Magazine | April 22, 2019, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

Democrats should stand behind Joe Biden. It’s a lot better than standing in front of him.

Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand have talked about expanding the Supreme Court to dilute the Trump-appointed justices next time their party controls the White House and Capitol Hill. In response, Marco Rubio and ten other Republicans have offered a constitutional amendment to fix the number of justices at nine. Over the Court’s first 80 years, the number varied from six to ten. Some of these changes were political: boosts in 1807 and 1837 empowered presidents Thomas Jefferson and Martin Van Buren, respectively; a drop mandated in 1866 hobbled Andrew Johnson. In 1937 FDR tried to add six justices. The sweep of his attempt doomed it. But the power to expand or, after retirement or death, contract, ought to remain with Congress and the president. The Constitution creates a mobile of balancing parts, and the Court, its chief interpreter, should not be entirely immune. 

Senator Warren has joined a chorus within the Democratic party calling for the abolition of the Electoral College. America, Warren said, must ensure that “every vote matters,” and she proposed that “the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College.” Notwithstanding that much of the Democratic party’s animosity toward the Electoral College is rooted in rank partisanship — no sooner have they lost control of an institution they expected to retain in perpetuity than that institution has been denounced as retrograde and unfair — arguments against the College have become increasingly indistinguishable from the broader argument against the role that the states play within the American constitutional order, and thus from the argument against federalism itself. Yet in our era of viciously divisive politics, the states are arguably more necessary than they have ever been. The Electoral College guarantees that candidates who seek the only two nationally elected offices in America must attempt to appeal to a broad geographic constituency rather than retreat to their preferred pockets and run up the score. The alternative is not less political contention or a reduction in anger; it is more of both. Further, the Electoral College brings with it a number of practical advantages that are crucial to good government: The result of presidential elections tends to be clear almost immediately; it is nigh on impossible for voters to return a tie or disputed outcome; and, because presidential elections are, in effect, 51 separate elections, accusations of voting fraud and abuse hold limited purchase. The freak occurrence that was Bush v. Gore is often raised as an objection against the status quo. Less attention is paid to the obvious question: What if that recount had been national? The Electoral College has helped ensure stability and continuity in America for more than two centuries. To destroy it in a hail of platitudes, civic ignorance, and old-fashioned political pique would be a disastrous mistake.

President Trump is talking about closing the border with Mexico in response to the ongoing migrant crisis. This would be a gambit akin to the government shutdown — a gesture masquerading as a strategy, with no clear end-game and a high likelihood of hurting the president’s cause more than helping it. The president is understandably desperate to do something that will make a difference at the border, hence the idea of closing the ports of entry to pressure the Mexican government into doing more to stanch the flow of migrants through its territory. But there’s no substitute for congressional action to tighten up the rules for dealing with the Central American migrants who know they can get into our country if they reach the border. Since Nancy Pelosi has no interest in such legislation, the migrant influx and breakdown of our physical capacity even to mitigate it will get worse rather than better.

Funny thing about the so-called Green New Deal: Not one of its advocates in the Senate is willing to vote for it. The Democrats, apparently afraid to get on the wrong side of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (S., Twitter), are full of rhetorical defense of her ignorant romanticism: When the Republicans criticized her program as an economic disaster in the making, the Democrats parried that it is only a nonbinding resolution; when the Republicans noted that it is vague to the point of uselessness, the Democrats insisted that it is “aspirational.” And when Senator Mitch McConnell gave Democrats the chance to vote for their aspirational, conveniently nonbinding resolution, the Democrats took a pass. Which is to say, while Democrats are insisting that we are only a few years away from an irreversible catastrophe that could mean the end of human civilization if not life on Earth in toto and maintaining that this threat justifies a coordinated worldwide effort to reorganize human economic and social activity, they will not even put their names on a symbolic legislative resolution in favor of that program. There are two possible explanations for that: One is cowardice, and the other is that they do not really believe their own hysteria. If it is the latter, then we are, at least that far, in agreement.

