Media

‘Special Episode: Megyn Kelly’

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On this special edition of The Editors, Rich interviews Megyn Kelly about her time at Fox, current journalistic trends, her new podcast, and much more. Listen below, or subscribe to this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

NR Webathon

The Editors of National Review Believe . . .

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Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is sworn in during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington, D.C., October 12, 2020. (Patrick Semansky/Reuters Pool)

. . . the following, which we state as we launch this Stand with ACB flash webathon, and with which we are confident you will agree:

  1. That there is a Liberal point of view on national and world affairs, for which the word “Liberal” has been appropriated;
  2. That the point of view consists, on the one hand, of a distinctly Liberal way of looking at and grasping political reality, and on the other hand of a distinctly Liberal set of values and goals;
  3. That the nation’s leading opinion-makers for the most part share the Liberal point of view, try indefatigably to inculcate it in their readers’ minds, and to that end employ the techniques of propaganda;
  4. That we may properly speak of them as a huge propaganda machine, engaged in a major, sustained assault upon the sanity, and upon the prudence and the morality of the American people — its sanity, because the political reality of which they speak is a dream world that nowhere exists, its prudence and morality because their values and goals are in the sharpest conflict with the goals and values appropriate to the American tradition;
  5. That National Review must keep a watchful eye on the day-to-day operations of the Liberal propaganda machine: the theses it puts forward, the arguments (if any) it advances in their support, and the (implicit or explicit) policy recommendations it urges on us — in a word on the Liberal Line.

Everything old is new again: What you have just read was in fact first published by Bill Buckley in the November 19, 1955, inaugural issue of National Review. Today, barely a month from our 65th Anniversary, our sentiments and self-assigned task remain as true as they did then. These things speak to the sense of duty, to the sense that this institution is vital, is critical — as it especially is in these momentous SCOTUS confirmation battles that, at their core, are about protecting our Constitution from the Left’s assaults.

NR is a uniquely reliable and consequential alternative to the liberal media (maybe better described in 2020 as the hellbent leftist media?), becoming ever more important and sought after as the ever-partisan MSM has dropped any pretensions it might have had of objectivity and fairness. NR’s role in the fight to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett has already been (to understate the matter) profound: Do read Rich Lowry’s piece today for a thorough accounting.

We can only do what we do — on behalf of you and our mutual beliefs, so under duress and assault — with your financial support. In this weeklong drive, we are hoping to raise at least $150,000. It’s all terribly needed, but we’re realists: The target may prove to be a bridge too far. Well, it may be, but we will strive for that, and if we can, to surpass it, because our consequential voice, sustained by your camaraderie and generosity, is one of the few things that stand between a triumphant Left and our nation as the last best hope of earth.

In the heat of this raging political fight, where this voice must remain loud and powerful, “the Editors of National Review believe” . . . they believe that good and honorable conservatives will stand with us. Or, as we like to see it, that we will have the honor of standing alongside you.

Please donate to this to our flash webathon here. If you wish to contribute by mail, please make your check payable to “National Review” and mail it to: National Review, ATTN: ACB Webathon, 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, N.Y., 10036. Many thanks.

Politics & Policy

Abortion as an ‘Option’

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In his opening statement at Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing, Senator Cory Booker warned that a Justice Barrett would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Predictably, Booker avoided addressing the legal merits of overturning Roe, instead relying on consequentialist arguments for upholding it. Moreover, in making those arguments, he resorted to euphemism rather than scientific or moral reasoning. Women in states that banned or restricted abortion in a post-Roe world would have “no options” according to Booker. Of course, Booker knows that describing abortion as an “option” is politically preferable to acknowledging that the result of an abortion procedure is the ending of a distinct human life, and delving into the violent reality of what such a procedure looks like.

Senator Booker worries about limiting the “options” that pregnant women have. Isn’t it odd that the only option that Democrats ever talk about is abortion, and yet they are loathe to describe that option in any detail? Perhaps we should all be more focused on providing women with better options.

Elections

Ever Wish You Could Vote against the Greatest Evil?

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A great many Americans who are prepared to vote for Biden are really Trump opponents. By the same token, many of those who are prepared to vote for Trump are actually most desirous of avoiding a Biden presidency. Unfortunately, our voting system doesn’t allow us to express our strongest preference if it is negative. We have to vote for the lesser of two evils — but why?

States ought to amend their election laws so as to allow negative voting. People could either vote for one candidate or against one candidate. Each candidate’s for number would be reduced by the votes against, giving a net-favorability total.

I make the case for negative voting in this Detroit News op-ed.

Why do this?

First, I think voters ought to be allowed to vote their strongest preference, which is often to see a certain candidate lose.

Second, it could make third parties competitive. When you have two major-party candidates who elicit strong opposition, it’s possible that a third-party candidate could emerge with the highest net-vote total. Breaking down our political duopoly would, I think, be good.

Third, it might cause some voters to seriously contemplate the damage that candidates might do rather than just thinking about their glowing promises.

I have been in favor of negative voting for a long time, but this year seems to make it a particularly good idea.

Here’s a site devoted to the idea.

Politics & Policy

Amy Coney Barrett and Ben Sasse: Traitors to Their Class

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Michael Brendan Dougherty has a typically perceptive analysis of why some of the opposition to Amy Coney Barrett seems different from past Supreme Court nominees from Republican presidents. In short: Her background, while obviously still impressive, deviates in certain ways from what those on the left “expect” of someone of her stature — even of her Ivy League and/or Beltway-saturated potential colleagues on the Court. As Michael puts it:

Amy Coney Barrett’s antagonists don’t understand her. Her success strikes them as abnormal and vaguely offensive. It always annoys people who spent so much effort following the rules that someone else did an end-run around them. Successful people, they believe, don’t go to those schools, they don’t have a family like that, and they don’t pray that way. Her ascent is a rejection of the laws of our hardening class divisions. When she sits in front of Senators Feinstein, Harris, and Hirono, Amy Coney Barrett might as well be levitating.

Writing in September for First Things, Patrick Deneen (Barrett’s neighbor and former Notre Dame colleague), had similar things to say:

If confirmed, Amy Coney Barrett would be the first justice in decades not to have received either her law school degree or her undergraduate degree from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, or Stanford. She would be the only current sitting justice not to have graduated from Harvard or Yale Law Schools. Instead, she will have been dominantly shaped by the schools and surroundings of “red America.” She will be the first justice to receive her law degree from a Catholic university. She has spent almost her entire life in the “flyover” places of America where “gentry liberalism” is not the dominant fashion. Rather, she has either been born into, or sought out, places where a different ethos reigns: family, home, place, tradition, community, and memory.

That Barrett’s background is distinct in this way is not in itself a reason to place her on the Court. But a serious assessment of modern American life ought to consider why her background is so unique — that is, why so many people who end up holding positions of political and cultural power, whatever their origins, tend both to go through and then be molded into similar shapes by a set of common elite institutions.

One possible answer suggests itself in the example of Ben Sasse. A Nebraska senator and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sasse has already shared the stage with Barrett and will continue to do so throughout this week. Though born in Nebraska, and now representing it in the Senate, some of his intermediate background — Ivy League credentials, McKinsey consulting, Washington, D.C., government work — would superficially seem to lend itself to the kind of elite cookie-cutterism visible elsewhere. And yet, one of the common critiques of Sasse from the left is that he is a “disappointment” for maintaining a commitment to conservatism.

Many on the left tend to downplay or even deny the extent to which elite and/or mainstream institutions — most universities, much of the media, etc. — are largely controlled by people who share their worldview. But implicit in both the contempt for Barrett and the frustration with Sasse from the left are two assumptions: not only that this is true, but also that passing through such institutions ought to have the desired effect of making their products more left-wing. Hence the frustration with those who manage to succeed anyway, or who emerge from such places without having been “successfully” shaped. In Sasse’s case, what you get instead is this:

Politics & Policy

Booker Defends Roe with a Series of Euphemisms

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Senator Cory Booker (D., N.J.) speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the Supreme Court, Washington, D.C., October 12, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

During today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Senator Cory Booker (D., N.J.) used part of his opening statement to assert that Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is a threat to Roe v. Wade.

“People are scared right now for another reason, because they know what a future without the protections of Roe v. Wade looks like,” Booker said. “President Trump has explicitly stated that he would only put up Supreme Court nominees that would overturn Roe v. wade. He said it clearly. We should believe him.”

Of course, Booker has no way of knowing how Barrett would vote on any given abortion case, but that won’t stop him and other Democrats on the committee from fearmongering about what would happen if Roe and subsequent abortion jurisprudence were rolled back or reversed.

“Without Roe v. Wade, our country looks like people being denied the ability to make decisions about their own body, not just while they’re pregnant, but being stripped of the right to plan for their futures,” Booker continued. Here’s the rest of what he had to say about the supposed future of our country if Roe is reversed:

It looks like women of color, low-income women living in rural areas, who can’t just pack up and leave if abortion is restricted or criminalized where they live. It looks like them being left with no options. It looks like state laws proliferating throughout our country that seek to control and criminalize women. It looks like the government interfering with women making the most personal medical decisions. It looks like a country in which states write laws that could subject women that have miscarriages to investigations to ensure that didn’t have abortions.

Very little of Booker’s commentary bears any resemblance to reality. For one thing, he relies heavily on euphemisms that disguise the truth of the supposed right he champions. Abortion is not a matter of whether a woman can “make decisions about her own body.” There is, after all, a second body involved in the equation — the much smaller, much more vulnerable body of her unborn child.

Likewise, overturning Roe would not “strip [women] of the right to plan for their futures.” Women do not need the ability to choose to kill their unborn children in order to plan for their futures. Eliminating legal abortion would not prevent women from planning; it would eliminate a “planning” option that uses violence to end the life of another human being.

Booker next suggests that Barrett is a threat to “women of color, low-income women living in rural areas, who can’t just pack up and leave if abortion is restricted or criminalized where they live.” This is a common trope of abortion-rights activists, who insist that, because rich women can more easily travel to get abortions, restrictions on abortion disadvantage poor women. But as Ann Coulter once put it in the Human Life Review, “If laws had to be repealed because the wealthy can evade or tolerate them more easily than the poor, there couldn’t be laws against anything.”

