A Rare Role Model in Politics

Judge Amy Coney Barrett meets with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R., W. Va.) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 30, 2020. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

As some of us have already noted elsewhere on NRO, if confirmed, Judge Amy Coney Barrett would be the only mother sitting on the Supreme Court, and she’d be the first mother of school-aged children ever to do so. To most people inclined to view her nomination without the cynicism induced by despising either Trump or constitutional originalism (or both), that’s a pretty remarkable fact.

For American mothers, as well as for young women, Barrett is the sort of role model one doesn’t often come across in politics. As I pointed out in a piece here at NRO last week, her life and her success puts the lie to modern feminism’s false, harmful notion of freedom. And in my latest piece over at the Catholic Herald, I took a closer look at the topic, focusing especially on why Barrett’s nomination is so significant to me personally, and to so many women across the country, especially religious women and stay-at-home mothers:

Never have I felt myself so personally invested in a particular political fight than I am the impending battle over the nomination of Seventh Circuit appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

I suspect that women across the country, and women of faith in particular, feel similarly. Judging from the reactions of many of my female friends and the outpouring of support that I’ve witnessed on social media, Trump’s decision to nominate Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has struck a chord.

For Catholic mothers, Barrett’s nomination is a point of pride. Barrett has risen to the peak of her profession and has managed to do so while still prioritizing having a family. . . .

Of the time she and Jesse decided to adopt their son, John Peter — despite having recently had a biological child and finding out another was on the way — Barrett said: “I thought, when you think about the value of people and the value of life and what’s really most important, what you can pour yourself into, that raising children and bringing John Peter home were the things of the greatest value that I can do right then, rather than even teaching, being a law professor, which I was at the time. That was what was really most important.”

And of their son Benjamin, Barrett added, “Sometimes we see things that are very difficult or that are burdens, and Benjamin’s diagnosis definitely derailed us off what we thought life was going to look like, what we thought his life was going to look like. But in a way that we can’t really understand or appreciate but that we see unfold every day, it will be the most important thing that we do, probably.”

This is how countless women across the country think about the struggles and joys of raising a family and why, unlike Barrett, so many of them have chosen to stay home full time and devote themselves to that work. One can easily imagine how gratifying it is for those mothers to see a woman who values family as they do and who, in a sense, is representing them as she sits before the Senate seeking confirmation to the Supreme Court.

For Catholic stay-at-home mothers, and for young women who hope to balance work outside the home with being a wife and mother, Barrett’s excellent example is a bright spot in an otherwise fairly dismal political climate.

Science & Tech

Science Journals Have Become Intensely Political

Signs at the “March for Science” in Washington, D.C., April 22, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

I have related here on several occasions how intensely political supposedly objective science and medical journals have become. The New England Journal of Medicine pushes progressive politics all of the time, as just one example. So does Science, which for example, has endorsed the “nature rights” movement.

Nature joined the crowd too in publishing an hysterical jeremiad against President Trump by Jeff Tollefson, its D.C.-based reporter. But if you read the lengthy attack, its most bitter complaints are about intensely believed political and policy differences, not actual examples of Trump being somehow “anti-science.”

For example, construes every Trump action on COVID in the most negative light possible. He also attacks Trump’s immigration policy. From, How Trump Damaged Science–and Why It Could Take Decades to Recover”:

Trump has also eroded America’s position on the global stage through isolationist policies and rhetoric. By closing the nation’s doors to many visitors and non-European immigrants, he has made the United States less inviting to foreign students and researchers. And by demonizing international associations such as the World Health Organization, Trump has weakened America’s ability to respond to global crises and isolated the country’s science.

It’s kind of hard to “demonize” the WHO. The organization lied blatantly about COVID and was clearly in the back pocket of the CCP’s propaganda campaign on the issue. Trump’s instituting policies to reflect that reality is not anti-science. Nor are immigration policies, with which one can agree or disagree.

Of course, the unforgivable sin was pulling out of the phony Paris Climate Accord:

The Trump administration formally filed the paperwork to exit the Paris agreement last year, and the US withdrawal will become official on 4 November, one day after the presidential election. Most nations have vowed to press forward even without the United States, and the European Union has already helped to fill the leadership void by pressing nations to bolster their efforts, which China did on 22 September when it announced that it aims to be carbon neutral by 2060.

Oooh! By 2060! Few of us will be alive then to ensure they fulfill their promise. And never mind that the USA has been among the most successful countries in the world at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions because of our bounteous use of natural gas.

Science, medical, and bioethics journals have been assimilated into the progressive ideological infrastructure. Keep that in mind when they publish “studies” and policy positions — all touted by the propaganda wing of the infrastructure, a.k.a, the MSM — that push ideology as if it were objective science.

Economy & Business

Re: Car Seats, Baby Bust


In response to Car Seats, Baby Bust

Last week, Michael Brendan Dougherty took note of a new study finding that car-seat mandates reduce fertility — specifically among parents who have two kids, both below the legal car-seat age, which maxes out the capacity of many vehicles’ back seats.

I have a write-up of the study over at the Institute for Family Studies blog. The paper is a solid piece of work, though I’ll be interested to see whether future research confirms the result.


Yes, Associated Press, There’s a Riot Goin’ On


Associated Press, once the standard bearer of journalistic integrity, has been corroding the use of clear and enlightening language for years now. Its newest surrender to newspeak has it instructing newspapers to ignore the meaning of “riot.”

“A riot is a wild or violent disturbance of the peace involving a group of people. The term riot suggests uncontrolled chaos and pandemonium,” a new AP guideline begins.

Not so. The word suggests — nay, it means — “a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd.” By any definition, the rampaging leftist crowds — well, only around 10 percent or so — went looting and burning this summer qualify as “rioters.” The vandalism and criminality that was sparked by those protesting, or claiming to protest, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis cost the insurance industry anywhere between 1 to 2 billion dollars — more than any other riots in modern history.

AP goes on:

Focusing on rioting and property destruction rather than underlying grievance has been used in the past to stigmatize broad swaths of people protesting against lynching, police brutality or for racial justice, going back to the urban uprisings of the 1960s.

The AP says you shouldn’t use a word because it distracts from the favored political narrative, as if both stories can’t be told at once. Or rather, because it doesn’t want one of the stories told.


The Minefield of Gender Politics


I spoke with Nick Carter of the Menzies Research Centre about gender politics, campus politics, and the U.S. election:

Law & the Courts

Pack the Court with Underpants Gnomes


The remarkable weakness of this Slate piece in favor of destroying the Supreme Court bolsters my suspicion that, while the idea is historically monstrous and all who favor it should be disdained, the chances of it actually happening are slim.

The argument here seems to be that (1) the public is against it, and (2) so are key Democrats, so (3) Biden is hedging because he doesn’t want to lose the election, but (4) if he waits, it won’t happen, so (5) Democrats have to “strike” now, and (6) no, we won’t explain how any of that works.

Readers of Lithwick and Stern will be accustomed to the almost total absence of legal analysis within their work. I’m pleased to see that this approach now extends to strategy.


Letter Calls for Withdrawal of ‘1619 Project’ Pulitzer

Nikole Hannah Jones (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah/Screengrab via YouTube)

An open letter released today and signed by 21 scholars and public writers calls on the Pulitzer Prize Board to rescind the Prize for Commentary awarded to Nikole Hannah-Jones for her lead essay in “The 1619 Project.” The letter is posted at the website of the National Association of Scholars here. (I am one of the signatories.)

The letter revisits the sorry tale of the 1619 Project’s errors and distortions and invokes these in calling for the revocation of the prize. The recent revelations that The New York Times stealthily edited out the signature claim of the project—that the advent of slavery in the year 1619 constitutes our country’s “true founding”—were, however, the immediate occasion for this letter. As Phillip Magness (another signatory) has shown, Nikole Hannah-Jones has several times denied ever claiming that 1619 was our true founding, although in fact she has made this latter claim repeatedly.

These actions on the part of both the Times and Hannah-Jones are profoundly irresponsible and disturbing. How can we explain them?

Jonah Goldberg has suggested that the Times may have undertaken its stealth edits, “out of a partisan desire to deny Donald Trump and his fans a talking point.” There is some evidence in support of this suggestion.  As Wilfred McClay (another signatory) notes in Commentary Magazine, leaked transcripts of internal meetings at the Times suggest that the 1619 Project may have been part of a strategy designed to help elect a Democratic president by highlighting America’s (allegedly) endemic racism. Not long after President Trump effectively made American history a campaign issue in his Mt. Rushmore address this July, Hannah-Jones began to deny that she or the 1619 Project had ever asserted that the year 1619 was America’s “true founding,” citing the stealthily edited text of the project as evidence. (See especially the exchange with Ben Shapiro here.) The Hannah-Jones interview on CNN that helped kick off the controversy over the stealth edits took place the day after President Trump attacked the 1619 Project in his address to the White House Conference on American History. This suggests that Hannah-Jones was willing to jettison the most notable claim of her project—even to the extent of denying that she had ever made it—once that claim began to seem like a campaign liability.

