‐ All things considered, we’ll take Roy Moore soliciting recount donations over Roy Moore soliciting minors.
‐ Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and our embassy should be in that city. In a well-crafted speech, President Trump announced that he would end the lamentable tradition of presidential waivers’ deferring the implementation of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act. The move both corrects an error of American policy and signifies our respect for Israeli sovereignty. Tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories have been inflamed by Trump’s decision, but breathless predictions of a new intifada have not come to pass. The charge that this move will derail the peace process is similarly unfounded: Any conceivable peace agreement between Israel and Palestine would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. Move the embassy to Jerusalem with alacrity, and move the peace process toward reality.
‐ The Federal Bureau of Investigation is in need of a hard look. It has recently emerged that Peter Strzok, an FBI agent assigned to the Clinton investigation, texted his mistress, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, in August 2016 (a month after the Clinton investigation was dropped) to the effect that the FBI could not afford to take the “risk” of a Trump presidency and needed to employ an “insurance policy” against the possibility. Meanwhile, the FBI was receiving the so-called Steele dossier, which James Comey has described as “salacious and unverified.” The dossier, paid for at least in part by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, was compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, working for the research firm Fusion GPS. Fusion’s Russia expert on the project was Nellie Ohr — the wife of Bruce Ohr, a top deputy to then–acting attorney general Sally Yates (who was fired by President Trump). After getting the Steele dossier, the Obama Justice Department convinced the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to issue a warrant targeting a Trump associate, Carter Page, as an agent of Russia. We thus have the possibility that Clinton’s opposition research helped to generate governmental surveillance of the Trump campaign. By contrast. Justice took a see-no-evil approach to the Clinton investigation, failing to use the grand jury to obtain key evidence, placing significant restrictions on FBI interviews and evidence collection, granting immunity to suspects who should have been pressured to plead guilty and cooperate against higher-ranking players, and declining to prosecute investigative subjects who made false statements in FBI interviews. Russia’s interference in the election is surely worth investigating, but it is high time the Justice Department appointed a solid United States attorney from outside the Washington area to scrutinize the conduct of the FBI and the Justice Department during the 2016 election.
‐ Michael Flynn, the retired general and top Trump campaign aide who fleetingly served as the president’s national-security adviser, pled guilty in the Mueller investigation to lying to the FBI. Flynn appears to have committed no crime in his contacts with Russians during the transition. His offense was to mislead interviewing agents about them. The conversations with the Russians concerned American sanctions on Russia, which Flynn would not commit to lifting, and a U.N. resolution against Israel, which the Russians would not commit to opposing: some collusion. The terms of the deal also suggest that Mueller has no case about Trump-campaign “collusion” with Russia. If Flynn’s contacts had been part of a conspiracy, the normal prosecutorial practice would have been for Mueller to pressure Flynn to plead guilty to that scheme. A prosecutor does not usually build a larger case by establishing that his cooperating witnesses are convicted liars.
‐ ABC had a bombshell: Trump ordered Flynn to contact the Russians during his campaign. Eight hours later, ABC issued what it called a “clarification”: Trump gave the order as president-elect. Reporter Brian Ross had discovered part of the routine of a presidential transition, not a collusion plot. The network, to its credit, suspended Ross. A few days later, CBS, MSNBC, and CNN reported that Donald Trump Jr., among others in the campaign, had been emailed advance news of the WikiLeaks trove of Democratic emails. They had the date wrong: The emails to the campaign came after WikiLeaks had released the information to the public. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, used these fiascos to claim, falsely, that reporters “regularly” and “purposely” spread false information. The truth is bad enough: Reporters are coming at these stories with a predisposition to believe Trump guilty of conspiracy, and not doing due diligence when they think they have evidence to prove it.