Booker went on to insist that, without Roe, we would witness the proliferation of laws “that seek to control and criminalize women.” Yet not a single pro-life law I’m aware of would criminalize or otherwise punish women who obtain an abortion. Instead, pro-life laws target abortionists and explicitly prohibit prosecuting post-abortive women. Nor is there a single pro-life law I’m aware of proposed in the U.S. that would require investigating women who have suffered a miscarriage.

Though Booker might not wish to admit, acknowledge, or even consider this reality, abortion is not a “personal medical decision.” It isn’t medical at all. There is no medical procedure that has as its chief aim the destruction of a human life. We can expect to hear more fearmongering about Roe from Senate Democrats this week, and we can expect all of it to be as euphemistic, factually inaccurate, and dishonest as the diatribe Booker offered this afternoon.

Politics & Policy

Look Who’s Skeptical of a Coronavirus Vaccine Now

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Every few weeks, Gallup asks Americans, “If a vaccine to prevent coronavirus infection were widely available at a low cost, would you, personally, try to get that vaccine, or not?”

In just a matter of weeks, Americans’ willingness to be vaccinated against the coronavirus has dropped 11 percentage points, falling to 50 percent in late September. This sharp decline comes after the percentage dwindled from 66 percent in July to 61 percent in August.

This drop is driven entirely by self-identified Democrats; willingness to take the vaccine is increasing among Republicans. From late August to now, the percentage of Democrats willing to take the vaccine has dropped from 78 percent to 53 percent. In the same time period, the percentage of Republicans willing to take the vaccine increased from 37 percent to 49 percent. The percentage of self-identified independents willing to take the vaccine declined from 59 percent to 47 percent.

It is hard to believe that increasing skepticism of the vaccine among Democrats is not connected to comments such as Kamala Harris’s declaration in September that she would not take any vaccine unveiled before the election because she believes President Trump will overrule health experts and offer an unsafe vaccine to the public:  “They’ll be muzzled, they’ll be suppressed, they will be sidelined because he’s looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days and he’s grasping to get whatever he can to pretend he has been a leader on this issue when he is not.”

Politics & Policy

Confirming New Justices Is Not ‘Packing the Court’

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The Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C., August 29, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

David Harsanyi has an excellent rundown on the homepage today of Democrats’ ongoing efforts to redefine “Court packing.” A quick recap of where things stand:

Joe Biden has said that he won’t announce whether he supports expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court — otherwise known as packing the Court — until after he is elected. “You’ll know my opinion of court-packing when the election is over,” he told reporters on Thursday.

On Saturday, Biden doubled down, telling a reporter that voters “don’t deserve” to know whether he’d support packing the Court.

At last week’s vice-presidential debate, Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris refused to answer Mike Pence’s question about whether she or Biden supports packing the Court. Instead, she rather clumsily attempted to argue that confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court constitutes court-packing and suggested that the lack of African-American judges on the appeals courts is another example of “packing the courts.”

In a Fox News interview yesterday, Senator Chris Coons (D., Del.) stated that if the Senate confirms Barrett to the Supreme Court, that “constitutes court-packing.”

Democratic senator Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) advanced a similar claim in an NBC News interview over the weekend when asked about Biden’s refusal to answer for his views on the subject. “It’s a common question being asked because the American people have watched the Republicans packing the court over the last three and a half years,” Durbin replied. “And they brag about it. They’ve taken every vacancy and filled it.”

As David writes, this effort to avoid answering for their views on court-packing is beginning to take the form of an Orwellian campaign to entirely redefine the meaning of “packing the Court,” which is widely understood to mean enacting legislation to expand the number of justices seated on the Supreme Court.

Notably, this redefinition campaign has not been exclusive to Democratic politicians. In yesterday’s Washington Post, columnist Ruth Marcus has an article entitled “Republicans have no standing to complain about court-packing,” in which she notes that “Republicans have stocked the court with one and soon two justices whose seats they were not entitled to fill” and asserts that “this is slow-motion court-packing in plain sight.”

But, of course, nothing that Republican senators have done to fill judicial vacancies during Trump’s entire time in office has even approximated “court packing.” Refusing to hold hearings for President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland was an entirely legitimate choice and well in line with past precedent; it has been more than 100 years since a Senate confirmed a Supreme Court justice nominated by a president of the opposite party during an election year. Confirming a new justice during an election year is similarly in line with historical precedent when the Senate and White House are held by the same party.

Democrats are understandably angry that they don’t have the votes to prevent Barrett from being confirmed to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat on the Court. They must not be allowed to get away with brazenly redefining terms and refusing to say whether they’ll upend a century and a half of tradition by expanding the size of the Supreme Court.

Law & the Courts

No, Judge Barrett Did Not Criticize the Affordable Care Act

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Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett attends her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 12, 2020. (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

Democrats are continuing their disingenuous strategy of framing Judge Amy Coney Barrett as President Trump’s stealth weapon, being rushed onto the Supreme Court by Republicans in order to kill Obamacare in a case the Court is scheduled to hear arguments in on November 10 (see my earlier post). In this vein, Senator Chris Coons (D., Del.) posits that Barrett has publicly criticized the Affordable Care Act. 

This is false.

As a judge, Barrett has not ruled on Obamacare. As a scholar, she has taken the firm position that a judge’s important but modest role is to say what the law is, not to formulate public policy. The best prediction of her position on legislation, therefore, is that its policy direction is for Congress to decide; the judge’s narrow role is to ensure that enacted law complies with constitutional requirements, regardless of its political or ideological bent. That, for what it’s worth is why I’ve predicted (see the earlier post) that neither Judge Barrett nor any of the eight justices currently sitting on the Court (including its four conservatives, two appointed by President Trump) would vote to invalidate Obamacare.

Senator Coons is apparently referring to an article – actually, a book review, “Countering the Majoritarian Difficulty” – that Judge Barrett, as a Notre Dame Law School professor, wrote for a scholarly publication of the University of Minnesota Law School in 2017. The article was not specifically about Obamacare. Instead, it arose out of a roundtable discussion in which several academics discussed Our Republican Constitution, an excellent, provocative book by Randy Barnett, a superb law professor at Georgetown.

In the review, Barrett did not address the merits or demerits of Affordable Care Act as policy. Her discussion centered on the dispositive legal issue in the Supreme Court’s 2012 Obamacare case, NFIB v. Sebelius

In a nutshell, Obamacare was enacted on the express premise that its mandate that individuals purchase insurance, which included a financial penalty for failure to do so, was a proper exercise of Congress’s power under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. This was wrong. As a majority of the Court held, that Clause does not authorize Congress to force people to engage in commerce by buying a commodity. Nevertheless, Chief Justice John Roberts saved the statute by deeming the penalty to be, instead, a tax. The 5-4 majority (Roberts and the Court’s liberals, who numbered four at the time) sustained Congress’s power to impose a tax – notwithstanding that congressional Democrats and President Obama had insisted it was not a tax.

The issue Barrett addressed was not Obamacare policy. It was a matter of statutory interpretation: the collision between textualism and judicial restraint – somewhat ironic, in that textualism is generally thought of as a restraint against improper judicial legislating. 

For Barrett, the pressing question was whether legitimacy calls for a judge always to interpret the law with fidelity to the original public meaning of the text. If so, the result would be to hold the ACA unconstitutional; contrary to partisan carping, that actually would have been an exercise in judicial restraint because it would not allow a court to rewrite the law in order to save it. 

The alternative, chosen by Chief Judge Roberts, was to disregard the text and enforce what the majority understood to be Congress’s purpose. Ostensibly, that looks like restraint because the Court is not in the position of invalidating an act of Congress; but, in reality, it is an exercise in judicial legislation.

Judge Barrett is an originalist and a textualist in the mold of Justice Scalia, who dissented in the case. The upshot of her review is that, like Professor Barnett, she is skeptical of a concept of judicial restraint flowing from purposivism. For her, that would free judges to depart from the original public meaning of a statute’s text in order to save it by purporting to impose what they believe Congress wanted to accomplish. Barrett’s article, however, is about how laws should be construed; she expresses no view on what laws Congress should or should not enact.

Law & the Courts

Graduating from Barrett’s High School Does Not Make You an Expert on Her Nomination

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The Guardian has published an op-ed this morning by Lisa M. O’Neill, who graduated from St. Mary’s Dominican High School in Louisiana, the same high school from which Amy Coney Barrett graduated.

The headline — “Amy Coney Barrett went to my all-girls high school. I hope she’s not confirmed” — might lead one to believe that the author knew Barrett personally or, having gone to the same high school, possesses some personal, perhaps disqualifying inside information about her that she wishes to disclose publicly.

That is not the case. Instead, The Guardian has given O’Neill this platform to denounce Barrett as a threat that will “irrevocably harm the lives of millions of Americans” merely because she graduated from the same institution as the judge. As far as we can tell, O’Neill never so much as met Barrett, nor does she offer any unique or useful insight about her on a personal level.

Instead, the article is a laundry list of reasons why O’Neill — once a pro-life Catholic who now rejects the Church and its supposed “patriarchal culture” — believes that Barrett’s nomination is a reason to “worry about the lives and futures of . . . fellow Americans.”

Among O’Neill’s specific concerns are “the lives of women and all those with uteruses when Barrett has referred to abortion as ‘always immoral’” and “the lives of LGBTQ+ families when Barrett defended supreme court dissenters on the landmark marriage equality case Obergefell v Hodges.”

Wielding her “I was once a Catholic” card, O’Neill criticizes Barrett for her involvement in the lay Christian group People of Praise, implying that her membership proves she has an authoritarian worldview and wants women to “play subservient roles” — an especially ludicrous assertion considering that Barrett is only in the public eye at the moment because she’s accepted a nomination to the highest court in the land.

