more closely together.”

Nothing “warped” or “nativist” about that.

Politics & Policy

Tim Scott, the GOP’s Joyful Warrior

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Senator Tim Scott (R., S.C.) speaks about his new police reform bill during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 17, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

In the summer of 2018, I spent a day on Capitol Hill with Republican senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who this evening will be delivering the GOP response to President Joe Biden’s address before Congress.

The result of my reporting was a long profile piece, digging into Scott’s unusual background and the strange road that led him to the U.S. Senate. Here’s some of what I noticed about him at the time:

During the era of Donald Trump, Scott’s willingness to criticize the president — coupled with his emphasis on a constructive politics rather than one of racial division — has put him on the radar of many at home in South Carolina and in the nation’s capital. But his ability to sell a solidly conservative agenda with an authentic bipartisan spirit makes him a much more promising politician than his relatively low profile would suggest.

In the summer of 2016, for example, as a debate over police violence and shootings of African-American men ravaged the country, Scott gave a deeply personal speech on the Senate floor. As he does to this day, Scott preferred to stay out of the limelight, but at this national turning point, he related several stories of having been targeted by police since becoming a lawmaker.

As recently as 2015, Scott said, he had been stopped by a Capitol police officer, even though he was wearing his member’s pin. “The officer looked at me, full of attitude, and said: ‘The pin, I know. You, I don’t. Show me your ID,’” the senator explained. “I’ll tell you, I was thinking to myself, either he thinks I’m committing a crime — impersonating a member of Congress — or what?”

It wasn’t the first time a Capitol officer had stopped him to make a similar inquiry. What’s more, during just one year as an elected official, Scott was stopped seven times by law enforcement while driving. The vast majority of those encounters, he said, were the result of “nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood, or some other reason just as trivial.”

It was a landmark moment for the senator. Not only did he praise police officers and note that improper use of violence was rare — echoing the Right’s general line — but he also echoed the concerns of many on the left. For Republicans inclined to dismiss complaints about unequal racial treatment, Scott’s stories were a force to be reckoned with. That day on the floor, Scott showed himself an able communicator, a measured conservative, and a man capable of teaching the Right and reaching the Left by being honest about his life, recognizing that his race mattered while avoiding the toxic, fatalistic conclusions of those who peddle identity politics.

That same spirit enabled Scott to work with President Trump to get his “opportunity zones” legislation through Congress early in his presidency. It also enabled Scott to play a key role in the legislative debate last summer over police reform, offering a major conservative proposal to alter policing practices — though Democratic politicians refused to support his efforts or work on a compromise.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned about Scott when writing my profile of him was that he had long planned to become a minister, until he was nudged in a different direction.

When I asked him if he thought he might find his way into the ministry after retiring from politics, he had this to say: “One day I do see myself, as I exit politics, spending time looking for ways to promote and encourage the human soul, whether in an organized part of the faith movement or just as a spokesperson for the eternal values that have made a difference in all of human history.”

I described him at the time as “a politician with the heart of a minister,” a lawmaker who can connect with individuals and communicate real compassion rather than talking points.

“I thought perhaps that the Good Lord would be able to use the passion that I have for making a difference in a place where ministering would not be the primary call,“ he told me, “but where sharing the same love and compassion for people, with a long view — which is what leads me to be a conservative — would be necessary.”

It will be interesting to see how Scott handles his remarks this evening. It’s a huge opportunity for him to showcase what conservatism has to offer a country bitterly divided, politically polarized, and riven by racial unrest. I can think of no better Republican to speak to this moment.

World

The Biden Admin Discounts Lab-Leak Theory amid New WHO Push

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Outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology, February 2021 (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The Wall Street Journal has a report on the U.S. government’s efforts to shape the next phase of the investigation into COVID-19’s origins. Following a joint World Health Organization–China panel’s report issued in March, officials are hoping to steer the international inquiry in a more productive direction, apparently to “build on” the study and reveal “gaps within the team’s analysis.”

Why the Biden administration wants to build on such a clearly flawed investigation is anyone’s guess. China has previously refused to provide the data that the Biden administration will request WHO to demand from Beijing.

Worse, the framing of the administration’s efforts to shape the WHO investigation reportedly ignores the implication of a key State Department fact sheet issued by the Trump administration on January 15 about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which alleged that researchers there came down with a respiratory illness in fall 2019, before the first known COVID cases were confirmed in December, that WIV hosted research on bat coronaviruses similar to COVID-19 years before the outbreak, and that WIV has “engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.”

The investigation’s deficiencies were apparent to everyone from the start, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who expressed “real concerns” about Beijing’s role in drafting the resulting study. Upon that report’s release, the U.S. and 13 other countries released a joint statement voicing concerns that it was “significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.”

Unsurprisingly, the panel endorsed findings in line with the Chinese Communist Party’s narrative on COVID. The study considered four scenarios that could have led to the virus’s emergence, ranking them from most likely to least. Two different such theories about COVID’s transmission from wild animals to humans filled out the top of the list, followed by the possibility that it arrived in China on imported frozen-food packaging. Finally, the joint study called the lab-leak hypothesis “extremely unlikely,” all but dismissing that theory.

Critics warned that the WHO-China panel elevated the frozen-food theory, which has been pushed by the Chinese foreign ministry, without any evidence for it. By asking the WHO to request that Beijing substantiate its theory, the Biden administration hopes to expose it as fiction.

It makes, however, some questionable assumptions about the lab-accident hypothesis. The WSJ also says that Washington will ask the agency to seek data on illnesses that occurred at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in fall 2019 and frozen blood samples. The officials who spoke to the Journal were clear, though, that they would not demand a closer look at the lab-accident theory, despite WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s calls for “further investigation” of a possible lab release, in a statement dissenting from the WHO report. Even though U.S. government experts believe that lab leak could have been the start of the pandemic, the Biden administration reportedly “doesn’t currently intend to press” for more investigation into the possibility because it would take a whistleblower’s cooperation to prove the existence of a lab accident at this point.

But the Biden administration and the WHO don’t need to apply such a high burden of proof to make crucial policy determinations on the basis that supporting coronavirus research in China poses a significant risk.

Senior administration officials have apprehensively confirmed the fact sheet’s findings on a few occasions, but they’ve done so while warning that the Trump administration “put spin on the ball” when the document was issued. But former deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger told CBS in February that officials were careful not to say that the document’s revelations about WIV pointed to any single explanation. The fact sheet is clear: “We have not determined whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan, China.”

That language is as careful as recent statements by Biden’s own spy chiefs refusing to rule out the lab-leak explanation: CIA director William Burns and Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, told a Senate committee this month that these two possibilities are still in play. They also said that the intelligence community disagrees with the WHO-China study’s assessment that the explanation is extremely unlikely.

Both theories rely on circumstantial evidence, and a lab leak might even be more compelling. Jamie Metzl, an adviser to the WHO, put the point succinctly during a 60 Minutes segment in March. In order for the virus to have leapt to humans directly from an animal population, he said, “You would have had an outbreak, perhaps in Southern China where they have those animal farms. You may have seen some kind of evidence of an outbreak along the way.” The explanation doesn’t make geographical sense, and, like the lab-leak theory, there’s nothing that proves it outright.

The ample circumstantial evidence raised by the State Department’s fact sheet should be enough for the Biden administration to call greater attention to a potential lab leak and to demand transparency about the Chinese military’s research at WIV. But this new push for transparency gives that plausible explanation short shrift.

White House

Biden Did Not Inherit the ‘Worst Economic Crisis Since the Great Depression’

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President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

The White House has released excerpts ahead of President Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress, and it includes this amazing claim:

100 days since I took the oath of office—lifted my hand off our family Bible—and inherited a nation in crisis. The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.

Had Biden taken office in April of 2020, he may have been able to claim the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. But claiming the economy was the worst in 90 years at the time he was sworn in has no basis in reality.

It’s true that last spring, the unemployment rate had hit 13.3 percent. But in January 2021, it had been cut in half, and was 6.3 percent. You don’t have to go back to the 1930s to find that kind of joblessness — the unemployment rate was higher than 6.3 percent for the first five years of the Obama-Biden administration.

It’s true that the economy contracted severely in last year’s second quarter. But in the third quarter of 2020, real GDP increased 33.4 percent. And in the fourth quarter — which concluded just before Biden took office — growth was 4 percent.

The economy has seen better days. But Biden took office when the pandemic was a few weeks past its peak, when the administration of two safe and effective vaccines had already exceeded a million a day, and when many states were starting to relax lockdown rules. It was not 1933.

