Politics & Policy

A (Relatively) Fair Review of Obama’s New Memoir

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Earlier this week, former president Barack Obama began to make the rounds to promote A Promised Land, his new book, a third (!) memoir. (It is the first of two promised volumes.) I have not read it, so I will withhold firm judgments on its quality. But the return of Obama to the public eye has served as a useful reminder of some of the reasons why his presidency aggravated conservatives so much.

Two of these reasons have been most evident this week: the complete willingness of media outlets to roll over on his behalf; and his seeming inability to understand that people who disagree with him might have reasons for doing so that aren’t rooted in grievance, prejudice, or some other explained-away force. Obama was not a Marxist, but the idea that one’s ideological opponents can only have such material reasons for disagreeing bears some whiff of the Marxist notion of false consciousness. (It is a notion that has pervaded sufficiently beyond its Marxist origins that some conservatives can be guilty of as well.)

At any rate, John Harris, the founding editor of Politico, deserves credit for writing just about one of the most fair and honest reviews of the book that I have seen beyond the Right. It still appears to take the former president’s side, but primarily turns on the question of whether Obama was the “great” president he wanted to be or merely a “good” president. Harris seems to be of the latter view. And in one particularly perceptive passage, he identifies a character trait of Obama that helps to explain why:

Obama as a writer makes clear: He spends a lot of time in his own head, and Obama as politician and president did the same. He plainly believes if he can adequately explain himself—how smart he is, how conscientiously he agonized over questions, and with such keen perceptiveness about differing points of view—this will cause people to look sympathetically at the decisions he did make.

It worked on me.

Along similar lines, Harris notes that many of Obama’s attempts at self-criticism come up short:

Sometimes his self-criticism about being too cerebral or detail-oriented in speeches or debates comes off sounding a bit superior, like those people who, when asked to describe weakness, say they care too much or are too impatient with colleagues whose standards are not as high.

Harris also claims that Obama “almost always demonstrates that he understands the perspective even of those who criticize him,” which seems far less obvious to me than to Harris (to say the least), so this review is not a complete dissent from the familiar resurgence of Obama friendliness in the media. But it is still a more bracing appraisal of Obama’s book and his legacy than one might have expected.

Elections

Sidney Powell’s Tell

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If you knew absolutely nothing about the mountain of evidence contradicting the wild claims made by a trio of Trump campaign lawyers — Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, and Sidney Powell — in yesterday’s fever dream of a press conference, one aside from Powell should have made it abundantly clear that this is a charade meant to cater to Donald Trump’s ego and pad the pockets of the proselytizers of the #StopTheSteal conspiracy theory. No, I’m not talking about the rant about how “the software itself was created with so many variables and so many backdoors that can be hooked up to the Internet, or a thumb drive stuck in it or whatever.” I’m referring to how she proclaimed that the software, which was supposedly designed to change a certain percentage of votes for Trump into votes for Biden, would not have been discovered “had the votes for President Trump not been so overwhelming in so many of these states that it broke the algorithm that had been plugged into the system.”

This quasi-religious narrative — that the love and support for the president was so great that it overpowered malicious software in a cosmic triumph of good over evil — has so obviously been concocted to cater to Trump’s ego that it’s astonishing anyone could believe it. This PR offensive posing as a legal challenge exists only to placate the president and enrich his attorneys — to the detriment of his own supporters and the country.

Elections

No, This Isn’t True Either

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Trump and his legal team have focused on vote dumps as evidence of fraud. Here’s Trump yesterday:

But this is an artifact of the way the count was conducted, as our friend Henry Olsen notes here:

Data nerd Nate Cohn has more:

And here’s a USA Today fact check.

The Economy

Student-Debt Relief Is a Bad Way to Stimulate the Economy

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The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has a great breakdown of why this is so. There are layers upon layers of problems with forgiving student debt to boost the economy, especially during the short term in light of COVID-19.

First and most obviously, debt is paid off in installments, sometimes over the course of several decades. So forgiving $X in debt today reduces payments by far less than $X in the near term. Some people might spend more today because their overall debt burden is lower, but research suggests this effect is small.

Second, if the debt relief is taxed (which will hinge on the government’s interpretation of obscure tax statutes), the extra taxes will cut into even this short-term boost.

Third, when you want to inject money into the economy, you give it to the folks most likely to spend an extra dollar. People with debt from college are not, by and large, in this category:

Over 70 percent of current unemployed workers do not have a bachelor’s degree, including 43 percent who did not attend college at all. Meanwhile, less than one-third of all student debt is held by households without a bachelor’s degree and less than a tenth is held by those with no college education.  Indeed, about two-fifths of all student debt is held by households with graduate degrees. That group makes up less than a tenth of the total unemployed.

Finally, even if we do want to enable folks with student loans to spend more while the economy is struggling, we can get a similar effect for a fraction of the cost by extending the current pause on payments rather than forgiving the debt entirely.

Law & the Courts

An Embarrassing Error by Trump’s Legal Team

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As I have noted repeatedly thus far, it is healthy and important (in the atmosphere of conspiracy following this election) to have election challenges filed in court, both because of the moderating influence of having to settle on a story and put things in sworn filings and because courts — and the public — can then scrutinize the evidence, with all sides getting their day in court. But it is also clear that the lawyers lately rising to the top of Donald Trump’s legal team are not exactly doing top-notch work. John Hinderaker of Powerline, a longtime Minnesota lawyer, catches one particularly egregious error in “an affidavit signed by Russell Ramsland, a Texas resident who is an expert on cyber security. The affidavit was filed by Lin Wood in the Georgia lawsuit, but it relates entirely to Michigan. . . . The Ramsland affidavit is part of the Trump team’s case relating to Dominion.” What’s the error? Ramsland claimed to have found multiple Michigan precincts with suspiciously high numbers of votes compared to “Estimated Voters based on Reported Statistics.” But Hinderaker looked at the list of the precincts:

Here’s the problem: the townships and precincts listed in paragraphs 11 and 17 of the affidavit are not in Michigan. They are in Minnesota. Monticello, Albertville, Lake Lillian, Houston, Brownsville, Runeberg, Wolf Lake, Height of Land, Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Kandiyohi–these are all towns in Minnesota. I haven’t checked them all, but I checked a lot of them, and all locations listed in paragraphs 11 and 17 that I looked up are in Minnesota, with no corresponding township in Michigan. This would have been obvious to someone from this state, but Mr. Ramsland is a Texan and the lawyers are probably not natives of either Minnesota or Michigan.

Evidently a researcher, either Mr. Ramsland or someone working for him, was working with a database and confused “MI” for Minnesota with “MI” for Michigan. . . . This is a catastrophic error, the kind of thing that causes a legal position to crash and burn . . . has Mr. Ramsland inadvertently stumbled across evidence of voter fraud in Minnesota? I seriously doubt it. The venues in question are all in red Greater Minnesota, not in the blue urban areas where voter fraud is common.

Can’t anybody here play this game?

Monetary Policy

Central Bankers – The (Latest) Unacknowledged Legislators of the World

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A tourist walks on a sunny autumn day in a forest outside Almaty, Kazakhstan, October 13, 2020. (Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters)

I’ve written a bit about how central bankers have been entering the climate wars (and how, regrettably, the the Fed has now enlisted alongside them).

Here’s another example of a central bank going down this route, via Bloomberg Green:

Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem called on the country’s banks and businesses to act more quickly on disclosing their exposure to the risks posed by global warming.

In remarks on a panel organized by the Public Policy Forum, Macklem said it’s a competitive imperative for the country to do a better job at accelerating capital flows to areas that reduce climate risks and minimize potential destabilization from the transition to a low-carbon economy. The governor didn’t comment on current monetary policy.

“Information and disclosure are essential for the financial system to be able to do its job,” Macklem said in prepared remarks via video conference. “Companies need to assess, price and manage their climate risks, and they need to disclose these risks for markets to function well.”

So far as those “risks” are concerned, here’s an extract from a must-read paper written by the Hoover Institution’s John Cochrane, to which I have referred to before, and fully expect to refer to again:

Let me point out the unclothed emperor: climate change does not pose any financial risk at the one-, five-, or even ten-year horizon at which one can conceivably assess the risk to bank assets. Repeating the contrary in speeches does not make it so.

Risk means variance, unforeseen events. We know exactly where the climate is going in the next five to ten years. Hurricanes and floods, though influenced by climate change, are well modeled for the next five to ten years. Advanced economies and financial systems are remarkably impervious to weather. Relative market demand for fossil vs. alternative energy is as easy or hard to forecast as anything else in the economy. Exxon bonds are factually safer, financially, than Tesla bonds, and easier to value. The main risk to fossil fuel companies is that regulators will destroy them, as the ECB proposes to do, a risk regulators themselves control. And political risk is a standard part of bond valuation.