When, however, were the stealth edits to the 1619 Project’s text actually made? Phillip Magness suggests that at least some of the stealth edits may have been made as early as December 2019, at a moment when the 1619 Project was coming under withering criticism from scholars. That alone may or may not suffice to explain the stealth edits. It is notable, however, that Hannah-Jones continued to claim that 1619 was America’s true founding until shortly after that claim became an issue in the presidential campaign. Moreover, while there is some evidence that stealth edits may have been made as early as December of 2019, we do not know for a fact exactly how many edits were made, when they were made, or why they were made. This itself constitutes the most serious sort of journalistic irresponsibility.

Imagine that a Pulitzer Prize for Literature had been awarded to a novel for which it later emerged that the most famous passage had been plagiarized. At that point the prize would rightly be revoked. Now imagine that a Pulitzer Prize for Literature had been awarded to a novel whose author, after receiving the prize, surreptitiously edited out the most famous passage from the e-book and denied repeatedly that the passage had ever been in the novel to begin with. In that case, the prize would not be revoked, but the author would be considered to have gone at least semi-mad.

What do we say, then, about a Pulitzer Prize for journalism where the publisher edits out the most famous passage/claim and the author repeatedly denies that the claim had ever been there to begin with (although she herself made the claim repeatedly in a variety of public contexts well after publication of the original text)? What do we say when the author points to the stealthily edited text as proof that the claim edited out was never actually made to begin with, despite the fact that she herself repeatedly made the claim for months on end?

If the most talked about claim of the 1619 Project, a claim cited in the prize itself, can simply be disowned and then the fact of the disowning lied about, it cannot ever have been seriously meant to begin with. It was laid down in bad faith.

At least some significant part of the motivation for these deceptions and prevarications appears to be political. And if we cannot investigate this in greater detail, that is because the Times has hidden its own post-publication editorial actions, the height of journalistic irresponsibility.

To my mind, this is the moral equivalent of discovering a plagiarized passage in a novel after a prize has been awarded. It’s one thing to know that the 1619 Project had a partisan political aspect. That would not, by itself, invalidate the prize so long as the claim being made was serious and seriously meant for substantive reasons. But to casually make a gigantic claim—a claim cited in the prize itself—then simply toss it away and cover up the fact of having done so, turns a core reason for the prize into a joke.

By striking the most famous claim of the 1619 Project and then covering up that act, the Times and Hannah-Jones have retroactively exposed their effort as a bad-faith project. In an important sense, they have delegitimized the central claim for which they received the prize to begin with, just as surely as they would have done by surreptitiously stealing that passage from another author.

In short, the Pulitzer Prize Board should revoke its award to Nikole Hannah-Jones.


Joe Biden: Incoherent and Indefensible on Abortion


In 1982, Joe Biden voted for a constitutional amendment to allow individual states to overturn Roe v. Wade. 30 years later in his 2012 debate with Paul Ryan, Biden claimed to believe that life begins at conception, but said that he would not “impose” that belief on other Americans.

It was an utterly incoherent and deeply irresponsible position to take. If you believe that human life begins at conception, it is cowardly — not admirable or selfless — to abdicate your duty to stand up and speak up for the voiceless. It is especially shameful to abdicate for reasons of political self-preservation, as Biden did on that debate stage. Now, Biden has tacked even further left on the issue, expressing his support for repealing the Hyde Amendment last June after over 40 years of opposing such a repeal. And on Monday evening at an NBC News town hall, he even went so far as to promise to enshrine the holding of Roe v. Wade legislatively.

Biden’s hostile public posture toward life is incoherent, and growing more indefensible by the day.

Film & TV

Dune Delayed until 2021 — Will Mass Moviegoing Survive until Then?

Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in Dune. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

In April, I wrote the following:

In a time of much sadness and great tumult, certain things have provided me welcome solace. My faith, no weaker despite its temporary mediation, in some respects, through technology. My family, with whom I am currently living. Our home, a place of comforting familiarity to me. Continued digital interactions with family and friends I cannot be with at the moment.

And, of course, the promised release of Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune, which — as of right now — remains committed to its December 2020 release date.

This was in response to the first promotional materials for the new Dune adaptation. Since then, we got a trailer, whose confident declaration of a December theatrical release seemed bold and almost defiant amid such uncertainty.

Alas, it was not to be. News emerged today that Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures have delayed the film’s release for almost an entire year, to October 2021. Perhaps stung by the lackluster box-office performance of the theatrical release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, Warner Bros. is only the latest studio to punt a wide release into next year. MGM/United Artists has also pushed the release of No Time to Die, the latest James Bond movie, into next year.

This leaves essentially no big-budget movie releases for the rest of the year. So it’s not surprising that Cineworld, which owns Regal Cinemas in the United States and also owns many theaters in the United Kingdom, has announced that it will shut down all of its movie theaters in both countries until next year. How movie theaters can really survive for that long is an open question. Even government action to keep them afloat wouldn’t address the possibility that people will get out of the moviegoing habit, having deemed home viewing comfortable, or at least acceptable. It may live on as only boutique phenomenon, a luxury sought out rather than a norm assumed. As with many other things, we’ll have to wait until next year to find out. And I’ll have to wait until next year to see Dune in a theater.


Re: Thoughts on the New Rolling Stone List of the Top 500 Albums

Bruce Springsteen performs during the closing ceremony for the Invictus Games in Toronto, Canada, in 2017. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

In response to Thoughts on the New <em>Rolling Stone</em> List of the Top 500 Albums

My colleague Jack Butler, born in the Clinton Administration but steeped in the cultural tastes of Gen X or even Baby Boomers, looks at the new RS list and gently questions its taste. Rolling Stone meant a lot to me back in the 1980s but Jack’s post reminded me I hadn’t even bothered to check out the new list, which at one time would have been something I eagerly consumed. Why don’t I care? Because I knew what I’d find.

Jack writes, “Notably, Rolling Stone does not seem to have sold its new list as an attempt at improving ‘representation’ or some such,” but representation was clearly the most important factor on its mind, as it is with just about every entity that makes lists or hands out awards these days. Leaving aside that most of these albums are not rock (okay, it’s a list of the top 500 “popular music” albums of all time, whatever), you will not be able to convince me that merit was the sole criterion for these selections. (Rolling Stone was immediately denounced for not being “inclusive” enough anyway, which illustrates why you should never play these games in the first place. Throw out your integrity and all that remains to be decided is how much groveling you will do, not whether to grovel.) If there are considerations other than merit, who really cares? Any list that has Liz Phair’s (forgotten) Exile in Guyville (1993) at number 56 but dumps Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town all the way back at number 91 is more interested in showcasing its feminist credentials than in accurately summarizing what matters in the history of rock. There are guys who have the entire lyric sheet of Darkness tattooed on their backs. If Springsteen announced he was going to play only Darkness on his next tour, he’d immediately sell out stadia around the country. If Liz Phair announced an Exile in Guyville tour in 2020, people would respond as Jack did when I mentioned the name: “I’ve never even heard of her.” Phair’s brand of rage-inflected sexy feminism was novel for 1993, and critics got very very excited about it because there are so few women rockers of note, but two years later Alanis Morissette came along and did the same thing, with the crucial difference that Morissette did it well, with polished melodies and killer hooks. Instantly Phair became as obsolete as the Edsel. I doubt anyone at RS or anywhere else listens to Phair anymore.

White House

A Lot of Reputations Are Riding on the President’s Discharge and Condition

White House physician Dr. Sean Conley flanked by doctors as he arrives to speak to reporters about President Donald Trump’s health at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., October 5, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Roughly three days after the president was transported by helicopter to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the president is slated to continue his recovery at home.

White House physician Sean Conley said the president “may not be entirely out of the woods yet.” (Everyone who objected to this headline this morning, take note.) Conley said that the president has “met or exceeded all standard hospital discharge criteria” and that after receiving another dose of remdesivir, would return to the White House. Conley said “it has been more than seventy-two hours since his last fever.” (Note that that would be Friday night.)

Conley said, “we all remain cautiously optimistic and on guard, because we’re in a bit of unchartered territory when it comes to a patient that received the therapies he has so early in the course.” That’s a little unnerving to hear; if the president really is unchartered territory, maybe it’s worth having all of the resources of Walter Reed close by. Then again, the Secret Service can have the president back there within 20 minutes, and the White House has considerable medical resources on site.

The doctors agreeing to let Trump go home would appear to be counterevidence to the argument that the president’s condition is worse than his doctors are letting on. While it’s very easy to envision the president being “bored” and impatient to return to the White House, no doctor would want to be remembered as the one who let a seriously sick president return to the White House when his life was still at risk.

If, God forbid, the president does require hospitalization a second time or suffers some serious worsening of his condition at the White House, the decision to release him today will be seen as a terrible mistake, likely driven by the president’s impatience.


Thoughts on the New Rolling Stone List of the Top 500 Albums


Recently, Rolling Stone magazine published a new list of what its writers, fielding nominations from various music-industry figures, deemed the top 500 albums of all time. It has published such lists before. But this one was an attempt not simply to update some older list but rather “to remake our greatest albums list from scratch.” 

