National Review

Inside the Issue: November 25

This is our annual “education issue,” and we’re confident that you’ll want to consume the special section’s four excellent articles contained therein that are must-reads for anyone who cares about the state — and massive consequences — of education in America. The quartet includes Sarah Schutte’s reporting on how technology is impacting homeschooling (great things are happening, but none of it can or should replace parental involvement); Chester Finn’s solution to the falling K–12 test scores; Rafi Eis’s alarm-sounding about progressive-ed theories overtaking New York City’s schools; and Frederick Hess’s attack on the powerful “B.A. cartel” for its distortion of the labor market. And there’s plenty more exceptional content between the covers, including Kevin Williamson’s brilliant cover essay on Kanye West (“he is kind of a mess”), Chris O’Dea’s account of his deep-dive talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about China’s expanding/threatening influence in global shipping and port-facility construction, and Jack Butler and Alec Dent’s case that smoking cigarettes is not a “conservative” habit.

Click on the links and enjoy what you can . . . until you hit the paywall. And you will, a lot sooner than you wish. Maybe you’ve already done that? So sorry about that, but — there is an obvious solution. It’s NRPLUS. Why not subscribe right now to begin enjoying all the brilliant conservative writing that one can feast on, all day long, at NRO?

Economy & Business

President Trump Isn’t Serious about Ex-Im Being a Tool to Fight China

People walk under the U.S. and Chinese flags at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, November 8, 2017. (Aly Song/Reuters)

These days, the trick to get whatever expansion of government one wants is to assert that more government intervention is necessary to help fight China. Yet even people who find sense and merit in this goal must concede that, in most cases, the policies are so poorly designed that they will do no such thing. The end result is that if adopted, these policies will grow the U.S. government but have no impact on China.

Case in point: President Trump’s recent support for a clean, ten-year reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank without insisting on fundamental reforms at the agency.

As we have heard in the last two years, the president’s change of mind about the ExIm Bank  (he wanted to get rid of it before) has to do with his belief, and those around him, that the Bank can be a tool to fight China’ expansionist aspirations. Fighting China is also the main reason invoked by many on the Hill for having switched from opposing the Bank to now supporting it. This goal is somewhat different from the one pursued through the trade war.

But as I have explained before, and I will say it until I am red in the face, Ex-Im — designed as it is — is nothing of the sort.

A quick look at the Ex-Im Bank’s Competitiveness Report reveals that it is extremely focused on what other export-credit agencies (ECAs) are doing, as if economic growth and jobs are the result of hand-to-hand combat between government-run dispensaries of subsidies. But they’re not. Just take a look at the hyperactive ECA in Italy. That country is the top OECD country, by volume of exports backed by ECA financing. Yet the Italian ECA’s hyperactivity doesn’t change the fact that Italy is an economic basket case. In fact, I’ll bet you that the same economic fallacies that lead to Italy being in such a bad shape also drive the belief that government subsidies can change the balance of trade or the level of exports in ways that grow the economy.

Germany, on the other hand, is the second highest ranked OECD country on this list. By all accounts, Germany has good economic growth. But a look at the data also reveals that the percent of Germany’s exports backed by ECA financing is a paltry 0.7.  This fact makes it hard to argue that Germany’s strong economic performance has much to do with the German ECA.

Now take the U.S., which the report highlights for in unusually low level of export backed by Ex-Im over the last four years. As this study documents in detail, the lack of Ex-Im financing didn’t affect exports. The lack of Ex-Im financing also allowed innovation in the field of exports financing, cronyism was down, the U.S wasn’t subsidizing China’s airline, and taxpayers exposure was down too. Oh and by the way, the U.S. economy still managed to thrive, with real wages and employment rising. The bottom line is that, contrary to what we are repeatedly told, ECA financing does not boost the overall health of the export market specifically, or economic growth generally.

More disconcerting is the fact that the intense focus of Ex-Im on competing with other governments’ ECAs also results in a vast majority of the funding going higher-income nations. In other words, the agency focuses on making deals to companies in markets with plenty of private capital. And that has nothing to do with the goal of “fighting” China.