That banks are risky because of exposure to carbon-emitting companies; that carbon-emitting company debt is financially risky because of unexpected changes in climate, in ways that conventional risk measures do not capture; that banks need to be regulated away from that exposure because of risk to the financial system—all this is nonsense. (And even if it were not nonsense, regulating bank liabilities away from short term debt and towards more equity would be a more effective solution to the financial problem.)

And as Cochrane makes clear, the insistence on disclosure is not designed to give investors or regulators information on which they can act — not really — but rather as part of a regime  “essentially of shame, boycott, divest, and sanction.”

We know where “disclosure” leads. Now all companies that issue debt will be pressured to cut off disparaged investments and make whatever “green” investments the ECB [the European Central Bank] is blessing.

(Cochrane was addressing a conference arranged by the ECB.)

And if anyone believes that the Fed will not (in the end) go down that route, I have an environmentally dodgy and thoroughly unreliable wind turbine to sell them.

Cochrane’s conclusion:

Working for a central bank is a bit boring. One may feel a longing to do something that feels more important, that helps the world in its big causes. One may feel longing for the approval of the Davos smart set. Why does Greta Thunberg get all the attention? But a central bank is not the Gates Foundation, which can spend its money any way it likes. This is taxpayers’ money, and regulations use force to transfer wealth between very unwilling people. A central bank is a government agency, and central bankers are public servants, just like the people who run the DMV.

Central banks must be competent, trusted, narrow, independent, and boring. A good strategy review will refocus central banks on their core narrow mission and let the other institutions of society address big political causes. Boring as that may be.

The use by central banks of an almost entirely bogus excuse (“risk”) for getting involved in the climate wars debases and degrades institutions that ought to be largely above the political fray. Instead, they are allowing themselves to be used as a device to push forward policies that, in a properly functioning democracy, ought to be debated and approved in the legislature.

As I noted when previously discussing Cochrane’s arguments:

 Cochrane was specifically discussing the role of central banks and certain international organizations, but he could also have been talking about the mission creep now detectable in so many institutions, especially in the field of finance, where the intertwined ideologies of “socially responsible” investing and stakeholder capitalism have led to the situation where decisions that should be left to elected governments are now being taken by investment managers playing politics with other people’s savings.

Some of those investment managers, like increasing numbers of central banks, try to justify what they are doing by talking about risk. This, on any basis that excludes the (non-negligible) risk of command-and-control climate regulation, is absurd. Yes, it’s prudent to see how resilient a company might be in the event, say, of a hurricane or, for that matter, a terrorist attack, or any number of other potentially catastrophic risks, but to include “climate change” in that list is to replace prudence with paranoia (and there are many ruder words that I could use).

Back to Cochrane:

The question is whether the European Central Bank (ECB), other central banks, or international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the Bank for International Settlements, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development should appoint themselves to take on climate policy—or other important social, environmental, or political causes—without a clear mandate to do so from politically accountable leaders.

The Western world faces a crisis of trust in our institutions, a crisis fed by a not-inaccurate perception that the elites who run such institutions don’t know what they are doing, are politicized, and are going beyond the authority granted by accountable representatives.

Trust and independence must be earned by evident competence and institutional restraint. Yet central banks, not obviously competent to target inflation with interest rates; floundering to stop financial crisis by means other than wanton bailouts; and still not addressing obvious risks lying ahead; now want to be trusted to determine and implement their own climate change policy? (And next, likely, taking on inequality and social justice?)

We don’t want the agency that delivers drinking water to make a list of socially and environmentally favored businesses and start turning off the water to disfavored companies. Nor should central banks. They should provide liquidity, period.

But a popular movement wants all institutions of society to jump into the social and political goals of the moment, regardless of boring legalities. Those constraints, of course, are essential for a functioning democratic society, for functioning independent technocratic institutions, and incidentally for making durable progress on those same important social and political goals.

Quite.

The interesting question, of course, is the extent to which some climate warriors even care whether democracy is functioning or not. There’s a reason that they have again relabeled global warming, this time to a climate ‘emergency.’

After all, neither democracy nor basic freedoms fare too well in emergencies. They get in the way, you see.

Law & the Courts

Intimidation Tactics Against Trump Lawyers Undermine Justice

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Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, personal attorney to President Donald Trump, speaks about the presidential election results during a news conference in Washington, D.C., November 19, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Two-hundred and fifty years ago, a young lawyer named John Adams risked professional and economic ruin when he defended British soldiers who were accused of firing into a crowd of protesters, killing five of them, in the Boston Massacre. Adams’ representation saved all nine soldiers from murder convictions and execution.

Today, both conservatives and progressives are disregarding Adams’ example and organizing campaigns to intimidate law firms who work for the Trump election effort. These efforts ignore lawyers’ role in our legal system as advocates for clients, including those who espouse unpopular positions, and confuse representation with approval of the clients’ actions or views. Regardless of how one views the Trump lawsuits, bullying the lawyers undermines the fair administration of justice.

The Lincoln Project – a group of Republican Never-Trumpers who campaigned against Trump and other Republican candidates this past election – has been urging lawyers at two firms representing Trump in election challenges (Jones Day and Porter Wright Morris & Arthur) to resign and has been calling on the firms’ clients to change their representation if the firms continue working on the lawsuits. At the other end of the political spectrum, ShutDownDC has organized protests outside offices of Jones Day, Porter Wright and a third firm, King & Spalding, and circulated the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of lawyers at the firms so they can be harassed.

The efforts appear to be succeeding. Late last week, Porter Wright announced it is withdrawing from a lawsuit it filed in federal court in Pennsylvania on behalf of Trump just a few days before, and a Jones Day partner was quoted as saying the firm would refrain from taking on additional election litigation.

Ironically, in 2011, the third firm being pressured, King & Spalding, succumbed to a similar pressure campaign from gay rights groups and withdrew from its representation of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives in defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. The withdrawal prompted King & Spalding partner and former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, who was leading the litigation, to resign from the firm and take the case with him to another firm. Clement’s resignation letter stated,

 a representation should not be abandoned because the client’s legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters. Defending unpopular positions is what lawyers do. The adversary system of justice depends on it, especially in cases where the passions run high. …being on the right or wrong side of history on the merits is a question for the clients. When it comes to the lawyers, the surest way to be on the wrong side of history is to abandon a client in the face of hostile criticism.

Two days later a New York Times editorial concurred with Clement:

 We strongly oppose the federal statute known as the Defense of Marriage Act which bans recognizing same-sex marriage. …But the decision of those lawyers, the law firm of King & Spalding, to abandon their clients is deplorable. … it was obliged to stay with its clients, to resist political pressure from the left that it feared would hurt its business.

Today’s intimidation tactics are uncomfortably reminiscent of the McCarthyist, Red Scare tactics of the early 1950s. Lawyers were pressured to not defend people in anti-Communist proceedings and often suffered economically for doing so, losing clients who feared associating with defenders of communists, their jobs, and even their ability to practice law.

The American Bar Association’s Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(b), comment 5, states that, “Legal representation should not be denied to people …whose cause is controversial or the subject of popular disapproval. By the same token, representing a client does not constitute approval of the client’s views or activities.” One need not agree with the validity of the president’s fraud claims or the merits of the lawsuits to realize there is something seriously wrong with trying to intimidate lawyers and obstruct the legal process. It is up to the courts to determine the merits of the legal claims, and courts always have the option of sanctioning attorneys who make frivolous or fraudulent claims.

Despite severe criticism and damage to his home by angry neighbors, Adams went on to become our second president. A few years after the massacre, Adams wrote in his diary that his defense had “procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country.” Regardless of political allegiances, we should all hope that today’s lawyers are as brave and principled.

Education

Colleges Claim to Promote ‘Critical Thinking,’ but Is That What We Need?

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Most American colleges and universities say that they aim to develop “critical thinking” in their students. For the most part, they fail to do so, as students graduate without much ability to discern between sound and unsound reasoning.

In today’s Martin Center article, Professor Alex Sosler of Montreat College argues against the cult of critical thinking. “What is lacking in education today,” he writes, “is anchoring the search for knowledge in a charitable outlook, one that emphasizes care and respect over suspicion and critique.”

The emphasis on “critical thinking,” Sosler maintains, puts students in the wrong frame of mind for education, one of suspicion. Instead, he argues for charitable thinking: “Charitable thinking requires a humility that considers, ‘I could be wrong about this’ — even if the ‘this’ is personally repulsive. It’s in this way that we can be challenged in our thinking, where minority opinions are heard and respected, and free speech is protected. You may very well still disagree at the end of charitable thinking, but at least it requires patience to listen.”

That’s a good point, but I would say that students should be taught both the patience to listen along with the precepts of logic so they can rationally evaluate what they hear.