Science & Tech

Stacey Abrams Must Have Read My Column

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A man stands in the main hall of the Internet Security Conference 2018 in Beijing, China, September 4, 2018. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

Late last week, I wrote about the paradox that is the modern Internet. On the one hand, I suggested, its lack of choke points and decentralized design means that any uploaded data can be made part of “a permanent archive, which, over time, [will] serve as a boon to historians and hoarders alike.” On the other, I noted that “because a number of the Internet’s core functions have been so aggressively centralized,” it is increasingly proving itself “to be a remarkably efficient machine for the rewriting of history.” At some point, I suggested,

physical copies of products such as newspapers, albums, movies, and video games will die out in favor of wholly ephemeral versions that are stored on remotely run servers and licensed with a key.

This matters, I submitted, because:

Pretty much everyone in the world has an incentive to change something about their history. Newspapers that make mistakes have an incentive to edit their pieces without acknowledgment; politicians who consider a given speech or appearance embarrassing have an incentive to erase it from the record; corporations that upset their customers have an incentive to make their mistakes disappear. Because people still make copies, because the Web thrives on hostile interaction, and because major events are still widely covered, it remains difficult for individual players to completely paint over the past. But it would be foolish to pretend that the digital age does not make such an endeavor easier than it has been at any other point in human history, and it would be foolish, too, to pretend that there are no examples of mass compliance with the revised narratives that result.

As Jack Crowe notes today, this also seems to have occurred to Stacey Abrams, who has managed to convince USA Today to let her write an “evolving” newspaper column:

USA Today, the quintessential middle-market American newspaper, allowed Stacey Abrams to substantially alter an op-ed criticizing Georgia’s new voting law, which was published prior to MLB’s decision to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta.

Abrams didn’t fix a few grammatical changes or spelling mistakes; she altered the message of the op-ed to protect herself from the charge that she encouraged MLB to pull out of Atlanta in an act of protest against the new voting law. In the original March 31 op-ed, Abrams wrote that she “can’t argue with” people who choose to boycott businesses in her state.

In the politically expedient second version, written after the Cobb County tourism board estimated that the move would cost area businesses $100 million in revenue, Abrams wrote that “Boycotts invariably cost jobs.”

“Instead of a boycott, I strongly urge other events and productions to do business in Georgia and speak out against our law and similar proposals in other states,” she wrote.

Not only did the editors at USA Today allow Abrams to rewrite her op-ed, they didn’t even append a note making readers aware of the revision until two weeks after the changes had been made — and only after a prominent Republican consultant called them out on Twitter.

I rest my case.

Health Care

Once Again: It’s Not Florida That’s Cooking the Books, It’s New York

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D., N.Y.) speaks at an event in the Bronx, N.Y., March 26, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

It’s truly remarkable: Whatever Governor DeSantis is baselessly accused of doing, Andrew Cuomo or someone else seems actually to have done. From the New York Times this afternoon:

The effort by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office to obscure the pandemic death toll in New York nursing homes was far greater than previously known, with aides repeatedly overruling state health officials over a span of at least five months, according to interviews and newly unearthed documents.

Mr. Cuomo’s most senior aides engaged in a sustained effort to prevent the state’s own health officials, including the commissioner, Howard Zucker, from releasing the true death toll to the public or sharing it with state lawmakers, these interviews and documents showed.

A scientific paper, which incorporated the data, was never published. An audit of the numbers by a top Cuomo aide was finished months before it became publicly known. Two letters, drafted by the Health Department and meant for state legislators, were never sent.

The actions coincided with the period in which Mr. Cuomo was pitching and then writing a book on the pandemic, with the assistance of his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, and others.

There is no cover-up in Florida. It is a conspiracy theory with no basis in reality. In New York, however . . .

The full data on nursing home deaths was not released until this year, after a report by the state attorney general in late January found that the official tally might have undercounted the true toll by as much as 50 percent.

That was something Mr. Cuomo’s aides had known since the previous spring, The New York Times found.

Of course.

Media

The Living Op-Ed Is a Politician’s Dream Public-Relations Tool

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Stacey Abrams speaks to the crowd of supporters announcing they will wait till the morning for results of the mid-terms election at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta, Ga., November 7, 2018. (Lawrence Bryant/Reuters)

The op-ed genre received some attention in the self-referential world of journalism this week as the New York Times announced that it would retire the moniker in favor of the more explicit “guest essay.”

But a far more consequential piece of op-ed news — news that should matter to people outside of insular journalistic circles — managed to escape mainstream attention.

USA Today, the quintessential middle-market American newspaper, allowed Stacey Abrams to substantially alter an op-ed criticizing Georgia’s new voting law, which was published prior to MLB’s decision to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta.

Abrams didn’t fix a few grammatical changes or spelling mistakes; she altered the message of the op-ed to protect herself from the charge that she encouraged MLB to pull out of Atlanta in an act of protest against the new voting law. In the original March 31 op-ed, Abrams wrote that she “can’t argue with” people who choose to boycott businesses in her state.

In the politically expedient second version, written after the Cobb County tourism board estimated that the move would cost area businesses $100 million in revenue, Abrams wrote that “Boycotts invariably cost jobs.”

“Instead of a boycott, I strongly urge other events and productions to do business in Georgia and speak out against our law and similar proposals in other states,” she wrote.

Not only did the editors at USA Today allow Abrams to rewrite her op-ed, they didn’t even append a note making readers aware of the revision until two weeks after the changes had been made — and then only after a prominent Republican consultant called them out on Twitter.

Prior to MLB’s hasty decision to pull out of Atlanta, advocating for boycotts was a relatively low-cost way for Abrams to signal to her supporters that she was serious about the issue of voting rights. After MLB decided to relocate the All-Star Game to Denver — harming the black business owners and workers Abrams claims to be protecting — advocating for boycotts became politically costly.

So, rather than admitting she was wrong and writing a new op-ed reflecting this change in thinking, she simply rewrote history with the aid of the editors who run the largest-circulation paper in the country.

The words of Stacey Abrams are not at this moment very consequential — she doesn’t currently hold political office, though she is a shoo-in for Democratic leadership if the octogenarians currently occupying those seats ever leave — but the fact that a paper with the reach of USA Today was willing to launder her historical revisionism should be very concerning.

If other papers follow suit, politicians will no longer be forced to stake out at positions and respond to changing circumstances, they will simply claim they always believed — and, in fact, previously wrote — whatever is politically convenient to believe that day.

As Charles Cooke observed, the Internet is no longer “forever” — it now lasts precisely as long as those in power wish it to.

White House

Biden Addresses Congress Tonight. Try to Contain Your Excitement

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks from the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 6, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Has there ever been a State of the Union address – pardon me, pedants, a joint address of Congress – that felt less important than this one? In large part because of the pandemic, this gathering was delayed to much later in the year. The Biden era has already seen its first big spending bill, its first cabinet-appointee derailment, its first major policy crisis on the border. We’re 100 days into the Biden presidency; there are about 1,300 days left.

For four straight years, we saw Donald Trump put aside his Twitter-raging, erratic, off-the-cuff persona, read a well-crafted script from the teleprompter, saluted great Americans, and sounded presidential. For four straight years, people like me generally liked it. And for four straight years, Trump quickly reverted back to his Twitter-raging, erratic, off-the-cuff persona. The state of the union came and went like a summer thunderstorm. The address had little to no effect on what Trump or the administration did, before or after. It was a brief, two-hour simulation of a normal presidency, before relapsing to the usual circus.

Peter Hamby said earlier today, “America has never cared less about an address to Congress. And that’s a good thing.” Maybe it’s a good thing, but it does raise the question of why we go through this each year. Yes, it’s constitutionally required, which is a good enough reason, but a written address would meet the requirement as well. The State of the Union – er, joint address of Congress — turned into just another political speech, usually twice as long as it needs to be, a laundry list of presidential wishes to Congress. The president’s party leaps out of their seats and applauds whether the president pauses long enough; the opposition party sits on their hands, unless the president’s line is sufficiently bipartisan or patriotic.

And whichever member of the opposition party gives the response to the State of the Union Address gets cursed. Good luck, Tim Scott.

If a president is going to get this kind of attention, on all the major networks in prime-time, he ought to say something new and big and consequential. Don’t just give us rehashed clichés and Whitney Houston-esque, “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.”

World

Where’s the Old Boris?