‐ On a weekday rush-hour morning, Akayed Ullah, a Bangladeshi immigrant, detonated a pipe bomb strapped to his waist in a pedestrian tunnel leading to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, one of New York City’s busiest transit hubs. Thanks to Ullah’s incompetence, only he was seriously injured; four others sustained light injuries. But if his homemade device had worked as planned, the nails with which it was packed would have claimed many lives. Ullah claims to have acted alone, as a self-taught acolyte of ISIS. He was not entirely discreet, however; Bangladeshi authorities say he tried to radicalize his wife, who lives back home in Dhaka. Who else knew his plans remains to be seen. Evil losers of the Third World lash out at New Yorkers, natives and newcomers, trying to make it here: a characteristic tale of the new millennium.
‐ Enough women came forward to accuse Al Franken of groping them that his Democratic colleagues began to call for his resignation from the Senate. They wanted to establish the principle that multiple accusations of sexual misconduct should force out officeholders, and then apply it to Trump and Roy Moore. Franken announced that he would resign at some unspecified date. Then Moore lost his race, and Democrats began to voice second thoughts. Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont has said he regrets calling for Franken’s resignation, asserting the Minnesotan deserves due process. Franken may yet make good on his pledge, if only to avoid exactly that.
‐ President Trump retweeted the anti-Muslim blasts of Britain First, a far-right group. The British prime minister, Theresa May, let it be known that this was not a group to promote. Trump fired off a tweet to May, rebuking her rebuke. But he addressed the tweet to the wrong Theresa May, another British woman, as it happened. This “wrong” Theresa May got off a nice line — to the effect that you don’t want a U.S. president to push the wrong button.
‐ A jury has found an illegal immigrant not guilty in the fatal shooting of Kate Steinle in July 2015 in San Francisco. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was acquitted of murder and involuntary-manslaughter charges after a contentious trial, in which the defense claimed the shooting had been accidental. Over the last two years, this case became a focal point for the national immigration debate, as Garcia Zarate had been deported five times before shooting Steinle, and San Francisco had a sanctuary-city policy in place that protects illegal immigrants, including those convicted of violent crimes, from federal law enforcement. Supporters of sanctuary-city laws bitterly protest that most illegal immigrants are not violent criminals, and they are correct about that. But it is also true that their policy protects those illegal immigrants who are.
‐ The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was designed by liberals to be “above politics” — i.e., to remain eternally liberal. So when the term of Richard Cordray, Obama’s appointee as CFPB head, was about to expire, Cordray hatched a scheme to give his side a few more months in power before politics — specifically, the results of the last election — could intrude. Cordray appointed Leandra English, a veteran bureaucrat, as his deputy and then resigned. English and Cordray claimed that English was henceforth in charge of the bureau, because the law establishing the CFPB said that the deputy director shall “serve as acting Director in the absence or unavailability of the Director.” The fact that the Director was neither absent nor unavailable but in fact nonexistent did not seem to concern them. President Trump then appointed a legitimate acting director, English sued to “retain” the position, and Democrats spent a few days high-fiving each other before a court ruled in favor of Trump and the English language.
‐ Jimmy Kimmel, the late-night host, has become a frequent liberal scold, delivering monologues supporting gun control and Obamacare. Most recently he used his infant son as a prop while excoriating Republicans for passing a tax cut for the rich while neglecting to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Some reporters amplified Kimmel’s claims, with Marlow Stern of the Daily Beast saying that Republicans “are threatening to eliminate” the program. House Republicans had in actuality passed a bill funding CHIP weeks before Kimmel spoke, as had the Senate Finance Committee. Nobody has treated the program as a “bargaining chip” for the tax bill, as Kimmel claimed. Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact checker, to his credit cried foul on Kimmel. Stern’s false report is still up, and Kimmel has made the transition from comic with a political edge to political hack in record time.
‐ The Department of Justice may be preparing to launch an investigation into Planned Parenthood. It has asked the Senate Judiciary Committee for documents from its 2016 investigation into allegations that the abortion provider profited from the illegal sale of fetal tissue. The previous year, the Center for Medical Progress had released video of Planned Parenthood executives negotiating prices and describing in gruesome detail procedures for extracting various fetal body parts intact. Planned Parenthood objects that the videos were “heavily edited.” In reporting on the controversy, media routinely repeat that characterization, but CMP from the beginning has made the full undercover footage available online. Reporters are free to compare it with the shortened versions and explain what about them they think is misleading.