O’Neill closes by asserting that Barrett has no ability “to separate out the ‘rightness’ of her faith from decisions about the future of healthcare, reproductive freedom, and civil rights for millions of Americans.” How many more spurious, hyperbolic columns such as this one must we tolerate from ill-informed Americans who are given a platform to share their uninteresting progressive views simply because they attended the same school as a nominee?

Politics & Policy

‘I Got in Trouble When We Were Running against Senator, Who Was a Mormon’

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Christopher Cadelago of Politico is the pool reporter with Joe Biden today, and he sent along a transcript of Biden’s most recent short interaction with reporters:

Q: Should Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s faith be considered by the Democrats at the hearing this week, sir?

Biden: “No it should not be—

Q: There should not be questions about her faith from Senate colleagues?

Biden: “No. I don’t think there should be any questions about her faith.”

(Biden then proceeded to talk about running against Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a Mormon.)

“You may remember, I got in trouble when we were running against Senator, who was a Mormon, he was a governor, OK? And I took him on and nobody’s faith should be questioned.”

Biden then turned back to the fight over Barrett.

“This nominee has said she wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, this president wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. Let’s keep our eye on the ball. This is about less than one month Americans are going to lose their health insurance.”

It will probably shock you to learn that Biden is wrong, and that Amy Coney Barrett has not said she wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. As Dan lays out here, Barrett wrote a book review in 2017 indicating she did not think much of Roberts’s reasoning in one of the ACA cases, and would probably have voted against treating the mandate as a tax.

Separately, Barrett participated in a moot court hearing of a current case involving the ACA and “none of the judges ruled in favor of the administration and Republican states’ request to strike down the law.” Of the eight judges who participated, five ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, but that the rest of the ACA could remain in place, while three ruled that they would have thrown out the case, “arguing that the conservative states challenging the law did not have standing to bring the suit. It’s not known which side Barrett was on because the participants’ votes were not revealed, according to a person who viewed the session and declined to be identified.”

Politics & Policy

Today in One-Armed Paper-Hangers

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Amy Coney Barrett went to my all-girls high school. I hope she’s not confirmed.”

If you are looking for astounding banality, you will not be disappointed:

We didn’t have a mascot at Dominican, only an emblem: Veritas. In Latin, truth. But the truth is not monolithic – it is informed by our belief systems. How we define the truth matters, especially for someone serving on the supreme court.

A very fine example of the “one-armed paper-hanger” genre.

Politics & Policy

The Left Argues Fallaciously against the Great Barrington Declaration

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Back in my teaching days, one of my courses was logic, and I believe that the most useful part of the course was showing students how to identify fallacious argumentation. Perhaps the fallacy that we encounter most often in our political disputes is the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy. That’s the fallacy of claiming to have refuted an argument merely by pointing to some circumstance relating to the person who made the argument. Rational argument requires confronting the logic of the argument itself, not distracting readers with irrelevancies about the arguer.

Recently, the American Institute for Economic Research released what is called the Great Barrington Declaration. It is an argument in favor of a more liberal (in the original sense) approach to the COVID pandemic. It was written by three epidemiologists who maintain that the lockdown approach is a mistake that does more harm than good.

Predictably, the Declaration has come under fire, with the ammunition consisting of heavy rounds of the ad hominem circumstantial. Nafeez Ahmed, a writer for the Byline Times, claims to have refuted the argument for the Declaration by digging into the funding for AIER and finding that some of its money has come from the Koch Foundation. He doesn’t attempt to argue against the case presented by the three writers, but to discredit the Declaration by pointing to this circumstance about some of the financial support for AIER.

For more detail, I recommend this AIER piece by Joakim Book.

Given the pitiable state of American education, I suppose that this Nafeez Ahmed fellow isn’t aware that his “argument” against the Declaration is built on a fallacy. That’s how much of our “education” works these days: Students are taught to look for incriminating background on writers and scholars and once they’ve found it — gotcha! Nothing more need be said.

At Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux has a lot to say about this too.

 

World

Sweden – and Other Inconvenient Lockdown News

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Well, this is awkward.

Bloomberg (from last week):

It seems increasingly clear that Sweden will suffer a much milder recession than both the euro zone and the U.S. But a fresh analysis published on Tuesday shows Sweden will fare better even than its Nordic peers this year and next.

Danske Bank is the latest forecaster to predict a softer crisis in the Nordic region than in the rest of Europe. And in its latest outlook, the bank now expects the Swedish economy to face a smaller contraction in 2020 and a higher growth rate in 2021 than in the rest of Scandinavia and Finland.

Sweden’s 3.3% GDP decline this year compares with the 8.3% slump Danske sees in the euro zone, and the 4.3% contraction it predicts for the U.S. The bank expects the U.K. economy to shrink by 5.8% this year.

Danske Chief Economist Las Olsen says there is “no single factor behind” Sweden’s performance.

“There’s been a lot of talk about Sweden having a milder lockdown than the other Nordic countries” during the coronavirus pandemic, Olsen said in an interview in Copenhagen. “You’d expect Sweden’s economic performance to be way better, but in reality what we see is that the Swedish performance is very close to what we see in the other Nordic countries.”

Very close, yes, but on Danske’s forecasts for 2020, better nevertheless: Sweden -3.3 percent, Norway -3.6 percent, Denmark -3.5 percent, Finland -4.5 percent.

Meanwhile, in other lockdown news:

BBC:

Thousands of scientists and health experts have joined a global movement warning of “grave concerns” about Covid-19 lockdown policies.

Nearly 6,000 experts, including dozens from the UK, say the approach is having a devastating impact on physical and mental health as well as society.

They are calling for protection to be focused on the vulnerable, while healthy people get on with their lives.

The British Medical Journal:

Abstract

Objective: To replicate and analyse the information available to UK policymakers when the lockdown decision was taken in March 2020 in the United Kingdom…

The model predicted that school closures and isolation of younger people would increase the total number of deaths, albeit postponed to a second and subsequent waves. The findings of this study suggest that prompt interventions were shown to be highly effective at reducing peak demand for intensive care unit (ICU) beds but also prolong the epidemic, in some cases resulting in more deaths long term…

Oh.

New York Post:

The World Health Organization has warned leaders against relying on COVID-19 lockdowns to tackle outbreaks — after previously saying countries should be careful how quickly they re-open.

Yes, WHO.

WHO envoy Dr. David Nabarro said that such restrictive measures should only be treated as a last resort, the British magazine The Spectator reported in a video interview.

“We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” Nabarro said.

“The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”

Nabarro said that there’s significant harm caused by tight restrictions, particularly on the global economy.

“Lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer,” he said . . .

Better late than never, I suppose, but where does the world go to get its economy back?

Politics & Policy

Sasse: ‘We Don’t Have Religious Tests’

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Senators Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) attend the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Police Use of Force and Community Relations” in Washington, D.C., June 16, 2020. (Tom Williams/Pool via Reuters)

At this morning’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, considering the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) used his opening remarks to affirm the fundamental right to religious liberty and reject religious tests for judicial nominees.

“Religious liberty is the basic idea that how you worship is none of the government’s business,” Sasse said. “. . . Whether you worship in a mosque or a synagogue or a church, your faith, or your lack of faith, is none of the government’s business. . . . This is the fundamental American belief.”

Sasse went on to condemn the notion that a nominee’s religious beliefs should be a topic of debate or discussion when considering their fitness for public office.

“Contrary to the belief of some activists, religious liberty is not an exception,” he went on. “You don’t need the government’s permission to have religious liberty. Religious liberty is the default assumption of our entire system, and because religious liberty is the fundamental 101 rule in American life, we don’t have religious tests.”

“This committee isn’t in the business of deciding whether the dogma lives too loudly within someone,” Sasse added, referring to when Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) questioned Barrett about her Catholicism during the judge’s confirmation hearing for her position on the Seventh Circuit. “This committee isn’t in the business of deciding which religious beliefs are good and which religious beliefs are bad and which religious beliefs are weird.”

Sasse pointed out that Christians believe in a lot of “really weird” things, such as the forgiveness of sins, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and eternal life. “There are a whole bunch of really, really crazy ideas that are a lot weirder than some Catholics moms giving each other advice about parenting,” he said, commenting on the criticism Barrett has received for her membership in a lay group of Christians called People of Praise.

“And yet there are places where this committee has acted like it’s the job of the committee to delve into people’s religious communities. That’s nuts. That’s a violation of our basic civics,” he said.

Sasse pointed out that religious liberty is fundamentally an American idea, not a political or partisan one. “The good news is, whether you think your religious beliefs might be judged whacky by someone else, it’s none of the business of this committee to delve into any of that in this context,” he said. “. . . Religious liberty is the basic truth and whatever you or I or Judge Barrett believe about God isn’t any of the government’s business. We can all believe in that in common. We should all reaffirm that in common. And that should be on display over course of the next four days in this committee.”

Law & the Courts

Senator Whitehouse’s Opening Salvo at Barrett Hearing: Dems’ Obamacare Diatribe

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Federal government forms for applying for health coverage at a rally held by supporters of the Affordable Care Act in 2013. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) is among the most insufferable hacks on Capitol Hill. It was he, recall, who suggested that energy companies should be sued under the federal racketeering laws for purportedly being “deniers” of climate change. He was also the laboring oar among a handful of Senate Democrats on an unhinged court amicus brief in a recent Supreme Court Second Amendment case, extortionately threatening that the Court could be “restructured” — translation: subjected to ruinous partisan court packing — if the justices continued what the senator portrayed as its Trump-era conservative drift.

So it comes as no surprise that Whitehouse’s opening statement in the confirmation hearing on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court was an absurd attack along lines I have previously described: Republicans are supposedly desperate to get Barrett on the Court so she can be the deciding vote to invalidate the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in toto, including its guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Whitehouse’s diatribe was aimed less at Judge Barrett than at Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas.), a supporter of the district judge in Texas (a Bush-43 appointee), whose ruling is at the center of the case now before the Supreme Court.