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference on the novel coronavirus in London, England, March 3, 2020. (Frank Augstein/Pool via Reuters)

What has happened to Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson? Now, Boris was never a social conservative in any meaningful way. Or at least, not a Christian one. He had the mind, appetites, and libido of a libertine classics professor. Quote Cataline and get the girl. Appalling, but a man with brio, and a larger sense of personal and political ambition, which is what politics in the West lacks. His predecessors genuinely thought about polls, whereas Boris genuinely moves beyond that and wants a place in people’s hearts before entering into the history books.

It was that man, the man of a big personality, who won a stonking majority and got Brexit over the line — and despite the best efforts of the political class.

But something about the COVID era has made him dour and boring, and his playful act now seems rude when it is not off-puttingly cloying. After playing a hard hawk on COVID, he would, one might think, shift gears during the United Kingdom’s success at vaccine invention, rollout, and distribution. He would let the economy loose, declare victory, and start the party again. And with his popularity, he would stave off Scot nationalism, and repair damage done to the Union with Northern Ireland.

Instead, he seems to be leaning into an appalling series of leaks, briefings, and outright sniping between advisers surrounding his fiancé Carrie Symonds, and those whose hearts are with Dominic Cummings, a former adviser who wanted to outsmart the technocratic establishment. And now he’s getting into a scrap about feathering his own Westminster bed with public funds. The Ambitious Alexander can get away with quite a lot. But Boring Boris is going to face niggling and not-so-niggling questions about his government’s ethics, and scrutiny about his fiancé’s influence.

World

Why Isn’t John Brennan in Prison?

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Former CIA director John Brennan listens during a panel in Manhattan, N.Y., September 4, 2018. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

This is John Brennan tweeting about Israel and Palestinian statehood. Now, I’m not an uncritical observer of Israel. But this tweet is a breathtaking expression of an attitude that is quite common in European circles and among Arabists at the State Department. It breezily takes the view that the Holocaust is a crime of ethnonationalism against the Jews, and therefore the response of Jews of building their own ethnostate is perverse in some way. The speaker thinks: Why can’t you be better liberals? But the thinking Zionist wonders: Why do you want Jews to be defenseless?

It’s also historically illiterate, as Zionism predates the Holocaust by several decades, and was part of a flowering of European nationalisms — German, Polish, Hungarian, Irish — as some nation-states consolidated and some traditional Empires began to break apart. Sometimes this phenomenon was interrelated in perverse ways. Polish nationalists often encouraged Zionism — peacefully, and violently — in order to make the new Polish state more Polish.

Then again, a history lesson is almost beside the point. John Brennan is giving moral lectures about what good liberals should do. This is like Jeffrey Epstein giving a lecture on the virtues of chastity and poverty. Brennan’s CIA spied on the U.S. Senate. That alone should be enough of an embarrassment to lead him out of public life forever. For years, Brennan acted as the “conscience” of Obama’s drone-warfare policy. He literally made the call, from safety, to bomb people based on their profiles: their age, sex, religion, ethnicity, and a handful of other observable activities. He also spent the past four or so years fulminating like a psychopath on cable television and social media.

Joy Reid Is Wrong about Outdoor Mask-Wearing

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Joy Reid on MSNBC, November 2, 2020 (MSNBC/Screengrab via YouTube)

Yesterday, I wrote about Tucker Carlson’s understandable frustration — one I share, to a considerable extent — with the continued prevalence of outdoor mask-wearing in big cities, but also suggested that his preferred methods for fighting back against this culture showed his frustration had overcome his common sense. But last night, MSNBC host Joy Reid gave an excellent example of why mask culture has started to drive people crazy. Here is a portion of her remarks, directed at a guest of her show:

I am among the fully vaccinated! Joined Team Pfizer. And I did go jogging today in the park.

White House

Biden Has a Lot of Soft Supporters

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President Joe Biden delivers an address from the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., March 11, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

In response to Party over Trump

One other thing jumped out at me from the NBC poll, Rich: While President Biden has a +14 percent approval rating, there are actually more respondents who “strongly disapprove” of him (33 percent) than “strongly approve” (29 percent). The president’s lukewarm supporters (24 percent) vastly outnumber his lukewarm opponents (6 percent).

By contrast, there weren’t many people who were “somewhat” positive or negative about President Trump by the end. In October, the same pollsters found 48 percent of people strongly disapproving and 35 percent strongly approving his job performance. There were more strong feelings on both sides, in other words.

Politics & Policy

Price Tag For Biden’s New Spending Now $46,321 Per American Household

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(webking/Getty Images)

As Phil Klein notes, Joe Biden’s two big spending proposals (one on infrastructure and one on social programs), combined with the “COVID relief” package he already passed, amount to $5.95 trillion in new spending — more than the entire pre-pandemic federal budget. Unfortunately, unlike the Bionic Man from the TV show that debuted back when Biden arrived in the Senate, the Six Trillion Dollar Man will not be “better, stronger, faster.” Biden’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of things his dad told him does not seem to have included the old fatherly staple, “Joey, money doesn’t grow on trees.” How do we put $5.95 trillion in context? I previously estimated the scale of Biden’s spending spree on a per-person and per-household basis. Now that we have updated figures, we can do that again.

The 2020 Census found 331,449,281 people in the United States — including children. Biden’s spending, if passed, would amount to $17,951.46 for every man, woman, and child in the country. The most recent Census estimate puts the number of U.S. households around 128,451,000 (that’s 2.58 persons per household, if you’re keeping score). Biden’s new spending — remember, this is in addition to the existing federal, state, and local budgets — comes to $46,321.17 for each and every household in the United States. That is over 70 percent of median household income. Biden wants to blow through 70 percent of the typical family’s annual income just in spending proposed in his first 100 days in office. Nothing remotely like this has ever been done in American history. If you were setting out to purposely bankrupt the country, I’m not sure what you would do differently.

Politics & Policy

Idaho Bans Abortions after Fetal Heartbeat Can Be Detected

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Women protest Georgia’s “heartbeat bill” at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Ga, May 7, 2019. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

Idaho has enacted a law prohibiting abortions after an unborn child’s heartbeat can be detected, which is usually possible at about six weeks’ gestation. Republican governor Brad Little has signed the Fetal Heartbeat Preborn Child Protection Act, making it a felony to perform an abortion after that point and punishing abortionists who violate the law with up to five years in prison.

The enactment of the heartbeat bill has made Idaho one of more than a dozen states to institute a law protecting unborn children after the point at which a fetal heartbeat can be detected using ultrasonography.

Beginning in 2019, a large group of states passed such bills, including Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee — a direct response from pro-life lawmakers to states such as New York, Virginia, Illinois, and Rhode Island, where Democratic politicians had passed or proposed legislation expanding access to elective abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

Earlier this year, South Carolina also enacted a heartbeat bill, which, like the heartbeat bills in these other states, was immediately blocked by a federal judge after facing a legal challenge from abortion providers and abortion-advocacy organizations.

In her order temporarily blocking South Carolina’s law while the challenge proceeded, Judge Mary Geiger Lewis argued that the plaintiffs would likely succeed in their claim that the bill is unconstitutional. Lewis asserted that “plaintiffs’ patients are likely to suffer irreparable injury absent a preliminary injunction.”

If the history of the past two years is any indication, Idaho’s heartbeat bill is likely to meet a similar fate before the month is out. While unsurprising, such an outcome is a harsh reminder that, under existing abortion jurisprudence, judges consider nearly all state limitations on abortion or regulation of abortion providers to be in violation of constitutional law.

Some pro-lifers argue that one of these states’ heartbeat bills might serve as a useful way to instigate a case that could travel to the Supreme Court, creating the vehicle through which the Court might reinterpret or overturn existing abortion jurisprudence such as Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and Roe v. Wade (1973) to allow states to regulate abortion or, in the view of some pro-life legal scholars, perhaps even to declare abortion unconstitutional.

In the meantime, heartbeat bills remain a valuable component of the pro-life movement’s essential cultural battle, which they must fight in tandem with ongoing legal and policy work, forcing the public to remember and acknowledge that each abortion ends the life of a distinct, living human being.

U.S.

‘The Great Outdoor Mask Debate’

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the administration’s coronavirus response outside the White House in Washington, D.C., April 27, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

This week on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Alexandra, and Jim discuss Tucker Carlson’s mask monologue, the CDC’s new masking guidelines, and Biden’s first 100 days. Listen below, or follow this podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, and Spotify.