In a speech mocking the Green New Deal, Senator Mike Lee suggested that a more serious solution to climate change was “babies.” Americans should “fall in love, get married, and have some kids.” The more people, the greater the chances for the kind of technological innovation needed to curb emissions, he reasoned. Cue the outraged condescension. A Washington Post reporter retorted that actually “science says otherwise,” citing a single study estimating the amount of carbon emissions the average child will cause in his lifetime — one that didn’t attempt to take into account the effect Lee described. In reality, “science” doesn’t counsel forgoing childbearing for environmental reasons: There’s no reason to think that Americans’ having fewer babies would have a substantial impact on future global emissions. The Left’s other preferred policies include impossibly draconian cuts to fossil fuels and economic activity. If human flourishing is the goal, people could do much worse than follow Lee’s advice.

Lucy Flores, who ran for lieutenant governor of Nevada in 2014, wrote a piece for New York magazine’s website accusing then-veep Joe Biden of “plant[ing] a big slow kiss on the back of my head” before a speech. “I was embarrassed. I was shocked.” Her account gave extra prominence to a photo, long circulating online, of Biden shoulder-rubbing Stephanie Carter at the 2015 swearing-in of her husband Ash as secretary of defense. So is Biden the next log on the Me Too bonfire? Mrs. Carter wrote a rebuttal, insisting that Biden was “helping [her] get through a big day” and that a photographic instant was being taken out of context, and an organizer of the rally at which Biden and Flores appeared asserted that the two had never been alone together. Biden has been in politics for 50 years. If he is a secret groper, it will surely come out, and he will be incinerated. If he is awkwardly touchy-feely, that in today’s climate might do him in, too. As we go to press a second woman, Amy Lappos, said Biden uninvitedly rubbed noses with her at a Connecticut fundraiser in 2009. Now, when Democrats feel free to attack each other before closing ranks against the GOP, is his time of maximum peril. 

We’re still in the early days of the Democratic presidential primary, but it’s already clear that regard for the unborn will not be tolerated. Even those who style themselves as moderates — former House member and failed Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg being the prime examples — have shown their extremism on abortion. O’Rourke has twice defended his support for abortion even into the third trimester and has said he would have opposed the born-alive bill had he been in the Senate. Buttigieg, meanwhile, prefers to play the cop-out card: He supports policies to loosen restrictions on late-term abortion because, as a male politician, his input isn’t helpful. But if his input is unhelpful, it is not because of his sex but because of his choice to be morally obtuse.

So ludicrous was Jussie Smollett’s ever-changing tale about how he was supposedly attacked by two Trump fans on January 29 that even Saturday Night Live got around to spoofing it: The March 30 episode featured Chris Redd playing Smollett, arriving late to a meeting to decide his fate on the TV show Empire and claiming to have been attacked again. This time his “bag of clues” included Crest Whitestrips, three red “K”s, and a doll of a “gay” Teletubby. Yet on March 26 the office of state’s attorney Kim Foxx dropped all charges against Smollett for perpetrating a hate-crime hoax, later “explaining”: “We must separate the people at whom we are angry from the people of whom we are afraid,” as if nonviolent crime were suddenly no longer crime in Chicago. Smollett could have and should have been forced into a plea bargain to avoid serious jail time, given the strength of the evidence against him, which reportedly would have included testimony by the two Nigerian-born acquaintances of Smollett who told police he had hired them to stage the phony attack. Instead Foxx inexplicably folded while getting nearly nothing in return, though the actor was forced to forfeit a $10,000 bond he had posted and do a bit of community service (this turned out to mean such featherweight duty as hanging around the offices of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH coalition for a couple of days). Barring some final twist courtesy of the FBI, which has been nosing around the case ever since the actor claimed to have gotten a threatening letter via U.S. mail, Smollett has gotten away with what may be the most famous hate-crime hoax in American history. As Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel put it, “To me, it makes no sense. It makes no legal sense, no common sense, and this is an abomination.” Hate-crime hoaxes are hardly scarce — see the work of journalist Andy Ngo for word on the upsurge in fake attacks in Portland — but until they begin to be appropriately punished, we can expect a lot more of them, and all the ugliness and anger they bring to the fore.