Politics & Policy

The Insanity Oath

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Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, personal attorney to President Donald Trump, stands in front of a map of election swing states marked as Trump “Pathways to Victory” during a news conference in Washington, D.C., November 19, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Conservatives sense that social progressives have achieved a critical level of consolidation in key institutions: the Democratic Party, the university, and the prestige media. The occasional purges of old-school liberals from these institutions testify to that fact. The way that progressives have made “cancellation” a weapon is intimidating, a powerful inducement for conservatives to hang together. For an average person, a cancellation is a mob-like digital attack on their reputation and livelihood, usually with lifelong consequences. Progressive power is so insidious and pervasive, it seems to subvert the professional conservatives — elected officials, people at think tanks, and writers for National Review. The fear of being smeared is held out on the one hand, as well as the blandishments of feigned “respect,” occasionally attached to a low-level cable news contract.

The unhinged response to this power can be self-defeating.

My old friend John Zmirak is especially sensitive to the possibility of subversion.  John knows I live in the New York suburbs under King Cuomo’s edicts, as well as the other closer tyranny of three toddlers.  He can’t truthfully accuse me of being in it for the cocktail parties these days. With that out, he resorts to lumping me in with Nazi collaborators, because I found myself embarrassed for Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell’s press conference Thursday.

The two of them launched a series of fantastical accusations of election fraud. Powell focused particularly on an international conspiracy.  Some of what they alleged in that press conference has already been denied by Trump’s legal team when operating under oath in Pennsylvania’s courts. Powell has been promising to release a “Kraken” for quite a while now. I don’t think she has it. Tucker Carlson seems skeptical too. And his segment is far more embarrassing than anything I tweet. Will John call Carlson a Vichy-con as well? I doubt it.

My view is that the people who have been “fraud-pilled” in recent weeks have lost their heads. Zmirak’s rejoinder is that people like me have lost our hearts.

Zmirak is not alone in getting invested more heavily in Trump’s allegation of fraud. Something deep is at work. There were no Trump signs in my own neighborhood until after the election. Suddenly, as if in defiance, they’ve begun to sprout up. Many friends who I did not know were political are sending me little snippets of allegations of voter fraud and manipulation, much of which they are picking up from Instagram.

Most of the allegations contradict each other or what we know about the election. It was not big city machines that cost Trump the election; he did better than expected in cities like Philadelphia — something that an organized fraud of the type Powell alleged would be most anxious to disguise. Where he got hammered was in the suburbs, where there is no shortage of Republican election observers and volunteers. It is not surprising that he got hammered when mail-in votes were counted, as he consistently undermined his own voters’ faith in them.

The best possible case that Trump was “robbed” in any sense is that he was robbed fair and square, legally and in plain sight. It is the assertion that the loosened rules surrounding mail-in balloting allowed a far greater number of ballots to clear the rejection hurdles they’d have run into in earlier years. This does not come close to justifying the extreme remedy proposed, which is to have Republican legislatures pass laws enabling them to abrogate the results of Election Day in their states and execute a legal coup.

If John can speculate that I’m a coward akin to traitor, I think it justified to share my own speculations. The attempt to bind conservatives to Trump after he has lost, by believing in a massive conspiratorial plot, is not so different from previous psychotic reactions on the political right when it faced a stifling and powerful consensus. In previous ages, it expressed itself in the demand to believe Dwight Eisenhower was a communist.

Allegiance to a plain insanity is a good test of loyalty, like being beat-in during a gang initiation. It marks you in a way that makes you less suitable as an object for the Left’s blandishments. It demonstrates “commitment” or heart. Shared insanity can make people loyal to each other, sure. But it does so by rendering them useless or repulsive to the normal and decent people who need champions.

I cannot tell what I believe is a lie. And the truth is this form of bonding is for warped losers.

Elections

Trump’s Election Disinformation: Three ‘Don’t’s

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President Donald Trump delivers an update on the Operation Warp Speed program in an address from the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, D.C., November 13, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Don’t minimize it.

Nothing over the past four years convinced me so effectively that Trump needed to be defeated as has his response to defeat. No, it’s not an attempted coup in the literal sense. But it is an extended campaign of brazen public lies by a sitting president of the United States (“I WON THE ELECTION, BY A LOT”; “This was a RIGGED ELECTION!”; etc. — emotionally incontinent majuscules in the originals), undertaken to make his supporters falsely believe that an election has been stolen, combined with an attempt to reverse the outcome of that election by gaming the system. Nor did the disinformation campaign begin on Election Day. Trump strategically laid the groundwork for it all summer and fall (e.g., on June 22: “RIGGED 2020 ELECTION: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS. IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!”).

Whether or not Trump would execute a coup if somehow he could is, in the present American context, beside the point. What stops him, or anyone else, from doing so is the design of our institutions and the political-cultural norms that undergird that design, one of which is that elected officials admit defeat when the evidence of their defeat is clear — rather than file frivolous lawsuits, attempt to game the system, purge government officials for telling the truth, impede the transition to their successors, and lie, lie, lie. Part of what makes Trump’s lying so devilishly effective, which is to say destructive to that norm, is that claims of small-scale voter fraud are sometimes plausible and it is within the realm of the possible that voting systems could be hacked. The lies are thus presented under a patina of theoretically possible truth, with the deception consisting in a massive exaggeration as to the allegedly election-swinging magnitude of possible fraud and the treatment of every conspiracy theory as something in need of refutation rather than confirmation.

Of course this will have harmful effects on our political culture and weaken our institutions to some unpredictable degree. A new and dangerous thing is getting normalized. I heard a little warning bell go off in Utah when Burgess Owens, the Republican representative-elect of the state’s fourth congressional district, alleged in fundraising emails that Democrats were attempting to steal the election from him — citing no evidence whatever, and even as he led in the vote count. I had never before seen anything like it in the politics of my state. We have Donald Trump to thank.

Pro-democracy dissidents can also thank Trump for undermining their cause by comporting himself in a way that indeed bears a family resemblance to the conduct of strongmen and dictators: not through acts of political violence, which are thankfully beyond his means, but through his lying, lying, lying efforts to invalidate a democratic outcome and spread false beliefs about it.

“Disinformation” is the only adequate word.

Don’t falsely equate it.

Let’s go ahead and grant the harshest claims that the Obama administration abused its power in various ways, some of them involving unjustified surveillance and investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign. Let’s go ahead and grant that the Left never treated Trump’s victory as legitimate and that Hillary Clinton did what she could to entrench the belief that James Comey and Russian hacking had cost her the election. Nonetheless, Clinton conceded her defeat — by margins smaller than Trump’s in 2020 — the morning after the election. Obama invited Trump to the White House and publicly wished him success. Call this hypocritical all you like, but don’t pretend that it was a public campaign of lies, lies, lies about the vote-tallying itself, combined with a system-gaming effort to confer a presidential term on the losing candidate.

Don’t relativize it.

Even if Obama and Clinton had embarked on such a campaign, it would not excuse what Trump is doing now. Paraphrasing “I know you are but what am I” as a plural converse — “I know we are but what are you?” — may offer a certain tribal-partisan satisfaction. It is also a concession that what one previously found egregious enough to howl against is, now, just the way things go.

Economy & Business

Flexible Work Options Mean More Women in Senior Roles

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A friend just shared this new study by Zurich Insurance: It details the big jump in female job applicants (and hires) for senior management roles when those positions were described as potentially including part-time, job-share or other flexible work options.

This could be a silver-lining of COVID-19. More employers recognize that at-home and non-traditional employment arrangements can work for businesses. That means that women (and men) who want or need those options are more likely to find such opportunities. Women who might otherwise have sidelined their careers while raising children are more likely to find ways to continue to work and climb the economic ladder. Expect to find more women in corner offices and boardrooms down the road as a result.

This article in Crain’s New York Business presents the issue and findings matter-of-factly, but as is typical for coverage of this issue, there is always the sense that women are being unfairly forced into the role of caregiver.  This article puts it this way: “Despite increasing economic participation in recent years, women are still more likely to undertake the majority of domestic and caring responsibilities.”

Undoubtedly that’s true, but it’s important to note that many women want to be present when their children are young; it isn’t just something that is unfairly forced upon them. The new paradigms of being able to customize work relationships, rather than face all-or-nothing full-time employment relationships, make that possible.

Unfortunately, this progress is jeopardized by proposals that would make it harder for businesses to offer non-traditional employment options. California’s AB5, for example, is destroying work opportunities for women like Monica, who has been running a florist and event business, and men like Patrick, who had been an emissary for Santa Claus in California but is out of work due to AB5. House Democrats, and both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, support imposing such restrictions nationally, which would derail this progress and make it harder for people — particularly women — to find flexible work options when they need it.