If the administration and congress are serious about using Ex-Im to compete with China, it won’t get any result by lending money in higher-income countries where companies have plenty of access to capital or by selling discounted planes to China Air. The key here is to extend deals where China is expanding: that’s lower income nations. I have explained this in details here and here. If they don’t, they should stop pretending that all of this is about China and have the courage to defend government granted privileges for cronies openly, because that’s what ExIm really is.

If you don’t believe me, you should check out one of the first things the agency did since it regained it full powers a few months ago.  It reauthorized the croniest of crony outfits called PEFCO. The bank was also tempted to extend financing to the Israeli company El Al. That company is the quintessential example of one that doesn’t need Ex-Im help. (During the lapse in the Ex-Im Bank board’s quorum, El Al successful financed — privately — its purchases of Boeing planes.) It certainly can’t be argue that without Ex-Im El Al would instead buy Airbus planes: El Al’s website claims that the airline has an all-Boeing fleet. And this is impossible to argue that selling one more discounted Boeing plane to an Israeli company is essential to the fight against China.

Thankfully, the Ex-Im deal with El Al was put on hold for a while, but I fear that once Ex-Im is reauthorized for ten years without any risk of ever lapsing due to a lack of quorum (as the Senate bill would secure), Ex-Im will return to financing Boeing planes around the world for companies that have zero problem buying them on their own. I will certainly be watching all this closely.

Meanwhile, make no mistake; all the talks about Ex-Im reauthorization for ten years without insisting on fundamental reforms that would change the way Ex-Im operates (neither of the bill to reauthorize Ex-Im in the Bank and the Senate  reform the Bank in the right direction. They just make it even more unaccountable as it ever was) is the perfect illustration of the swamp metaphor that Mr. Trump claimed he would drain.

Worst of all, if Ex-Im gets through without fundamental reforms — basically if the same type of deals that used to be approved before are the same that will be approved after the “reforms” — it will be obvious that Mr. Trump was not serious about draining swamp or about fighting China.


A Little More Language from ‘Slate’

The vandalism of English pronouns has led to some very entertaining barbarisms. Here is a headline from one of Slate’s increasingly porny advice columns: “Can I Ask Trans Women I’m Dating if They Have a Penis?”

You can follow how this went wrong in the copy-editor’s mind: Women is plural, they is plural but often is used illiterately as though it were gender-neutral and singular, have goes with the third-person plural rather than singular, and penis is singular.

They have a penis” makes me think of that scene in Clash of the Titans in which the Graeae pass back and forth the one eye they share among the three of them.

And if they shared one eye and one tooth, as the myth says, then who is to say, the times being what they are . . . ?


A Language Point

The headline over a story in Slate by the poetically named Lili Loofbourow reads: “What It Means to Evacuate.” What it means to evacuate is not the same as what it means to be evacuated, though one might reasonably expect to do either or both in the face of a California wildfire.



Talkin’ ’bout Generations, Etc.

A Hubble image shows NGC 1566, a galaxy located about 40 million light-years away in the constellation Dorado. (ESA/Hubble & NASA/Handout via Reuters)

Today, I have an Impromptus, here. I begin with the Kentucky governor’s race — the incoming governor and the outgoing (assuming he goes) (he is contesting). I also discuss Elizabeth Warren, Donald Trump, John Bolton, and so on. One of the issues is redheads: Do they flare? That’s what Tip O’Neill said, long ago. He was talking about his successor as Speaker of the House, Jim Wright: “He’s a redhead — he’s apt to flare.”

In my previous Impromptus — published Wednesday — I had an item on generations. Let me republish it, in order to share a comment about it. That item went,

On Twitter and elsewhere, I hear a lot about generations — about “boomers,” “millennials,” etc. People will say to me, “Shut the f*** up, boomer!” I happen not to be a baby boomer, but only prigs and elitists care about accuracy, right? I want to say this: Walking around in life, I have not found generations to be significant at all. I have found people to be people — in all their diversity, and splendor, and terribleness. I think this generational talk is pretty lazy, like a lot of class talk, race-and-ethnicity talk, and other talk talk tawk tawk . . .

I smile at something Barbara J. Fields said. She is a professor of history at Columbia, and a onetime teacher of mine, and a friend. “The habit of generational generalization,” she said, “shares a fallacious premise with astrology without the entertainment value.”