The result was significantly to modernize and diversify the list, reducing a heavy tilt toward ’60s and ’70s rock artists. This is not necessarily a misguided enterprise. As the list’s compilers note, “tastes change, new genres emerge, the history of music keeps being rewritten.” There is a legitimate argument to be made that the list’s prior incarnations favored and prioritized the cultural experience of Baby Boomers, as so much does.

But there are general quibbles worth raising, and specific ones. First, two in the general category. While it is true that the history of music keeps being rewritten, and much of musical preference is subjective, it is simply a fact that some albums and acts will always have the benefit of having been the ones who defined and perfected the experience of an album first, in a way that virtually all who followed draw from in one way or another. In my view, this honor belongs to The Beatles and to several of their albums. Sadly, the lads from Liverpool are treated somewhat poorly in this new list. Whereas in the 2003 list, the Fab Four had four albums in the top ten (including, at No. 1, the epochal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band), now they must make do with one: Abbey Road, at a measly No. 5. I’m sure Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are now having to cry themselves to sleep on their beds made of money now. 

The other general quibble gets at why this might have happened. Notably, Rolling Stone does not seem to have sold its new list as an attempt at improving “representation” or some such. For that, you have to go to Consequences of Sound, which complained about the original list’s having “just 12 artists of color and three women in its Top 50” and celebrated that the new list is now “much more diverse” and “no longer just white dudes who played rock music.” In a crude, reductive way, this is true of Rolling Stone‘s new list. But it’s a mistake to view it in that way, and would be a mistake if that’s how and why the effort was undertaken. The history of music may always be changing, but it should always be the music that we are caring about. Otherwise, this turns into a weird identitarian game: Should The Beatles get “points” for having been poor when they started? Should The Rolling Stones be demoted because Mick Jagger dropped out of the London School of Economics? Obviously we can’t completely ignore the identities of those who created these albums, but they deserve to be judged on the basis of the music they made. To the extent their identities should matter, it should be in how who they were enabled them to create better art, or to transcend the particular and to access the universal.  

In this regard, I have some other specific judgments to make about the list. I’ve already noted my annoyance at The Beatles’ demotion. I am equally annoyed that this new list decided to resolve an ongoing dispute about the superiority of Sgt. Pepper’s or The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds resoundingly in the latter’s favor. I am not sure what about the passage of time, and the changing of musical tastes, has made critical consensus change the relative places of these two more than 50-year-old albums. I am more willing to accept the recent enshrinement of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 What’s Going On as, apparently, the best album of all time; it was already in the top ten. But if it is there, it deserves to be there not on the basis of the kind of woke reordering that Consequences of Sound would have, but on its own merit, which is, let us stipulate, considerable. To do otherwise is to descend into a contest in which the actual music in question is only secondary. It is already a fraught enterprise to rank the best 500 albums (supposedly in order, to boot). That approach would make it even more difficult — and even less revealing about what it purports to rank.   

Law & the Courts

Alito and Thomas on Obergefell


Charlie, Pete Buttigieg is claiming that Justices Thomas and Alito are “openly calling” for Obergefell to be overturned. That is at best an overstatement. The justices’ concurrence admits of a different interpretation altogether. They write, “By choosing to privilege a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment, and by doing so undemocratically, the Court has created a problem that only it can fix. Until then, Obergefell will continue to have ‘ruinous consequences for religious liberty.’”

They could have written that “as long as Obergefell remains good law, it will continue” etc. There are, however, two ways the Court could “fix” the problem other than overturning Obergefell. It could find a way to walk away from the problematic dicta that the justices identify in Justice Kennedy’s decision in that case, or it could expand its protection for the free exercise of religion. Of these three options — reverse Obergefell, repudiate some of its reasoning, or expand free exercise — the one that seems most likely is the last. Employment Division v. Smith seems more and more vulnerable to a reversal.

Update: The original post said Alito and Thomas had written a dissent; it was actually a concurrence.

Politics & Policy

The GOP Will Miss Pat Toomey When He’s Gone

Sen. Pat Toomey (R., PA) speaks during a Senate committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 5, 2020. (Alex Wong/Reuters)

Republican senator Pat Toomey formally announced Monday he will neither run for reelection nor run for governor in 2022. For free-market, small-government conservatives, this is terrible news.

The move was not, as some speculated, a prelude to endorsing Joe Biden. “I hope to be serving these last two years with President Donald Trump reelected,” Toomey said in his announcement. “I support his campaign, I support his reelection.”

It’s hard to begrudge Toomey the decision to hang it up after two six-year terms. He turns 59 later this year. He’s done a lot of what he wanted to do in his ten years in the Senate, and the longer-term prospects for shrinking the size and spending of the federal government don’t look terrific, whether it’s a second-term of Trump, President Biden, or President Harris at some point in the future.

Toomey chased Arlen Specter out of the GOP early in the 2010 cycle, won two extremely hard-fought Senate races in a state that is purple at best, and is probably about as fiscally conservative as they come. (With one exception, Toomey was a full-spectrum consistent conservative, particularly considering he represented a swing state.) Lots of folks adopted the Tea Party as an identity to get elected; Toomey was for controlling spending long before it was popular and long after everyone abandoned it. Toomey doesn’t have a bad relationship with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell or other GOP Senate leadership, but he doesn’t always agree with them, either. He’s wonky, cerebral, serious, and data-driven in a political era that doesn’t reward any of those traits. Much has been made of the Republican’s troubles in the suburbs in recent years. Back in 2016, Toomey carried Bucks County, 52 percent to 46.5 percent. His buttoned down, calm, even-keeled style reassured the soccer moms and white-collar commuters.

That lone exception was Toomey’s openness to a small deal on expanding background checks for firearms that never became law; he alienated the NRA while the Democrats, broader left, and Philadelphia Inquirer never gave him much credit for his effort to reach a compromise. Both populist Republicans and Democrats of all stripes largely hate Toomey for who he is, and neither side gives him much credit for where they agree. Early in the Trump years, I remember seeing Facebook posts from Pennsylvania Democrats demanding he oppose Steve Bannon’s role in the White House — as if Toomey and Bannon ever had anything in common, or as if the Senate held confirmation votes for White House advisers.

Toomey is a bright man with principles who cares about the details of policy and who doesn’t get into histrionics. How productive can life in the U.S. Senate seem at a time like this? He’s got some time before retirement — why would he want to spend the rest of his life in a legislative chamber where the best-case scenario for the near future is probably exercising the filibuster regularly? Why not do something else with his life, in a nonprofit or private sector?

Toomey’s not gone yet, but his commitment to principle and appetite for workable conservative policy solutions is missed already.

Law & the Courts

To Save the Lie, Lie Some More

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in Washington, D.C., June 1, 2017 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern is upset by Justices Thomas and Alito, who have today issued a warning about a problem that has been obvious to everyone since at least 2015:

By “jaw-dropping rant,” Stern means that Thomas and Alito outlined calmly why it creates real issues when the Supreme Court invents rights out of whole cloth, as it did in Obergefell. As I have been since before Obergefell, I remain in favor of gay marriage. But this is by no means the same thing as believing that there is a right to it in the Constitution, or as believing that Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was anything other than absolute nonsense — and an abuse of power to boot. Obergefell will not be overturned, and, pace Stern, neither Thomas nor Alito suggests that it will be. But they are correct to worry that, as it is written, it will be used to limit the rights that are actually in the Constitution, and they are right to note that this is precisely why all questions that do not have a footing in the document are better resolved by legislatures.

In a follow-up tweet Stern explains that, by issuing their dissent, Thomas and Alito have shown why Democrats must “expand the Court” — by which he means “pack the Court with politicians.” But precisely the opposite is true. As in Roe, the Court lied about the Constitution in Obergefell, and it is now going to have to deal with the distortions that were created by that lie. In effect, Stern is arguing that, in order to maintain this lie, the Court must be staffed by more people who are prepared to lie — a never-ending cycle that, if successful, would destroy the Constitution as it is written. Perhaps that’s the point, after all?


Despising Trump


In an interview, Senator Ted Cruz tried to explain the evolution in the jurisprudence of Chief Justice John Roberts. Cruz has some history with Roberts — both having clerked in the Supreme Court. Cruz speculated that the motivation behind Roberts’s change was “personal” and that “John despises Donald Trump.”

He added, “It is difficult to come up with two human beings more antithetical than John Roberts and Donald Trump, in every respect.”

I suspect Cruz is correct that Roberts has gotten more creative in his rulings and that he probably doesn’t much admire Donald Trump. Judges exist in a social milieu. And it’s only human to wonder if members of the Chevy Chase Club are really willing to cross polite opinion when it matters.

But, doesn’t Cruz despise Donald Trump? I remember what Cruz said at the start of the 2016 campaign and what he said at the end of it:

Beginning: “Sorry to disappoint — @realDonaldTrump is terrific. #DealWithIt”

End: “I’m going to tell you what I really think of Donald Trump . . . The man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him.”