Elections

Memo to Raphael Warnock: Hundreds of U.S. Chaplains Have Been Killed in the Line of Duty

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Chaplain (Major General) Thomas Solhjem, U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, and Sergeant Major Ralph Martinez, Chaplain Corps Regimental Sergeant Major, lay a wreath at Chaplains Hill in Section 2 of Arlington National Cemetery in honor of the Army Chaplain Corps 245th birthday, July 29, 2020. (Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery)

As there is much talk of the radical Georgia Democrat’s claim that Americans cannot serve both God and the military, it is worth recalling that there is in fact a category of Americans — military chaplains — who must rate an extra dose of enmity from the controversial wanna-senator.

Hundreds of chaplains of all faiths — as many as 419 since the Civil War — are believed to have died in the line of duty, killed in action or dying in prisoner-of war-camps, often while tending to the wounded and dying.

The most recent chaplain to die while serving the men and women of our armed forces was Army captain Dale Goetz, a Baptist minister, husband, and father of three — his life, and those of four other soldiers, ended in Afghanistan on September 3, 2010, when a roadside IED bomb exploded.

The first chaplain to die was Emmeran Bliemel, a Roman Catholic priest serving Tennessee soldiers in the Civil War — he was killed by cannonball fire on August 31, 1864, while giving absolution to a dying Confederate colonel at the Battle of Jonesboro.

For those curious of the battle’s whereabouts, it happened in . . . Georgia.

Today is the 53rd anniversary of the death of another U.S. Army chaplain, Major Charles Joseph Watters. Selflessly helping the wounded at the Battle of Dak To, he exposed himself constantly to enemy fire, which eventually felled him. “KIA,” as the acronym goes. So remarkable were the actions of the Catholic priest from New Jersey that in 1969 he posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Its citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Chaplain Watters distinguished himself during an assault in the vicinity of Dak To. Chaplain Watters was moving with one of the companies when it engaged a heavily armed enemy battalion. As the battle raged and the casualties mounted, Chaplain Watters, with complete disregard for his safety, rushed forward to the line of contact. Unarmed and completely exposed, he moved among, as well as in front of the advancing troops, giving aid to the wounded, assisting in their evacuation, giving words of encouragement, and administering the last rites to the dying. When a wounded paratrooper was standing in shock in front of the assaulting forces, Chaplain Watters ran forward, picked the man up on his shoulders and carried him to safety. As the troopers battled to the first enemy entrenchment, Chaplain Watters ran through the intense enemy fire to the front of the entrenchment to aid a fallen comrade. A short time later, the paratroopers pulled back in preparation for a second assault. Chaplain Watters exposed himself to both friendly and enemy fire between the two forces in order to recover two wounded soldiers. Later, when the battalion was forced to pull back into a perimeter, Chaplain Watters noticed that several wounded soldiers were lying outside the newly formed perimeter. Without hesitation and ignoring attempts to restrain him, Chaplain Watters left the perimeter three times in the face of small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire to carry and to assist the injured troopers to safety. Satisfied that all of the wounded were inside the perimeter, he began aiding the medics — applying field bandages to open wounds, obtaining and serving food and water, giving spiritual and mental strength and comfort. During his ministering, he moved out to the perimeter from position to position redistributing food and water, and tending to the needs of his men. Chaplain Watters was giving aid to the wounded when he himself was mortally wounded. Chaplain Watters’ unyielding perseverance and selfless devotion to his comrades was in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

Sounds kind of ungodly! Regardless, this is completely speculative, but . . . who would doubt that Watters would have forgiven Warnock for considering him (and all other chaplains, and all the men and women in uniform) a chump?

Politics & Policy

Virginia Uses Coronavirus Emergency Power to Shut Down Gun Show

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(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

When a federal court in North Carolina issued a restraining order stopping Governor Roy Cooper from stripping citizens of the right to assembly for religious worship, Judge James C. Dever III noted that, “There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution of the United States or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”

You wouldn’t know it. Governors are operating like authoritarians. As Judge Samuel Alito noted recently, we are now experiencing “previously unimaginable” attacks on freedom. If a pandemic with a high survival rate empowers states to ignore individual rights and laws, what is the purpose of the Constitution?

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio shut down public schools this week, without any legislative input, or debate, or even any credible scientific reason. Parents, most of whom have shown far more discretion and wisdom during the coronavirus pandemic than a mayor who is making decisions not based on science but on the whims of special-interest groups that he happens to favor, got shafted again.

And the diktats of the authoritarians are never neutrally upheld. Hasidic Jews practicing their faith in Brooklyn will be scapegoated and threatened by Cuomo — the fences of the outdoor playgrounds in the neighborhoods welded shut — while a million New Yorkers will be free to have a giant party in Times Square to celebrate the defeat of Donald Trump.

This kind of treatment goes on everywhere. Here is Mark Herring, the attorney general of Virginia, tweeting today:

Note the celebratory tone in which the attorney general — allegedly the state’s top law-enforcement officer, not a babysitter or even a health official — talks about stopping Virginia gun owners from peacefully assembling and practicing their Second Amendment rights.

Herring found a judge who let him shut down The Nation’s Gun Show, which his office called “a massive potentially 25,000-person indoor gun show” that “would most certainly become a superspreader event and could infect hundreds if not thousands of Virginians with COVID.” Knowing that it would be financially untenable for them to continue, Herring demanded the event be open to only 250 people when it has a capacity for 25,000.

Herring’s contentions are all risible. There is no evidence that the 50,000-square-foot facility that was to house the event — one that requires masks and social distancing and operates at 50 percent capacity — will become a superspreader event. If it were so, Herring would be fighting to shut down every Walmart and Target in Virginia.

If Herring were concerned about the health of citizens, rather than his partisan crusade — one that taxpayers fund — he would apologize for the inconvenience, not gloat. But we all know there is zero chance we’ll ever see an AG tweet out a blaring siren with the words, “successfully BLOCKED a massive Black Lives Matter protest.”

And, in case the Constitution weren’t clear enough, Virginia law says that a state emergency does not empower the government to interfere with “sale, or transfer of firearms.” It’s a shame that the gun show acquiesced, because there is no pandemic exception to the Constitution.

Politics & Policy

Say Goodbye to the Mexico City Policy

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President-elect Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., November 10, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst

/Reuters)

The incoming Biden-Harris administration has already unveiled its plan for what the new Democratic White House will do policy-wise in its early days. Unsurprisingly, among the action items is a pledge to reverse a pro-life policy that President Trump enacted and then expanded during his first year in office.

The Mexico City policy, first established by President Ronald Reagan, prohibits U.S. international-aid money from underwriting groups that promote or perform abortion overseas. Since Reagan, every Republican administration has enacted the policy, and every Democratic administration has revoked it.

The Biden-Harris administration will be no exception. “Yes, Biden will use executive action on his first day in office to withdraw the Mexico City ‘global gag rule,’” a Biden campaign spokesperson told the Washington Post during the Democratic primary campaign.

Undoing the policy is among the action items in the new administration’s plan for the first 100 days after inauguration. As a result of such a move, several billions in U.S. aid will once more be made available to abortion groups that operate around the world.

Under the Trump administration, the existing Mexico City policy was expanded to include not only family planning funds distributed by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development but also all foreign-health assistance provided by government agencies, including the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, and the Defense Department.

That new policy, dubbed “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” increased the amount of U.S. funding covered from about $600 million to nearly $9 billion.

Earlier this fall, meanwhile, the Trump administration proposed yet another expansion, which would have applied the terms of the PLGHA policy to all global health assistance provided by the U.S. government through contracts administered by federal agencies.

Surveys consistently have shown that large majorities of Americans tend to oppose funding abortion overseas. A Marist poll shortly before Trump was inaugurated, for instance, found that 83 percent of respondents, including almost 40 percent of people who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, oppose federal funding of global abortions.

Biden’s decision to undo this policy seems to be out of step not only with the American people but also with most Democrats. A 2018 survey from Marist/Knights of Columbus found that Democrats were almost evenly split on whether taxpayers should fund abortion in the U.S.; about 45 percent said they oppose the practice. Meanwhile, a 2017 poll found that 70 percent of Democrats oppose taxpayer-funded abortion around the globe.

Elections

How Can the Dominion Theory Survive the Georgia Hand Count?

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Allahpundit has a good post on the Georgia recount and how the Dominion voting machines — a focus of the fevered Rudy Giuliani-Sidney Powell press conference earlier this afternoon — actually work:

It’s possible that [Trump will] file a new lawsuit citing some pretext or another but the hand recount makes his pet theory of a big Dominion-engineered hack all but DOA. The way the machines work, as I understand it, is that a voter enters their choices and then the machine spits out a paper ballot. That ballot is then scanned in on a separate machine. That means there’s a paper record of every single vote which the voter can check before scanning it; those paper ballots are being counted right now in the hand recount. As you’ll see in the clip below, Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger says that the difference they’ve found between the machine tabulations and the paper ballots is on the order of single digits in various counties.