Couple of further items before I go, please. My latest Q&A podcast is with Robert Costa, that ace political reporter for the Washington Post (previously of National Review). We cover the waterfront, or a good stretch of it: this week’s elections in Kentucky and elsewhere; relations between President Trump and the press; the Democratic presidential field; etc. Bob is sound as a dollar, as we used to say. A pleasure and an education.

Let me highlight some things he said about John Bolton, simply because I was struck by them:

He, to me, was never going to fit into this administration and was a threat to President Trump from Day One, because John Bolton does not play by any kind of transactional political rule, ever. It’s all about service to the country and U.S. interests, and he takes that very seriously. I don’t know why he joined the administration — I haven’t had a long conversation with him about that — but once he was in there, this is not someone who was going to get swept into the riptide of President Trump’s inner circle and the culture that surrounds President Trump . . .

I will remember it for the rest of my life, Jay. I was in Poland on September 1 when Vice President Pence met with President Zelensky of Ukraine, and it was one of the last meetings John Bolton ever had in the administration — he was national security adviser — and I remember seeing Bolton sitting there in this windowless Marriot room in Warsaw, watching Zelensky, watching Pence, as military aid hung in the air, and Bolton was just stone-faced and did not seem happy about the situation.

I’m sure not.

Finally, a “soft” item, but very meaningful. A few days ago, I got a birth announcement from a friend of mine who lives in Switzerland. With his wife, he has had twins. (Well, she did the having, mainly.) A German, my friend knows more about America, and loves it more, than does most any American. He always wanted to come here and have his life here, but he wasn’t able to win the lottery, or whatever you have to do.

This remains a sore spot with me.

The announcement includes my friend’s “favorite presidential quote that doesn’t come from Abraham Lincoln,” as he put it to me. It comes from George Washington — his address to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport: “May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.”

So, again, my Impromptus is here (if you’re not item’d out already). If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — let me know at


Crypto-Racism, He Cried (Of Course)

It’s almost part of Jamelle Bouie’s job description to accuse people of racism, so his tweet about my book today — based on a tendentious review — was par for the course:

Still, even by his standards, this is low and dishonest about a book that advances national loyalty as a corrective to racial and partisan tribalism. Not that Bouie cares — if he let evidence get in the way of his rote and indiscriminate charges of racism, he’d be rendered practically mute.

Howdy, Hater!

White House policy advisor Stephen Miller accompanies President Donald Trump on a trip to hold a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, October 9, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

The latest person to leave the Southern Poverty Law Center is Heidi Beirich, who headed the controversial organization’s “Intelligence Project.” She was the SPLC’s Inspector Javert, pursuing individuals and organizations she labeled as “extremists” and “hate groups.”

Though Beirich claimed in a late-October memo to her co-workers (leaked to the Daily Beast) that “I’ve felt for a while now that it may be time for a change for me”, it’s hard to believe she wasn’t pushed. Over the past eight months, the top staff who’ve been fired or resigned included the SPLC’s co-founder and public face, Morris Dees, as well as its president, legal director, and deputy legal director.

While much of this turmoil stems from the organization’s alleged toxic work environment (with accusations of sexual harassment and racial bias), it’s been Beirich’s Inquisition-style tactics that have landed the SPLC in hot water in recent years (much of it documented at In 2015, the group was forced to apologize for placing Ben Carson on its “Extremist Watch List”. Last year, the organization had to pay a $3.375 million settlement and apologize publicly to Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz for including him in a list of “anti-Muslim extremists”. And the SPLC’s remaining credibility has gone up in smoke due to Beirich’s smears of mainstream organizations as “hate groups”, including the Alliance for Defending Freedom (which has argued, and won, multiple cases before the U.S. Supreme Court), the Family Research Council (which was targeted by an armed assassin based on the SPLC’s “hate map”), and the Center for Immigration Studies (which I head), among many others.

(The Center for Immigration Studies, founded in 1985, was added to the “hate group” list shortly after President Trump’s election; that designation is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit against Beirich and former SPLC president Richard Cohen filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.)