‐ James O’Keefe has always been a hit-and-miss proposition, and he’s been taking more bad swings of late, especially in his attempt to embarrass the Washington Post by feeding it a salacious and phony story about the Alabama Senate race. O’Keefe had an accomplice approach the Post with a story about having been molested and impregnated by Roy Moore when she was 15 years old. The young lady apparently had been hunting around for work in right-wing activism, and it did not take the Post very long to figure out what she was up to. So the Post turned the tables, videotaping her during their interview and making her squirm as they dissected her slander. O’Keefe et al. have fallen victim to a fairly common misconception: The mainstream media, including the Post, do in fact suffer from a problem of left-leaning bias, but that is not the same as simply making stuff up and printing it or publishing obviously sketchy accounts without doing any reporting. That kind of malfeasance is rare and is a separate question from the more familiar problem of ordinary bias. Advice to O’Keefe from friends: Do better.
‐ Daniel Shaver’s killing by police is incredibly disturbing. Responding to a complaint about a man waving a rifle out of a hotel window, a group of officers arrived at the scene and ordered him and a companion out of the room. An officer then issued a series of confusing instructions that included crawling; drunk, crying, unarmed, and begging not to be killed, Shaver did his best to comply — but eventually reached behind his back, presumably to pull up his pants, and another officer shot him. (It turned out the rifle had been a pellet gun he was showing off to some guests in the room.) Given the totality of the circumstances, the jury was wrong to acquit the officer who killed Shaver, though it is worth noting that police officers are trained to respond immediately when a suspect reaches toward his waist, as it doesn’t take much time to produce a weapon and pull the trigger. May Shaver, a father of two, rest in peace, and may his family’s lawsuits against the city of Mesa, Ariz., succeed.
‐ Remember the Wisconsin “John Doe” investigations — the political inquisitions of Wisconsin conservatives that featured pre-dawn raids of conservative activists’ homes? Remember how they used criminal statutes as a pretext for investigating constitutionally protected speech and expression? Well, it turns out that the investigations were worse and more abusive than we knew. The Wisconsin Department of Justice released a comprehensive report that detailed, among other things, how partisan investigators scooped up the private correspondence of Wisconsin conservative activists and their families — often without their knowledge — and kept vast amounts of personal information in files marked “opposition research.” It discovered that partisan investigators tried to launch a new investigation even after courts had ordered earlier investigations stopped. Progressive-activist investigators were a law unto themselves, doing their best to criminalize political disagreement. The scandal isn’t just that they tried, it’s that they came so close to succeeding — with virtually the entire Wisconsin progressive establishment cheering them on.
‐ Despite very similar environments, California and Mexico are experiencing two very different wildfire seasons: While fires tear through Southern California, Mexico is left relatively unscarred. Experts contend that the difference is thanks to California’s sloppy policy of fire suppression, the practice of eliminating all fires when they start. In Mexico, firefighters allow the fires to burn within a natural cycle of homeostasis: Brush builds up, a fire burns the brush away, the fire dies out. Wildfires are scarcer in regions that preserve the natural cycle than in California’s artificial cycle, because the fuel that enables wildfires to grow out of control is absent. What will it take to change the policy? State leaders will have to convince Californians that small fires year-round are better than the perennial threat of a season of huge fires.
‐ The world is awake to the tragedy in Venezuela. Or is it more a crime than a tragedy? The European Parliament gave its Sakharov Prize to Venezuela’s political prisoners and democratic opposition, collectively. The New York Times had a moving, almost unbearable, report on the death of Venezuelan children by starvation. The toppling of that regime in Caracas ought to be a high international priority.