There is no chance that the justices are going to invalidate the ACA. I doubt a single one would vote to do that. I repeat what I wrote about this nonsense two weeks ago:

The notion that Judge Barrett, or for that matter the other Trump appointees to the Supreme Court, are on the warpath against the Affordable Care Act is laughable. The ACA issue is being contorted into a convenient political talking point in the stretch-run of a presidential campaign because President Trump, foolishly and reportedly against the advice of Attorney General Barr, has supported a weak legal challenge to the law. The case is California v. Texas, and the justices are scheduled to hear arguments about it on November 10.

In my view, this is a rare case of conservative judicial activism, which itself is very unconservative. That is, Texas federal district judge Reed O’Connor, who is a fine judge, erred in this case by doing what conservatives properly fault liberal judges for doing: He imposed a policy preference, rather than deciding the case in accordance with the law and leaving policymaking to Congress.

In 2017, with Republicans controlling the House and Senate and with President Trump’s support, Congress zeroed out the penalty for non-compliance with the Obamacare individual mandate. Notwithstanding scores of proposals to “repeal and replace” the ACA, Congress did not do so; lawmakers left the remainder of the complex legislative scheme in place.

Even so, 18 attorneys general from red states, aping the destructive practice of their blue state counterparts, filed a lawsuit theorizing that Congress had implicitly done what it had actually declined to do, namely, repeal the ACA. Essentially, the red-state AGs (a) pointed out that the Supreme Court (thanks to the legerdemain of Chief Justice Roberts) had upheld the ACA as a tax in the 2012 case of National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius (NFIB); (b) asserted that this rationale for upholding the ACA is no longer valid because Congress’s 2017 zeroing out of the penalty (in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) means the mandate cannot be a tax, there being no tax without a penalty; and (c) therefore argued that, since the mandate was so central to the ACA, the entire ACA must fall. For standing purposes, the 18 states were joined by two individuals alleging concrete harm, and were supported by the Trump Justice Department (under then-attorney general Jeff Sessions).

In late 2018, Judge O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, agreed with the Republican AGs that the mandate could no longer be construed as an exercise of Congress’s taxing power. Thus, he reasoned, since the tax construction was what saved the ACA from constitutional infirmity in NFIB, and since that construction is no longer justifiable after the 2017 legislation, the mandate is perforce unconstitutional. Moreover, because the mandate is inextricably tied to key components of Obamacare (including coverage of people with preexisting conditions), O’Connor deduced that it is not severable from the rest of the ACA, meaning the ACA is unconstitutional in toto.

Subsequently, the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed Judge O’Connor’s decision that the mandate is unconstitutional. But the appellate court did not uphold O’Connor’s inseverability finding, reasoning that the issue called for a more “granular” analysis. It therefore remanded the case to O’Connor for a more exacting inquiry. California — leading a coalition of 19 states plus the District of Columbia that support the ACA — pressed for an immediate Supreme Court review, arguing that the implications for public health care were too important to abide further doubt and delay. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

It takes more effort to provide that description of the litigation than to tackle the bottom line. To my mind, the only question about the Supreme Court’s resolution of California v. Texas is whether a single justice will vote to hold the whole of the ACA unconstitutional. I doubt it.

Indeed, I am skeptical that a majority of the Court will even agree with Judge O’Connor and the Fifth Circuit that the mere zeroing out of a tax is the functional equivalent of repealing it, such that the mandate, technically, is no longer a tax. Regardless, though, the Court is not going to hold that the mandate is inseverable from the rest of Obamacare. You can take that to the bank.

We can be confident that there are at least five, and probably six, solid votes for severability. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh emphatically endorsed the presumption in favor of severability just last term (here and here). Justice Alito agreed with them, as did the three liberal justices remaining on the Court after Justice Ginsburg’s death — Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan — who will surely vote to preserve as much of the ACA as possible. Furthermore, I suspect Justices Thomas and Gorsuch will side with this majority — and if they don’t, their position is apt to be even more deferential to Congress. They have each suggested that the Court get out of the business of analyzing severability and simply refuse to uphold any portions of a statute found to be invalid, leaving the rest up to lawmakers. In addition, they would be very stingy about who has standing to challenge statutes based on alleged harms.

Contrary to the claim that there is a Trump litmus test that requires killing Obamacare, there is actually no reason to assume that the Trump appointees already on the Supreme Court (Gorsuch and Kavanaugh) are going to vote to invalidate the ACA. The best bet on what a Justice Barrett would do is that she would either (a) agree to follow the presumption in favor of severability that the Court has recently reaffirmed; or (b) question whether the plaintiffs challenging the ACA have standing and whether the Court should do any severability analysis relating to parts of the ACA that are not properly before the Court.

Of course, I could be wrong. Judge Barrett is very smart, and she could have an analysis that none of us Court-watchers have thought of. Still, there is no basis to believe that she is on a mission to eradicate the ACA. This is an unfounded political talking point.

Politically speaking, President Trump shot himself in the foot by ordering the Justice Department to support the red-state lawsuit. It has little or no chance of prevailing, and it makes him vulnerable to the false charge that he favors eliminating coverage for pre-existing conditions at a time when COVID-19 and high unemployment have intensified voter concerns about access to health insurance. Naturally, since one of the Democrats’ main campaign themes is that Trump is bent on eliminating Obamacare, they are telling people that getting Judge Barrett on the Court is part of that plan.

To the contrary, Barrett does not believe it is the federal judiciary’s role to make health-care policy. There is scant reason to presume that she would invalidate the ACA, and every reason to suspect she’d point out that doing so is up to Congress, which could have repealed it but opted not to.

Law & the Courts

Durbin Gets It Wrong on the Politicized Confirmation Process

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Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing as the outbreak of the coronavirus continues, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. June 9, 2020. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times/Reuters)

At the first Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this morning considering the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Senator Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) insisted that the contentious confirmation process is the fault of Republicans.

In his own opening remarks, Senator Lindsey Graham (R. S.C.), the chair of the committee, pointed out that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia were confirmed to the Court by an overwhelming majority of senators. Ginsburg was approved by a 96-3 vote, and Scalia was confirmed unanimously, with 98 votes in his favor.

Pointing to these votes, Durbin said, “Can this be the same the Senate? It’s not. The reason those votes were so overwhelming was because people lived by the rules. They lived by the traditions of the Senate, and they had mutual respect for one another. This process hasn’t adhered to those guidelines.”

Durbin went on to insist that Republicans’ “haste” to fill the vacancy left by Ginsburg’s death is unfair to the Senate and to Barrett, the nominee.

But Durbin entirely ignored that, in the decades following those Senate confirmation votes on Scalia and Ginsburg in 1987 and 1993 respectively, Democrats have almost entirely refused to vote in favor of every nominee appointed to the Court by a Republican president.

Since Ginsburg’s confirmation, only Justice Stephen Breyer — nominated by Bill Clinton — received anything close to the kind of unanimous backing that previous nominees had received in their votes; he was confirmed 87-9.

In 2005, when John Roberts was nominated to replace Chief Justice William Rehnquiet, 22 Democratic senators voted against his confirmation. The confirmation vote for Justice Samuel Alito in 2006 was far closer, 58-42. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were confirmed by larger majorities, with a number of Republicans crossing the aisle; those votes were 68-31 and 63-37 respectively.

But it was the last two Supreme Court fights that especially showcased how much Democrats have politicized the confirmation process. In 2017, Gorsuch was confirmed 54-45, after Senate Democrats attempted to filibuster to prevent the vote. Just three Democrats joined Republicans in voting to confirm him. In 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48 after a grueling, hyperpartisan fight, in which Senate Democrats who had already refused to vote for him embraced uncorroborated allegations that he had committed sexual assault, despite the fact that he had been vindicated by an FBI investigation.

Despite what Durbin asserted this morning, all of these highly politicized votes in which Democrats refused to back GOP nominees took place long before Senate Republicans moved to confirm Barrett this fall, a decision that is perfectly legitimate, perfectly constitutional, and in line with past precedent.

Law & the Courts

Pennsylvania’s Drop Boxes for Ballots Will Remain in Place

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An election worker tests voting tabulators for accuracy at the Wake County Board of Elections on the first day that the state started mailing out absentee ballots in Raleigh, N.C., September 4, 2020. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

In Pennsylvania, more than 20 counties are using drop boxes for voters returning absentee ballots.

The Trump’s campaign contends the drop boxes are as a potential risk for fraudulent votes or other tampering and went to court, seeking to bar counties from using drop boxes or mobile sites to collect mail-in ballots that are not “staffed, secured, and employed consistently within and across all 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties.” On Saturday, U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan — who was appointed by President Trump — rejected the Trump campaign’s arguments as unconvincing.

“The job of an unelected federal judge isn’t to suggest election improvements, especially when those improvements contradict the reasoned judgment of democratically elected officials,” Ranjan’s ruling stated. “The Court finds that the election regulations put in place by the general assembly and implemented by defendants do not significantly burden any right to vote. They are rational. They further important state interests. They align with the commonwealth’s elaborate election-security measures. They do not run afoul of the United States Constitution. They will not otherwise be second-guessed by this court.”

The Trump campaign intends to appeal the decision. Convincing a judge to issue an injunction to halt the use of the drop boxes and disrupt the current process will be a tall order; as of Friday, 261,832 Pennsylvanians have returned ballots — including by using drop boxes.

The courts may find the argument about the security of drop boxes unimpressive. But drop boxes may be somewhat superfluous, particularly if they’re placed next to U.S. mailboxes. All absentee ballots mailed to voters in Pennsylvania will come with a postage-paid return envelope. Seventeen states require local election officials to provide return postage for mailed ballots; New Jersey leaves the decision up to county clerks.

Even if you’re in a jurisdiction where your absentee ballot doesn’t come with return postage, your mailman will deliver your completed absentee ballot — neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

“Federal law requires appropriate postage to be affixed to all mail pieces entering into the U.S. Postal Service mail stream, and we expect our customers to comply with this requirement. To help voters, the Postal Service’s regulations require election officials to inform voters of the amount of first-class postage required to return their ballots.”

But then it adds: “If a ballot is nevertheless returned with short-paid or unpaid postage, it is the Postal Service’s policy not to delay the delivery of completed absentee or vote-by-mail ballots.”