A year ago Michael Avenatti was a star, or at least a meteor, of the Resistance, the loud-mouth lawyer who could fight Donald Trump diss for diss. Now he is being prosecuted from sea to shining sea. In California he stands accused of bankruptcy fraud, hiding assets from the federal government and from a former law partner. In New York the charge is extortion: Avenatti allegedly tried to shake down the sneaker giant Nike, demanding millions of dollars to hush up a supposed scheme to pay high-school athletes. President Trump naturally delights in his travails, but Avenatti will rise again. It is the nature of the type, a very American one: part performance artist, part grifter, one pinch idealist (the best pitchmen have to believe what they are offering, at least a little). Mark Twain could have invented him.

President Trump’s proposed federal budget cut $18 million of funding for the Special Olympics (private groups supply $100 million). Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended the cut in a contentious congressional hearing. Trump decided to restore the funding, explaining that he had “overridden my people.” Then DeVos went public with her side of the story: “I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye-to-eye on this issue,” she said in a statement. “This is funding I have fought for behind-the-scenes over the last several years.” The cutters in this case were Mick Mulvaney, acting chief of staff, and the Office of Management and Budget. DeVos, a loyal soldier, went along with a decision she had opposed (she supports the Special Olympics as a private donor). But loyalty, rightly, did not extend to taking the blame for the formulation of someone else’s policy. 

Donald Trump has signed an executive order that signals the administration’s support for free speech on campus but has no practical, immediate legal effect. Rather than a mission accomplished, the order represents a mission launched, directing executive-branch agencies to exercise their discretion in preventing violations of the First Amendment. While public universities are already required to respect First Amendment rights, federal agencies do not have unlimited discretion, in the absence of congressional action, to add new conditions to the receipt of federal grants. Legislation is the only adequate response. States are steadily passing statutory free-speech protections, but there is room for Congress to condition federal aid — for public universities — on constitutional compliance. 

Kamala Harris has a big idea: She proposes to transfer $315 billion in tax money to the Democrats’ most important political constituency, the teachers’ unions. The plan would give an average pay raise of $13,500 to every public-school teacher in the country. It is an article of faith among Democrats that teachers are underpaid, but there is little evidence that this is true as a rule. The average teacher as an individual earns more in total compensation than does the average American household, and in cities such as Milwaukee, which has some of the worst public schools, teachers earn average total compensation in excess of $100,000 a year. Some teachers do earn less than some other college-educated professionals with similar years of service, but that offers very little to go on: Education majors reliably have the lowest grades and standardized test scores of any undergraduate cohort; public schools are not generally competing with Goldman Sachs for top talent. Schools are managed locally for a good reason: Decisions about teacher compensation (and the associated taxes) properly take into account the fact that Los Angeles is not very much like Enid, Okla. The only real argument for Harris’s daft, expensive little scheme is patronage.

No one who’s witnessed the periodic scramble for pork known as congressional “farm-bill negotiations” would claim that America’s agriculture sector operates in anything resembling a free market. Senator Elizabeth Warren, however, does not propose to cut the subsidies and let competition reign; instead, her agriculture plan focuses on smashing the biggest and most successful businesses to pieces via antitrust law. As Matthew Yglesias noted at Vox, the basic logic of the proposal (similar to that of her thinking on antitrust in general) is that one should break up such big businesses “even when doing so would lead to higher food prices for consumers.” No, thank you. There is a place for antitrust law when businesses secure monopolies and engage in truly anticompetitive behavior, and current law allows the government to act in such cases. But the agriculture sector doesn’t need more government involvement; it needs less.

In Mississippi, Republican governor Phil Bryant has signed a so-called “heartbeat bill,” which prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually about six weeks into pregnancy. The Georgia legislature, too, has passed a heartbeat bill, and Governor Brian Kemp is expected to approve it. Several states have attempted to pass similar bills in recent years, but the legislation has never survived a legal challenge; Iowa’s heartbeat bill is currently held up in court. The great merit of these bills is that they remind observers on both sides of the debate that every abortion, even one early in pregnancy, ends a human life.