‐ Ireland forbids abortion in the eighth amendment to its constitution. Pro-choice activists in Ireland point out that, despite the law, thousands of Irish women seek abortions in Britain each year. Their campaign to repeal the eighth may lead to reversal of traffic and make Ireland a destination for Europeans seeking later-term abortions that would never be allowed in Germany or France. A referendum on repeal will be held in May or June, and the parliament is recommending that a post-repeal Ireland make abortion legal for any reason up to the twelfth week of pregnancy and for “health” reasons thereafter. The proposal makes no distinction between physical and mental health. Americans know this as the “Doe exception,” which effectively allows abortion on demand so long as the person seeking it testifies that continuing the pregnancy involves mental distress of any kind. There is a gap between the political class and the public. Just one example: Even though the party leadership mostly supports repealing the eighth, Fianna Fáil’s party conference saw delegates rejecting calls to alter or repeal it. Pro-lifers have to hope that the political class is overreaching.
‐ Only one head of state is an emperor, and that is Akihito, the 125th emperor of Japan, according to an order of succession so ancient that no other country can begin to match it. His father, Emperor Hirohito, never quite shook off the stigma of Japan’s militarism in the 20th century. The post-war constitution had transformed the emperor into a constitutional ruler. Succeeding his father to the throne in 1989, Akihito gave a flawless performance of the ceremonial role that this involved, with never a word out of place. He might appear dignified in a morning coat and top hat at official duties or informal in white shorts on the tennis court. He has published research papers on marine biology. Twice in his reign he addressed his people on television, the second time just now, to announce that, considering he is 85, he will be abdicating in the coming year. His son Naruhito, 57, is to be the 126th emperor.
‐ During the Cold War and now after it, Russia has been eager to claim superiority by having its athletes win gold medals in all sports, taking, for the purpose, forbidden performance-enhancing drugs. Obtaining firsthand evidence of this from Russian whistleblowers, the International Olympic Committee speaks of “unprecedented systematic manipulation.” That involved breaking into laboratories and substituting clean samples of blood or urine for contaminated ones — in plain language, stealing and lying. Evidently shocked and angry to have been fooled, the IOC has banned Russia from the 2018 Winter Games to be held in Pyeonchang in South Korea. The sports minister responsible for the programming of forbidden drugs, Vitaly Mutko, is one among other government officials prohibited from attending Olympic Games anywhere and everywhere. Alexander Zhukov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee, has apologized, and that really is unprecedented.
‐ Prince Harry of Wales, fifth in line for the British throne, is to marry Meghan Markle on May 19. Harry has been much in the headlines, whether flying a helicopter in Afghanistan or at parties either taking his clothes off or putting on a Nazi uniform. Meghan is American, an actress, and a divorcée. Harry’s great-great uncle David, otherwise King Edward VIII, wished to marry Wallis Simpson, also an American who had previously been married. The British establishment from the prime minister downward thought that the public wouldn’t stand for it, and the king was obliged to abdicate. Today’s establishment speaks of joy, and the crowd cheered Meghan at her first public engagements.
‐ “Lead us not into temptation,” the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, has long baffled many Christians. Why even assume that God would lead us astray? In an effort to correct the misunderstanding, the French Catholic bishops recently introduced a new translation, “Let us not enter into temptation” (Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation). On Italian television, Pope Francis criticized traditional translations, following the usual lines of the debate. He praised the French revision, although it strays from the original Greek, in which we ask God unambiguously not to lead (or bring) us into peirasmon: a peril, or trial, such as martyrs face under the sword. Jesus prayed “Let this cup pass from me” and taught his disciples to pray the equivalent. The word “temptation” (together with its cognates in modern languages) is no longer recognized as a derivation of the Latin word for “trial.” So substitute “trial” for “temptation.” Problem solved. The verb is fine. Stop fiddling with it.