So does Beirich’s departure signal a move away from smearing political opponents? Maybe even removing mainstream organizations from SPLC’s blacklist? Time will tell, but a chilling e-mail I received recently doesn’t bode well.

Michael Edison Hayden is a “Senior Investigative Reporter” at the SPLC, apparently working on yet-another hit piece about White House advisor and Stephen Miller. Why chilling? It begins with a chatty greeting one doesn’t sincerely offer to what one views as a “hate group” equivalent to the Klan (“I hope you guys are having a good day. If you DC folks are a Nationals fan, congratulations.”). Hayden then mysteriously asserts: “Someone sent me a rather large volume of Stephen Miller’s emails from the run-up to the 2016 election.”

Having clearly already written his story, and not specifying what exactly I’m supposed to be commenting on, he asks:

-Do you have any comment you want to give regarding your communications with Stephen Miller in 2015 or 2016?

-Do you recall giving Miller any embargoed materials?

-How closely were you guys connected to Miller at this time?

-Some CIS employees have acknowledged that you are connected to people in the White House in comments before. Did this level of contact continue after he joined the White House?

You see where this is going — something along the McCarthyite lines of “I have here in my hand a list of 205 e-mails from Miller to the haters at CIS!”, and so on. (Needless to say, I did not respond and instead forwarded the e-mail to our lawyers handling the RICO suit.)

Then, curiously, he asks:

-Also, does Mr. Krikorian recall this “cockroach” comment? “When you turn the lights on, the cockroaches are going to run away.” He would have said this in April of 2019 in a call with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, referring to foreign born workers.

I bolded that last part because, as it happens, I do recall it, and here’s what I said to the DHS officials at the in-person gathering (not a call):

I realize the statute doesn’t allow you to prevent firms from replacing the American workers with H1-Bs, but is there wiggle room for a reporting requirement, so that if they do that, they’re required to report it? Because when you turn the lights on, the cockroaches are going to run away.

“[C]ockroaches” in this context clearly refers not to “foreign born workers” but the “firms . . . replacing the American workers with H1-Bs” — firms such as Disney and others, which also require American workers to train their foreign replacements as a condition of receiving severance. Congress wrote the H-1B law specifically to allow this sort of replacement of American workers, but if USCIS, through regulation, were to require public reporting of any such replacements (“turn the lights on”), some employers might be shamed (“run away”) into not doing it. Falsely claiming I was referring to foreign workers themselves as “cockroaches” is, regrettably, just the sort of smear we’ve come to expect from the SPLC.

The e-mail ends, inscrutably, with “Warm regards”. But either you’re writing to the head of a “hate group” who thinks foreigners are “cockroaches” or you offer “warm regards” — it can’t really be both.

Beirich’s departure offered the hope that the SPLC had come to realize how much damage her reckless smear-mongering had done, both to the organization and to the country. That hope appears to have been in vain.


Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (Nov. 7, 2019)



NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a new Trump administration rule that could open the way for more health care workers to refuse to participate in abortions or other procedures on moral or religious grounds.

3.  Private giving like GoFundMe shows America at its best. Why criticize generosity?

Continue reading “Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (Nov. 7, 2019)”

Law & the Courts

Watch: Kat Timpf Tells Former Time Editor That Banning Hate Speech Makes ‘No Sense’

In her latest video for National Review, reporter Kat Timpf responds to Richard Stengel, who recently called for a law against hate speech — something that, he says, President Trump “might be in violation of.”

Timpf comments on Stengel’s argument, published by the Washington Post, here:

White House

Won’t Somebody Think of the Kittens?

A black kitten waits to be let back into its home in Wimbledon, south west London, July 30, 2013. (Andrew Winning/Reuters)

President Trump should veto the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, which, having been passed unanimously by both the House and Senate, will land imminently on his desk. The bill is flagrantly unconstitutional, and the fact that it deals with a sensitive and emotive topic does not change that.

There is nothing wrong with laws protecting animals from cruelty and torture. Indeed, if I had my way, all fifty states would pass one. But the federal government operates under a charter of enumerated powers, and none of those powers confer the authority to regulate what is nothing more or less than quotidian criminal behavior. None of the usual workarounds apply, either. Animal cruelty is not “interstate commerce,” even under our farcically expansive modern definition; the animals being defended here do not work for the federal government; and their protection does not fall under any of the powers that were granted to the government by the 14th Amendment. Non-humans are worthy of our protection. But they are not “persons” or “people” and, legally, that matters. This is a question for the states.