Public Support for Gun Control Dropped Since 2018

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A man holds a Ruger revolver at the National Rifle Association annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., April 27, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

After 2020, I’m much more wary about polling than I used to be. Pollsters assured us and insisted that they had accounted for “shy Trump voters” or shy GOP voters or working-class whites who were less likely to talk to a stranger on the phone or all kinds of factors, so they wouldn’t have a rerun of 2016. And then last year, despite all those assurances, the majority of pollsters consistently overestimated Democratic performance at the ballot box all over again — particularly egregiously in Senate races in Maine and South Carolina. Earlier this month, five major Democratic pollsters conducted

Politics & Policy

Party over Trump

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I had missed this finding in the new NBC poll, but saw a reference to it in Josh Kraushaar’s latest column. When Republicans were asked whether they considered themselves more supporters of the Republican Party or of Donald Trump, 50 percent said the GOP, 44 percent said Trump. That’s still an extraordinarily high number for Trump, but he’s lost a little ground. In January, it was tied, 46–46. And last October, it was 54 for Trump, 38 for the GOP.

Fiscal Policy

Biden Classifies $200 Billion Obamacare Expansion as a Tax Cut

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks in honor of the 500,000 U.S. deaths from the coronavirus in Cross Hall at the White House, February 22, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

It should not come as a huge surprise that President Biden, in his latest massive spending proposal, wants to expand Obamacare by $200 billion. But what takes real chutzpah is his decision to classify that spending as a tax cut.

In the White House fact sheet on Biden’s latest $1.8 trillion spending proposal, there’s a section headlined “Tax Cuts for America’s Families and Workers.”

The first item is, “Extend expanded ACA premiums tax credits in the American Rescue Plan.” The translation of this is that the “COVID relief” package passed earlier this year included money to increase the subsidies that Obamacare offers to individuals to purchase insurance on a government-run exchange. Now, Biden wants to use this proposal as a vehicle to make them permanent. The document refers to this as a “$200 billion” investment.

But there is nobody who would receive a tax cut as a result of this $200 billion. It would merely help subsidize health-insurance premiums for those who qualified.

This spending category has been classified as spending by the Congressional Budget Office going back to Obamacare’s initial conception. It is deeply dishonest to call it a tax cut.

Fiscal Policy

Joe Biden: $6 Trillion Man

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House, Washington, D.C., April 14, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

President Biden has unveiled another $1.8 trillion government-spending package ahead of tonight’s joint session speech to Congress, bringing the total spending signed or proposed in his first 100 days to about $6 trillion.

Let’s see how we got here.

When Biden took office, he pushed a massive spending package as “COVID relief” even though only about 5 percent of the spending was directly related to fighting the pandemic. That cost $1.9 trillion.

Once that passed, he proposed another bill, pitched as infrastructure legislation, which was mostly made up of provisions that have nothing to do with infrastructure. The proposed price tag is $2.25 trillion.

Today, he has unveiled another grab bag of spending on other liberal priorities. Those include subsidized childcare, an Obamacare expansion, universal pre-K, and two years of free community college. The price tag for this one is pegged at $1.8 trillion.

Taken together, that would add up to $5.95 trillion, not including the interest payments on the national debt.

There will be plenty of time in the months ahead to debate the substance of the proposals. However, it’s worth keeping in mind how extraordinary this spending is.

It is not coming at a time of huge surpluses, but at a time when debt exceeds the annual gross domestic product for the only time in the nation’s history other than World War II. It’s coming as a flood of Baby Boomers are retiring and as health-care costs rise.

This is not a moderate agenda by Biden. It is a radical and reckless agenda.

Education

Why Has Higher Ed Become So Costly?

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(zimmytws/Getty Images)

Go back to the mid-’60s in America and you’d find that college didn’t cost so very much and hadn’t increased much over time. There were no articles bemoaning the “unaffordability” of getting a college degree and politicians were not promising to do something about the cost. Now, however, college costs are a huge issue. They have been rising much more than general inflation, and millions of graduates (also many students who didn’t graduate) are faced with big loan debts.

What happened?

A recent study by Neetu Arnold of the National Association of Scholars sheds a lot of light on that. In today’s Martin Center article, I reflect on her analysis.

What I find especially worthwhile in her study is the way Arnold connects the rising cost of attendance with the evidence of decline in learning among college students. Higher-education officials used to have to focus mainly on the traditional mission of college, namely to ensure that students received a high-quality education. But once the gusher of money began, they were free to pursue a host of other interests, including political activism.

And what accounts for that gusher of money? Arnold looks at the various excuses offered by the higher-ed establishment — that state politicians became cheapskates, that higher education suffers from a ‘cost disease’ and so on — and finds them unpersuasive. The one explanation that fits the facts is the “Bennett Hypothesis.” That is the argument offered by former Secretary of Education William Bennett that tuition started rising rapidly as a result of federal student-aid programs that put money in the pockets of students, provided that it was spent at accredited colleges.

Much of the increased cost of college is due, Arnold’s study shows, to administrative bloat. At many schools, administrative employees now outnumber the faculty. They’re paid very well to do jobs that have little or nothing to do with learning.

In short, college today costs a lot more and delivers less educational value due to government meddling.

U.S.

Fauci Reportedly Relaunched NIH Gain-of-Function Research without Consulting White House

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addresses the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, April 17, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, who has done invaluable work in calling attention to the possibility that COVID-19 originated in a Wuhan lab, broke some news during his appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience on Tuesday.

After laying out the circumstantial evidence that COVID originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), Rogin explained why Dr. Anthony Fauci, like many in the world of virology research, has a vested professional interest in downplaying the likelihood that so-called gain-of-function research — of the kind performed at the Wuhan lab — not only failed to prevent the ongoing global pandemic but actually may have played a hand in unleashing it.

“The Godfather of [gain-of-function virology research], the head of the pyramid, is a guy you may have heard of called Anthony Fauci,” Rogin said. “So, Anthony Fauci, the hero of the pandemic, is the most important person in the world of gain-of-function research there is . . . Basically, he is the one disbursing all the grants for this, he is the one who pushed to turn it back on after Obama turned it off, that’s another crazy story, he turned it back on without really consulting the White House.”

“He consulted the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which is part of the White House, but the White House put a pause on it and he undid the pause,” Rogin continued. “The details are a little sketchy. I’m not saying he did anything necessarily wrong or illegal, but I’m saying that a lot of people that I know inside the Trump administration had no idea that he had turned this back on. He found a way to turn it back on in the mess of the Trump administration because the Trump administration is full of a bunch of clowns, so you could get things done if you knew how to work the system.”

As Rogin himself admits, “the details are a little sketchy,” and we’ll have to take a look at the sourcing included in whatever article this piece of news appears in before alleging any wrongdoing. But Rogin has banked significant credibility by questioning the mainstream COVID-origin consensus. He dealt a significant blow to the media’s near-religious faith in the natural-transmission theory by reporting on the existence of 2018 State Department cables that raised concerns about the lack of safety protocols at the Wuhan lab, which was performing gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at the time.

The Obama administration suspended gain-of-function research in 2014 after a series of lab accidents involving pathogens at CDC headquarters in Georgia.

A Nature article from October 2014 lays out the rationale for the suspension:

Critics of such work argue that it is unnecessarily dangerous and risks accidentally releasing viruses with pandemic potential — such as an engineered H5N1 influenza virus that easily spreads between ferrets breathing the same air12. In 2012, such concerns prompted a global group of flu researchers to halt gain-of-function experiments for a year (see Nature http://doi.org/wgx; 2012). The debate reignited in July, after a series of lab accidents involving mishandled pathogens at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

The White House’s abrupt move seems to be a response to renewed lobbying by gain-of-function critics who wanted such work suspended and others who sought to evaluate its risks and benefits without disrupting existing research.

According to Rogin, much of the gain-of-function research that was being conducted in the U.S. prior to the moratorium subsequently migrated to China — and EcoHealth Alliance, the U.S. research nonprofit, secured its grant to funnel NIH money to the WIV in 2015, less than a year after the moratorium was put in place. If Fauci did indeed use bureaucratic maneuvering to resume gain-of-function research on U.S. soil, as Rogin alleges, he has some explaining to do — even if domestic research isn’t to blame for our current pandemic.

Books

Roth Biography Canceled

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Author Philip Roth poses in New York, September 15, 2010. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

The book publisher Norton has removed Blake Bailey’s biography of Philip Roth from publication. And already existing copies are disappearing from online booksellers. In the publishing world, this is monster news. Why is it being pulled from publication? Books are sometimes abandoned by their publishers because of accusations of writerly fraud: plagiarism, or falsified research. More recently, we’ve gotten almost used to books being canceled before release, for “woke” reasons, but many of these cancellations tended to happen in young-adult fiction, which is not yet considered a literarily important genre (though it is an important part of the business). More recently Hachette canceled a memoir by Woody Allen.