The U.S. Postal Service asks that this policy not be abused and that you do pay the postage. After all, they could use the money.

Law & the Courts

Confirm ACB, and Then Let’s Fix the Process Going Forward

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The Supreme Court (Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

Like everyone ’round these parts, I’m stoked to get Amy Coney Barrett headed toward the Supreme Court. A 6–3 originalist majority is basically the perfect balance: The liberals are firmly in the minority, but there are still enough of them to keep the conservatives from pursuing a different brand of judicial activism — because only two conservatives need to defect in a case to flip the result.

Over the weekend, though, I published a review of Ilya Shapiro’s Supreme Disorder, a fortuitously timed look at the bigger picture here. I hope you’ll read my review (and Shapiro’s book), but here I wanted to reiterate two important points when it comes to fixing the process.

First, we on the right have put up with a lot of nonsense from the Supreme Court going back 50 years. As of 1973 we had a Court with seven votes in favor of inventing a right to abortion. The Left doesn’t get to change the rules now because (once Barrett is in place) there are six justices who want to read the Constitution to mean what it actually says. Conservatives shouldn’t, and won’t, support any reform that waters down the current composition of the Court.

Second, though, we do need to reform the process. From Robert Bork to Merrick Garland, this has gotten pretty ridiculous. As I spell out in the piece, I think a constitutional amendment could do the trick if it imposed 18-year term limits on future justices and made it far more difficult for the Senate to reject nominees.

In effect, we should assume that the party opposite the president will vote against nominees regardless of those nominees’ qualifications — and therefore we should require a supermajority for the Senate to reject a nominee. That way, nominees would fail only if one party held the presidency and the other controlled the Senate by a very wide margin, or if the nominee stoked a decent amount of resistance even within the president’s own party. Otherwise, the president should get his picks, the nation should be spared these toxic fights, and voters can react to each pick at the next election.

A constitutional amendment won’t happen this year or next. But the process is growing more dysfunctional with each nomination. Democrats are flirting with court-packing, though I highly doubt they’ll have the votes to pull it off. Soon, the Senate may simply refuse to confirm nominees whenever the opposing party holds the presidency. This isn’t working, and a bipartisan amendment is the only way to fix it.

Politics & Policy

Students Unhappy with Their Online College Courses

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Just as substitute teachers usually weren’t very good, so we’re finding that substitute educational delivery modes aren’t very good. So argues Megan Zogby in today’s Martin Center article.

Younger faculty members tend to be more comfortable with the online technology; older ones are making the adjustment more slowly. A bigger problem is the lack of access to hands-on experiences.

Zogby writes, “For some students, the loss of in-person lab time and learning has dramatically harmed their education.The interactive labs seem more like video games, said Paige Barrett, a junior at NC State studying life sciences. Her online lab portal cost her $50 to access, and it ‘looked like it was made by a second-grader,’ she said.”

Students in art and design courses are getting badly short-changed.

“When NC State switched to online classes for the fall,” writes Zogby, “Leah Hauser, a junior in the Art and Design program, lost access to studio space, the textiles spinning lab, laser cutters, and wood shops. That made it difficult for her to become a better artist and learn design skills. Yet Hauser still pays full tuition.”

And for anatomy students, there’s no good substitute for actual skeletons.

It’s not the case that university leaders are doing nothing to try to improve matters, though. At NC State, they have come up with an app to help students form learning communities and contact their advisors and faculty.

Zogby suggests that college leaders listen more to what students are saying.

Music

Bringing the Great American Songbook to Zoom

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With the Met and Broadway, not to mention most other performing arts venues, canceling their upcoming season, the cultural costs of COVID continue to escalate.  But we are an entrepreneurial country, if we’re anything, and those stuck at home are finding virtual outlets for their cultural fixes.  A wonderful, and free, concert series is being offered by the Washington, D.C.-area ensemble “Night and Day Band.”  Helmed by Michael Suser, Night and Day has been entertaining Washingtonians for nearly 30 years (full disclosure: Suser is a friend).  With live gigs on hold, Suser decided to take his show on the (digital) road, and Night and Day is playing their way through The Great American Songbook every Sunday evening at 7:30 PM Eastern Time on Zoom (you can find the Zoom link on the webpages or sign up for email reminders).

The series started on September 20, with an introductory show, then covered George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and on Sunday, the Roaring 20s.  You can find previous performances on Night and Day’s Facebook page.  Upcoming shows include Irving Berlin (October 18), two weeks of Cole Porter (October 25 and November 1), Rodgers and Hart (December 6), World War II (January 10), and on into the post-war period.  Suser introduces the songs, giving background and context and not infrequently some old-fashioned jokes, all from his living room, while his bandmates are strategically located throughout the house for social distancing purposes.

While the quartet may be physically socially distanced, the Night and Day Band is doing a wonderful job breaking down the socially isolating barriers of the past half-year.  For an hour each Sunday, it’s a lovely way to enjoy some great American music and look forward to better days.

Law & the Courts

‘The Right to Govern’

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The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., April 15, 2020 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In the New York Times, Jamelle Bouie deftly and succinctly refutes the rest of his own column, which proposes the destruction of the Supreme Court, by laying out a standard that applies perfectly to the recent behavior of the Republican Party. Bouie’s core argument for “packing” (destroying) the Court is that:

there is no rule that says you get to keep stolen goods, and the Barrett seat — like the Gorsuch seat — represents a theft.

But the standard Bouie offers up is:

If Republicans win the White House and control of Congress, then they should have the right to govern.

This, by definition, means that there can have been no “theft.” By Bouie’s own terms, if Republicans wish to appoint the judges they prefer, they need to win control of both the White House and of the congressional branch that gets to ratify or reject the appointment of judges (the Senate). In 2014, the Republicans had one of these branches (the Senate) while the Democrats had the other (the White House). As a result, neither had “the right to govern” and no judge was appointed.

In 2016, by contrast, the Republicans won both branches, and, thereby, won the “right to govern.” Using that “right to govern” they appointed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. In 2018, having appointed both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, they once again won “the right to govern” by keeping hold of the Senate — indeed, by expanding their majority. N0w, in 2020, there is another Supreme Court vacancy. If the Republicans fill it, they will be doing so using their continuing “right to govern.”

There are no “stolen goods” here. There is just the system as it has existed since 1789, and the Court as it has existed since 1869. By Bouie’s own terms there is no case against the Republicans’ filling the vacancy; no case that doing so would represent a “theft”; and no case for changing either the appointment system or the number of justices on the Court. There is a case, perhaps, for more stringent editors at the New York Times.

Elections

If a Non-Trump Candidate Spreads a Conspiracy Theory in a Forest

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In Erie, Pa., tonight, Joe Biden said of the election: “The only way we lose this is by the chicanery going on with regard to polling places.” As you might imagine, the condemnation in the press has been deafening.

Elections

Put Whom Back in Chains?

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If I’m reading this correctly, the Democratic candidate for Senate in South Carolina believes that Tim Scott, who is already a senator from South Carolina, intends to vote for a Supreme Court nominee, who herself has two black children, who will put him back in chains? In what, one of those 13th Amendment cases we get regularly? Our politics is really rather stupid sometimes.

Elections

Joe Biden Takes a Dark Turn on Blowing Up the Court

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden addresses reporters in Las Vegas, Nev., October 9, 2020 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

It gets worse. For weeks, Joe Biden has refused to answer whether he intends to blow up the United States Supreme Court on the preposterous grounds that, if he does, journalists will write about it. Now, he adds that voters “don’t deserve” to know his position.  This transmutes an untenable position into a downright nefarious one.

Biden’s defenders have been trying to draw some equivalency between the threat of his “packing” (read: destroying) the Supreme Court and the Republicans’ push to appoint Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ginsburg. In and of itself, this is ridiculous: The Republicans are in control of the White House and the Senate, and, in acting now, are using a process that has been in place since 1789 and echoing a norm that has obtained throughout American history. But the equivalence also fails on its own terms, in that neither President Trump nor any of the 53 Republican senators are keeping any secrets about their plans. Trump has been open about his nomination from the start; so have the 51 Republicans who intend to vote yes; so has Susan Collins, who intends to vote no; and so has Lisa Murkowski, who opposes the process but says that she may vote yes if it comes to the floor. There is no parity here. One party is going about the business of government with the branches that it presently controls; the other party is threatening to smash those branches up.

Biden’s stance essentially inverts the way the American system is supposed to work. Going into the election, the Democrats’ position is that it would be unseemly for candidates for our elected branches to answer questions about what they will do, but that it is imperative that candidates for the judicial branch be expected to say ahead of time how they intend to rule in major cases. Why is Biden, who knows better, indulging this? I suspect it is because he knows full well that what is being proposed by his party is monstrous and so hopes to sidestep it entirely. Cue the tape:

Biden’s argument in this clip is unequivocal. He agrees that the idea of “packing the Supreme Court” is an outrageous “power grab.” He suggests that it takes people of courage to stand up to their own party when it begins to flirt with such outrageous propositions. And, most important of all, it is clear from this clip that there is nothing “different” about this debate in 2020 than there was back in 2005. By his own terms, Biden agrees with FDR that the Court was “thwarting” the government’s agenda. By his own terms, he is aware that that government had won in a landslide. And yet, despite this, he understands that the planned remedy was disgraceful. FDR, Biden says, was “corrupted by power in my view,” and his “court packing” plan served as a good reminder of how “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” What was necessary — what Biden explicitly wanted “entered into the record” — was that “statesman” stand against “political exigency.”

A good example of such a statesman, Biden said, was . . . well, Joe Biden.

Where is that man today?

Culture

No Outbreak at Disney World Three Months After Reopening

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Sunlight breaks through clouds near Disney World ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irma, in Kissimmee, Florida, September 8, 2017. (Gregg Newton/Reuters)

When Disney World reopened in July, coronavirus cases were spiking in Florida and the decision to put thousands of people back to work was widely derided as a disaster in the making. The media rarely do a “we were wrong” story, preferring simply to move on to other dire predictions when initial dire predictions don’t come true so it’s admirable that the New York Times swallowed hard and published this story, albeit under the bizarrely negative headline, “At Disney World, ‘Worst Fears’ about Virus Have Not Come True.” Worst fears? I’d say a more accurate headline would be “No Disney World Workers Have Come Down with COVID on the Job, Lead Union Says.”