President Trump will not veto this bill, of course, and he will decline to do so for the same reason that no lawmaker dared to oppose it in the first instance: Namely, that he does not want to be accused of being “in favor” of “cruelty” and “torture.” That, however, is a political argument — the product of our living in an unhealthy and immature political culture — rather than a legal one. There is no caveat within the Constitution that holds that the federal government may do whatever it likes if is purpose is generally deemed to be worthwhile. We either have a legal order or we do not. “Think of the kittens” is no argument at all.


‘All You Americans Are Fired’ — Blacks First?

The quote above is taken from an EEOC case cited in a study prepared by public-policy analyst (and NR contributor) Jason Richwine for the Center for Immigration Studies.

The study analyzes lawsuits brought by the EEOC against employers for discriminating against low-skill, native-born Americans in favor of immigrants. Most of the American-born workers discriminated against were black.

Richwine’s analysis isn’t simply statistical or esoteric. It’s plain and unequivocal. In one case, a manager replaced Americans with foreign-born workers by bluntly informing them, “All you black American people f*** you all . . . [j]ust go to the office and pick up your check.”

Employers used a variety of methods and standards to give preferential treatment to immigrants over Americans: A Spanish-speaking requirement would be imposed on the workforce even though it had absolutely nothing to do with job performance; job openings would be advertised only in Spanish-language media; fake sign-in sheets would be provided to U.S.-born workers.

Richwine’s findings are consistent with those of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which found that illegal immigration has a significantly adverse impact on black wage and employment levels. In fact, illegal immigrants have all but displaced blacks in several sectors of the economy in which blacks were once heavily concentrated: service, hospitality, agriculture, and construction.

The wage-reduction effects of illegal immigration aren’t small. In Immigration and the American Worker, Harvard professor George Borjas writes:

Although the net benefits to natives from illegal immigration are small, there is a sizeable redistribution effect. Illegal immigration reduces the wages of native workers by an estimated $99 to 118 billion a year…Because immigration (legal and illegal) increased the supply of workers unevenly, the impact varies across skill groups, with high school dropouts being the most negatively affected group.

That’s real money. Of course, lower black wage and employment rates produce ancillary negative effects, including higher incarceration rates and lower family formation rates. Borjas, along with Jeffrey Grogger and Gordon Hanson, note:

Our study suggests that a 10% immigrant-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group is associated with a reduction in the black wage of 2.5%, a reduction in the black employment rate of 5.9 percentage points, and an increase in the black institutionalization rate of 1.3%. Among white men, the same 10% increase in supply reduces the wage by 3.2%, but has  much weaker employment and incarceration effects: a 2.1 percentage-point reduction in the employment rate and a 0.2 percentage-point increase in the incarceration rate. It seems, therefore, that black employment and incarceration rates are more sensitive to immigration rates than those of whites. Immigration and the Economic Status of African-American Men, 77 Economica 255, 256 (2010).

What’s been the response of the Congressional Black Caucus to all of this? Unsurprisingly, to fully support the progressives’ open-borders agenda.


Lowry Is Everywhere Making the Case for Nationalism

Our esteemed editor and author of The Case for Nationalism: How It Made Us Powerful, United, and Free has been celebrating its official launch this week by taking to the airwaves to discuss the book’s themes, and rebut the re-characterization of just what “nationalism” really is, and really means. Why not take advantage of the opportunity to listen, watch, reflect, and come away with sharper insight by checking out some of these appearance:

Here’s Rich on Morning Joe making the case for the American nationalist tradition that stretches from Hamilton through Lincoln and TR and a post-war consensus that continued up until The Gipper.

Rich takes on the lazy mischaracterizations of “nationalism” on Tucker Carlson.

He once again takes on the dirty-wording of “nationalism” on The Ingraham Angle (at 25:00).

The great John J. Miller has a meaty conversation with Rich on the new episode of The Bookmonger.