Joining California and Hawaii, New York will ban plastic bags at grocery and retail stores statewide starting in March of next year. Customers will be forced either to pay 5 cents apiece for paper bags (in counties that allow this) or to invest in reusable bags. Liberal states must be free to be liberal, of course, but plastic bags provided on location are one convenience we are not looking forward to giving up — and there is some research indicating that bans can backfire in various ways. Reusable bags, for example, cause hygiene problems and have their own carbon footprint, much greater than that of a single-use plastic bag; and “non-reusable” plastic bags are in fact reused for garbage, pet droppings, etc., meaning consumers will have to buy other products for those purposes. Massive inconvenience, little in the way of benefits: The legislature should reconsider.

Mark Janus won an enormous victory for public-sector workers in Janus v. AFSCME — and was honored at the recent National Review Institute Ideas Summit for it. But the case isn’t over: Now that the Supreme Court has agreed that it was unconstitutional to force Janus to pay fees to a union he did not wish to support, he would like his money back. This is a difficult issue, both as a question of ideal policy and as a matter of current federal law. The fees were legal under existing Supreme Court precedent when they were collected, making it hard to fault the union — not to mention lots of other unions across the country that did the same thing (some of which are facing similar suits). But if the union violated the Constitution in taking the money from Janus, as the Court has ruled, it seems wrong for the courts to deny him redress. A recent court decision, scrutinizing the relevant laws, found that the union could not be held liable for the fees it collected because it acted in good faith. We are watching the situation play out with great interest, and however it ends, Janus will remain a hero to every public-sector worker who doesn’t want to fund a political organization he disagrees with.

The city of San Antonio has banned Chick-fil-A from its airport, punishing the beloved restaurant chain for the donations of its charitable foundation. Progressive activists claimed that gifts to the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes constituted proof of the company’s hostility to LGBT Americans. There was no allegation that Chick-fil-A had discriminated against gay customers or gay employees. The mere existence of these donations was deemed proof of the chain’s malign intent. Yet San Antonio does not have the constitutional authority to punish a private corporation for its perceived politics. The city is engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, and should Chick-fil-A choose to sue, it would almost certainly win. The city’s intolerance could well prove costly for its taxpayers. 

The Treasury Department announced new North Korea sanctions. In a tweet, President Trump said he was reversing them. Asked for an explanation, his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said, “President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary.” Dealing with the North Korean dictator is one thing; liking him is another. In the end, the sanctions stood, as they should have. 

In 1967, a coalition of Arab states tried, again, to annihilate Israel. They failed. Understandably, Israel seized territories from which it had been attacked, so as to be less vulnerable in the future. Among these territories were the Golan Heights in Syria. Right after the war, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 242, which calls for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories and respect for the territorial integrity and independence of all states in the region (including Israel, of course). Over the years, Israel has tried to negotiate land for peace, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. In the case of the Assads’ Syria: not. Now President Trump has had the United States officially recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in advance of an Israeli election. This has the Kremlin and others cackling: See what the United States thinks of changing international borders by force when its friends are doing it? Yet Israel’s control over the Golan Heights is an act of pure self-defense. Maybe there will come a time when Israel can safely cede the heights back to Syria. That time is not foreseeable, and Israel must be wise. 

 If you are under the age of 40 or so, you missed the Cold War. You missed a lot — mostly danger. But you can see small reprises around the world today. In Syria, for example, where the United States has opposed the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the Russians went in to support it. And now in Venezuela. The U.S. stands against the Maduro regime and with the democratic opposition. The Kremlin, of course, stands with the Maduro regime and against the democratic opposition. Putin & Co. are doing all they can for Maduro economically, to offset U.S. sanctions. They have also sent two planeloads of military personnel, amounting to about 100 people. This is serious. And the U.S., as of old, will have to summon resolve, principle, and skill.