No, as in zero. You have to get several paragraphs into the story before you come across this rather gobsmacking item: “’We’ve had very few, and none, as far as we can tell, have been from work-related exposure,’ said Eric Clinton, president of UNITE HERE Local 362, which represents roughly 8,000 attraction workers and custodians.”

None? As in nobody among 8,000 union workers at Disney World has been infected by coronavirus on the job? This is fantastic news. Other unions, according to the Times, tell a similar story. And workers presumably are at far greater risk than visitors, since workers are there every day. And this is three months after the park reopened. I don’t know what the takeaway is here, but Disney World is mainly an outdoor activity. Recall that there was no outbreak associated with Disney World back in the spring either; the park was open until March 15, and thousands of workers and visitors streamed through the park even as the New York Times, among others, sounded the warning bell.

Politics & Policy

‘Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Years Ago?’

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President Trump makes an announcement about his treatment for COVID-19 in Washington, D.C., October 7, 2020. (The White House via Reuters)

Fifty-six percent say yes, according to a new Gallup poll. In 2012, when Barack Obama was running for re-election, only 45 percent agreed. On the other hand, only 31 percent of Americans think the country is heading in the right direction, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls. That figure has been underwater since June of 2009, when the news was that the Great Recession had ended, although it was as high as 40 percent just before the pandemic became the primary news story.  In any case, the divergence between the Gallup number and President Trump’s approval ratings suggest his personal style is not doing him any favors. But to flip that around: Should Joe Biden be elected president primarily because voters dislike Trump’s personality, it would be a huge mistake for the Democratic party to think the country is begging to be led in a completely different direction. Democrats, of course, always mistake winning an election for a mandate for massive change.

Culture

Farewell to a Great Newspaperman

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The New York Times building in New York City, August 3, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

I was stunned to see we’ve lost Jim Dwyer, an old-school shoe-leather newspaperman who spent many years with Newsday, the Daily News, and the New York Times. Dwyer died of cancer at 63 on Thursday and won the Pulitzer Prize for his columns in 1995. Metro journalism seems to be a dying art these days, when most young journalists — I think Jim would, like Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill, preferred to be known as a “reporter” — get into the business either because they want to cover national/international/sociological issues or because they want to do commentary, preferably on television. Dwyer went out there and hit the streets nosing around for something new, talking to ordinary people, gathering facts, notably rounding up the individual stories behind the Sept. 11 attacks that went into the book, 102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers.

Dwyer once said that, having studied metro columnists such as Breslin, Hamlin, and Murray Kempton — all of them now departed — “From all of those guys, and so many more, I learned that you have to report. It might sound obvious, but that doesn’t make it less true. You have to report the hell out of a story. Then, maybe, you can write it.” Dwyer was interested in understanding, not grandstanding. It’s amazing what you can learn if you actually go out looking for stories rather than just pontificating over a chyron. R.I.P. to one of the greats.

Culture

Fifteen Foster-Care, Adoption, Child Welfare Things That Caught My Eye Today (October 9, 2020)

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1. Beautiful letter in the Wall Street Journal:

Jason L. Riley’s “The Left’s Unhealthy Interest in Amy Coney Barrett’s Adopted Kids” (Upward Mobility, Sept. 30) cites a part of our 2018 book that summarized the evidence on the effects of transracial adoption. Outcomes such as behavior, school performance, mental health, self esteem and adult racial-identity formation don’t statistically differ between black children adopted by white parents and those adopted by black parents. But, as Mr. Riley points out, the adoption of two Haitian children by Amy Coney Barrett has stimulated activists on the left, including Ibram X. Kendi, to speak, or tweet, in opposition to such adoptions.

We are white parents of two adult black sons who think of ourselves as liberals and striving antiracists. But given our research results we think leftist activists should focus, as we do, on such problems as the criminal-justice system, health care and voting rights, where racism is doing major harm, rather than on opposing transracial adoption.

2. Miami Herald: How Hillary Clinton and Haiti’s earthquake changed the life of Trump’s Supreme Court pick

3. Christian adoption agency in NY receives temporary protection from court

4. From BraveLove:

Over the years, I’ve learned to embrace adoption as a beautiful part of my life: I am a birth mom of one college-age daughter. I am a biological mom of three teen boys. I am an adoptive mom of one adventurous ten-year-old son….

5. Nurse gets certified for emergency foster care to care for her long time patient

6. South Dakota family’s journey results in joy, Angels in Adoption honor

7. Megan Birch-McMichael: How Many Children Do I Have? It’s Not So Simple

The primary goal, we were told in our foster care training classes through the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, or D.C.F., was to make every attempt to reunify the family. Children in foster care, they told us, should have a path toward either reunification or adoption. Foster families are meant to be a temporary safe space while the biological family creates their own safe space for the child to return.

Foster parents have to balance being the child’s de facto parents and loving the child with that totality, and giving themselves some emotional distance, knowing that at any moment the child could leave.

8. ‘More love to give:’ Adoptions from foster care increase in Georgia

The Jordan-Hill family is one of thousands who have adopted Georgia children from foster care, a trend that has surged in recent years, leading DFCS officials to request more than $5 million in next year’s budget to help with the increased caseload. That money will pay for the financial assistance families receive monthly from the state after adopting a child, said Chris Hemphling, the division’s deputy director and general counsel.

The number of adoptions through DFCS has nearly doubled in five years, from 799 in 2019 to 1,518 in 2019, according to agency statistics. And while the number of children in foster care has also grown, the rate at which they are being adopted has increased as well.

9. LAPD’s Missed Opportunity on Juvenile Diversion

10. Children of women prisoners in India struggle to get proper food and education despite guidelines

While a central jail like Delhi’s Tihar is described as a “model” prison and has a separate jail for women, India’s women inmates are often housed in just a separate enclosure within the same jail as male prisoners. Prisons have been largely designed “from the perspective of managing issues of male prisoners”, experts told IndiaSpend.

. . .

As a result, their children seldom have access to learning, and often lack social skills, having lived in a closed jail environment. After turning six, children are separated from their mothers and housed in state-run institutions until their mothers are released, or they are capable of earning a livelihood.

11. Empty Closet program aims to get foster children what they need and support foster parents

12. Children’s Bureau Offering Virtual Foster, Foster-Adopt Orientations

13.

14.

15. Today: How to Become a Foster Parent

Religion

A Window into Hell in New Orleans and a Call to Repair and Rebuild with Vigilance at Virtue

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(Jason Cohn/Reuters)

So, about this repulsive story out of New Orleans about the priest and the women and the altar. I want to say it doesn’t get much worse, but I know better than that. A priest friend of mine said to me earlier that his problem with the death penalty is that while it is wrong, it really should be reserved for certain things. Child rape, obviously. And this. If you’re a priest, the altar, the Confessional, and the tabernacle . . . are as sacred as it gets. And everything you do as a priest — which is who you are once you are ordained, it’s not a mere job you turn off at 5:00 or when the Zoom Mass is done — is meant to reflect the love of God. We’re human, we’re sinners, so we know that isn’t going to be the case. But you make choices that get you down a path of this kind of diabolical depravity.

There is so much evil.

I had another priest friend who loves tremendously say to me recently: Assume everyone is a serial killer until proven otherwise. I gave him a hard time — because I probably do something in the realm of the opposite typically. I see wounded children everywhere I look — and yet I get it. Don’t treat them like one, but assume it’s possible. Because it is. There but by the grace of God go I and all. We know so many of the problems that plague us, and we know how much spiritual warfare on top of the weakness of the flesh there is in the world. We need to be vigilant about virtue. We need to watch out for one another and be accountable to others. And priests cannot be allowed to lapse into this kind of desecration of not just the altar where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered, but the human person! This doesn’t happen overnight. And it would appear the women knew exactly what they were doing (certainly the older one).

We need a healthier society, we need a healthier priesthood. As with politics, we each need to realize our power here. I fully expect there to be more of these stories, not less. They have to come to light for truth and justice and healing. At the same time, believers who believe — really, truly believe — do penance. Do reparation. And yes, even if you didn’t desecrate an altar. We Christians are all part of the Body of Christ. Beg God for His mercy for all our sins. It’s His Church, and problems which seem insurmountable can only be helped by His grace and our faithfulness to what He asks of us.

In politics, we need to look around and do our part — meet needs. The same is the case with the Church. Raise your family right. Love one another. And support and encourage your parish priest. That doesn’t mean give him some exalted status or treat him like an idol who if you keep in close proximity might get you points for heaven, but give thanks for his fiat to God’s call and help him live the life of self-sacrificial service and heroic virtue in which you need a community’s prayers and love to persevere.

And if he’s doing blatantly sinful things, chancery, we have a problem. This just doesn’t happen overnight. There ought to be people with power or communications access to power who are in the position to see the warning signs and not ignore them.

Because we’re such a sick society, we seem to have no idea that that community Amy Coney Barrett has around her is the way you do the Christian life. Surround yourself with goodness and accountability, wisdom and love. Mentorship. Friendship. Have people in your life who will help you to get to heaven and whom you want to see there, too. That’s how we’re going to get to a healthier place in politics, in the Church, and in the world.

I have no doubt we are going to continue to learn of some hellish stuff in the Church. Hold fast to Christ. And do so in community of light and truth and rock-solid trust in God alone.

Health Care

Disability Rights Activists Sue Cuomo over Ventilator Discrimination

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at a daily briefing at North Shore University Hospital during the coronavirus outbreak in Manhasset, N.Y., May 6, 2020. (File photo: Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Not Dead Yet and other disability rights organizations have filed a class action lawsuit against New York governor Andrew Cuomo alleging illegal discrimination in a plan formulated by the state to ration ventilators. From the complaint:

9. The Guidelines created wide-spread fear among chronic ventilator users because the Guidelines permit hospitals to requisition patients’ personal ventilators and reallocate them to others deemed more likely to survive.