But there is no problem with Philip Roth: The Biography. Arguably the book itself is the literary event of the year — an authoritative biography of one of the 20th century’s most important American novelists. Earlier this month, Cynthia Ozick called it a “masterwork” in a five-alarm rave.

The problem is the biographer. The author Blake Bailey is the subject of a variety of extremely serious allegations of sexual assault, the worst being that as an eighth-grade teacher he groomed young girls whom he later raped. Bailey has called the allegations “false, hurtful” and “libelous.” Norton’s own treatment of these allegations is also a subject of controversy.

In any case, it raises really odd questions. Should a work be dropped because the author is accused? Especially if the work itself is a valuable contribution to literature? How much artwork and scholarship are we willing to lose, demote, or denigrate in order to signal our disapproval or suspicion of the author?

Some of us were even suspecting that Roth’s work and his value as a writer could come under question given not just changing social mores, but the changed composition and self-conception of the publishing industry.

It’s also just interesting as a cultural observer to see the long arc of change at work.  Allegations of sexual impropriety deployed as a weapon against authors and artists used to be dismissed as moralism from the right. French elites notably rejected them for years. and now seem to regret this. Why? Because these charges have been transformed from abominations of lasciviousness to something like a crime against equality.

That’s reflected in Norton’s own corporate statement by president Julia A Reidhead: “As a publisher, Norton gives its authors a powerful platform in the civic space. With that power comes the responsibility to balance our commitment to our authors, our recognition of our public role, and our knowledge of our nation’s historic failure to adequately listen to and respect the voices of women and diverse groups.”

Media

On Tucker Carlson and Masks Outdoors

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Tucker Carlson speaks at a Business Insider conference in New York, N.Y., November 30, 2017. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Last night, Tucker Carlson went on something of a tear against outdoor mask wearing. He did so from a place of understandable frustration, but at times he allowed this frustration to overcome common sense.

Carlson claimed that overly cautious people not only wearing masks outdoors when it is not necessary, but also judging those who do not wear them, are virtually omnipresent “in any major city.” True, for the most part. He goes on to make a complaint very specific to Washington, D.C.:

If you dare to go on foot from Union Station to the Capitol in Washington without wearing a mask, angry Biden voters will snort at you in judgment. “How could you?” they’re saying from behind the gauze.

I did make more or less this exact journey this morning on foot, while running from the National Mall to Union Station, have run it before many times, and walked it others. Many are masked as I do so, but I have never been audibly shamed in this area for it. But perhaps Carlson means more judgment of the silent variety, which I am sure has been rendered upon me as I run and walk around the city without a mask.

I have spent much of the past year in Washington, D.C., so I understand Carlson’s annoyance at the apparent omnipresence of masks when one is outdoors. I forget what the city’s regulations are because, well . . . I’ve pretty much ignored them, with scattered exceptions. My ignoring of these regulations has been most consistent, and most frequent, while running, an activity for which I have not masked myself during this entire period. The only two times I’ve ever been chastised for masklessness have been while I was running, in fact; neither chastisement has had any effect on my behavior.

Indeed, if anything, it has internalized a contrarian streak that is now increasingly justified by the science, and that makes me share Carlson’s frustration. As do absurdities such as the CDC’s recent declaration that “fully vaccinated Americans can go without masks outdoors when walking, jogging or biking outdoors, or dining with friends at outdoor restaurants” and “even unvaccinated individuals may go without masks when walking, jogging or biking outdoors with household members.” (To say nothing of the absurd framing of Axios: “Fully vaccinated people can venture outdoors without masks, according to updated CDC guidance.”) This is not simply an unnecessary permission slip for the way I’ve been living since March 2020, but also bespeaks a presumption to rule that the American spirit should find intolerable.

However, Carlson takes this frustration to extremes I would not. His recommended course of action to weaken the outdoor-mask regime is as follows:

So the next time you see someone in a mask on the sidewalk or on the bike path, do not hesitate. Ask politely but firmly, “Would you please take off your mask? Science shows there is no reason for you to be wearing it. Your mask is making me uncomfortable.”

I must confess: Safe in the confines of my own mind, confronted by the sea of masked rule-followers outdoors, I have considered similar steps. At their most extreme, my idle thoughts incline me to go about not just telling people to stop wearing masks but even ripping the masks off everyone’s faces. But they are just that: idle thoughts. I will do neither step, for reasons I’ll explain below. But my half-considered desire to do this, and now Carlson’s call for others to publicly berate outdoor mask wearers, remind me, of all things, of the opening of Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. The first chapter, “Loomings,” describes the mental state of Ishmael, the story’s first-person narrator, when he knows that only going to sea can relieve his malaise:

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.

Note, however, that Ishmael does not, in fact, go around methodically knocking people’s hats off; he takes to the sea instead. A major lingering problem with much of American life right now is not necessarily that we can’t all take to the sea, but rather that too much of life remains restricted, and that the part of life that isn’t restricted, the online world, is an inadequate substitute that can aggravate our worst impulses.

That is one possible explanation for one of Carlson’s other extremes. Taking his anti-mask message to the next level, he makes the following call to his viewers:

Your response when you see children wearing masks as they play should be no different from your response to seeing someone beat a kid in Walmart. Call the police immediately. Contact Child Protective Services. Keep calling until someone arrives. What you’re looking at is abuse, it’s child abuse, and you are morally obligated to attempt to prevent it.

It is very silly that we are masking children outdoors and persisting in making so many activities part of the COVID rigmarole. But is it child abuse? Is it worth calling the police over? The answer is no, just as people who don’t wear masks outdoors shouldn’t have the police called on them either. Ours is already a time of high social and political tension; escalating those tensions in this way seems like a poor recourse. Not to mention that heavy-handed state power is at the root of Carlson’s complaints about the current mask regime.

What should be done instead? Carlson himself offered one useful step from which others can be inferred: He advised viewers to complain at the level of institutions in which they are involved, such as at schools who tell your kids that they have to wear masks when playing soccer. Starting with things we can control, such as our own institutions, our own families, and ourselves, seems a much better start than going up to random strangers and upbraiding them, which would probably invite a defensive or doubling-down reflex anyway.

We should also feel free to walk around outside in D.C. maskless, regardless of the judgments people may cast. In my experience, most of this city is too deferential to object seriously; if anyone is, that is the time at which to explain forcefully why you are not, or at the very least to ignore the aggressor. Simply the example of a maskless person moving casually about the city can serve as a tiny crack in the edifice of COVID paranoia; that has been the logic of my doing so, at any rate.

Carlson said the mask mania is mostly a phenomenon of major cities, and he’s right. The American people themselves locked down before the government made us, and we are likely to stop locking down before the government says we don’t have to anymore. It may be happening already . . . just not so much in D.C.

Energy & Environment

Is Climate Change More Important Than Genocide?

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U.S. climate envoy John Kerry speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 27, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Communist China is the most villainous government since the Third Reich. It is committing actual genocide against the Uyghurs. It organ harvests Falun Gong and other political prisoners who are killed to fill orders in the transplant black market. Its social-credit system targets Christians and others who act in ways of which the regime disapproves. It illegally occupies Tibet and is committing cultural genocide against Tibetan Buddhism. It has crushed freedom in Hong Kong. It threatens Taiwan. It steals intellectual property on a massive scale. The list goes on and on.

But none of that matters much to Biden’s climate czar John Kerry. He wants to make a global-warming deal so badly that all of the above-related evil can’t be allowed to get in the way of China agreeing to reduce carbon emissions. From an interview with Kerry published in Foreign Policy (my emphasis):

Right now, climate is enough of an imperative for all of our countries. China doesn’t benefit by not having America as a partner in dealing with climate. And the United States doesn’t benefit from not having China as a partner in climate. So we’re just disciplined.

We have differences on economic rules, on cyber. We have other differences on human rights, geostrategic interests, but those differences do not have to get in the way of something that is as critical as dealing with climate. And China made that decision. When I was in China the other day, we negotiated back and forth in good faith. We didn’t have to insult each other or shout at each other. We had a serious, tough conversation, but we managed to find a place and a way to be able to agree and move forward.

Good grief. Is the “climate crisis” really more important than everything else — even genocide — to the point that we will swallow whatever China does outside of that issue as the cost of fighting global warming? Apparently so.