Caroline Farrow, an English columnist and commentator, was surprised when an officer from the Surrey police force phoned her to invite her to an “interview under caution” for posting tweets that criticized a transgender lobbyist, Susie Green. Allegedly, Farrow was told, she had “misgendered” Green’s 25-year-old transgender child and might have violated a prohibition on “malicious communications.” Green is the chief executive of a well-funded charity, Mermaids UK, which teaches children in British schools that they may have been born in the wrong body. Ten years ago, Green took her 16-year-old son to Thailand for “penile inversion” surgery, a procedure that is now illegal in Thailand for those under 18. On Twitter, a month after appearing on Good Morning Britain with Green, Farrow referred to Green’s child as “he/him,” described Green as having facilitated his “castration,” and argued that Mermaids’ practices ought to be considered “child abuse.” Green reported Farrow to the police but soon dropped the charges after an onslaught of negative press coverage. Not every victim of British censorship is so lucky. 

Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has asked Pope Francis and King Felipe VI of Spain to apologize for the conquest of the Aztec empire in 1521. The foreign minister of Spain’s Socialist government responded that it’s “weird to receive now this request for an apology for events that occurred 500 years ago.” The weirdness is compounded by the military history of the Aztecs’ downfall, which other indigenous people allied with Spanish conquistadors to bring about. Granted, the conquistadors were no Peace Corps volunteers, but neither were the Aztecs exactly champions of human rights. In hindsight, one can condemn the brutality that marked the Spanish conquest of the Americas as well as the colonial subjugation of other peoples, but the task of assigning degrees of guilt to specific persons, states, and institutions that were involved requires careful sifting of historical evidence, none of which points to the modern parliamentary democracy that is Spain in 2019 or to the present-day Catholic Church, which on questions of international conflict is committed to principles of irenicism. 

The new film Unplanned cuts straight to the crux of the abortion debate, telling the true story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who now directs a pro-life organization. Critics have dismissed it as “propaganda” and “an unabashed hit-job,” but the movie’s success stems from its refusal to flinch. It earns every bit of its R rating for blood and gore — but what does it say about the violence of abortion that simulations of it require a restricted audience? Unplanned is not, ultimately, about Planned Parenthood or its executives. It’s about the gruesome reality of abortion.

Chief Wahoo, the familiar cartoon Indian head that had served as the logo of the Cleveland Indians since the Truman administration, was retired by their front office last year at the end of the season. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred deemed the image to be “no longer appropriate for on-field use,” but ceded to Paul Dolan, the Indians’ chief executive officer, the club’s right to continue selling Wahoo merchandise locally in brick-and-mortar stores, including the team shop at Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland. That decision has the side effect of keeping anti-Wahoo activists in business. Meanwhile, their success has generated a grassroots movement of counter-activists who wear and display Wahoo as an icon not so much of their baseball team as of the side they’ve taken in what has become a culture war. Is Wahoo an ugly, racist caricature of American Indians, as his detractors insist, or is he a winsome personification of optimism and exuberance? Those who see him as the latter are free to wear him on their sleeve. If they do so with a light heart, and without lecturing, they’ll give that sparkling specimen of American graphic design a chance to speak for itself.

As we talk about the Green New Deal, paleontologists working in North Dakota claim to have uncovered evidence of the Ur-Depression: fossilized creatures wiped out in a tsunami unleashed by an asteroid strike in the Yucatan 66 million years ago. The asteroid strike has long been known from Mexican geography, and its possible role in extinguishing the life forms of the Cretaceous Period has been inferred from worldwide deposits of iridium, a mineral found in meteorites (it would have been spread by super-heated, choking clouds). The North Dakota find shows a jumble of fish carcasses and tree trunks, littered with tiny glass blobs — droplets of molten rock spewed up hours after the impact. As with all dramatic scientific discoveries, there is both interest and skeptical calls for further study. Word to the wise: If you see a brand-new star, which over succeeding nights gets brighter and brighter, contact Elon Musk.

There are many ways for a man to prove his love, but few are better than springing semi-spontaneously into “The Way You Look Tonight” before a hundred or so bystanders. Which is exactly what NR’s own Peter Travers did for Caroline Walradt at their wedding in Princeton, N.J., in March. It was a perfect end to a happy day. Congratulations to Peter and to Caroline.

Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, has an awesome reputation, for which Rafi Eitan deserves much of the credit. In his early career, seemingly, he had the special task of frustrating an anti-Israeli underworld of former Nazis and Soviet spies. Adolf Eichmann, the Gestapo officer responsible for organizing the wartime genocide of the Jews, was living under a false identity in Argentina, and Eitan led the mission in 1960 to kidnap him and bring him to trial in Jerusalem. The operation was flawless. Smuggled out of the country, Eichmann was duly tried, found guilty, and hanged. Eitan was standing by in the execution chamber and Eichmann is reported to have said to him, “Your turn will come to follow me, Jew.” To which Eitan replied, “But not today, Adolf, not today.” By the end of his life, he had become a national celebrity, and more than that, a symbol of successful survival. Died aged 92. R.I.P.

Michel Bacos will be remembered for the courage he displayed when terrorists put him to the test. A wartime pilot with the Free French, in 1976 he was flying the Air France plane from Tel Aviv to Paris that two Palestinians and two members of the Baader-Meinhof gang hijacked. At gunpoint, they forced him to land at Entebbe in Uganda, where three more terrorists joined them. They then separated out the hundred or so Jews and Israelis on the flight and declared they would kill them unless various demands were met. They released everyone else, but Bacos and the entire crew chose to stay with the hostages right up to the moment when Israeli commandos stormed in and shot dead all seven terrorists. “I fought the Nazis,” Bacos was later to say, “I knew precisely what fascism was all about.” Retired, he lived in Nice and died there aged 95. The mayor of Nice paid tribute when he said that love of France and the defense of liberty had made Bacos a man of destiny. R.I.P.

Andrew Marshall was famed for his expertise and sagacity, and eventually for his longevity. He was truly that cliché, a living legend. He was not a celebrity. He worked in the Pentagon, running an in-house think tank. It was called “the Office of Net Assessment.” The people he mentored joked that they were graduates of “St. Andrew’s Prep.” Marshall earned the nickname “Yoda,” from the Star Wars series. Yoda is a wise old character who trains others to fight for good and against evil. Marshall was tasked with thinking of long-term threats. He set up the office in 1973. He was a strong advocate of missile defense. In recent years, he thought that the U.S. was insufficiently alert to the threats posed by China. He retired in 2015, at 93. He has died at 97. His whole career was dedicated to the defense of freedom against tyranny of various sorts. A true great. R.I.P.

 

POLITICS
Our Long National Hysteria

Our long national hysteria may not be over, but at least it should — by rights — be diminished.

Robert Mueller delivered his long-awaited report, and Attorney General William Barr released his summary of the findings. Mueller found no evidence of collusion or coordination with the Russians, and punted on whether President Trump was guilty of the crime of obstruction of justice.

It always seemed unlikely, if not outright preposterous, that the Russians would have entrusted a sensitive intelligence operation to the most shambolic general-election campaign in modern memory. There was no reason to collude with the Trump campaign, in any case — the Russians obviously hacked Democrats’ emails, on their own, and then released them via their WikiLeaks cutout, on their own. Nonetheless, even as Mueller indictments and plea deals piled up, with no suggestion of collusion in sight, Trump critics could never give up on the idea.

The media were obsessed, and always implied there was some devastating revelation just over the horizon. Otherwise serious opinion writers accused Trump of being a traitor or perhaps a Russian asset since 1987. John Brennan assured everyone that there was no doubt that there was collusion. Democrats such as Adam Schiff said the same.

As for obstruction, that’s come a cropper, too, although the Barr letter is careful to note that Mueller doesn’t exonerate Trump on this score. Clearly, Trump hated the probe and, if he’d had his own way, would have ended it. He never did, though. Since Trump wasn’t guilty of collusion, it’s hard to see what his corrupt motive would have been to justify an obstruction charge — indeed, the chief cause of his rage seems to have been that he was indeed, as he insisted all along, innocent of collusion, yet subjected to a years-long investigation. Also, it’s dubious that a president can obstruct justice while exercising his lawful powers. So Mueller left the legal question to Barr, who concluded there wasn’t evidence of a crime.

Democrats are now clamoring for the full Mueller report, hoping it reveals something more damaging than what is alluded to in the Barr letter. We, too, favor maximum disclosure, mindful of the restrictions on disclosing grand-jury material — as well as disclosure of as many materials as possible related to how this investigative train got running in the first place.