In other words, if a ventilator using patient is admitted to the hospital, if there is a ventilator triage, the disabled person’s existing breathing assistance could be removed to benefit another patient.

Unsurprisingly, disabled people became terrified during the COVID emergency, leading to not seeking medical care for fear of losing their ventilators:

10. Chronic ventilator users, including the Plaintiffs, saw articles and social media posts shared among their friends, classmates, and community members about the Guidelines and  the risk of having their personal ventilators taken away if they sought acute medical care in a hospital.

11. Plaintiffs and other chronic ventilator users reported that they would not seek acute medical care during the pandemic for fear of being forcibly extubated, which would lead to their deaths.

The complaint alleges that the state’s triage guidelines do not allow the triage committee to meet the patients whose ventilators would be taken, and base the decision solely on clinical data that can be prejudicial to people with disabilities:

42. The Guidelines use a multi-step process with a Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score to determine which patients will have access to a ventilator during a time of triage

43. A SOFA score is a number used to track a person’s status during an intensive care stay that adds points based on clinical measures of the function of six key organs and systems: lungs, liver, brain, kidneys, blood clotting, and blood pressure.

44. Chronic ventilator users automatically have reduced SOFA scores because their disabilities significantly impair the functioning of key organ systems such as the lungs, among others.

If I were disabled, I’d be terrified too. Moreover, given Cuomo’s indifference to the safety of elderly people in nursing homes in the early days of the pandemic, there seems more than ample reason for concern.

Triage generally involves questions of survivability, during which awful choices must sometimes be made. At the same time, each patient should be judged equally with every other patient and not discriminated against in any way based on “quality of life” considerations.

As I read the complaint, there is a fear that survivability can also include invidious attitudes toward people with disabilities. It will be interesting to see how the facts are developed going forward.

Thank goodness there are now more than enough ventilators to go around now. Hopefully the terror expressed is more theoretical than real.

Politics & Policy

4D Chess, Democratic Style

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Jim Geraghty wrote recently about Nancy Pelosi, Master Strategist. Introducing her weird 25th Amendment bill, Pelosi said:

This is not about President Trump. He will face the judgment of the voters, but he shows the need for us to create a process for future presidents.

So . . . Joe Biden?

Brilliant.

Culture

Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: China, Abortion by Mail & More (October 9, 2020)

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1. Cardinal Zen: For Love of Truth I Will Not Remain Silent

Some say: Are you not able to forget the sufferings of the past? I have not suffered anything personally (I have been in Hong Kong since 1948), my family and fellow confreres did.

Purification of memory? To forgive, yes! But to forget the history? History is teacher of life!

. . .

Today Archbishop Celli has only one word for the independent Church in China: compassion. But true compassion must be to free the slaves from slavery, not to encourage them to be good slaves.

2. USCIRF Releases New Report about Attacks against Houses of Worship and Religious Leaders in Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso was long viewed as a bastion of religious tolerance and interfaith harmony in west Africa. Yet, in recent years religious freedom conditions in Burkina Faso have worsened, with the country facing interrelated security and humanitarian crises. Attacks on both Muslim and Christian houses of worship and religious leaders have spiked as jihadist and other militia groups have expanded their area of influence throughout the country. The government has struggled to rein in the violence and bring about accountability to perpetrators, and poor performance and misconduct by government affiliated forces are exacerbating the situation.

3.

4. Washington Post: Justices say women can get abortion pill by mail, for now

The court did little more than defer its first action on an abortion-related issue since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month. The court called for a lower-court judge to take a new look at the issue and rule within 40 days. That would put any further high court action after the Nov. 3 election.

5. Rod Dreher: Yelp’s Crude Social Credit System

Now, imagine that you are a small business owner targeted by Social Justice Warriors, who use an activist-weaponized Yelp to drive you out of business with false accusations. How likely are you to care about keeping the peace in a civil order? You are going to want revenge on the people who destroyed your livelihood.

6. Wall Street Journal Editorial Board: A Jewish Revolt Against Lockdowns

Mass gatherings are a bad idea, and rising Covid cases in Orthodox Jewish areas are a legitimate health concern. But the combination of threats, scapegoating and inflexible diktats isn’t boosting the credibility of New York’s leaders or their rules. If Messrs. de Blasio and Cuomo want cooperation in addressing Covid-19, they ought to start by treating Haredim as citizens, not criminals.

7. Catholic Herald: Lebanon is a Christian foothold in the Middle East. But for how much longer?

The practice of Christianity in Leb­anon is unique in the Middle East. “In all the other Arab countries, Islam is the religion of the state and Christians are not given a chance to state their opinions. There is no such thing as freedom of conscience,” Cardinal Rai said. “If a Christian wants to become a Muslim, that’s fine, but if a Muslim wants to become a Christian, he is liable to be killed. That is why the Leban­ese formula is so important,” he added.

8. Crux: St. Louis Archbishop addresses issues facing Catholic voters

“If you don’t hold that abortion is the preeminent moral issue of our time, and if you don’t struggle to justify voting for a candidate whose record or policy would favor or even expand abortion, then you probably aren’t forming a Catholic conscience in preparation to vote,” Rozanski wrote.

Continue reading “Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: China, Abortion by Mail & More (October 9, 2020)”

Economy & Business

How Democracy and Markets Aren’t Like Toasters

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Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) asks questions of James Comey before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., September 30, 2020. (Ken Cedeno/Reuters)

Senator Mike Lee tweeted, “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and [prosperity] are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.” Oren Cass responded, “Likewise, free markets aren’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Market fundamentalism can thwart that.” Tucker Carlson attracted wide attention last year when he said something similar: “Market capitalism is a tool, like a staple gun or a toaster. You’d have to be a fool to worship it.”

All of these comments express important truths, but they are also incomplete in an important way. (Excusably so, especially given that they were made on Twitter and cable tv.) A lot of the value of economic and political freedom is instrumental: They help us achieve other goals, and those other goals should inform how we structure and sometimes limit that freedom. Keeping that instrumentality in mind should help us avoid a distorted understanding or overvaluation of the goods of markets and democracy.

But they’re not just instrumental goods. We value the toaster only for the toast. Economic liberty is valuable in itself, and so is the ability to take part in the making of the laws one must obey. Given the choice between two equally prosperous and peaceful societies, one with voting and markets and one without, the first one would be preferable. (And of course we have good reason for believing that markets and democracy are more likely to achieve these happy results.)

Elections

The Kamala Harris Dishonesty Insult

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris delivers a campaign speech in Washington, D.C., August 27, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

I keep thinking of that people of faith exchange from the vice-presidential debate. Mike Pence tried to get Kamala Harris to own her bigotry toward traditional values — values that Joe Biden once espoused in degrees. Kamala Harris is some of the most radical elements of her party. Joe Biden has chosen of his own free will — perhaps shackled by the desire for power — to surrender to them. He could have been a transformational figure in American politics if he chose to be what he sometimes claims to be when he brandishes his baptism as a credential, even as he rejects fundamental teachings in his public life with vehemence.

The insulting thing from the Democratic Party is: We know Joe Biden has past his prime. We’ve seen the mishaps. I feel for him as a fellow human being. Aging takes some humility as the invincibility of youth fades. Kamala Harris’s own references to the Harris administration seem to make this reality even more obvious. Her radicalism should be an issue. His stands on its own, but hers is bold. If she were running at the top of the ticket, I wouldn’t be shocked if she were quite as obnoxious about it as when she took on a judicial nominee for his membership in the Knights of Columbus. The Knights of Columbus? A terrific fraternal organization, some of the best of civil society. The kind of person who would think them controversial just might think it sinister that Amy Coney Barrett would have a community of faith around her to help her truly live the Christian life. I talked to someone this week who didn’t even know Joe Biden was pro-abortion. That’s what they want. They hide the ugly. They lie. Lying obviously isn’t solely a Democratic problem, but could we please be honest about some of the most fundamental issues we face? What does religious freedom mean to you, Kamala Harris? It’s not insulting for Mike Pence to press you on your record and beliefs when you are going to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, if Biden is elected.

This is the game Barack Obama and Joe Biden played with the Little Sisters of the Poor, they wanted it not to come up, and when it did, they dismissed with derision or lied that there was no problem. America, we have some problems. Donald Trump’s recklessness is far from the only one. And he’s always been a symptom of a larger ailment. Biden and Harris are, too. The sexual revolutionary values that have overtaken our lives. Donald Trump sees an opportunity in aligning himself with Team Amy Coney Barrett. I’m grateful for that. I don’t pretend he’s the ideal standard bearer for my values and I don’t really know what he believes about anything. So, I’m not telling you what to do with your vote, but Kamala Harris couldn’t get elected on her own being honest about her agenda. So again, Mike Pence wasn’t being insulting. Insulting is the pretending there isn’t something seismic happening. We’re entering territory of a new intolerance, and the Democracy Dies in the Dark crowd may just be cheering it on.

Education

Don’t Understate the Consequences of a Political Monoculture on Campus

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(nirat/Getty Images)

Cameron Hilditch, inspired by the Times Higher Education‘s World University Rankings for 2021, writes that conservatives should show more gratitude and less scorn for America’s elite higher education institutions. Having just graduated from No. 19 on the list, I agree with his larger point, but dissent from parts of his argument.

“There is hardly a single field in which American Exceptionalism and global dominance is in ruder health than in higher education,” Hilditch says, lamenting that “partisan politics” should not “prevent [conservatives] from acknowledging those areas in which America is uniquely great.” Absolutely, conservatives are reluctant to boast about America’s universities, which are unmatched across the globe. Much worse, we are sometimes too quick to fall prey to a culture of victimhood that manifests itself in irritable gestures such as Turning Point USA’s “Professor Watchlist,” and in the existence of an organization such as Turning Point USA.