But what makes Kerry think that a country so disrespectful of international norms, the rule of law, and the most basic concept of the sanctity of human life would respect any deal that would be made?

World

Genocide Aside . . .

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The Chinese national flag in Beijing, China, April 29, 2020 (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

John Kerry, that most privileged of incompetents, is in the throes of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. The former secretary of state’s affinity for the Iranian regime and contempt for the state of Israel already has him in hot water. On Sunday, the New York Times reported that he chatted up the Iranian foreign minister about Israeli strikes on Iranian targets. Kerry has denied those charges, but Jim Geraghty finds reason to be skeptical of that denial.

In any case, there’s no denying what Kerry had to say about China in a recent interview with Foreign Policy:

China doesn’t benefit by not having America as a partner in dealing with climate. And the United States doesn’t benefit from not having China as a partner in climate. So we’re just disciplined. We have differences on economic rules, on cyber. We have other differences on human rights, geostrategic interests, but those differences do not have to get in the way of something that is as critical as dealing with climate.

“Differences on human rights” is quite the euphemism for the genocide the Chinese government is committing in Xinjiang, and “differences on geostrategic interests” is quite the way to describe its designs on Taiwan. Kerry’s rhetoric fails to bring the moral valence demanded by the crimes of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to the table; it also reflects his unmatched naiveté.

As Jimmy Quinn has explained, the climate agreement Kerry has negotiated with the Chinese is about appearances, not emissions reductions. And as I’ve explained, the character of the Chinese regime is inseparable from its motivations and behaviors as it pertains to particular issues. That means that you cannot, as John Kerry proposes, say “Genocide aside, we can work with the CCP on climate issues.”

The consequences of doing so will be felt in the limited progress we’ll make on discrete issues such as the environment, and in the propaganda victories we’ll hand to the Chinese along the way. “Genocide aside . . .” is not only an indefensible embarrassment in the abstract, it’s a disastrous strategic mistake in the concrete.

Health Care

The CDC Is Its Own Worst Enemy

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A person receives a dose of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine in Chicago, Ill., April 6, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

This explanation from the CDC is remarkable:

This isn’t “science.” It’s practical politics, the sole purpose of which is to try to guess how people will behave in the real world and drive them toward a preferred outcome. If it were based upon the science, it would hold that people who have been vaccinated do not need to wear masks and that those who have not been vaccinated do. That, and not lumping them in all together, is the policy that the evidence demands.

Why does this matter? Well, because after a while people notice. When you tell people not to buy masks because you want to ensure that there is a sufficient supply for the medical profession, you make it much more difficult to tell everyone that masks are imperative when the practical considerations change. So it is here. I can see why the CDC thinks a one-size-fits-all approach will be effective. But at what cost?

The vaccine works incredibly well, and yet, because it is obsessed with trying to work out how people think, the CDC is failing to properly convey just how effective it is in protecting people from contracting or transmitting the virus. I am sure that, at the margins, there are some downsides to a more simple (and more accurate) message, such as “get the vaccine, get back to normal.” But surely they cannot be higher than those imposed by the current confusion. To tune in to any public-health briefing is to be told that the vaccine works, and that it’s important that you choose to get it, but that if you do you won’t be able to do anything you did before. When, eventually, the CDC switches to a flat-out “vaccines work” message, a lot of people aren’t going to believe it.

Politics & Policy

Biden to Propose Increasing IRS Budget by $80 Billion

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The New York Times reports that President Biden “is expected to propose giving the Internal Revenue Service an extra $80 billion and more authority over the next 10 years to help crack down on tax evasion by high-earners and large corporations, according to two people familiar with the plan.”

According to the Times, Biden administration officials believe that, by spending an extra $80 billion on audits and enforcement, the federal government will net an extra $700 billion over ten years. The details of the proposal haven’t been released, but the politics of increasing the IRS’s budget by two-thirds could be dicey if the upper-middle-class suburbanites who swung toward the Democratic Party fear they’re going to be harassed by the IRS.

Politics & Policy

CDC’s New Outdoor Mask Guidance Is a Joke

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Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President Joe Biden’s appointee to run the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), removes her mask to during a news conference at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Del., December 8, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

There was a lot of buildup toward the CDC’s announcement relaxing the guidance on the wearing of masks outdoors. The results are now in, and they are a joke.

Per the Washington Post, the CDC now says that “fully vaccinated Americans can go without masks outdoors when walking, jogging or biking outdoors, or dining with friends at outdoor restaurants.”

But this isn’t the only deliverance the pezzonovante at the CDC are bestowing upon us.

The CDC says that “even unvaccinated individuals may go without masks when walking, jogging or biking outdoors with household members.”

But for those hoping this new guidance means you might be able to attend a baseball game without wearing a mask, I have disappointing news. Our moral betters at the CDC “caution that crowded outdoor settings still pose risks and urge everyone — both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals — to wear masks when attending sporting events, live performances and parades.”

To be clear, the science was overwhelming last year that the risk of outdoor transmission of COVID-19 was low to non-existent. Anybody following the science should have never felt compelled to wear a mask outdoors during the pandemic.

Furthermore, somebody who is fully vaccinated is at minimal risk of catching COVID-19 indoors or outdoors. Earlier this month, the CDC itself reported that out of a universe of 66 million individuals who were vaccinated at the time, just 5,800 got the virus. That’s less than 1-in-10,000.

The idea that the CDC, even in loosening outdoor mask guidance, is still insisting that vaccinated people wear masks in crowded outdoor settings is completely unmoored from science or reason. This is a bungling agency that has made one mistake after another throughout the pandemic. Just earlier today, the agency had to backtrack on guidance offered by its director about vaccinating pregnant women — one of many such examples of providing mixed messages.

It would be easy to say that every American should just ignore the CDC, because the people running it have exposed themselves as unserious people. But the problem is that state and local officials as well as private business often defer to CDC guidance. So if you live in a Faucistan sector of the United States, your daily life is likely still going to be affected by whatever the CDC decides to cook up. So this joke announcement has real-world implications.

No, Virginia Did Not ‘Eliminate Accelerated Math Courses Because Equity’

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(smolaw11/Getty Images)

This isn’t going to win me many friends in the conservative media world, but I’m going to score the “Virginia is banning advanced math” claim that rocketed around social media for the past few days as “wildly exaggerated.” A school system, much less a statewide school system, doesn’t make a sweeping change like this quickly or quietly. I discussed this on the Three Martini Lunch podcast the other day; northern Virginia is basically ground zero for hyper-involved parents who are obsessed with getting their kids into Ivy League schools and making sure they’ve got a heavy, rigorous STEM curriculum. The

The New Electoral Map Is George W. Bush’s Revenge

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U.S. President George W. Bush attends a Bush/Cheney 2004 fundraiser reception. (REUTERS/Larry Downing )

The new map unveiled yesterday of the House of Representatives and the Electoral College has many implications for American politics in the coming decade. It will be used to conduct the presidential elections of 2024 and 2028. Looking back at the past six presidential elections since 2000, which candidate would have benefited the most from the new map? George W. Bush.

Here is Bush’s 2000 coalition of states on the 2024 map (all maps via 270toWin):

That 289–249 victory is much more comfortable than the 271–266 nailbiter Bush claimed at the time, a gain of +18 electoral votes. Not only does Bush

Politics & Policy

Montana Prohibits Abortions after 20 Weeks Based on Science of Fetal Pain

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Greg Gianforte delivers his victory speech during a special congressional election in Bozeman, Montana, on May 25, 2017. (Colter Peterson/Reuters)

Montana governor Greg Gianforte has signed three pro-life bills into law, the most notable of which prohibits abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, around the point at which premature newborn infants are able to survive outside the womb with significant medical assistance. The legislation, called the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” is based on scientific evidence suggesting that unborn children have the capacity to feel pain at about 20 weeks.

The second bill Gianforte signed requires that abortionists give a mother the opportunity to view an ultrasound of her unborn child and listen to his or her heartbeat before deciding to have an abortion. Contrary to the assertions of abortion advocates, the law does not require that women take that opportunity.

The third bill requires that women receive a prescription for chemical-abortion drugs in person rather than via a telemedicine appointment. Despite Democratic officials’ successful efforts to relax federal safety guidelines for these drugs, pro-life lawmakers aim to institute safety protocols at the state level. Because the drugs used in a chemical abortion carry the risk of significant side effects and complications for women, pro-lifers argue that women will be better equipped with initial counseling and appropriate follow-up care if they receive the first of the two drugs at an in-person appointment.