I always felt that Trump’s manifest faults drove Cruz to “get real,” And that, considering what Trump did to Cruz during the campaign, nobody should hold it against Cruz for despising Donald Trump. But, I don’t think Cruz has changed his fundamental views in light of Trump.

Politics & Policy

Help Fight Against State-Sponsored Discrimination


The Left insists upon discriminating on the basis of identity.

California’s Prop 16 would repeal Prop 209, which states as follows: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, and public contracting.”

Prop 209 was passed by Californians in 1996. Even in the nation’s most progressive state, discrimination repulsed the majority of voters.

That was nearly a quarter century ago, before BLM, Antifa, and the near completion of the Left’s march through the institutions. So when Democrats  succeeded last spring in getting Prop 16 placed on the November ballot, nearly every prognosticator assumed that, in hyper-woke California, it would pass easily.

Astonishingly, however, recent polls show California voters rejecting Prop 16. But the danger is that this sanity may not last long. The pro-discrimination forces (i.e., those favoring Prop 16) are far better-funded than the equal treatment forces. In fact, the pro-discrimination Prop 16 forces are outspending the pro-equal treatment Californians for Equal Rights by a margin of 12-1. Not a surprise considering that Prop 16 is supported by the deep pockets of Hollywood, public-sector unions,  virtue-signaling corporations, and woke athletes as opposed to average citizens who believe in equal treatment under the law.

Californians for Equal Rights is running out of money. If they do, it’s likely state-sponsored racial and sexual discrimination will become lawful in the nation’s most populous state, and eventually, in others. You can help.

Politics & Policy

Back When Presidential Doctors Were Unsparing with the Jargon

Ronald Reagan delivers his “A Time for Choosing” speech, October 27, 1964. (Reagan Foundation/via YouTube)

As noted in today’s Morning Jolt, the president of the United States is covered by HIPAA just like any other American citizen, and thus, his doctors cannot disclose any of personal health information if the president doesn’t want disclosed. Whether or not you think that ought to be the law, that is the law.

That said, it would probably be best for the country if the president authorized his doctors to release anything they felt necessary to provide a complete picture of his condition, and/or to assure the public.

In 1985, when President Ronald Reagan was hospitalized for surgery to remove a growth on his intestine that turned out to be cancerous, his doctors and White House officials released quite a bit of information, in much more detail than we’ve seen from the briefings regarding President Trump’s health in recent days. Back then, Dr. Steven Rosenberg, chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute and one of the surgeons assisting in the procedure, spoke to reporters himself, as did Dr. Dale Oller, chief of general surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital. The briefing began with a description of “the formal operation known as a right hemicolectomy and we put the bowel back together by doing an ileo transverse colostomy.”

Dr. Edward Cattau, who is the head of gastroenterology at Bethesda, elaborated, “There certainly was a lot of consideration to the possibility of a colonoscopy then but because of the histologic findings — specifically that polyp was, as you know, a pseudo polyp, inflammatory tissue, not a true adenoma, the type of polyp associated with the potential for malignancy — there was no indication for a total colonoscopy because of the histologic findings.”

Q: Could you give us his vital signs, the kind of anesthesia that you used, and the drugs that he’s on right now?

A: He’s on an intravenous right now, which consists of what we call dextrose, a sugar and ringers lactate. I do not have his personal vital signs at the moment. They have been stable. He’s run a normal blood pressure. And his heart rate has been satisfactory. Now I’d be guessing, but I think that it’s slightly over 80.

Q: Is he on any drugs right now?

A: Currently he is on no medications. Of course he will be receiving post-operative antibiotics.

Q: Is he in any pain right now?

A. No, he’s not. We’re utilizing a technique in order to try to avert pain.

Q: What is that?

A: Immediately after the surgery was completed he received a modern technique of intracecal injection of a milligram of morphine. This very frequently causes people to have a totally diminished pain response and therefore are able to function normally, from a mental standpoint and from an otherwise physiological standpoint.

After the growth was determined to be cancerous, the doctor’s public statements did not sugarcoat it at all:

Rosenberg noted, however, that there is a chance of recurrence and said that Reagan would have to undergo a variety of repeated tests in years to come. These would include colonoscopies, the procedure that discovered the tumor last Friday, and CAT scans, computerized X-ray examinations that provide visual cross-sections of parts of the body.

“There is a possibility that the tumor can return,” Rosenberg said. Asked to be more specific about the chances of recurrence, he indicated that they would be somewhere between 25 percent and about 50 percent.

When he first announced the lab findings, Rosenberg said, “The president has cancer.” Although he later explained that he did not mean to imply Reagan is known for certain to still have the disease, the language did convey what doctors generally feel: that once a person has been diagnosed as having had cancer, the person must be regarded as in a special category of higher risk.

This may be a lot more than most Americans ever wanted to know about a president’s colon. But the deluge of information, with specifics, made clear that the White House wasn’t hiding anything about the procedure or the president’s condition.

The more data and detail the president’s doctors provide, the more people will conclude they’re getting the whole story. When the doctors are direct with the public about the bad news, no one fears that something worse is being hidden from them.


Our Old Friend (Enemy) Disinformation

Russian leader Vladimir Putin arrives for a meeting with journalists in Moscow, June 15, 2017. (Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters)

Russia is engaged in a disinformation war — whether we like it or not, or respond or not. Can it be called a war if only one side is in it? The United States is in it, to a degree. But our effort is half-hearted, at best.

I have written a piece on this subject, appearing on the homepage today: here. On the Corner, I’d like to amplify a bit.

Daniel Fried is a retired U.S. diplomat, a onetime ambassador to Poland, for instance. About social-media platforms, he has said, “They don’t care about political concerns. They’re not interested in war. But war is interested in them.” (Here he is adapting Trotsky, of course.)

To one of his rallies last month, President Trump said, “I like Putin, he likes me.” That is no doubt true. But does Putin like you and me, or any other American citizen?

Thomas Kent quotes Ambassador Fried in his new book, Striking Back: Overt and Covert Options to Combat Russian Disinformation. Kent is a former president of RFE/RL (our combination of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty). I did a Q&A podcast with him, here. I also did a podcast with Jamie Fly, another past president of RFE/RL. That podcast is here. Recently, Fly gave testimony before Congress on Russian disinformation.

It is a very important topic.

The Kremlin has been at this game for a long time, of course. The Soviet Union established an agency for disinformation in 1923. A disinformation war is one of the practices that carried over from the Soviet Union to contemporary Russia — particularly with the ex–KGB colonel in charge.

My critics — left-wing and right-wing — often tell me, “Russia is not the Soviet Union, you know!” Oh, I know. But does the Kremlin? Often they don’t act like it.

Let me pause for a quick note on the difference between “misinformation” and “disinformation.” In today’s piece, I write,

“Misinformation” is an innocent mistake: You report that Mr. Smith lives on Elm Street when he in fact lives on Maple Street. On learning of this error, you correct it. “Disinformation” is not innocent. It is a lie, intended to achieve a political end.

One of the Soviet Union’s great disinformation successes was its AIDS hoax: the claim that this virus was concocted by the U.S. government in a Maryland laboratory for the purpose of decimating black people, gay people, intravenous-drug users, and other “undesirables.” It’s amazing how many Americans believed that. I wrote about it in a column last year, here. The Soviets concocted a lie that lingers to this day.

You know how it began? With a single plant in an Indian newspaper (the Patriot). It built from there — paper to paper, until Spike Lee and other celebrities were trumpeting it. Today, of course, communication is lightning fast.

Have some Jonathan Swift: “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect.”

In 2020, Kremlin disinformation artists have another virus to play with. They say that COVID-19 is an American bioweapon. That U.S. soldiers, serving in NATO units, are infecting local populations with it. That Bill Gates is behind it all. Etc.

One great question about the disinformation war is, Should the United States, and other democracies, fight back, seriously? Should we counter the lies and promote democratic values, over authoritarian ones? There are objections to fighting back, which I address in my piece. Here, I would like to quote Tom Kent:

. . . while Western companies never relent in defending their brands and market share, Western democracies took for granted after the Cold War that political liberty had become the world’s natural condition. Efforts to campaign for democracy abroad, and to teach civic consciousness at home, declined in what policymakers increasingly saw as a post-conflict world.

I often think of what Radek Sikorski told me, in a podcast a couple of years ago. (He is the Polish statesman, politician, writer, and journalist, who, in a different age, worked for National Review.) He said that democratic values have to be argued for, constantly. Generation after generation. New people are born — up for grabs — and older people have to be reminded.

Anti-democrats never rest. They never let up, in trying to achieve the world they want. If only democrats were half as energetic . . .

In our Q&A, Tom Kent said that Russia is the disinformation champion, yes — the state that is best, and most persistent, at this dark, destructive art. But anyone can play the game now. Software is increasingly available. You can make bots, doctor photos — the works. Private companies will do your disinformation for you. They even have customer-support lines.

How do you like that?