That being said, Hilditch understates the scope and significance of the lack of ideological parity in American higher education when he asks “so what?” of universities’ “skew[ing] left.” They don’t skew left, they are dominated by the Left. At my alma mater, 99.5 percent of faculty donations were made to left-wing candidates and causes. Moreover, there is not a single faculty member in the Government Department who leans to the right. This political monoculture has serious consequences. On campus, it makes for a worse education, and even threatens the well-being of those who don’t subscribe to the prevailing orthodoxy. Downstream, it molds an elite class that can’t understand or tolerate conservatives, and that trains them to deem the Right’s political gains “illegitimate.”

Hilditch also points out that most people have developed a partisan identity before ever setting a foot on campus. This may be true, but research has shown that insular groups that share similar worldviews radicalize those groups’ individual members. In my experience, college turns RINOs into Blue Dogs, Blue Dogs into progressives, and progressives into socialists.

American conservatives could doubtlessly stand to be more proud of the nation’s peerless institutions of higher learning, but it is no crime to be clear-eyed about their deficiencies.

Politics & Policy

Democrats Will Never Learn

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Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York, speaks during a news conference at New Bridges Elementary School, ahead of schools reopening amid the coronavirus outbreak in Brooklyn, N.Y., August 19, 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

In a 1992 Wall Street Journal column, former Democratic senator and presidential nominee George McGovern described his tenure in the private sector after he left Washington, D.C. for good. With his earnings from public speaking tours and lectures, McGovern acquired the leasehold on Connecticut’s Stratford Inn. It had been a longtime dream of his to break into the hospitality industry.

However, he faced a litany of federal, state and local red-tape rules, which cost him time, money, and energy. His venture would go on to fail during a severe recession. But McGovern took a risk, put his skin on the line, and was — ultimately — better off for it. By actually engaging with the public policy and regulations for which he had once advocated, McGovern learned an important lesson:

In retrospect, I wish I had known more about the hazards and difficulties of such a business, especially during a recession of the kind that hit New England just as I was  acquiring the inn’s 43-year leasehold. I also wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender.

McGovern’s candidness and skepticism then might come as a surprise now. It’s difficult — almost impossible —  to imagine a politician in 2020 becoming as self-aware as McGovern when he failed in the private sector, and got a healthy dose of his own medicine.

On Sunday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he will place neighborhoods whose COVID infection rates have stayed over 3 percent for seven consecutive days into a second lockdown. Nine recovering zip codes would face the consequences of this draconian policy, pending Governor Andrew Cuomo’s approval. Non-essential businesses would be forced to close. All outdoor dining would shut down. One-hundred public and 200 private schools would stop in-classroom learning, forcing parents to adjust schedules on a dime.

“This is out of an abundance of caution,” de Blasio said. “The plan is to rewind in these nine zip codes, to go back to address the problem by using the tools that we know work.”

Would de Blasio rethink this strategy — with all its dubious tools — if he were the person who had to face the consequences of a second lockdown, not Syed Hossain? If Cuomo’s mother resided in a nursing home, would he send COVID positive patients into that very same facility? (To this day, Cuomo still refuses to accept the responsibility for the nursing home scandal.)

Long after the pandemic has passed and Trump has left the White House, politicians as feckless and partisan as de Blasio or Cuomo will continue to ignore that which is not seen. As long as they receive their paycheck, toe the party line, and virtue signal, they will have jobs. But I hope — albeit naively — that there are still government leaders who are self-aware like George McGovern, the failed entrepreneur.

Politics & Policy

Let’s Hope for a Wide, Decisive Margin in the Electoral College

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People fill out their ballots at an early-voting site in Arlington, Va., September 18, 2020. (Al Drago/Reuters)

It’s easy to spend a lot of time on 270ToWin.com, flipping states from red to blue and back and contemplating scenarios for the presidential election – including ones where the Electoral College margin is extremely narrow, or perhaps no margin at all.

Start with the sense that the election will come down to Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Minnesota isn’t looking that competitive anymore, and Trump doesn’t really need it. Nevada might now be a more likely candidate to flip from blue to red, but outside of Rasmussen, Biden’s lead out there doesn’t look easily surmountable. New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia do not look all that competitive.

Democrats are talking themselves into believing Biden has a chance in Texas, but Trump keeps having a lead there. It’s not a particularly big lead by historical standards for a Republican, but Trump’s lead is consistent.

It’s a similar story in Georgia; the RealClearPolitics average is an even split, as of this writing. Democrats can feel good making the Trump campaign expend resources and effort to keep Georgia in the red column, but they probably wouldn’t want to bet the mortgage on Biden winning the Peach State.

And then there’s Maine’s second congressional district, which Trump won in 2016.

In the most recent Bangor Daily News poll, Trump leads Biden within this congressional district, 49 percent to Biden’s 41 percent, while losing the state overall, 51 percent to 40 percent.

But wait! Nebraska also awards its electoral college votes by congressional district, and last month, the Siena poll found Biden ahead in Nebraska’s second congressional district, 48 percent to 41 percent. So assume Trump gets one of Maine’s electoral votes, and Biden gets one of Nebraska’s.

After a long stretch of grim polling for the president in Arizona, Trafalgar (a Republican polling firm) puts Trump head by four points in that state.

If Trump wins Arizona (not a guarantee), Iowa (not a guarantee) Ohio (not a guarantee), Florida (also not a guarantee), and North Carolina (also not – eh, you get the idea), the map starts to look a lot like 2016 again, with Trump at 259 electoral votes, before we look at the big three in the upper Midwest — Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. If Trump wins just Pennsylvania out of those three, he will hit 279 electoral votes and win a second term. If Trump wins just Michigan out of those three, he will hit 275 and win a second term. And if Trump wins just Wisconsin out of those three . . . then we end with the dreaded 269-269 tie.

This scenario would make the hype and speculation about “faithless electors” after the 2016 election look mild. Ten electors changed their votes or attempted to change their votes last cycle.

But if the final Electoral College vote was 269 to 269, the election would be resolved by the U.S. House and Senate. If you’ve forgotten how that works:

The House of Representatives elects the President from the 3 Presidential candidates who received the most electoral votes. Each State delegation has one vote and it is up to the individual States to determine how to vote. (Since the District of Columbia is not a State, it has no State delegation in the House and cannot vote).  A candidate must receive at least 26 votes (a majority of the States) to be elected.

The Senate elects the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most electoral votes. Each Senator casts one vote for Vice President. (Since the District of Columbia has no Senators and is not represented in the vote.)  A candidate must receive at least 51 votes (a majority of Senators) to be elected.

For example, the current California House delegation has 45 Democrats and 7 Republicans; it would cast one vote for (presumably) Joe Biden. Right now, Republicans currently control 26 delegations, and Democrats control 22, with the remainder evenly split. But the vote would be taken by the next House of Representatives, not the current House of Representatives, and Nancy Pelosi is specifically hoping to reverse the current balance in Alaska and Montana (which each have one House seat) and Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan.

If, after the election, the House still has 26 or more GOP-leaning state delegations, and they elect Trump . . . and Democrats won a majority in the Senate, and voted for the nominee of their party . . . we could end up with President Donald Trump and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Politics & Policy

Jamelle Bouie: A Sore and Vindictive Loser

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While most observers would agree, at least in theory, that the country would benefit from a lowering of the political temperature, New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie is arguing for its elevation. To create an environment toxic enough to rival Sue Sylvester’s, Bouie says Democrats should make Republicans “pay a price” for  confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

An outraged Bouie laments the insidious efforts of Senate Republicans to appoint jurists to “lifetime positions”(!) from which they can “write conservative ideology into the Constitution under the cover of an ‘originalism’ that conveniently and consistently aligns with Republican Party political preferences.” To prevent the GOP from getting “away with nearly wrecking constitutional democracy,” he writes that Democrats “need to expand the Supreme Court.” Setting aside Bouie’s amateurish legal analysis, which comes unburdened with evidence — he seemingly can’t recall Bostock v. Clayton County or June Medical v. Russo, much less NFIB v. Sebelius — it’s worth applauding him for not only letting the mask slip, but ripping it off and casting it into the fire.

Legitimacy, for Bouie, is determined not by whether power is exercised in a constitutionally permissible way backed by precedent, but by which team is exercising it. Hence why he characterizes Republican appointees to the federal bench as “ill-gotten” without further explanation. Similarly he calls the Gorsuch and would-be Barrett seats “stolen” without providing a standard for what makes them “political loot” and not the natural results of a Republican Senate majority that voters have endorsed in three consecutive election cycles. Bouie ends by remarking that “if Democrats make Republicans pay a political price in November for their rank and ruinous opportunism, then in January they should use their power to restore to the people what was taken from them.” Who exactly “the people” are, and what a court-packing effort would be, other than “rank and ruinous opportunism,” are left to the imagination. But I think Bouie’s vindictive and bitter worldview should enable readers to surmise the answers to those questions.

Politics & Policy

President Coughs; Film at Eleven

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President Donald Trump departs Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., October 5, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

More than a week after discovering he had the coronavirus, President Trump seems as if he’s going to be okay. Like most people who come down with the disease these days, he experienced mild to moderate symptoms. As he is recovering, he occasionally sounds hoarse or coughs. This, to our friends in the mainstream media, is the stuff of headlines.

Newsweek headline: Trump Coughs Repeatedly in Sean Hannity Fox News Interview. (“Repeatedly” means twice).

CNN: “Coughing Trump tells Hannity he’s healthy and ready to hold rallies.”

Mediaite: “Trump, Who Claims He’s ‘Cured’ from Covid, Is Noticeably Hoarse, Voice Breaks Off Twice During Hannity Phone Interview.” Yes, his voice broke off so he could cough. Ordinarily one doesn’t cough and speak at the same time.

Business Insider: “Trump coughs during his call-in interview on Hannity, but claims he’s feeling ‘really good.’”

The Daily Beast: “Coughing Through Hannity Interview, Trump Says He Wants to Do Saturday Rally.” Through? Twice.

“Trump coughs.” Nice job, media. Do keep us posted every time this happens. Maybe add a running cough tracker to your web sites. We wouldn’t want to miss one. And make sure you ping my phone with a “BREAKING NEWS ALERT” every time.