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.

Culture

Yelp Adds Racism-Reporting Feature

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Diners eat lunch in outdoor seating in New York, June 22, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

To read the one-star reviews on Yelp is to take a stroll into CrazyTown. In contrast to the five-star reviews, all of which sound like auditions to be “foodie writers” by people who seriously overestimate the importance of a tasty banh mi, the one-star reviews are often built around insane temper tantrums specific to the personality of the diner or the circumstances of one particular visit. One chap ranted about how he asked about the oysters and then got angry when he tried to order two of them and was told the minimum order was half a dozen. Many other poor reviews turn on a waitress appearing snooty or taking too long to come to the table. Restaurant proprietors frequently respond by hurling themselves at the feet of the diner and begging forgiveness.

Yelp has just added features designed to single out restaurants accused of racism. This sounds like a bad idea.

 

Sometimes people are jerks, regardless of race. Sometimes people are busy, again regardless of race. Sometimes waitresses mess up orders, ditto. Sometimes people are in bad moods, ditto. And if you dine someplace like New York City or Los Angeles, where the waitstaff are often struggling actors and many of their self-perceptions are built around having been the most beautiful and talented person in their high school or college, you should hardly be surprised if they sometimes act as though it’s a little demeaning to sling hash for a living. Also, they’re on their feet for hours, so cut them some slack.

A tag such as, “This business has been accused of racism” is going to create a confirmation-bias problem; people will go to the restaurant expecting racism and eager to snitch, regardless of whether whatever might go wrong has a racial component. After a few of these reports, the business will get obliterated, and everyone who works there will be out of a job, regardless of whether they are racially enlightened and regardless of their race. Also, ahem, people sometimes lie about what happened to them at a restaurant to make a sociopolitical point.

Yelp is already a thicket of misunderstandings. I doubt that encouraging diners to ascribe bad restaurant experiences to racism is going to accomplish anything good, but the bad is pretty easy to foresee: lots of people getting fired, and businesses getting shut down, because of misunderstandings, grouchiness, routine errors, or even outright lies.

Culture

Joseph Epstein Looks Back, Dryly

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Joseph Epstein, national treasure, has a typically modest and wonderful essay in the new issue of Commentary, in which he reflects on a life of not-quite-fame. He writes with his typical self-deprecating dry wit about how writers are “fantasists” who imagine that upon joining the uncounted multitudes who have published a book, life will change. They think, “This will be the book, a sure bestseller, that will take me out of the financial wars forever. Reviewers, surely, cannot help but understand, and duly appreciate, what I have achieved here. If only . . . if only . . . if only.” Epstein, though he is occasionally hailed by strangers as he goes about his business, has learned to accept being only moderately well-known:

I have passed beyond the fantasy stage in regard to my own writing. When I publish a book, I hope it will sell enough copies to repay my publisher and please my modest number of regular readers (7–8,000 or so). I am pleased by enthusiastic reviews but no longer crushed (ticked maybe, but not crushed) by damning ones. I have ceased accepting occasional offers to do interviews or appear on talk-radio shows. As for offers to give lectures, I set a high fee ($10,000) and write to the people, not all that many, who have made the offer that they are not to worry if they cannot meet it, for I have heard these talks myself and assure them they are worth nowhere near $10,000.

Epstein is one of the most delightful essayists in the language, a familiar presence going back many years in The Weekly Standard (R.I.P.), Commentary, and other publications. Typically, he didn’t even plug his new book in his latest column, but I will: Gallimaufry: A Collection of Essays, Reviews, Bits has just been published. In this short-attention span era, essay collections are more essential than ever and I look forward to getting a copy.

Politics & Policy

Pence Could Have Had a Great Moment

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Page: “Mr. Vice President, if Roe is overturned, would you support a law prohibiting abortions in your home state of Indiana?”

Pence: “Yes.”

Page: “. . .”

Pence: “. . .”

Page: “. . .”

Pence: “Is this supposed to be a trick question?”

 

World

World University Rankings Show China Rising, Europe Falling, and USA Still On Top

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Students walk past Wadham College, Oxford University, ahead of the new academic year, amid the coronavirus pandemic in Oxford, Britain, September 17, 2020. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

The Times Higher Education released their World University Rankings for 2021 last month, revealing a few interesting global trends in tertiary schooling.

The University of Oxford has taken the top spot for the fifth year in a row, with Stanford, Harvard, Cal Tech, and M.I.T. rounding out the top five. 

Two of the most interesting stories from this year’s ranking, however, involve the ascendancy of Chinese universities and the decline of those on the European continent. Tsinghua University and Peking University both continue their climb up the rankings, placing 23rd and 24th, respectively. Meanwhile, the European Union can now boast only six of the top 50 universities on the list. This amounts to yet more evidence that the E.U. Commission’s dream of a pan-continental super-state capable of geopolitical rivalry with The U.S. and China is, like Napoleon out of Moscow, receding into the distance. It’s very difficult to achieve and maintain superpower status without global academic supremacy, and we have no reason to think that an ageing, desiccated, and dying Europe is likely to buck this trend. A broad-based brain trust of home-grown, world-beating intellects has been a hallmark of every global hegemon in world history: It’s the sine qua non of geopolitical ascendency in the modern world. 