And there was no hacking to change any votes, according to the experts. Raffensperger had a random sample of the machines audited by cybersecurity pros and they found nothing amiss.

And here is the clip he referred to:

Politics & Policy

‘The Dumbest Coup’

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President Donald Trump during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., November 13, 2020 (Carlos Barria/Retuers)

Noah Rothman’s excellent piece in Commentary, “The Dumbest of Coups,” deserves to be widely read.

I’ve been writing about conspiracy theories for a while now — QAnon, the Flat-Earth gang, etc. — and one of the things you quickly learn about conspiracy theories is that every conspiracy theory is, in some part, every other conspiracy theory: They all overlap, in part or entirely.

Donald Trump has always been a conspiracy kook — vaccines, 9/11, Obama’s birth certificate, etc. — and he came into the presidency retailing a conspiracy theory: Let’s not forget that he also claimed that the 2016 election was illegitimate, that he’d actually won the popular vote but that electoral fraud had made it appear otherwise. Trump is a conspiracy kook who surrounded himself with other conspiracy kooks and cultivated kooky impulses in his aides, meaning that he is a kook in himself and the cause of kookery in others. The new Dominion-based conspiracy theory is only a variation on a longstanding theme.

And what we are seeing now, in the twilight of Trump’s kookery, is the merger of QAnon, the Republican Party, and the large part of the conservative movement that earns its bread by peddling miracle veggie pills to gullible elderly people on the radio. When I first starting writing about QAnon, some conservatives scoffed that it wasn’t a significant phenomenon, that it had no real influence on the Republican Party or conservative politics. That is obviously untrue. Rather than ask whether conspiracy kookery is relevant to Republican politics at this moment, it would be better to ask if there is anything else to Republican politics at this moment. And maybe there is, but not much.

This raises some uncomfortable questions for conservatives. One of those questions is: How long are we going to keep pretending that this madness isn’t madness? Another is: How long will we continue to pretend that what’s being broadcast by Fox News and talk radio is political commentary rather than the most shameful, irresponsible, and unpatriotic kind of sycophantic for-profit propaganda? A third is: What exactly is the benefit — for our ideas, and for the country — of making common cause with these lunatics and hucksters?

The answer the Trumpists used to give was: winning. But Trump didn’t win. He lost to Joe Biden, who hardly even bothered to campaign against him. He may very well end up costing Republicans control of the Senate. He has a better chance of being indicted on criminal charges and/or returning once more to bankruptcy court than he does of serving a second term as president.

Ronald Reagan spoke of “a time for choosing.” It’s that time again.

Politics & Policy

The Always-Evolving but Still-Bogus Argument for Airline Bailouts

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Airplanes of German carrier Lufthansa parked at the airport as air traffic is affected by the spread of the coronavirus in Frankfurt, Germany, March 16, 2020. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

Airlines want a bailout. If they need to change their argument to get one, they don’t mind doing so.

First, it was that they needed the money to keep their employees. Bailouts are also sold as being about workers, but in reality, they are about creditors and shareholders. Airline bailouts are no different. Once the first bailout was about to expire, airlines asked for another $25 billion so they wouldn’t have to furlough roughly 40,000 employees.

As my colleague Gary Leff and I explained here, once again the math didn’t add up. If the bailout was truly about supporting some 40,000 airline employees for six months, assuming roughly $50,000 per worker paid out over that period (i.e., $100,000 annually), airlines would only be around $2 billion, not the $25 billion package that they are asking for. In other words, the bailout would go to pay for employees that the airlines had no intention of furloughing but whose salaries they would rather have shouldered by taxpayers.

Now, they claim that they need taxpayers to pay for their employees so that they can distribute the vaccine. Here is part of the letter that seven CEOs sent pleading for more money:

As the nation looks forward and takes on the logistical challenges of distributing a vaccine, it will be important to ensure there are sufficient certified employees and planes in service necessary for adequate capacity to complete the task . . . We respectfully ask that you come together and extend the successful PSP this year so that we can continue to support our critical aviation workforce and infrastructure . . . Your leadership is needed before the close of the 116th Congress so that this bipartisan and incredibly effective COVID-relief measure can continue to save American jobs and allow us to continue our significant role in the health of our U.S. economy.

Don’t buy it. This is the opposite of what they’re telling their own employees. Three of the seven airlines that signed the letter aren’t really geared to shipping cargo anyway. Besides, it is hard to see how subsidizing payroll for flight attendants who work passenger flights or frequent-flyer program staff would contribute to the cargo delivery of vaccines.

A bailout is also the worst way to go about guaranteeing cargo capacity. Leff writes:

If you are concerned about airline readiness, there’s a proven model. If there really was a risk airlines wouldn’t prepare to accept this shipping business, you’d simply take the same approach that Operation Warp Speed took with Pfizer as it developed its vaccine – pre-purchasing the product: guarantee airlines a certain amount of shipping business so that they can invest to be ready for it.

Leff has more good arguments here, including: “American Airlines is telling its own employees they expect to bring people from furlough even without subsidies,” and that “J.P. Morgan Chase told investors last month to expect another payroll bailout, most of which would be money straight into the pockets of airline equity. And they told investors that once airlines got the second bailout, to expect them to ask for a third.”

Read the whole thing here.

Politics & Policy

Renewed Interest in the Child Tax Credit

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Richard Rubin reports in the Wall Street Journal:

House Democrats included child-credit expansions in their coronavirus relief legislation and insist on keeping those provisions. They are poised to turn that idea into law quickly if they win control of the Senate following the Georgia runoffs in January.

But even if Republicans hold the Senate, lawmakers see a possible deal, either in a near-term economic-relief law or a bipartisan tax agreement. That’s because the credit — though not every detail of Democrats’ plans — has Republican support among low-tax, pro-family conservatives looking to continue expanding the party’s appeal to working-class households.

Proposals to enlarge the child tax credit typically focus on making the maximum value of the credit (currently $2,000 per child) available to parents of 17-year-olds (it currently runs out at 16), and allowing people to claim the credit even if they have no income-tax liability. The enlarged credit should also be made permanent — it is set to drop to $1,000 per child in 2025 — and protected against inflation. I made the case for such changes in NR last year.

Health Care

We’ve Got One More Hard Slog before the Vaccines Arrive

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Registered nurse Glenda Perez waits to test people for the coronavirus in East Los Angeles, Calif., November 10, 2020. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

As of this writing, Johns Hopkins University reports that more than 250,652 Americans have died from the coronavirus. The calculation on Worldometers, which usually runs a little ahead of JHU, is 256,447 deaths.

In the last week, we’ve had 1.1 million new cases and 8,244 new deaths, according to the CDC. Measuring the hospitalization rate nationwide is difficult because not all states collect similar data, but if you look at local coverage, you can see where hospitals and health-care workers feel squeezed: Abilene, Texas; Akron, Ohio; Wausau, Wis; One-third of hospitals in Colorado.

Cases are increasing dramatically in pretty much every state and territory, so you can toss out any narrative of wise blue-state governors and foolish red-state governors. (Please keep track of who confidently assured you, at some point in the past nine months, that we were “on the verge of herd immunity” and made decisions accordingly.)

The more than 250,000 Americans who aren’t with us anymore are a lasting change in our lives. Yes, many were elderly, but some of those deaths could have been prevented. You’ve probably heard quite a bit about New York governor Andrew Cuomo and his decisions involving nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. What you probably haven’t heard is that the virus is still getting into those facilities and still killing the elderly within. It’s happening in Colorado and Missouri and Vermont and New Jersey and Maine, so the problem is not just a matter of a particular governor being an idiot. According to the CDC, more than 65,000 of America’s deaths occurred to residents of those kinds of facilities — and that’s just counting up to November 1.

I’m not going to tell anyone what to do with their Thanksgiving plans. For many people it’s been a miserable and lonely year, and they’re not going to want to hear that they shouldn’t see their friends and family on the biggest travel week of the year. Lord knows, no one is going to listen to the likes of Gavin Newsom on decisions like this. But considering the skyrocketing rate of new cases, if you have the chance to get tested for the virus, you might want to take that opportunity before you see your elderly aunts and uncles or grandparents. It’s not a perfect system; you could still catch the virus between the time you’re tested and when you see them. But at least you’ll know if you were negative at the time you were tested. And if your test comes back positive, you have good reason to see your relatives through a video screen this year. By Christmas, you won’t be contagious anymore.