Naturally, none of these policies has been well received by supporters of legal abortion, including its not-so-secret supporters at mainstream media outlets. Covering the news at CNN, reporter Caroline Kelly asserts that the 20-week ban is “based on the scientifically disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain at that point in development.” Kelly cites an advocacy memo from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) — which operates more as a political-action group than a medical organization when it comes to abortion — stating that fetuses are not capable of feeling pain until at least 24 weeks’ gestation, a claim that comes from a 2005 scientific review.

For one thing, this assertion ignores the reality that ACOG would not support a ban on abortion after 24 weeks’ gestation, either, even if the group is willing to acknowledge that fetal pain receptors might be active after that point. But, despite noting that the question of fetal pain is “scientifically disputed,” Kelly ignores all of the evidence on the other side of the ledger.

For instance, she makes no mention of this paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics from last January, in which two medical researchers with “divergent views regarding the morality of abortion” argue based on recent neuroscientific data that unborn human beings likely are able to feel pain at an earlier point than previous research has suggested. Their review of scientific literature on fetal neural development and the psychology of pain sensation — including far most recent data than the information in the 2005 study cited by ACOG — concluded that unborn babies likely could experience pain as early as 12 weeks’ gestation.

Meanwhile, according to a review of relevant data from the Lozier Institute, scientific studies of fetal reactions in the womb suggest that unborn babies are capable of responding to painful stimuli long before 24 weeks. As early as eight weeks’ gestation, unborn children exhibit reflex movement during invasive procedures. As early as 18 weeks’ gestation, they exhibit hormonal stress responses such as “increases in cortisol, beta-endorphin, and decreases in the pulsatility index of the fetal middle cerebral artery.”

Two independent studies in 2006 verified via brain scans that unborn children can respond to pain earlier in pregnancy, as the scans indicated a “clear cortical response,” suggesting that there was “the potential for both higher-level pain processing and pain-induced plasticity in the human brain from a very early age.”

None of this information appears in Kelly’s article, as acknowledging its existence would contradict the preferred claim that abortion bans based on fetal pain are unscientific. In fact, there is plenty of scientific evidence suggesting that it is at least possible, if not likely, that unborn children are capable of feeling pain earlier in pregnancy than abortion supporters are willing to admit.

This oversight on Kelly’s part is not especially surprising. She is the same reporter who, in a news article last February, referred to a newborn infant that survives an attempted abortion procedure as “a fetus that has been born” — presumably, most of us without an agenda would refer to that entity as . . . a baby.

Education

Introducing National Review’s ‘Woke’ Education Tip Line

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School buses remain parked in a lot due to the pandemic in San Francisco, Calif., April 7, 2020. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

National Review’s News Desk is launching a new tip line dedicated to reporting on the racialized curriculum marching through our nation’s schools.

Critical race theory, formerly confined to the realms of political activism and higher education, is now being pushed on children as young as five-years-old. A cottage industry of “consultants” has sprung up to teach educators how they might make children more race-conscious — and teachers who object are being ostracized.

If you’re alarmed by this trend and concerned about the direction your local schools — public or private — are heading in, please send the name of the school, details about the curriculum, and any documents you may have to wokecurriculum@nationalreview.com.

History

Army University Press: The ‘Union Army’ Is No More

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Union troops form near the battlefield during a re-enactment of “The Wheatfield” as part of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in Gettysburg, Pa., July 5, 2013. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Having triumphed over rebel forces long ago, the Union army now faces a new challenge: the effort to erase it from history books. The Army University Press has announced new guidelines for its article and book submissions that strongly discourage the use of the term “the Union” to refer to the forces of the U.S. government during the Civil War:

Similarly, citizens in states who remained loyal to the United States did not all feel a strong commitment towards dissolving the institution of slavery, nor did they believe Lincoln’s views represented their own. Thus, while the historiography has traditionally referred to the “Union” in the American Civil War as “the northern states loyal to the United States government,” the fact is that the term “Union” always referred to all the states together, which clearly was not the situation at all. In light of this, the reader will discover that the word “Union” will be largely replaced by the more historically accurate “Federal Government” or “U.S. Government.” “Union forces” or “Union army” will largely be replaced by the terms “U.S. Army,” “Federals,” or “Federal Army.”

However, it’s not just “the historiography” in the abstract that has referred to the states loyal to the federal government as “the Union.” The people who fought to preserve the Constitutional order called their side “the Union,” too. In his memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant referred many times to the “Union army” or “Union troops.” Countless documents written during the Civil War (by those who fought against the Confederacy) spoke of the “Union army.” Referring to the effort to preserve the U.S. federal government during the Civil War as “the Union” is not some retrospective invention of historians.

In fact, it’s arguable that erasing the term “the Union” from historiographical discourse, far from being “more historically accurate,” distorts the vision of Lincoln, Grant, and many other Americans.

“Union” has a particular charge in American discourse, from the Constitution’s “more perfect Union” onward. In his first inaugural address, Lincoln reflected on the centrality of the hopes of union for the American republic. He held in that address that secession was not just the splintering of the United States but the obliteration of political order: “The central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy.” The secession crisis threatened the U.S. government, but Lincoln and his contemporaries also saw violent secession as threatening the prospect of democratic governance in general.

The project of Union was about the U.S. federal government, but it was about more than that, too. Union was the hope of reconciling conflict within a democracy. Union was the assertion of the rule of law over factional violence. Union was securing the prospect of republican liberty. For many Americans, the army that marched under the Stars and Stripes was in that deeper sense the Union army.

In his funeral sermon for Abraham Lincoln, the minister Phineas Gurley did not once mention the “federal government” or even “United States.” Instead, he spoke again and again about “union”: “through all these long and weary years of civil strife, while our friends and brothers on so many ensanguined fields were falling and dying for the cause of Liberty and Union.” If one of the goals of historical study is to capture the textures of past eras, erasing “the Union” and “the Union army” from historical discourse would make it harder to understand the passions and principles of those who risked their lives to preserve the American republic.

History

I See Your 1619, and Raise You One

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The new episode of the Bradley Foundation’s We The People video series features president Rick Graber interviewing Wilfred McClay of the Center for the History of Liberty and Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars, who tag-team to make the case that 1620 should be considered the year of America’s founding (as well as to discuss how the Founders accounted for human nature in the Constitution, and why history is an important guide during tumultuous times).

Take a break from the tumult. Watch the video here:

 

Culture

That Horrible Holiday Inn Video

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(David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters)

I don’t want to link to it, but if you’re reading this, there’s a decent chance that you’ve seen that horrible Holiday Inn Express video.

For the unacquainted, a video surfaced of an incident involving a customer and a front desk clerk at a Holiday Inn Express seemingly involving a botched reservation. Several users with large accounts tweeted out the video and played up the fact that the customer was black and the clerk was white. So upon initially seeing people comment, I assumed it was going to be the latest video that becomes a trigger for our ongoing national conversation about race in America. Instead, the video took a different turn.

In it, the customer can be seen pestering the clerk over his reaction to a reservation that somehow got messed up. The clerk is relatively quiet, until the customer reminds him he’s on camera. At that point, the clerk begins shaking, smacking himself in the face, and then hitting his head against the computer monitor. He tells the customer, “You ruined my whole life, man.” He then starts sobbing and wanders to a different area where he can’t be seen. The customer then walks around the counter to show the side of the clerk’s body, sloped forward, and weeping.

Like with most viral videos, we don’t know what came before or after, or anything about the context. Others on Twitter have speculated about various mental or emotional health issues that the clerk may have. It would not be responsible to diagnose anything based on this clip, but what we do know is that the clerk is clearly hurting, and going through an extremely difficult time.

It’s unconscionable to me that the customer would not only continue to film, but to go ahead and post it on the Internet. And then it’s absolutely cruel that anybody, especially somebody with a large following, would see the clip and decide the right response is to mock the clerk, and turn it into a racial issue.

The posting of the video is upsetting and enraging on multiple levels. But if there is one silver lining, it is that based on the reaction I’ve seen, it appears that there has been widespread revulsion at those who posted and mocked the clerk, and there has been a lot of compassion for what the worker has to be going through. I hope, whoever he is and wherever he is, that he has somebody to support him and get him help.