Last month, Christopher Wray, the FBI director, gave some testimony before Congress. Asked about the Kremlin and its machinations, Wray said, “We certainly have seen very active, very active efforts by the Russians to influence our election in 2020.” They are doing what they can to “sow divisiveness and discord.” Wray also spoke about how to navigate the media — what to consume.

I am often asking people about this: What do you read? What do you watch? What do you listen to? What’s your media diet? I put this question, or these questions, to both Tom Kent and Jamie Fly.

I’ll quote a little from the latter’s congressional testimony: “Information is more accessible than ever, yet access to unbiased, objective information is increasingly difficult to obtain.” Well observed.

And here is Director Wray, also before Congress: “I would encourage people to be critical thinkers, and to get their news from a variety of sources and make up their own mind, and be a skeptical, discerning electorate — which is what I think is the best defense against malign foreign influence.”

Anyway, to be continued, of course (whether we like it or not). My piece on disinformation, once more, can be found here.

Politics & Policy

The President Isn’t out of the Woods Yet, and Neither Are We

President Donald Trump talks to reporters as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (at right) and other senators listen, in Washington, D.C., May 19, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The president’s hospitalization and the outbreak at the White House are vivid reminders that no, the pandemic is not over, and it is unlikely close to being over.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallies 49,327 new cases and 703 deaths. Worldometers puts Friday’s tally at 50,257 on Friday and 757 deaths. Health experts worry that as the weather gets cooler and people spend more time indoors, the virus will spread more quickly. The good news is that for the past month, the daily number of new cases and daily number of new deaths or so has been pretty steady, once you account for the drops on weekends. The bad news is that those measures aren’t really declining, either.

No matter how much some guy on Facebook insists, the United States is not “at herd immunity” or “almost at herd immunity.” If we were at herd immunity, we wouldn’t have 50,000 new cases day after day; the virus would be running out of new people to infect, because so many people had already developed the antibodies to fight it off. This doesn’t mean that every new case will turn into a life-and-death situation; a new study of 230,398 healthcare workers across 24 countries found that 40 percent were asymptomatic, suggesting that probably four in ten people can get it and not even know that they have it.

If any place in the country would be close to herd immunity, it would be New York City, site of the first and worst outbreak. Unfortunately, certain neighborhoods in the city are seeing an uptick in cases again.

There are some bright spots. We still have considerable space in the nation’s hospitals and intensive-care units. For every age group, the odds of surviving an infection are good and are improving as treatments are developed and become more refined. As we’re seeing from the president’s care, the menu of options for treatment is much better than in the spring. An outbreak among college students is much less worrisome than an outbreak at a retirement home. As an Australian epidemiologist calculated, “In crunching the numbers, Meyerowitz-Katz has found that children have a very low risk of death — about five out of every 100,000 children infected have died. But this rises to 60 of 100,000 by age 40; 680 of 100,000 by age 60; and 8,000 of 100,000 by age 80.” We’re still in a pandemic, social distancing and other protective measures are still wise, and the elderly and immunocompromised are still at higher levels of risk.

I see quite a few people convinced that if Joe Biden wins the election, the media will declare that the pandemic is over, and that all of the coverage and discussion of the pandemic since March has been a deliberate attempt to over-hypes the danger and undermine the odds of President Trump’s election. I suppose we will see. If the media really does declare on November 4 — or whenever the election is resolved, whether it is days or weeks later — that the pandemic is no longer a danger, and that everyone can return to life as normal, then all of those skeptics will be entitled to crow from the rooftops about vindication. If not, I hope they will find as public a venue as possible to recognize they were wrong and that this was not all a matter of partisan media hype.


Ones for the Ages

Arvo Pärt receives an award at the foreign ministry of his native country, Estonia, in 2011. (Estonian Foreign Ministry)

Years ago, I took part in a debate, and the moderator said, “Give me the name of an author who expresses what conservatism is, and don’t say Burke!” I thought of what a reader had written me, years before: “Name one great living composer, and don’t say Pärt!”

They really want to take your cards away, don’t they?

Arvo Pärt is an Estonian composer born in 1935. I understand that he has stopped giving interviews. I think I’ll keep trying, nonetheless. In any case, he is featured in the latest episode of my Music for a While: here.

Pärt admired Benjamin Britten a great deal, and when Britten died in 1976, Pärt wrote Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, for strings and bell (yes, bell). It is an exceptional piece — but typical for Pärt.

What else is on the menu? Mozart, his Clarinet Concerto, or a slice of it. One of Mozart’s many biographers is Paul Johnson, the great British historian and journalist. He says that the Clarinet Concerto is Mozart’s “most perfect piece.”

There is an argument, as I say in the podcast — but the concerto has lots of competition, of course.

I also say that I wonder this: When Mozart laid down his pen, after finishing his Clarinet Concerto, did he think, “Huh, that was a really good one — one for the ages”? Or was it just the latest piece, another entry in the catalogue? I would like to ask him.

What else? I have a couple of samples from Joyce DiDonato, the mezzo-soprano from Kansas. I have written about her steadily for about 15 years now. There is nothing left to say. But I do say this, in a recent review:

Look, she’s one of the greatest singers of all time. Once she is safely retired or dead, no one will doubt it, for a second. Might as well embrace it now. It has been obvious for years.


Finally, some Bach — the favorite aria of a friend of mine (a former singer and a music writer): “Mache dich, mein Herze, rein,” from the St. Matthew Passion. There is certainly nothing higher. And it is good medicine in troubled times, or any times.

Again, the new episode is here.

Politics & Policy

Do Colleges Not Know How Many COVID-19 Cases They Have — Or Don’t They Want to Say?


It shouldn’t have surprised anyone that on college campuses where students returned in person, there were COVID outbreaks. At some schools, it was so bad that the students were sent back home.

But how many cases are there? In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins looks into that question.

The good news, she discovered, is that there have been few hospitalizations. But how many? She writes, “Given that universities are making consequential policy changes based on the perceived threat of the coronavirus—with some going completely remote—it would seem reasonable for them to consider how sick it is actually making people on campus.”

Finding out information on hospitalizations is not easy, she discovered. When she inquired, university administrators declined to say, citing federal law, HIPPA and FERPA specifically.

The problem is that those laws apply to individual records, not aggregate numbers. Watkins quotes one critic: “Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, told the Post that ‘the reason universities are so confused about this is that their lawyers have been misusing FERPA for decades to block public records requests for things that FERPA doesn’t cover.’”

Watkins argues that all of this information should be made public. She concludes that “the institutions’ lack of hospitalization tracking is irresponsible because it could help policymakers make more prudent and measured decisions. If many students are contracting the virus, but most are asymptomatic or develop ‘mild symptoms,’ should campuses stay shut down, forcing students to take online classes? Even with routine testing, contact tracing, and enforced self-quarantine?”


World Animal Day and Human Exceptionalism

A chimpanzee touches the hand of Diana Goodrich, co-director of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, Cle Elum, Wash., March 16, 2020. (David Ryder/Reuters)

October 4 was World Animal Day. Good news: The event was not steeped in “animal rights,” as one might expect, but animal welfare.

That’s important. The former is a misanthropic ideology that invents an explicit moral equality between humans and animals based on the ability to feel pain (painience).

Animal rights leads to despicable advocacy of the kind PETA once promoted in its Holocaust on Your Plate campaign equating meat eating and owning a leather sofa with the treatment of Jews in the Holocaust. Vile. Disgusting, but alas, typical of PETA.

In contrast, animal welfare is consistent with — and arises out of — human exceptionalism. We are the only known moral species in the universe. Only we truly understand right from wrong and good from evil.

Treating animals humanely is one of our essential duties precisely because we understand that animals are not inanimate but have emotions, can suffer, and experience pain. Of course, they are amoral beings and owe no duties to each other or us.

Thus — and ironically — even animal rights advocacy demonstrates the reality of human exceptionalism because it posits a moral obligation upon us to be radically self-sacrificial in our handling of animals — for example, becoming vegan even though we are natural omnivores. Ask yourself: What animal would forgo its natural food for a moral purpose? Obviously, none.

Look at it this way: If being human in and of itself isn’t what gives us the duty to treat animals humanely, what does?  The answer is nothing — which, it seems to me, proves that we are exceptional.

White House

Praying for a Rapid and Complete Presidential Recovery

Supporters of President Donald Trump outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., October 3, 2020 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

I have a list of beefs with the president a mile long, but I’m praying to see him well and happily striding out of Walter Reed, fully recovered from his coronavirus infection. I can’t get my head around the people who are gleeful about his condition, and openly proclaiming their glee.

This normally confident, ebullient president is probably feeling much more vulnerable than he usually does. I have no idea if Gabriel Sherman’s report, that Trump was asking, “Am I going out like Stan Chera?” is true. It doesn’t seem all that implausible; Trump and Chera were friends and Trump had spoken in the past of Chera’s succumbing to the coronavirus. If Trump has spent a night in a hospital before, it’s been a long time; I can’t find any press accounts of him spending a night in the hospital in years past.