We said at the outset of the Mueller probe that we preferred an independent commission as the more appropriate venue for a public airing of the facts around Russian interference. Mueller ended up proceeding in the same rut as most special-counsel probes, prosecuting a lot of process crimes and a few more-serious offenses not directly related to the matter at hand. There was plenty to work with here, since Trump’s associates, from Paul Manafort to Roger Stone, were such a motley, sleazy crew. They are marks against his judgment; that never made Trump a traitor.

If nothing else, Mueller will have accomplished something important if he’s managed to put that poisonous charge to bed.

 

PUBLIC POLICY
Repeal, Replace, Still

President Trump has tasked three Republican senators with coming up with a replacement for Obamacare, although he has said that it should not come to a vote until 2021. Devising a replacement is a prudent contingency plan in case courts strike down the law, which the Trump administration is urging them to do. Republicans should, for that matter, advance their own health-care plan even if the current lawsuit fails — as it is highly likely to do, in part because it lacks legal merit.

Trump said that a vote could wait until 2021 after one Republican senator after another complained about returning to health care. Republican strategists say the senators are right: Why put forward a plan and open Republicans to attack over it, when the party can concentrate instead on making the case against Democratic proposals to kick Americans off their health insurance and move toward a government monopoly? Why should Republicans reprise the experience of 2017–18, when they bled public support while trying to pass a health-care bill, spent the next election on the defensive on the issue, and then lost dozens of House seats?

A flaw in this cynical calculation is that Republicans cannot prevent Democrats from attacking them over health care by abandoning the issue; if that strategy worked, the 2018 elections would have gone very differently. Most of the Republicans who will be running for office in 2020 have already gone on record wanting to replace Obamacare. The Republican administration is urging its abolition in court. Democrats already have enough warrant to accuse Republicans of seeking to eliminate a health law on which many millions of Americans rely. Republicans can choose whether to respond to that attack by pointing to their own plan, or by letting Democrats devise a caricatured conservative plan to tie to them.

It is true that especially in the event the lawsuit fails, no conservative health-care plan has a chance of passage through a Democratic House. There is not much chance even that a conservative plan can serve as the basis for a bipartisan compromise. Note, however, that it was considerations much like these that kept Republicans from settling on a health-care plan during the Obama administration: They did not want to take responsibility for legislation they had no way to enact. The consequence was that when they had the power to enact legislation, they were unready to do it. They had built no consensus among Republican politicians or voters.

Obamacare’s key innovation was not the subsidization of Americans’ health-insurance purchases, an enterprise in which the federal government had been engaged for decades, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. It was the centralization of health-insurance regulation in Washington, D.C. It is that centralization, and accompanying curtailment of choice and raising of costs, that Republicans tasked with replacing Obamacare should now work to undo.

They should propose that the federal government both remove many of Obamacare’s regulations and redirect the money now flowing to Obamacare’s exchanges and its Medicaid expansions to state governments, which would then determine how to spend it to meet their residents’ health-care needs. Under such a proposal states would be able, for example, to take some of the money that they currently spend on able-bodied Medicaid recipients above the poverty line and devote it to recipients who are disabled, below the line, or both. They could let Medicaid recipients use a share of the Obamacare money to buy insurance on the private market. They could try to increase coverage rates among the young by allowing insurers to give them discounts. And so forth.

Republican officeholders who want to modify this basic template or advance a wholly different idea should be encouraged to contribute their ideas. What is most important is that Republicans not ease into the posture of merely holding off the next Democrat-led lurch to the left for a few years, and that conservatives not let them. As unhappily as it has been received, President Trump’s challenge to his party is a welcome one.

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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Letters

Readers write in on Patrick T. Brown's essay on parenting and Jack Fowler's piece on Mark Janus.

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White House

The Impeachment Clock

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Economy & Business

Who Owns FedEx?

You may have seen (or heard on a podcast) that Fred Smith so vehemently objects to the New York Times report contending that FedEx paid nothing in federal taxes that he's challenged New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger to a public debate and pointed out that "the New York Times paid zero federal income tax ... Read More
Immigration

The ‘Welfare Magnet’ for Immigrants

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