‐ In 8 a.d., the emperor Augustus exiled Publius Ovidius Naso, better known to us as Ovid, to the frontier of barbarism, the Black Sea. With Putin in Ukraine, barbarism is back. But Ovid can come back too, now that the City of Rome has revoked Augustus’s banishment. A masterly versifier, Ovid was best known for his cold-hearted NSFW love poetry and for the Metamorphoses, retellings of the myths of Greece and Rome. Clunky Hesiod first recorded them; the tragedians mined them for pity and terror. In Ovid’s hands they became style, spectacle, and human interest. He was the Hollywood of his day, George Lucas plus Marvel and DC, only a hundred times more talented. Welcome home; you are suited to our moment.
‐ An eleven-year-old boy from Tennessee — we purposefully withhold his name — became famous when his mother posted a video of him complaining about bullying at school. It went viral, and celebrities offered their moral support. A third party set up a GoFundMe account (why? how does money stop bullying?). Then the world noticed that his mother had posted a family picture on Facebook that included a Confederate flag (plus Old Glory). The victim was a racist! A false report claimed that he had been bullied because he called schoolmates “n****rs.” Then it emerged that his estranged father is an actual white supremacist. Stop stop stop stop stop. In the age of devices, the rascally journalists of Scoop and Miss Lonelyhearts are, potentially, everyone. But your life is in your hands, not in your handheld. Live it, don’t broadcast it. And don’t feed on the lives of others.
‐ “Cat Person,” a New Yorker short story by Kristen Roupenian, caused a minor firestorm. It describes the hookup of Margot, a college kid working at a movie-house concession stand, and Robert, a thirtysomething patron. They meet cute, as Hollywood says, flirt by text, then have an awkward date capped by bad sex. When Margot leaves Robert alone, he sends her a string of texts, desperate then angry, ending with “Whore.” It says something about the way we live now that so many young women identify with the heroine. Margot is narcissistic and rather foolish (she drinks too many beers for a first date, especially a first date with an almost-total stranger). The author has her own blind spots: Robert’s parting shot, which Roupenian says she planned from the first, seems tacked on, the formula ending of a modern melodrama. The moral seems to be: Men are lousy, so we throw ourselves into bed with them. Ladies, ladies: You wanted third-wave — or are we on fourth-? — feminism; you’ll have to do better than this.
‐ Rufus Wainwright was a guest artist of the Minnesota Orchestra. During the concert, he made some political remarks, bemoaning the Republicans’ recently passed tax bill. The principal trumpet, Manny Laureano, made an exasperated gesture and walked off the stage. Under contract to an orchestra, you’re not supposed to do this. But Laureano had had enough, and so have we, of the intrusion of partisan politics into such events as orchestra concerts. Bravo, Mr. Laureano.
‐ The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota has some advice at holiday time: If you’re going to throw a party, bill it as a “winter celebration.” And avoid “specific religious iconography,” such as Santa Clauses, “wrapped gifts,” and menorahs. Furthermore, avoid red and green, and blue and white or silver, as those combinations can denote Christmas and Hanukkah. Since the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences is so generous with advice, we have some advice for it: Get a life.
‐ A college-football coach, such as Alabama’s Nick Saban, has plenty of responsibilities, from game plans to press conferences to recruiting (and many more). Now a New York sportswriter wants to add another job to the list: political commentary. Before the Alabama senatorial election, in a column titled “Nick Saban is a clueless, gutless, selfish coward for his silence on Roy Moore,” Chuck Modiano of the Daily News reviewed the case against Moore (with which we broadly agree) and then suggested that being paid a large salary by Alabama taxpayers imposes on Saban a duty to tell them how to vote. One might more logically argue the opposite.
‐ John B. Anderson, son of a Swedish immigrant, was first elected to Congress from Illinois in 1960. Early in his career he offered a constitutional amendment acknowledging “the law and authority of Jesus Christ.” The amendment went nowhere, and Anderson went slowly to the left. In the 1980 cycle he sought the Republican presidential nomination — a vanity campaign that caught the media’s attention and did surprisingly well in early New England primaries. After Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush won and placed, Anderson ran on as an independent, winning not quite 7 percent of the vote (mainly from liberals who could not stomach Jimmy Carter). Anderson was the harbinger of the do-it-yourself presidential campaign, and thus the forerunner, however remote, of Donald Trump. Dead at 95. R.I.P.