The public and subsequent off-the-record statements about the president’s health have been contradictory and unclear, but whatever the situation was on Friday afternoon, it was serious enough for his doctors to conclude the president would be better treated at Walter Reed, with the full spectrum of equipment and tools on-site.

For a hospital patient, the president appeared to be in good spirits and something akin to his old self in the video released Saturday night. He’s got the best doctors, with every tool, treatment, and medicine available. But he’s still a 74-year-old man who’s fighting off a virus that is particularly dangerous to men his age. Some coronavirus patients make a full and relatively quick recovery; some are still dealing with shortness of breath or other symptoms after the virus leaves their systems.

Get well soon, Mr. President. The country and world have been through enough this year.


Air Rushes Out of the College Bubble

On the campus of Syracuse University in early 2020 (Maranie Staab/Reuters)

If there’s a silver lining to COVID-19 other than improving people’s hygiene, it is the way the pandemic is deflating the college bubble. There’s plenty of evidence and, in this Oct. 1 Wall Street Journal piece, Steve Moore provides a bit more.

He writes about his son’s experience at Villanova. Instead of returning to school at high cost ($70,000 per year) for online courses, he decided to get a job instead. He’ll probably learn more useful stuff at whatever job he has than taking classes.

Moore writes that this trend is frightening to the people who run our higher education system: “They are terrified that kids will save $150,000 by learning everything they need online…. Administrators and professors get paid in full even though most refuse to come anywhere near their students.”

College credentials have become overhyped and overpriced. Now we’re starting to see the market correction.

I read that Moore is co-founder of an organization named the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. America will have a better chance of doing that if we stop wasting so much time and money on college degrees, especially since many students leave college with a lot of foolish ideas about economics, history, and so on.


Pray for Healing — For Donald and Melania Trump and Our Nation


It’s obviously a serious thing when the president of the United States has to be hospitalized. This isn’t a game. These are real people.

I pray that this moment can be healing for a nation whose national politics and leading culture has lost a sense of humanity. It has a lot to do, I think, with how people feel toward themselves, disregard for others out of fear and anxiety, and widespread anesthetization.

Whatever you think of him, pray for Donald Trump, pray for the First Lady, and everyone they’ve come in contact with. And please be careful, for the sake of us all.


‘Positives and Negatives’


Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Michael discuss the sobering news of Trump’s positive COVID test, the mail-in ballot flip-flop, and Trump’s post-debate handling of his Proud Boys comment. Listen below, or subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Law & the Courts

Could Mike Lee’s COVID Case Delay Amy Coney Barrett’s Confirmation?

Sen. Mike Lee on Capitol Hill in 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Hours after President Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19, Utah senator Mike Lee announced that he too had tested positive and was experiencing mild symptoms. 

Lee is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senate Democrats immediately tried to use the Republican senator’s diagnosis as a reason to delay the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

“There is bipartisan agreement that a virtual confirmation hearing for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench is not an acceptable substitute,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and ranking Judiciary Committee member Dianne Feinstein said in a joint statement that didn’t actually cite any Republican objections to allowing senators to question Barrett via video.

The 49-year-old Lee, who tested positive on October 1, should be able to be back to work in person in time for the October 12 hearings — CDC guidelines updated in July recommend ten days of self-isolation following the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. 

But Lee attended a Judiciary Committee meeting on Thursday, and the exposure of other senators to Lee raised the possibility that the Barrett hearings might be held remotely or in a hybrid manner with some senators present and others attending remotely. (No other committee members are known to have tested positive at this time.) 

Despite the newfound objections to remote hearings from Senate Democrats, many Senate committees have been holding remote or hybrid hearings since the coronavirus hit the United States this spring. That includes Judiciary Committee hearings for “lifetime appointment[s] to the federal bench”:


“Full steam ahead with the fair, thorough, timely process that the nominee, the Court, & the country deserve,” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell wrote on Twitter on Friday.

Even before Senator Lee had tested positive, Democrats were openly discussing a boycott of a committee vote on Barrett in order to deny a quorum, so Republicans were already thinking through their options to overcome such unprecedented obstruction.

“I don’t see any scenario where the committee cannot complete its work on the timeline Chairman Graham has outlined,” Steven Duffield, former counsel to Senate GOP leadership, tells National Review. “If Democrats try to play games with quorum guidelines, the Senate can use its constitutional authority to change the rules to deal with this unique circumstance.”

The bottom line is that so long as Republicans have 50 votes plus Mike Pence as a tiebreaker, they will be able to overcome Democratic obstruction, bring the nomination to a vote of the full Senate, and confirm Amy Coney Barrett.

And that’s why the biggest threat to Barrett’s timely confirmation would be a couple of Senate Republicans becoming physically unable to attend any necessary Senate votes.

One precaution they could take to avoid more COVID cases would be to wear N95 masks — instead of the cheap cloth masks and surgical masks most senators wear around the Capitol. Another precaution would be to stop hugging people. Video showed Senator Lee hugging a couple people last Saturday at the formal announcement of Barrett’s nomination in the White House Rose Garden. It’s not clear how Lee was infected, but he is one of three people who attended that outdoor event — the others being President Trump and the president of Notre Dame — publicly known to have tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

The Washington Post reported that Barrett had COVID-19 over the summer and recovered. That means Barrett likely still has antibodies that provide immunity to the virus, and she should be able to attend a hearing in person if that’s the format Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham prefers.

Politics & Policy

What Happens If Trump — or Biden — Dies Before January 20?

(Trump: Leah Millis/Reuters; Biden: Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The age of the two candidates in this election — Donald Trump turned 74 in June, Joe Biden turns 78 in November — already put us in uncharted territory. Then we watched the obvious, visible public decline of Biden. And now, Trump has tested positive for coronavirus, and is reportedly experiencing “mild” symptoms including a fever, cough, and fatigue. All of which means that it is entirely appropriate to raise the morbid question of what happens if one (or both, for that matter) of the candidates dies or is incapacitated between now and the inauguration on January 20, 2021. Let’s run through some possible scenarios involving Trump, most of which would involve the same rules if Biden died. (My conclusions here are tentative pending further research.)

A few things, at least, are simple. One, if Trump were to die in office between now and then, Mike Pence would step in as the president, and would nominate a new vice president who would require confirmation by Congress.

Two, if one of the candidates dies after the election and has clearly already lost, it would not matter much if their electors vote for them. In that case, however, Congress would likely discard any votes cast for the candidate, without much controversy. In 1872, Horace Greeley died on November 29, three weeks after losing the election decisively to Ulysses S. Grant, but before all electors had cast their ballots. Most of Greeley’s electors voted for other candidates (including his running mate); a few still cast ballots for him. When Congress met in joint session to count the electoral votes (as mandated by the Twelfth Amendment), Massachusetts Republican George Hoar objected that the Twelfth Amendment states that electors “shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President,” and Greeley “was dead at the time said electors assembled to cast their votes and was not ‘a person’ within the meaning of the Constitution.” The two Houses adjourned, and a resolution passed in the House agreeing to discard votes counted for Greeley. The Senate did not concur, but the two Houses being divided, the votes were not counted.

Three, if Trump was certified as the winner of the election and then died, Mike Pence would not only become president, he would be inaugurated as the next president. The 20th Amendment provides for this explicitly: “If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President.” “President elect” in this case means the president selected after Congress opens the electoral votes; it is less clear if it means the president elect after the electors meet and cast those votes but before they are read by Congress on January 6. The joint session that reads those votes is presided over by the president of the Senate . . . which would be the sitting vice president (assuming one has been confirmed by then, otherwise it would be the president pro tem).

Four, if Trump died now, it is already too late to replace him on the ballot. State deadlines have passed, votes have been cast already.

Now, we get to the trickier situation. Let’s say that Trump died somewhere between now and the election, and the ballots still list Trump–Pence. What would Republicans do, and are there legal complications that would limit their options? The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage has an interview with Professor Richard Pildes, and Jason Harrow at Take Care has also looked into the question. Their analyses are complicated by the Supreme Court’s decision in July in Chiafalo v. Washington, which upheld laws binding electors to vote for the candidates they pledged to support, but specifically declined to decide this situation:

The Electors contend that elector discretion is needed to deal with the possibility that a future presidential candidate will die between Election Day and the Electoral College vote. We do not dismiss how much turmoil such an event could cause. In recognition of that fact, some States have drafted their pledge laws to give electors voting discretion when their candidate has died. [Citing Indiana and California.] And we suspect that in such a case, States without a specific provision would also release electors from their pledge. Still, we note that because the situation is not before us, nothing in this opinion should be taken to permit the States to bind electors to a deceased candidate.

As Harrow notes, state laws vary on what happens, so it may be difficult to generalize — which, in turn, would vastly complicate the Republican Party’s job in reassuring voters that a vote for a [Deceased Trump]–Pence ticket would, in fact, result in the legal election of a Republican president, and that the voters would know before the election who that is.