Yes, the treatment options are getting better. Yes, 40 percent of people will be asymptomatic. But the last thing you want is Aunt Edna or Uncle Fester in the ICU right before the holidays.

We’re almost through this, people. Besides the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine “is safe and triggers a similar immune response among all adults,” based upon the testing so far. (This vaccine has one more round of testing to go.) Johnson & Johnson thinks their vaccine will be ready to join the party in January or February. We could have four working vaccines getting into people’s bloodstreams by Valentine’s Day. And maybe the virus that blew up all of our lives in March 2020 will be fading away by March 2021.

National Review

Join Me at Noon Virtually for an Event on Our Current Health and Religious-Liberty Crisis

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With my friends at Christ Medicus Foundation, the National Review Institute will be co-sponsoring a live event at 12 p.m. New York time on some of the intersections between life and death, coronavirus, and religious liberty. It’s a conversation about some of the most vulnerable and what they are facing in this pandemic and beyond. And it’s about how we can better protect civil rights and freedoms.

You can join us by Zoom, registering here. Or log on to the NRI’s Facebook page at noon or find us on YouTube.

Politics & Policy

More on Downsizing Presidential Power

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My Bloomberg Opinion column yesterday concerned legislation to take back some of the powers Congress has imprudently granted to the president. Amanda Carpenter writes on the same theme today, highlighting legislation that at least some Republicans and Democrats ought to be able to agree on:

Leahy proposed the Congressional Power of the Purse legislation, in companion with House Budget chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) and Appropriations chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), all notable figures when it comes to congressional spending policy. This bill would prevent a president from rescinding or deferring funds without congressional approval. Interestingly, it also contains national emergency reform language remarkably similar to Lee’s ARTICLE ONE legislation, showing how neatly the two ideas complement each other.

In a Washington removed from the partisan divisions over Trump’s impeachment for his handling of Ukraine, one could see how a meeting of Republican and Democratic minds could come together here. All it might take is a suggestion from Biden’s next Environmental Protection Agency administrator that federal money should be withheld from non-carbon-neutral cities to get Republicans fully on board.

Elections

Are the Georgia Races Pure Toss-Ups?

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Sean Trende makes the case.

Media

Great Moments in Headline Writing

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The headline Slate wrote: “North Carolina’s First Black Female Chief Justice May Lose Her Seat to Aggrieved White Colleague.”

The actual news: “Republican may win election.”

Angels and ministers of grace defend us!

Elections

About That Clark County Special Election 

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It’d be a full-time job keeping up with the bad information in the president’s tweets, but here’s one that caught my attention. Last night, he claimed a huge victory in Nevada:

There was a reason why Clark County actually certified its presidential results, but not in the local race that Trump touted:

In a so-called canvass of the county’s results, in which election officials check the vote counts against other voting records, officials found 936 discrepancies, or less than 0.1 percent of the 974,185 votes in Clark County. That rate will not affect the president’s deficit of more than 33,000 votes in Nevada. President Trump’s statewide deficit is smaller than his gap in Clark County because he won Nevada’s rural counties.

Clark County commissioners voted on Monday to certify the results of all of the county’s elections except one: a race for the county commission seat that represents District C, an area with 332,000 residents that includes parts of Las Vegas. The margin in that race was just 10 votes. In that district, election officials found 139 discrepancies, in line with the .09 percent rate of discrepancies to votes countywide. The county commission called for a special election.

Elections

Re: Diebold Redux

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In response to Diebold Redux

Frankly, Rich, I’m starting to worry a little about the guy in charge of the Trump recount effort.

Elections

Diebold Redux

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The Journal has a good editorial on the allegation, promoted most prominently by the president himself and lawyer Sidney Powell, that Dominion Voting switched millions of votes from Trump to Biden. It’s not unusual for the losing side in an election to fasten on conspiracy theories to explain defeat; after 2004, many Democrats thought Diebold voting machines were used to steal the election. It is unusual to have such a theory broadcast so openly, let alone by the president of the United States. Powell has promised to unleash “the kraken” on this issue, but so far hasn’t unleashed anything.

 

Politics & Policy

A Fightin’ Word (If You Choose)

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Hernando de Soto, the Peruvian economist, speaks at a forum in Beijing, May 17, 2005. (Alfred Cheng Jin / Reuters)

For your consideration, a piece called “‘Conservative’: A Term Up for Grabs.” Its subheading is “To die, and not to die, for a word.” What’s this dying business?

In 2014, I talked with Hernando de Soto, the great Peruvian economist. Here is an excerpt from the resulting piece:

I want to ask de Soto about the word “capitalism.” Where I come from, it is a dirty word, usually said with a scoff or a sneer. De Soto is quite practical about the matter: “If the word is in bad odor, avoid it. Words are what people want them to mean, and if ‘capitalism’ is a bad word, I can think of a lot better uses of our time and talents than to defend it.”

In Peru, capitalism used to be known as “la economía de la selva” — “the economics of the jungle.” So, what word does de Soto himself use?

It depends on where he is, he says. It depends on the local vocabulary. “Private property,” to some, means “what the rich have” — not the materials a humble fruit vendor has.

In the Middle East, de Soto and his researchers found, the term “property rights” doesn’t mean anything. But everyone knows the word “expropriation,” because so many have been victims of it. So, when in Rome (so to speak), you lean on the word “expropriation.”

In any case, de Soto told me, “Never go die for a word, if what is important is the idea behind the word.”

Never go die for a word. I have often had occasion to reflect on this admonition, especially when it comes to the word “conservative.” In my piece today, I say that, “personally, I would not die for the word ‘conservative’ — but I would fight for it a bit,” not wanting to cede it entirely to the Buchananites, Trumpites, Orbanites . . .

Even the terms “Left” and “Right” have become confusing, in my observation. Another bit from my piece:

I mean, what is Putin? Left or Right? He is a former KGB colonel who runs Russia like a mafia capo. Most of the Putin admirers I know are on the right, thinking that Putin is a defender of Christian values who projects a proper national “strength.”

Recently, I’ve been reading about Sergei Mokhnatkin, a Russian human-rights activist. He was arrested over and over, and tortured over and over, until finally they broke him — literally. They broke his spine. Mokhnatkin died on May 28. A fellow human-rights defender observed, “There was a man who lived like a little sparrow stuck in the throat of a snake.”

Five years ago, in Albuquerque, I gave a talk. I wrote a piece about the experience, or based on the experience. Let me revisit:

During the Q&A, a friendly woman said, “What is conservatism? Can you define conservatism?”

I said that I have long opted out of the definitional wars. There are always people who try to define conservatism — who set themselves up as arbiters. They rule people out of conservatism, and rule people in. I call them Commissars of Conservatism. I sometimes call them Commissars of the Corner!

Words mean different things in different times and places. You can no more stop the changeability of words than you can the changeability of the weather. Just think of the history of the word “liberal”! But, in New Mexico, I gave my sense — just my sense — of what “conservatism” meant in America, circa 2015 (which in some respects seems a hundred years ago):

I believe that to be a conservative is to be for limited government. Personal freedom. The rule of law. The Constitution, and adherence to it. Federalism. Equality under the law. Equality of opportunity. Relatively light taxation. Relatively light regulation. Free enterprise. Property rights. Free trade. Civil society. The right to work. A strong defense. National security. National sovereignty. Human rights. A sound, non-flaky educational curriculum. School choice. A sensible stewardship over the land, as opposed to extreme environmentalism. Pluralism. Colorblindness. Toleration. E pluribus unum. Patriotism. Our Judeo-Christian heritage. Western civilization.

You call that conservatism? Maybe you don’t. I sometimes say, “Just don’t call me late for dinner.” At other times, I am in a mood to fight (for a round or two) over a word. In any event, my piece today might give you food for thought, or ammo for thought.

Politics & Policy

Head of U.S. Catholic Bishops: Biden’s Abortion Policy Threatens the Common Good

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Earlier this week, Los Angeles archbishop José Gomez criticized Joe Biden over his support for legal abortion and suggested that his presidency will pose a problem for the Catholic Church.

The archbishop made these remarks during this year’s virtual version of the annual Fall General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which Gomez currently leads as president.

Though Gomez suggested that Biden might “support some good policies,” he said that Biden’s policies also will “undermine our preeminent priority of the elimination of abortion.” Gomez described Biden’s support for legal abortion as a “difficult and complex situation” for the Church.

“These policies pose a serious threat to the common good,” Gomez said of Biden’s anticipated abortion policy. “When politicians who profess the Catholic faith support them . . . it creates confusion among the faithful about what the Church actually teaches on these questions.”

Gomez said he will form a working group to address the subject, led by USCCB vice president Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit.