‐ Christine Keeler was at the center of a great British scandal in the early 1960s. A good-time girl, she was picked up by Stephen Ward, a social climber who took her to grand houses, one of them Cliveden, belonging to Lord Astor. There she began an affair with Jack Profumo, secretary of state for war in the cabinet of Harold Macmillan. It came out that she was also having an affair with Evgeny Ivanov, an attaché at the Soviet embassy. Military secrets, the media rumored, were coming out of Profumo’s mouth and passing via Keeler to Ivanov’s ear. Profumo foolishly lied to Parliament that there was no “impropriety” (his word) between him and Keeler. Unwittingly, she helped bring about the collapse of the Conservative government. At the age of 75, she died. R.I.P.
‐ Tracy Stallard was a baseball workhorse who made the most of a series of negative achievements. Most famously, as a Red Sox rookie in 1961, he gave up Roger Maris’s 61st home run on the last day of the season (a record that endured until the steroid era). Stallard, who had been told he was starting just 45 minutes before the game, always said the pitch Maris hit was a good one, “a knee-high fastball on the outside corner,” but Maris knocked it out for the game’s only run. In 1964, with the Mets, Stallard led the National League in losses (one of which came in Jim Bunning’s perfect game), going 10–20 on the season — which still left him second on his team in wins; that’s how things were on the early Mets. That same year, he also lost the longest game in major-league history up to that time. He finished his career with the 1966 Cardinals — just missing the 1967 club, where he would have been Maris’s teammate and won a World Series. In later years, Stallard was philosophical about the fame he won by serving up Maris’s record shot, pointing out, “I played in a lot of golf tournaments because of it” — including, in 1990, the Roger Maris memorial charity tournament . . . which Stallard won. Dead at 80. R.I.P.
A Tax-Cut Triumph
As we hoped, the Republican tax legislation improved as it moved through Congress. Harmful ideas such as eliminating the adoption tax credit were abandoned. Some tax relief for the working poor was added. The final bill should increase investment, reduce the distortionary effect of tax breaks, and lighten the especially excessive burden that the federal government puts on parents. While the bill is nobody’s idea of perfection, it is nonetheless a solid accomplishment and we are glad that Congress has moved quickly to pass it.
Our 35 percent corporate-tax rate has stayed in place for decades as our major trading partners have cut their rates. The new tax rate of 21 percent should help us compete better for capital. Allowing businesses to write off the cost of investments more rapidly is another pro-growth win in the bill.
The legislation rightly pares back two major deductions: the ones for mortgage interest, which will be capped at mortgages of $750,000 rather than the current $1 million, and for state and local taxes, which will be capped at $10,000 rather than being unlimited. In both cases we would have preferred more aggressive action, but the course chosen has the virtue of reducing the number of people who will face tax increases thanks to the bill. If some high-income households react to this change by leaving high-tax states, perhaps those states will in turn be moved to rethink their policies.
The bill’s major contribution to tax simplification is the expansion of the standard deduction. That expansion will make tax deductions less important: Only a small percentage of taxpayers will find it worthwhile to itemize. The bill also reduces the number of people who will have to calculate their taxes twice, by limiting the reach of the alternative minimum tax.
Thanks largely to the interventions of Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, the legislation expands the child tax credit. We have long favored a large tax credit for children as the most practical way to remedy a disparity in our old-age entitlements: They overtax parents, who pay the same tax rates and get the same benefits as childless adults no matter how much they have contributed to those programs by raising children.
The House bill eliminated the dependent exemption and expanded the child credit by roughly enough to make up for it. Very roughly: A lot of families would have paid higher taxes. The Senate bill included a real expansion, worth about $400 per child for families in the middle of the middle class. Senators Lee and Rubio argued that the credit should apply against payroll taxes as well as income taxes. Most Republicans in Congress, unfortunately, remain wedded to the peculiar belief that relief from income taxes is wonderful but relief from payroll taxes is welfare. Senator Rubio had to threaten to vote against the bill to secure a little payroll-tax relief for families with earnings too low to pay much income tax.