So do the folks at NPR’s “On Point,” which broadcast a lengthy interview with Rich and host Meghna Chakrabarti (that also included historian Liah Greenfeld).

And as the reviews start to emerge, do read Park MacDougals’s Washington Examiner analysis, which ends: “Lowry has made a cogent case for nationalism and for the importance of ‘preserving the American cultural nation.’ The worry is that the leaders of tomorrow might not only ignore Lowry and those like him — they might not let him make his case at all.”

NR Webathon

Within $39,000 of Our Goal – With Your Help We Will Get There

A mere four days remain in NR’s Fall 2019 Webathon, which hopes to raise $325,000 for general support of this heralded and vital institution, and in part to help finance the expensive legal challenge – to our First Amendment right, and to your First Amendment right – now in its seventh year. We speak of course of National Review v. Mann, now at a critical juncture, as the United States Supreme Court considers our formal petition to take up the case (the alternative being, a lengthy, expensive, risky jury trial in the very liberal District of Columbia of Appeals, where the right of free speech seems to be held with something less than awe and reverence).

As we head into the home stretch, a number of NRO readers have conquered their I’ll-get-to-it desire to chip in, and chip away at the remaining amount. Over 2,300 people have provided true material help that keeps NR invigorated and in the fight. Here are four kindly folks who, just yesterday, stepped up alongside us on the barricades:

  • Lance from Marblehead, Mass. tossed in $100 and regaled us with a story and some advice: “I had the pleasure of meeting your founder my freshman year at Princeton when he debated Dr. Arthur Schlessinger off his feet at Dillon gymnasium. What a gracious gentleman he was and generous to spend a few minutes with us before the event. Keep standing up for the principles of liberty, (but keep the anti-Trumpism under control). Blessings to all!” You have provided them, good friend. We are quite appreciative.
  • Susan in Santa Rosa, Calif. doubles with a $200 contribution and doubles down on our fight: “Free Speech is the absolute and essential foundation of our constitution. All is lost if the 1st Amendment is weakened in any way.” We’re fighting for it thanks to you, good friend.
  • From up in Moncton, New Brunswick, comes Patrick’s 50 smackers (USD!) and slaps a label on NR: “The sane and responsible, thoughtful and insightful voice in the din of political and cultural opinions. From a concerned and not ‘pseudo-woke’ Canadian! God bless you in your undeserved travails against Michael Mann the hyperthin-skinned.”
  • Brian from Vienna, Va., plunks a C-Note in the plate and offers an act of contrition: “This contribution is long overdue. No more freeloading like a Socialist! Keep up the excellent work. It is needed more than ever.” No one owes us a penny Brian, which makes the generosity all the sweeter when it does happen. Thanks so much.

Now about the attending above picture that gives some of us (well, me) an opportunity to exploit a fetish for stamps: The press is not everyone’s best friend. The “fake news” brush broadly applies the paint. All get coated. But let’s face this too: The concept and consequences of a “free press” applies to NR intimately also apply to you – and very much intimately too. Because the stamp is right in its boast: Liberty Depends on Freedom of the Press.

In National Review v. Mann, it’s your liberty, your assumed free-speech right, that is indeed under threat. Since this action commenced in 2012, NR has been engaged in legal hand-to-hand combat: Why? Because . . . imagine if a liberal jury is empowered to rule on what can and can’t be said as regards a pressing or controversial policy issue. What do you think the ramifications would be, not only for a press institutions such as NR, but for people? People such as . . . you? Good people who might at some point express a “wrong” opinion (or fact) that some busybody multiculturalist will want adjudicated?

Your donation to the webathon will help NR broadly, help it specifically in this vital legal battle, and help it – as well as every press institution, as well as every American with an opinion to share –defend liberty. Here’s how we see it on this 7th of November: If today some 200 people see fit to donate between $50 to $100, we will reduce our remaining objective to $25,000, getting us all the closer to our $325,000 objective. Would you be part of that group? If you want to give, but can’t meet this suggestion, be assured that every dollar matters, and every dollar is appreciated. So give. If you can do more than what has been suggested (one super dude yesterday made a $2,000 donation) then please consider an extra umph of kindness.