Another problem for Catholics that Gomez raised is Biden’s campaign promise to reinstate the Obama-administration version of the Health & Human Services Department’s Obamacare mandate. Under President Obama and former vice president Biden, the policy required all employers, regardless of religious faith or conscience, to subsidize employees’ contraceptives and abortifacient drugs through company health-care programs.

The policy resulted in protracted legal battles with several Catholic employers, including Catholic universities and the Little Sisters of the Poor, a charitable order of religious sisters who care for the elderly poor and sick. In response to a Supreme Court decision this summer, in which the Court decided that the Trump administration was authorized to grant the Little Sisters and other religious employers an exemption from the mandate, Biden vowed to reenact the earlier policy that offered few exceptions for employers with religious objections to abortion.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect that Gomez did raise the issue of the HHS mandate in his remarks.

Politics & Policy

Gee, Why Don’t Americans ‘Trust Their Government to Make Rational Choices’?

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Over in City Journal, Guy Sorman observes that South Korea has had a much easier time mitigating the coronavirus pandemic because of high levels of social trust.

The achievement of the South Korean model cannot be understood without emphasizing its cultural basis. The South Korean people may like or dislike their government, but they trust that it makes rational choices. These choices are well explained and well understood because South Koreans believe in scientific progress. And the national strategy is thoroughly applied because South Koreans share a strong sense of collective discipline: shame on you if you do not wear a mask or forget to wash your hands. If you’re ordered to quarantine, the order is not a suggestion, and your family and neighbors will not let you escape for a walk in the park or a trip to the store.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, the president has asserted that doctors are inflating the death count of the coronavirus because they want to make more money.

South Koreans “trust that their government makes rational choices,” huh? Boy, that must be nice.

Over here we have localities instituting curfews (apparently the virus is like a vampire and more active at night), governors banning sales of paint, flooring and gardening tools, citations for people sitting inside their cars for watching the sunset at the beach, and we have the New York City Health Department issuing the guidance, “Be creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face to face contact.” (Insert “we’re going to build a big beautiful wall” joke here.)

Why do Americans not trust their government to make rational choices regarding the pandemic? Because some governments are making wildly irrational choices, which makes it easier for everyone to disregard any rule that seems too strict or inconvenient.

What’s more, the lawmakers who are calling for some of the strictest restrictions have made clear they do not believe those restrictions apply to themselves. Starting with California governor Gavin Newsom . . .

Why did Newsom attend his friend’s birthday party on Nov. 6 when he was telling his constituents to do one thing (dine in alone), while he and his wife did another (dined out with friends)?

How sincere was his subsequent apology following the very public spanking he received after the San Francisco Chronicle broke the news that he’d broken the rules?

And why does our governor hang out with a lobbyist who is trying to influence him on behalf of clients?

Or nearly 20 lawmakers from California, Texas, and Washington traveling to Hawaii this week for a conference with lobbyists for the Independent Voter Project. Or Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser attending President-elect Joe Biden’s victory celebration in Delaware, breaking her own coronavirus restrictions.

Or Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot celebrating with crowds in the streets while pushing for a new stay-at-home order. Or New Jersey governor Phil Murphy breaking his own executive order on large gatherings. Everyone can find glaring examples of lawmakers who believe the rules don’t apply to them, and conclude that if the politicians don’t see much risk in breaking the rules, they shouldn’t see much risk in breaking them either.

When will federal, state, and local governments start enjoying the benefits of greater public trust? After they start earning that trust again.

White House

Why Biden’s Corporate-Friendly White House Staff Matters

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is seen addressing the nation through television monitors from the White House Briefing Room after the news media announced that Biden have won the presidential election, November 7, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

A few readers wondered why the Biden White House senior staff members’ past work for big corporations matters. If you believe that anyone should be free to work for any employer as long as they obey the law, then no, their past employers and clients don’t matter much at all. General Electric, IBM, AT&T, Verizon, defense contractors and the rest all deserve lawyers, marketing firms, lobbyists and consultants too.

But that is not how many progressive activists see the world. In their mind, just about any work for corporate America means you’ve sold out and become part of the system, instead of seeking to overturn the system.

This will shock progressive activists, but it turns out that a lot of the kinds of people who work in Democratic politics like to make money, too, and if their skills are in law, lobbying, marketing, public relations, or other related fields … corporate America is where the money is. And corporate America is more than happy to hire big-name out-of-office Democratic officials and staffers with ties to those officials.

Barack Obama frequently painted corporate America as his most ardent foe: “Large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them!”

And then after Obama left office, former Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson went to work for Lockheed Martin, former Domestic Policy Council director Melody Barnes and Former Transportation secretary Ray LaHood went to Booz Allen Hamilton, campaign manager David Plouffe went to Uber, and former attorney general Eric Holder “is now a partner at the law firm of Covington and Burling, a D.C.-based outfit that specializes in work on behalf of the banking industry” while also working for Airbnb. Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner became president of the private equity firm Warburg Pincus. Former White House press secretary Jay Carney went to work for Amazon, and Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson went to Apple. And Obama himself signed a lucrative production deal with Netflix.

Progressive activists dream of a Democratic administration full of impassioned and pure advocates, eager to use the power of the executive branch to tear down America’s biggest companies and redistribute their profits and wealth to the more deserving. In other words, progressive activists dream of a Democratic administration full of people like themselves. And each job that goes to one of the alleged corporate sellouts is one less job open to people like them.

When progressives fume that incoming Democratic White House staffers and appointees have spent too much time in corporate C-suites, they’re exhibiting a Manichean and somewhat childish worldview. Working for a big corporation does not make a person inherently corrupt, evil, or callous. In fact, there’s no guarantee that a Democratic consultant’s work for a big company will make them feel warm and friendly towards that company. But the progressive idealists are probably correct that working for big companies probably makes one less than eager to tear down the entire existing structure of American capitalism and replace it entirely with statist economics. Socialism has a lot of advantages in the battle over American economic system, but one of its most glaring disadvantages is that just about everyone likes the idea of making a lot of money.

And remember, for most of the Trump administration, just about any appointee with past lobbying experience was seen as a scandal, or at least ethically problematic by mainstream publications. We will see if those publications hold the Biden appointees to the same scrutiny.

Politics & Policy

We Need to Change Teacher Training

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It has been evident for decades that our schools of education — those college programs that aspiring teachers must usually complete if they want to become certified — do a poor job. Those schools were long ago overrun by educational theorists who disdain knowledge but love the idea of using schools to shape young minds as they believe they should be shaped.

One thing that is certainly out is education for character. In today’s Martin Center article, dean Matthew Post of the University of Dallas, one of the few schools that has resisted the invasion of trendy theory, explains that we desperately need to change the way we train teachers.

He writes, “The content in many schools is a problem, but a deeper one remains: Too few teachers and leaders focus on the importance of character formation.” Instead of that, many teachers are eager to indoctrinate youngsters in Critical Race Theory and other “progressive” notions.

Post doubts that our current education schools can be reformed. We need new institutions and we also need to get rid of mandatory state teacher licensing, which does nothing to ensure competence. But how can we accomplish that?

Post answers, “Independent homeschooling co-ops, schools, publishers, and other continuing education services have a role to play. But so, too, does any university with the vision and will to offer more robust teacher formation, tailored to those dedicated to classical liberal education in the true sense: Education that begins with human beings as rational and free, is committed to individual and communal flourishing, and pursues excellence in scientific discovery, artistic work, shared inquiry, and civic responsibility.”

He’s right. One of the great looming battles in America will pit the forces of statist education against parents who are increasingly coming to realize that such education is making a terrible mess of their kids.

Politics & Policy

It’s the Little Things

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I was pleased to read Alexandra’s post on abortion groups scrubbing the names of eugenicists such as Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes from their organizations and facilities. Now that those awful eugenicists have been memory-holed, Planned Parenthood et al. can go back to butchering unborn children exclusively for respectable reasons.

U.S.

Judy Shelton’s Nomination Stalls in the Senate

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On Tuesday, Republican senators Mitt Romney and Susan Collins joined with Senate Democrats to block Judy Shelton’s nomination to the Federal Reserve.

Romney explained his “no” vote in a statement: “In the midst of uncertain economic times, it’s important that individuals serving on the Federal Reserve possess consistent and sound judgment. Ms. Shelton has a history of extreme and volatile positions on monetary policy – including past support for global currencies, an open border with Mexico, and a return to the gold standard – and thus I do not believe she is well-suited to serve in this position.”

The vote to cut off debate on Shelton’s nomination fell short due to the absences of a few GOP senators, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could bring it up for another vote.

A National Review editorial made the case against Shelton’s confirmation.

National Security & Defense

Crenshaw: Afghanistan Drawdown Will Leave America ‘Vulnerable to Emboldened Terrorists’

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Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R., Tex.) speaks during a hearing with FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor and the House Committee on Homeland Security meeting on the national response to the coronavirus pandemic, July 22, 2020. (Anna Moneymaker/Pool via Reuters)

Some Republicans in Congress are criticizing President Trump’s order to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 and reduce the number of troops in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500.