Religion

The Problem of Non-Theological Religion

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(Juan Carlos/Reuters)

The left-wing thinker Freddie deBoer wrote a provocative little Substack essay about the New Atheism phenomenon, of nearly two decades ago. What interests deBoer is that so often liberal and progressive Christians engaged in debates with New Atheists by specifically avoiding any theological content at all. Sometimes literally refusing to argue that God exists. DeBoer comments:

If a being exists, of whatever nature, who created reality, exists within all of reality, set reality’s physical and moral rules, watches over all of reality, judges all of us on how devout and moral we are, and determines reward and punishment based on that judgement, that clearly is the truth that trumps all other truths. Strange to let it slip out of the debate quietly in the night.

Indeed! DeBoer observes that instead a certain kind of “believer” seemed only to believe that religion was worth practicing because it was socially expedient. In this they seemed to agree with non-believers who have come to a strangely utilitarian appreciation of religion. He writes:

People have commented for centuries on the phenomenon of religious observance carried out by people whose authentic religious belief is dead or dying. But I think the next evolution in religion is to move from the religious believer who sadly watches their faith slowly ebbing away to the religious consumer who sees sincere faith as traditionally conceived as an anachronism. This is the inevitable outcome of perspectives like those of  Jonathan Haidt , who advocates for atheists to accept religion as a positive force even as we quietly snicker to each other that it’s all fake. Haidt’s belief that we should champion religion’s forms while quietly marinating in our superior understanding that religion’s truth claims are bunk can only contribute to the gradual erasure of the metaphysical underpinnings of traditional religion.

DeBoer in some ways welcomes the hypocrisy and evasiveness of progressive believers and comes around to speculating that religion can be defeated by atheism not by confrontation “but through abstraction, the abstraction of religious teachings into meaninglessness.“

I found the non-engagement of liberal believers with New Atheism as frustrating as deBoer did. It was something Christopher Hitchens remarked on frequently himself. Most of the ministers he debated wanted to argue that religion was socially expedient — that it had some good effect — not that it was true. One notable exception was the Calvinist pastor Douglas Wilson. I think there were some other good debates too. William Craig Lane took it up with Sam Harris. And Peter Hitchens debated his brother Christopher and later wrote a book that took on the contention that “religion poisons everything” and then proceeded to make a case that atheism was a handmaiden of totalitarianism.

At one point, deBoer writes that this metaphysical evacuation of religion betrays “what religious identity has been for most practitioners for thousands of a year,” and later this process of abstraction allows “Christianity’s teachings to become a pure canvas onto which one can paint whatever one feels like in the moment. “

I don’t know if this is a uniquely modern phenomenon. It seems to me that for Christianity, at least, many practitioners accepted the metaphysical propositions as their reality, in the same unthinking way most of us accept astrodynamics. One can operate within this reality but still not consciously acknowledge it or take it to heart very often.

And that is why, successive generations of Christians and reformers have noticed that the Church is often captured by putatively Christian societies — and that Christian faith is often confused with “the reigning ideals of our culture.” G.K. Chesterton also identified “five deaths of the faith” in history — times when Christian belief seemed to be fading out of existence, when the world seemed to be moving onto ideas that made the Church irrelevant.

I think we should expect that there will always be people who are lukewarm about the faith, unwilling to defend its propositions, and all-too-willing to pretend that their private projects or cultural taboos constitute the Gospel truth itself.

Fiscal Policy

Miracle on 8th Avenue: NYT Takes Correct Position on Taxes

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Sheets of $1 bills get rotated before being cut into individual pieces during production at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C., November 14, 2014. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Asking sincerely why the Democratic Party is “pushing a tax cut for the wealthy,” the New York Times’s editorial board yesterday came out in favor of abolishing the SALT deduction completely:

The SALT deduction cap is unfair. The deduction is often described as a federal subsidy for state and local governments because the federal government effectively is paying for a portion of each dollar in state and local taxes. Capping the deduction has the effect of providing a smaller subsidy, per dollar, to jurisdictions that collect more money in taxes.

New Yorkers, who pay higher taxes than most Americans, get more extensive and higher quality public services. Residents of other states choose lower taxes and less government. Federal tax policy should provide consistent support for either choice.

This board historically has opposed the elimination of the federal subsidy. But the rise of economic inequality has increased our focus on the distribution of taxation and led us to a different conclusion: Instead of eliminating the SALT deduction cap, Congress should eliminate the deduction.

Naturally, the board also wants to increase both taxation and spending at the federal level, whereas I would like to lower both. If, as the Times suggests, we should want federal tax policy to facilitate meaningful political choices, then limiting the size of the federal government is much to be desired. There is a big difference between living in Florida and living in California, but that difference is not remotely as big as it would be if the top federal tax rate were 5 percent and spending were set at a fraction of its current rate. Then, we could really see what rules people set when given a harsh choice.

Still, the Times should be applauded for taking the first step, which is to insist that, irrespective of the federal government’s size, taxpayers should pay the same rates for its upkeep. It makes no sense whatsoever that, as a Floridian, I pay more for the army than does a New Yorker with the same income. On that much, apparently, we can increasingly agree.

Politics & Policy

Re: Freedom for What?

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(giftlegacy/Getty Images)

In response to Freedom for What?

Yuval Levin has some excellent thoughts below about the First Amendment’s implied guarantee of the freedom of association. “The question,” as he puts it, is “whether what the freedom of association protects is the capacity for formation or the capacity for expression.” In the end he wants it to protect both: “We should think of these rights” — i.e., those grouped “under the rubric of the freedom of association” — “not only in terms of expressive association but also in terms of formative association.” I think that’s exactly right.

Yuval also writes:

The freedoms laid out in the First Amendment serve in part to protect our institutions and traditions of formation  —  to enable the development of the capacities we require to be responsible human beings and citizens. To describe what these institutions let us do as “expressive” is to overlook the anthropological assumption that underlies most of these institutions, or to reject it in favor of a shallower view. There is, after all, another kind of anthropology in which a liberal society could try to root itself. This view suggests that the human person is born ready to be free, and requires only liberation from the impositions of oppressive social strictures and some means for self-expression.

It is no exaggeration to suggest that the dispute between these two views of the nature of the human person is the question at issue in our culture wars, now and pretty much always.

Here I do find myself disagreeing slightly. I share the view that institutions play a necessary role in shaping individual character. But I also think that “now and pretty much always” is an exaggeration.

The history of America shows this very clearly on the matter of race; both before and after the Civil War, major legal and civil-society institutions formed individuals in a way that was morally indefensible, and our nation paid a terrible price for it. And on the contemporary scene, while it seems true that the prevailing style of the Left is Jacobinistic and destructive, there are also those who make arguments for reforms of traditional institutions but have no wish to see them destroyed. The expressive role of both individuals and institutional subgroups ultimately makes institutions healthier — by presenting sound reforms when they are needed, and by discharging tensions through discussion even when they are not. We should not forget that historical Jacobinism itself arose partly because the absolutist and morally indefensible ancien régime had incubated a spirit of radicalism by precluding meaningful possibilities of reform until it was too late.

One of the arguments of recent conservative critics of American liberalism — I have in mind people such as Catholic integralists or neoreactionaries — has been that liberalism inevitably degenerates into the kind of cultural Jacobinism we see today. But I think it’s plausible that today’s extremisms trace more directly to prior failures of liberalism.

On the matter of race, I think that’s fairly obvious: My view is that we still have progress to make, but that it’s nonetheless absurd for the Left to perpetuate a language of damnation that would be appropriate only in describing intentional acts of evil. The history of such acts, however, and the social dysfunctions they left behind, makes it hard for a more moderate discourse to take hold.

And while I find it appalling that some on the right continue to believe that Edgardo Mortara should indeed have been baptized without his parents’ consent and judicio-religiously kidnapped  — or, for that matter, that it was right to burn heretics — I can also see the expression of such views as an insecure reaction to an illiberal legal and cultural hostility that religious traditionalists find directed at their institutions and those who freely choose to remain part of them. I suspect that that hostility itself cannot be separated from the tendency, again owing to our uniquely* illiberal racial history, to see all disputed social matters as similar to the struggle for racial equality.

What can save us today, I think, from reciprocal and mutually amplifying Jacobinisms of right and left is a recognition of three things: the formative value of institutions; the reality that institutions are often flawed and sometimes indefensible; and the need for free and open discussion, as distinct from cancellation of dissent and institutional arson.

(*Afterthought: “Uniquely” may be unjustified, given the practice of racial slavery elsewhere; though on the other hand the abolition of slavery in, say, Brazil was not followed by a period of continued legal racial discrimination. In any case, the American practice was uniquely hypocritical in a nation that had expressly defined itself in liberal terms, and so uniquely damaging to that self-understanding.)