As Professor Pildes notes, both parties have party rules that permit them to substitute a new nominee. The RNC’s 168 members have a process to do that. If Republicans wanted to select someone other than Mike Pence, this would be fairly straightforward: The party announces a new nominee, and the electors vote for that nominee. Professor Pildes suggests that they would and should probably just ignore the faithless-elector laws, which have relatively mild penalties. It would be an extraordinary step for Congress to decline to count those.

But Pence, who would by then be the sitting president, is the obvious choice. The problem? He would have to withdraw as the vice-presidential candidate. Faithless-elector laws that could be ignored if the presidential nominee is dead might be more troublesome if the vice-presidential nominee is alive and well. Would Republicans instead pick a placeholder presidential nominee? And if some division on counting the electors means no candidate is selected, the House decides the election of the president, but the Senate decides the vice president. This would be the newly elected House and Senate sitting in January, and it is possible that they might come to different views. The 20th Amendment has some additional provisions, some leaving the question to Congressional statute, on how to handle situations where the House is choosing candidates and one of them has died:

The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them.

A dead candidate could attract enough voter support to win: Former Missouri governor Mel Carnahan did it in 2000, winning a Senate election to oust incumbent John Ashcroft, after Carnahan died in an October 16 plane crash. Missouri voters knew that a vote for Carnahan would be a vote for his widow, Jean, to fill the seat. A presidential election is a different kettle of fish, however.

In any event, we can all hope that both Trump and Biden make it through January 20, 2021, for a traditional peaceful and orderly transfer of power. But if I was advising the Republican National Committee right now, or for that matter the Democrats, I’d have someone drawing up a plan for what happens just in case.

UPDATE: Election-law professor Rick Hasen likewise concludes that the death of a candidate between now and the election could be “a mess” without clear legal rules. Quin Hillyer argues that Congress should pass a clarifying statute: “In the event of the death or incapacity of a presidential candidate after any state has already printed its presidential election ballots, then any vote cast for that candidate in that state shall be deemed and counted as a vote for whomever his party’s governing body has chosen as a substitute or, if the party has not acted, then for that candidate’s vice presidential running mate.” Good luck getting bipartisan agreement on anything election-related right now, though.

Correction: This article originally described the resolution discarding votes for Greeley in 1872 as having passed both Houses. It has been corrected.


Bored Book


My two-year-old son loves to be read to, maybe even more than his sisters did at his age. “Read it again!” is one of his most common sentences. He likes books about dinosaurs, books about hippos, books about cars. . . . He’s not picky.

So I thought I would get him Ibram Kendi’s board book, Antiracist Baby. I would read it to him, record his reactions, and get a quick light column out of it. I might find a way to mention that I’ve found him making the “ok” sign once or twice a year ago, and figured the book might do him some good.

No such luck. I had gotten four words into the book last night — “Antiracist baby is bred, not born,” is the first sentence, with a drawing of a protest — when he pushed it away. “Don’t like it!” And with that, the column was dead, and we were back to Quiet Bunny.


Celebrating a Century of Radio

( BrAt_PiKaChU/Getty Images)

As 2020 becomes even more surreal, with the news of the president’s coronavirus diagnosis, any opportunity to get some relief from the daily battering is welcome. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the culmination of a four-year project of reliving World War II in real time, broadcast on Chicago’s Saturday afternoon old-time radio program, Those Were the Days.  A few commenters rightly lamented that I only publicized the effort as it was winding down.

To make amends for that late notice, here’s another chance to listen to radio history, as the same show, hosted by Steve Darnall on WDCB, celebrates radio’s centennial over the next weeks. The show’s website is here, and episodes are available online for two weeks in the station’s archive. Starting tomorrow, October 3, Those Were the Days will be rebroadcasting some of radio’s most historic and important shows to celebrate the medium’s 100th anniversary. Tomorrow, for example, Darnall will replay the most famous radio program of all time, Orson Welles’s 1938 War of the Worlds, along with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first fireside chat, from March 12, 1933.

It is hard to overstate radio’s impact on American society and history, both good and bad. It all began on November 2, 1920, when Pittsburgh’s KDKA went on the air as the first commercial radio station, a part of Westinghouse Electric’s competition with Radio Corporation of America (RCA), a subsidiary of General Electric. KDKA is still on the air in Pittsburgh, the only station to have a “K” designation east of the Mississippi, where all broadcast stations begin with “W.” Not being a radio historian, I have to say that Wikipedia’s page on KDKA was pretty informative for the casual reader.

From Pearl Harbor to JFK’s assassination, most Americans first heard breaking news (and many still do) on radio, while families gathered religiously every week to listen to radio’s comedies and dramas. Staples of American culture, from The Shadow to the Lone Ranger, began on radio. Without radio, there would have been no rock-n-roll revolution, no Elvis or Beatles, which transformed popular culture, or a few decades later, the talk-show format that transformed politics. Radio drove commercialization to new heights, helping create America’s modern consumer society. And for those who think that social satire began on television with Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, or even later with Saturday Night Live, listen to Bob and Ray or an episode of the Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street from the early 1940s to see just how cutting edge American comedy could be in an era often portrayed as mannered and milquetoast.

In coming weeks, Those Were the Days will broadcast many radio firsts, from the first episode of The Shadow (with Orson Welles as the title character) and King Edward VIII’s abdication (both on October 17), to the 1937 live broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster and the last episode of the long-running series Suspense, from 1962 (both on October 24). For those who are interested in a full episode guide, Darnall publishes a quarterly Nostalgia Digest, which in the current issue also includes an article on the highlights of radio history.

Those Were the Days itself has been around for half of radio’s history, being started in 1970 by Chuck Schaden, who is still active despite retiring a decade ago. Darnall keeps the show mercifully free from politics, making it even more welcome as an oasis against the relentless bad news that hits us every day.  As a living part of America’s story, radio continues to link and divide us. Listening to these famous broadcasts maybe helps to connect us with that history, and for that, we should thank Darnall and his team once again.


Campaign in Deep Freeze: Trump COVID Test Locks Down Race

President Trump exits the Oval Office as he departs on campaign travel in Washington, D.C., October 1, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

For a moment, it looked like America could play pretend that an almost-normal presidential race would occupy the final weeks of this election.

The incumbent and his challenger joined for a live television debate, marred by interruptions and shameful name-calling as it was. Joe Biden’s campaign reversed course and determined it would, in fact, start door-knocking (after insisting doing so in a pandemic would be dangerous and politically counter-productive).

Those are two things that normally happen in election-season democracy . . . right?

But the wee-hours news of President Trump’s positive coronavirus test has frozen the race in place. The president is postponing, for now, all his planned events – or taking them virtual.

See this statement from Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien:

“All previously announced campaign events involving the President’s participation are in the process of being moved to virtual events or are being temporarily postponed.  In addition, previously announced events involving members of the First Family are also being temporarily postponed. All other campaign events will be considered on a case-by-case basis and we will make any relevant announcements in the days ahead. Vice President Mike Pence, who has tested negative for COVID-19, plans on resuming his scheduled campaign events. Any further information about the President will come from the White House.”

A stunning, albeit medically expected, turn for a president who at first insisted on holding full-scale rallies and has since gotten into the groove of holding pep sessions next to airports and other such environs.

So . . .

What will happen to the debates?

What will happen to Supreme Court confirmation hearings that had promised to energize the respective bases?

How will Biden adjust his approach, if at all?

All these questions remain, of course, unanswered. And if we’ve learned anything about 2020, it’s been not to dare place bets.

As of Friday afternoon, Biden has tested negative. But by this twist of fate, his basement-lurking, presser-avoiding, canvass-shunning campaign is now the benchmark.

And once again, what we have is anything but normal.

Politics & Policy

Schumer Calls for Delay


Chuck Schumer has called for a delay in confirming Barrett because of the president’s COVID diagnosis. In other news, Schumer thinks the vote should be delayed because water is wet, because bears defecate in an arboreal setting, and because it is bad luck to confirm Republican nominees on days of the week ending in “y.”

National Security & Defense

Deter Our Adversaries, Now More Than Ever

President Trump delivers remarks to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Wilmington, N.C., September 2, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

President Trump’s positive coronavirus test in the run up to November has sparked a lot of talk about the state of the race, in addition to consideration of a number of grim hypotheticals. Another angle to consider is the resulting threat to national security.

With the spotlight now on the scramble to test potentially infected White House staffers and members of Congress, U.S. adversaries might view an opening to take advantage of the chaos. In recent months, Beijing has stepped up belligerent activity pressuring Taiwan, as high-ranking members of the Trump administration have made visits there. Recent Iran-backed militia rocket attacks targeting the U.S. embassy in Baghdad have led Mike Pompeo to threaten to shutter the facility. And, as always, Russia’s meddling in Eastern Europe remains another hotspot to watch. Then there’s the issue of foreign election interference — this crisis could embolden the usual suspects. And, clearly, this is a non-exhaustive list of the world’s simmering crises.

The U.S. government will continue to function as this storm rages. But it’s crucial that this be made clear to the rest of the world, lest there be any doubt.

Marco Rubio has the right idea. He posted a warning to Twitter this afternoon: “Any adversary who views news of @POTUS testing positive as an opportunity to test the United States would be making a grave mistake.”