Here’s Texas congressman Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who lost an eye to an IED blast in Afghanistan:

Nebraska GOP senator Ben Sasse said in a statement:

Headlines about ‘bringing the boys home’ sound good, but that’s not what’s happening. After this retreat, there will still be American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most important question is whether those remaining troops will be able to prevent al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, Iranian proxies, and others from plotting attacks that can spill American blood, or if they will be exposed as jihadis gain ground. Terrorists will exploit vacuums – President Obama’s 2011 withdrawal from Iraq opened the door for ISIS. I fear this weak retreat is not grounded in reality and will make the world a more dangerous place.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Monday, the day before the Pentagon announced Trump’s decision, that “it’s extremely important here in the next couple of months not to have any earthshaking changes with regard to defense and foreign policy. I think a precipitous drawdown in either Afghanistan or Iraq would be a mistake.”

In a speech on the Senate floor on Monday, McConnell said: “The consequences of a premature American exit would likely be even worse than President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq back in 2011. … It would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975. We’d be abandoning our partners in Afghanistan.”

Politics & Policy

The Woke and the Young

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Ruy Teixeira, a left-wing political scientist, has a lot of interesting things to say in this interview. Here I’ll quote him pushing back on a caricature of young voters:

Millennials have had a difficult time in the labor market, and the latest economic problems don’t make their position any better. In terms of their attitudes toward diversity and in some of these social issues, they are fairly liberal. But if you delve down into the views of a median member of the millennial generation, it’s not clear that they love The 1619 Project and believe America is a White-supremacist society, and that everybody who disagrees with that is a racist. There’s a sort of boutique social liberalism that is much more common in elite circles than is characteristic of that generation. The Democrats are, and will continue to be, the party that’s more accepting of diversity, that’s more socially liberal, that’s opposed to racism and persecution of immigrants and so on. I don’t think these voters are giving the Democrats the nod because the party is maximally woke. It’s because the party is more or less on the right side of these issues in a broad sense, and I think the Democrats can continue to be so, and still reach some of these working-class voters.

Books

Book Time and Lunchtime

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Today is Release Day for Kevin D. Williamson’s latest book: Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the “Real America.” To say it is recommended is an understatement.

If you’d like to read an excerpt, go here.

On the cover of Kevin’s book is a burnt piece of white toast. Which leads me to something . . .

“Tell me,” said Elisha, “what hast thou in the house?” In the same spirit, I made lunch today. And my lunch reminded me, so help me, of Kevin’s book. I used what I had: potato chips, carrots, and Italian salad dressing (and a nice diet Pepsi). Picture below. Damn good, too. I’m fixin’ to have another bowl.

Culture

Global Abortion Group Drops Founder’s Name over Her Support for Eugenics

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The Associated Press reports today that Marie Stopes International, a United Kingdom–based global provider and promoter of abortion and contraception, has altered its official title to “MSI Reproductive Choices.” The decision is an effort to distance the organization from Stopes, who was an early promoter of contraception in the U.K. and a leading member of the eugenics movement in the early 20th century.

According to the group, the name change is meant to serve as “a clear signal that we neither adhere to nor condone” Stopes’s desire to use birth control as eugenic tool to enforce selective reproduction. Stopes also opposed interracial marriage and advocated sterilizing individuals deemed unfit to reproduce.

“Marie Stopes was a pioneer for family planning; however, she was also a supporter of the eugenics movement and expressed many opinions, which are in stark contrast to MSI’s core values and principles,” said MSI’s CEO Simon Cooke in a statement.

This announcement comes just a few months after Planned Parenthood of Greater New York removed the name of the group’s founder, Margaret Sanger, from its flagship abortion clinic in Manhattan, criticizing her support for using birth control and sterilization to reduce and eliminate populations she deemed “unfit,” such as the poor and mentally ill.

“The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color,” Karen Seltzer, the chair of the New York affiliate’s board, said in a statement.

The national umbrella organization, Planned Parenthood Federation of America — by far the largest abortion provider in the United States — has yet to follow suit in disavowing its founder’s views.

According to MSI’s annual report for 2019, the group “provided more than 4.6 million safe abortion and post-abortion care services to women and girls” around the world. The group operates more than 600 centers in 37 countries around the world; the overwhelming majority are located in Africa, followed closely by Asia. Though the group might not explicitly mirror the eugenic priorities of its namesake, its activities around the globe very much reinforce her preferences.

Politics & Policy

Sherrod Brown Doesn’t Want to Go to Work

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Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, for all his fondness of preaching the dignity of work, feels put out by having to spend time on Capitol Hill these days. On Monday, Brown reprimanded Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan for not wearing a mask while he stood in for president pro tempore Chuck Grassley. Brown has not seen fit to chide Chuck Schumer or other members of his own party for repeatedly making speeches on the Senate floor without a mask, but he nevertheless attempted to use Sullivan to create a viral moment. Outlets such as The Hill of course obliged Brown, albeit subtly, by sharing video of the exchange, accompanied by the caption “VIRAL MOMENT.”

What that video reveals, more so than anything about how seriously either Brown or Sullivan takes the pandemic, is just how little dignity Brown finds in his own work. After Brown and Sullivan’s brief back-and-forth, Brown launches into a diatribe about how “we [the Senate] have a majority leader who calls us back here to vote on an unqualified nominee” and that he and his colleagues were being forced “to vote on judge after judge after judge,” potentially exposing themselves and Senate staff to the coronavirus. While millions of Americans go to work to every day — in schools, hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants, and elsewhere — Sherrod Brown, who has spent the almost nine months since the pandemic began filibustering a meaningful criminal- justice-reform bill and rejecting out-of-hand a $1.8 trillion compromise coronavirus-relief package (Democrats have asked for $2.2 trillion in the form of the HEROES Act) is upset that he has been asked to vote on the nomination of judges to the federal bench, which is part of his constitutional duty as a United States senator.

One almost gets the sense that it is Brown, and not Amy Coney Barrett — who earned the highest possible rating from the nominally nonpartisan, but truthfully left-leaning American Bar Association — who is unworthy of his position.

Politics & Policy

No to a Loan-Debt-Forgiveness/COVID-Relief Compromise

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I must dissent from my colleague Robert VerBruggen on his proposed COVID-relief bill “compromise” for the same reasons that I rejected David French and Jonah Goldberg’s idea for a “compromise” on Court-packing. Why should Republicans give away the farm in exchange for a promise from Democrats not to take a manifestly harmful and unpopular action that would almost certainly backfire?

Like VerBruggen, I would like to see a relief bill passed as soon as possible, but the truth of the matter is that Democrats appear unwilling to pass anything remotely reasonable until Joe Biden takes the oath of office. For political purposes, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer will not budge from their $2.2 trillion HEROES Act and have refused to even consider the Trump administration’s offer of a $1.8 trillion compromise bill. I don’t see the merit in preventing the implementation of a student-loan-forgiveness plan that can potentially be reversed in court by backing an irreversible spending bill that will bail out irresponsible, unsustainable pension plans put in place by Democratic legislatures in blue states while handing out tax breaks to wealthy residents of those same states.

Elections

How to Lose Georgia in One Easy Step

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The stakes in Georgia are obviously enormous. The races there will make the difference between a defanged Biden presidency at the outset (relying almost entirely on “pen and phone” governance), or unified Democratic control of the elected branches of government in Washington.

You’d think the forecast for Republicans in these races would be good, assuming that they can make the campaign about Biden and his agenda. The big question, though, is whether Perdue and Loeffler can turn out Trump voters in requisite numbers to overcome the Democratic advantage in the suburbs, a challenge in the best of circumstances and even more so with the state’s Republican Party on the verge of descending into a civil war over the legitimacy of Trump’s defeat.

It was with an eye to these Trump voters that Perdue and Loeffler called on Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger to resign, even though it appears that his only offense is administering an election that Trump narrowly lost. The Perdue/Loeffler calculation was that this was a way to signal to Trump voters that they take election integrity seriously, without creating the downside political risks with suburban voters of repeating outlandish theories about how the election was hacked and stolen.

This wasn’t an admirable move, but politics isn’t bean bag and all that. The problem is, unless the conversation moves on, it may become increasingly difficult for Perdue and Loeffler to bridge the divide in the party. Here is a tweet from attorney Lin Wood, who is suing to stop the certification of the Georgia results, calling for Republican governor Brian Kemp to go to jail (along with Raffensperger):

If Republicans blow themselves up in Georgia and hand Joe Biden control of the Senate, it will be a reckless act of self-destruction that will impose a steep cost on the country for years.