Where to donate? Right here. And if those stamps have you a-wanting to contribute by mail, just make a check payable to “National Review” and send it to National Review, ATTN: 2019 Fall Webathon, 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10036.

Natural Law

Conscience Rights Are the Bedrock of All Liberty

The Statue of Liberty (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

David writes about the way in which conscience rights are covered in the press — specifically, about the way in which they are forced into ignominious quotation marks or attached to disparaging qualifiers such as “so-called.” As he observes, the reflexive view within the media is that anyone talking about their “conscience” must be a “bigot” or a “misogynist” who is engaged in an “elaborate scheme.”

I would like to know when this trend started, and where our betters expect that it will end. Although our present fights over conscience often involve religious belief, it is by no means the case that “conscience” is synonymous with “religious belief.” On the contrary: The idea of conscience rights is indispensable to a free society whether that society is religious or not. Prohibitions against forced speech represent protections of conscience. Anti-censorship rules represent protections of conscience. So, inter alia, do rules that protect anti-war protestors and Pride Month marchers, statutes that create avenues for whistleblowers, and our cultural preference for a volunteer army. As NR’s resident heathen, I am — and I should be — every bit as invested in the maintenance of conscience rights as the most devoutly Catholic of my colleagues. Why? Two reasons. First, because I am a classical liberal and pluralist, and because one can have neither classical liberalism nor pluralism without conscience rights. Second, because I do not know at what point I myself will need to assert my own conscience against a majority that is trying to compel me to violate it. I have read enough history to know that the individual is never safe forever.

It will horrify most of its members to hear this, but it seems pretty clear to me that, far from being a repository of tolerance and enlightened thought, our media is made up mostly of people who deeply dislike the eccentrics and rebels and dissenters in our society, and who wish to wound them and to push them to the margins whenever they are able. This approach is extraordinarily myopic, of course, but it is real nevertheless — and to the extent that when, in a century or so, we come to look back and wonder why our culture simply gave up on trying to accommodate its heretics, we will have an easy answer at our fingertips: Because the people who were charged with reporting on a vast, boisterous, diverse, and free country decided that the prerequisites to liberty were not the trellis upon which the national garden might grow, but a sinister plot to be uncovered and crushed.

Law & the Courts

The So-Called Media’s War on Religious Freedom

A priest performing a mass holds up a cross. September 2017. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

Not long after federal court in Manhattan blocked an HHS rule allowing doctors to refuse to perform abortions, assisted suicides, and other procedures for religious reasons, reporters began engaging in deft-defying acts of rhetorical deception.

It’s been long insinuated that concerns over religious freedom are merely elaborate schemes cooked up by bigots and misogynists. One of the ways journalists like to intimate bad faith is by placing quotation marks around perfectly factual phrases like “religious freedom” or “conscience.”

Now, it’d be another story if there were comparable journalistic standards for the usage of “gun safety” or “pro-choice,” or any of the thousands of debatable labels that have been appropriated for partisan purposes, but there aren’t. It is a standard almost exclusively deployed for “controversial” topics — which, loosely translated, means “conservative positions.”

Take, for example, this NPR headline: “Judge Scraps ‘Conscience’ Rule Protecting Doctors Who Deny Care For Religious Reasons.” If we’re handing out quotation marks why doesn’t the word “care” get them, as well? One, after all, could convincingly argue that a doctor whose “conscience” tells him to avoid harming other human beings is engaging in the very definition of the Hippocratic ideal.

CNN does us a favor and skips any pretense of impartiality altogether, informing readers that a federal judge in New York had scrapped the “so-called conscience rule, which lets health care workers who cite moral or religious reasons opt out of providing certain medical procedures, such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide.” (Incensed italics mine.)

The insertion of “so-called” is, of course, a loaded term that implies, without any evidence, that people with moral objections to abortion might be faking it for some unknown reason. But it should also be pointed out that the entire framing of the story is ideologically preposterous. We don’t “let” people exercise freedoms in America, we only sometimes “let” government restrict them. That’s the hook of the whole American project, really.

Whatever the case, even if you believe doctors should be compelled to perform the progressive sacrament of abortion or lose their job, “religious liberty” is a genuine idea with a long history and standing in law. And, by definition, most of the people making argument for it are driven by their consciences.

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