The president is working from the White House residence now and, thankfully, has only shown mild symptoms so far. It’s crucial that he broadcast his continued attention to the ongoing threats facing the country. This means, at the bare minimum, tweeting something to that effect. Hosting a video conference call with his top defense and national-security officials would be even better than that. (And they should also participate in a coordinated messaging push.) But for the purposes of projecting strength right now, a national address would go a long way toward providing assurance that the president remains at the wheel, prepared to deter any challenges to U.S. national security.


Trump’s Gender Gap


During Tuesday’s debate, the president and former vice president yammered, ego barged, and talked over one another. Clare Malone, of FiveThirtyEight, wrote that, “Chris Wallace now feels the pain of women in meetings.” Wallace, the Fox News moderator, accurately complained that Trump was doing most of the interrupting. It’s true that Trump doesn’t play well with female voters, if numbers are anything to go by. The Washington Post reports that:

Nationally, a Post-ABC poll released Sunday showed Biden leading Trump by 31 points among female likely voters and Trump leading Biden by 13 points among male likely voters. Trump’s lead among men is about the same as his final margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016, but Biden’s lead among women is more than twice as large as Clinton’s.


The EU Throws a Futile Temper Tantrum

At the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, in 2016. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Earlier this week, the House of Commons in Westminster passed the Internal Markets Bill, a law that asserts British sovereignty over sovereign British territory. Fairly uncontroversial, right? Downright tautological, even. 

Not according to the European Union. As I wrote about here, the British government made an ill-advised decision last year to sign on to a very bad Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union. The text of this agreement allowed the EU to economically annex Northern Ireland, one of the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom, and to keep it under the European customs and regulation regime. The EU’s pretense for demanding Northern Ireland as their pound of flesh during Brexit negotiations was that a fluid and permeable border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is impossible otherwise. The consequent erection of border infrastructure would, we are told, risk a flare-up of the horrific violence that has ravaged the island of Ireland since the United Kingdom was partitioned in 1921. The contention that only European control of Northern Ireland is necessary for avoiding a hard border is false, as the EU itself has admitted. But it’s a politically useful story to tell in order to gain leverage over the U.K. during negotiations. 

Discovering that such a situation is in fact wholly unworkable for a fully independent and sovereign nation, the British government passed the Internal Markets Bill. As the U.K.’s Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis has admitted, the bill violates the Withdrawal Agreement by reclaiming British sovereignty over Northern Ireland. 

Needless to say, the EU is not pleased by this turn of events. They served Boris Johnson’s government with a “letter of formal notice” this week that could eventually lead to a case against the British government being brought at the European Court of Justice. According to Brussels, the U.K. has breached Article V of the Withdrawal Agreement, which obliges both parties to work together in good faith. Appealing once again to the tried-and-true “peace in Ireland canard,” they are attempting to characterize the British government’s actions as endangering the agreement that brought an end to violence in Northern Ireland. The EU Commission protested, “The EU does not accept the argument that the aim of the draft bill is to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) agreement. In fact, it is of the view that it does the opposite.”

Thankfully, the EU seems finally to be receiving diminishing returns from their relentless appeal to this manifest falsehood. The legal process on which they have just embarked against the U.K. would take years to reach resolution. Happily, the United Kingdom will have completely extricated itself from the legal order of the EU (including the jurisdiction of ECJ) by the end of this year. The threats issued this week are purely political in nature, made in the full knowledge by all parties that they cannot be carried out. I suppose that the purpose of all this bluster from the European perspective is to show the British that they “mean business,” but all it really demonstrates is how out of practice they are when it comes to treating countries on their own continent as diplomatic equals. The time is fast approaching when the EU will no longer be able to threaten and bully the U.K. into line with the prospect of sanctions legal action from within its own technocratic apparatus. These “legal actions” really amount to no more than a final, impotent temper tantrum thrown by the Commission in response to the approaching, ineluctable advent of British independence. 

Politics & Policy

No One Deserves to Get COVID-19


The only thing certain about Trump’s contracting COVID-19 is that our political discourse is about to become even more insufferable. But I don’t think suggesting that those who do get coronavirus did something to deserve their fate is a very smart play. This seems to be the tone of some of the Left’s reaction. Speaker Pelosi, for example, says Trump’s behavior during the pandemic “was a brazen invitation for something like this to happen.” Even if Pelosi is right — and considering Trump’s germaphobic tendencies, I’m not sure she is — thousands of health professionals, politicians, business owners, and parents compelled to work to keep their households afloat follow protocols and still get the virus despite their best efforts. And those who contract coronavirus are not handed anything close to a death sentence. Now that we’ve learned more about the disease, the vast majority — about 99 percent of those who get it — survive. It would be nice if the tone of the coverage reflected that reality.

White House

Melania Derangement Syndrome: Media Distort Leaked Phone Call

First Lady Melania Trump delivers remarks at the launch of her Be Best initiatives in the Rose Garden of the White House, May 7, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The other day I had a phone conversation with a close woman friend. I was upset about a local news story, and I swore, more than once. My friend was upset about the same thing and was sympathetic. As women friends do, she listened patiently as I worked through my feelings.

According to the New York Times, what I in fact had was “a profane rant.” 

That’s the Times headline on the secretly recorded phone call between Melania Trump and her “friend”: “In Profane Rant, Melania Trump Takes Aim at Migrant Children and Critics.” The media seem to think the phone call makes the first lady come off badly. Normal people hear that call and have two thoughts: (1) Melania is a normal person who has feelings, including anger, and opinions. (2) What kind of woman records a phone call and dishes it to the media to embarrass and hurt her friend?

The Times writes that the first lady “mocked the plight of migrant children who were separated from their parents at the border in 2018.” Again, no normal person who listens to the recording can come to that conclusion: “And they said, ‘Oh what about the children, that they were separated?’ Give me a f***ing break. Where they were saying anything when Obama did that?…I was trying to get the kid reunited with the mom. I didn’t have a chance. Needs to go through the process and through the law.”

She is exasperated about media distortions of her efforts to do something to help and their refusal to cover her, and the issue, fairly. That’s the “break” she wants them to give her. 

In her “rant,” Melania even takes what seems to me a feminist angle when she complains about spending her time on the White House Christmas decorations. She has no interest in that task, but because she’s a woman, she’s expected to fulfill her role. Aren’t we supposed to like it when strong women reject traditional gender roles?

At one point Melania says, about the liberal media, “They are crazy, OK?” 

Yes. Yes, they are.

National Review

Inside the October 19, 2020, Issue of National Review


The October 19, 2020, issue of National Review is typical — replete with well-written, well-considered pieces that . . . get you thinking. None more so than the cover story by Dan McLaughlin: “The Nation’s Capital Should Not Be a State”, which notes that among several reasons making this bald Democratic grab for additional Senate seats a bad idea is a thing called the Constitution. If you had the magazine in your hands (of course, if you have an NRPLUS subscription, you don’t have to wait for the mailman to bring the issue to your home — you can read it all right now) you could flip the page after finishing Dan’s piece to find another most-worthwhile essay, this by Ramesh Ponnuru and Robert P. George, which provides a deep and detailed consideration of the voting obligations of a Catholic as relates to the life issues.

We recommend all in the issue, but offer three more pieces for a goodly sampling of the fare: Madeleine Kearns’ essay on how modern feminists have made seduction indistinguishable from coercion, Reagan scholar Craig Shirley’s insightful essay reminding us of why the 1980 presidential election was so consequential, and Rong Xiaoqing’s powerful report on the uproar over leftist educrats tossing a Virginia high-school’s merit-based admissions standards — of course to the detriment of local Asian students.

You’ll want to read it all, of course. Alas: Some will find their hopes dashed by the paywall. But fret not: That is simply and easily and affordably scaled courtesy of NRPLUS.

Law & the Courts

Amy Coney Barrett Participated in a ‘Mock Court’ on the Obamacare Case


Reports the Los Angeles Times:

Just one week before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom she has been nominated to replace, Barrett participated in a mock court hearing on the pending case. She was part of an eight-judge panel that heard the mock arguments, conducted at William & Mary Law School. . . .

Five of the judges ruled that one part of the law — the so-called individual mandate, which Congress has already effectively nullified — was unconstitutional, but that the rest of the healthcare law could stay in place. The other three judges would have thrown out the case, arguing that the conservative states challenging the law did not have standing to bring the suit.

It’s not known which side Barrett was on because the participants’ votes were not revealed, according to a person who viewed the session and declined to be identified. . . .

During the mock session, Barrett asked skeptical questions about whether the government’s taxing authority still justified keeping the individual mandate. According to the recollections of the person who viewed the session, she asked several questions about its constitutionality.

So, every judge involved let the law stand, though their reasons varied.

The idea that confirming Barrett would kill the Affordable Care Act was always silly, and of course her “ruling” on a mock court  — which the article refers to as an “educational role-playing exercise[]” — doesn’t bind Barrett if she actually hears the case. But this really should put an end to the panic.