Republicans added a repeal of the individual mandate — the fines Obamacare puts on people who refuse to buy health insurance that complies with its regulations. That step will be a boon for people who have been priced out of the market by regulations and then fined on top of it. Ending the mandate is unlikely to lead to as many people going uninsured as the Congressional Budget Office says. By the same token, it won’t save the federal government nearly as much money in insurance subsidies.
Which brings us to the main drawback to the bill: its likely tendency to raise the national debt. Most Republicans say that the tax cut will generate so much extra growth that it will increase revenues. No economic model of the tax cut, not even any of the models produced by conservative economists, backs this claim. It is convenient, though, in letting Republicans offer tax cuts to various constituencies without having to impose any restraint on spending.
Better legislation would have held off on some tax cuts pending that restraint. The corporate-tax cut could have been smaller while still marking a vast improvement. Pass-through businesses got, in general, a sweetheart deal in the legislation. The bill cuts tax rates on households making more than $500,000. Not even the editors of the Wall Street Journal, who crusaded for these tax-rate reductions, pretend that they will do anything significant to promote economic growth; and these households will benefit from many of the bill’s other provisions. (If they own stock, for example, they benefit from the corporate-tax cut.) Without these excesses, the legislation could have promoted growth while providing more tax relief to parents and doing less to raise the deficit.
But while the tax cut is likely to increase the national debt over the next ten years, it is nearly a rounding error in comparison with the growth of entitlements. A tax code that places less of a burden on investment, by businesses and by parents, could be had without any increase in the debt; but it is worth having even in return for a modest increase.
Republicans are therefore justified in voting for this legislation and celebrating their victory. But only briefly. Many of the tax cuts in the bill are temporary, and Republicans will have to find the votes for future legislation to extend them or make them permanent. And their victory will not hold if they do not reform the entitlements. Perhaps someone could mention that fact to President Trump at the signing ceremony.
The Moore Fiasco
Democrat Doug Jones beat Republican Roy Moore in a special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. Jones is the first Democrat to win an Alabama senatorial election in 25 years. The margin was 20,700 votes.
How lousy a candidate and a man was Moore? Let us count the ways. He was bounced out of the state judicial offices he held, not once, but twice, for failure to understand the supremacy clause of the Constitution. He ran a charity that paid him a cushy salary. He was credibly charged with pursuing teenage girls — allegedly assaulting one and molesting another when she was underage. His loss should be the end of him, but he is asking for donations to contest the result: one more way, if past is prologue, to squeeze out a Roy Moore payday.
There were 22,800 write-in votes — more than Jones’s margin of victory — most of them evidently Republicans disgusted with their standard bearer, so some honor clings to the Alabama GOP. Only some: Moore had won the nomination in a fair fight.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s soi-disant Svengali, campaigned hard for Moore as part of his plan to trash the current Republican political establishment. Moore’s loss sets him back, but there is no guarantee that Bannon will always find cat’s-paws of such low quality.
President Trump showed himself to be vacillating and dishonorable. He campaigned for the incumbent, Luther Strange, who had been appointed to fill the seat until the special election was held; then switched to Moore; then announced, in a post-election tweet, that he had been right to back Strange all along, since the deck was stacked against Moore. The only Trumpist the president will stand by is Trump.
Other Republican officeholders did no better than the president. After a show of displeasure, they resigned themselves to Moore’s eventual victory. One of the few exceptions, Senator Jeff Flake, went too far in the other direction, making a contribution to Jones (who is among other things a pro-abortion zealot). Senator Richard Shelby steered the right course, writing in someone else and making it public.
Republicans should not write off the debacle as an anomaly. Black turnout was strong, and strongly Democratic, which will not matter in deep-red constituencies with normal candidates, but which will matter a great deal in competitive races next fall.