Which brings us to the United States. By far one of the most infuriating trends on the American right is the prevalent tendency among conservatives to bash and denigrate America’s elite universities. It’s true that they skew left, but so what? Most of the damage done in terms of left-wing worldview indoctrination is accomplished well before kids reach university, in American public schools. If, by the time a student reaches the age of 18, his or her parents are worried that an Ivy League education might radicalize them, then the parents in question probably haven’t educated their children well enough to begin with. Research has born out the fact that, where ideological commitments are concerned, by time freshman year at college begins, the horses have — for the most part — already left the stables. 

Besides, there is hardly a single field in which American Exceptionalism and global dominance is in ruder health than in higher education, as this year’s rankings demonstrate. Nineteen of the top 30 schools on the list are American and only the usual cream of the British crop prevents the USA from having a complete monopoly on the Top 10. 

Conservatives who are convinced of America’s unique greatness shouldn’t let party politics prevent them from acknowledging those areas in which America is uniquely great. Higher education is indisputably one of these areas, and yet conservatives are simply not interested in their country’s achievements in this area. It’s true that most of the faculty and graduates that these schools turn out are progressives, but they’re nevertheless American progressives. The fact that they put their talents to use on these shores is one of the reasons that the United States continues to be the dominant global power of the age. 

Lest any of us forget, this country was actually founded by highly educated coastal elites. Conservatives would do themselves a favor if they stopped running away from this fact as fast as humanly possible. 

World

Death of a Journalist

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Irina Slavina, 1973–2020 (Educational Vlog via YouTube)

My Impromptus today is the customary mélange, touching on the presidential campaign, economics, Nobel prizes, the Ford Foundation, William F. Buckley Jr., and more. The last of my items concerns ice cream. (Sometimes you save the best for last.)

The first two items concern the Soviet Union and Russia. “Modern Russia is not the Soviet Union, you know!” I hear this from my critics. These tend to be Russlandverstehers — “Russia understanders” — and outright Putin apologists. I tell them, “I know. But does the Kremlin know?” Because today’s Russia often acts like the Soviet Union.

At the outset of my column, I remember Yuri Orlov, the great physicist and dissident, who has just died at 96. I heard him speak once, shortly after he arrived in the United States. (He appeared at Harvard, in the company of Richard Pipes, the great historian of Russia.) I can’t remember whether I shook his hand. I like to think I did, but I can’t be sure, at this remove.

My second item concerns Yuri Dmitriev, an official with Memorial, the democracy-and-human-rights organization in Russia. He digs up Soviet history — literally, in that he is a hunter, and finder, of mass graves. I wrote a piece about him in 2017, here. He has now been sentenced to 13 years.

Here on the Corner, I’d just like to mention Irina Slavina. She was an independent journalist in Russia, a very hard and dangerous thing to be. She was harassed and threatened for years. She was charged with publishing “fake news” and all the rest. On October 2, she killed herself.

I will quote from a news story:

Slavina had written on social media on Thursday that police and federal guards burst into her flat in an early morning raid.

She said they were searching for evidence of links to Open Russia, an opposition movement funded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky that has been ruled undesirable by the authorities, amid allegations that it funded protests in the city.

“I don’t have anything,” said the journalist, adding that police confiscated her notebooks and computer as well as laptops and phones belonging to her and her husband and daughter.

“I have no means of production,” she said.

She set herself on fire in front of police headquarters.

It’s easy to judge such a person, negatively, but most of us have no idea what it’s like to be in her shoes. You may remember what Mohamed Bouazizi said, before setting himself on fire. (He was the fruit vendor in Tunisia, whose death in 2011 set off the Arab Spring.) “How do you expect me to make a living?”

When I hear about people such as Irina Slavina, I also think, “What do we journalists risk here in the Free World? Mean tweets? Nasty ‘comments’? Maybe we don’t get that cable ‘hit’ at 3:11 in the afternoon?” We are so very lucky.

Woke Culture

The Latest Woke Demand – Stop Teaching Black Students Standard English

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If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that anything can be called “racist.” Among the things fitting that description is the teaching of standard English. Supposedly, that is demeaning to black students and lowers their self esteem.  The Conference on College Composition and Communication (an affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of English) has released a demand that teachers and professors stop doing that.

One academician who thinks that this is a bad development is Boston University’s Matthew Stewart. In today’s Martin Center article, he explains his position.

Regarding the demand, Stewart writes, “In language that invokes old Dixie rather than the 2020 schoolroom, the CCCC statement portrays American schools as places where black children meet nothing but disrespect in their English classes. Language instruction as it is now practiced is said to ‘seek to annihilate Black Language + Black Life.’ Thus, educators are called to engage in a ‘political process that must inherently challenge institutions like schools whose very foundations are built on anti-Black racism.’”

Lots of English teachers will no doubt be devastated to hear that they have been complicit in the “annihilation” of black life and language when they correct papers for grammatical errors.

This wild exercise in virtue signaling will make many “progressives” feel good, but will it do anything for students? Stewart thinks not: “Proponents of Black English have made similar proposals in the recent past. The controversial 1990s Ebonics movement (a purpose-built blend of ebony and phonics) arose from the same basic assumptions as the CCCC statement, which is bound to produce the same set of counterarguments heard by Ebonics proponents. The chief criticism leaps to mind: Students who do not learn Standard English will be at a disadvantage once they leave their classrooms.”

I’m sure the “progressives” will then solve that problem by demanding that employers stop caring about how well prospective employees can use English.

Elections

Refusing to Answer

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In response to Joe Biden Once Again Refuses to Answer Whether He’ll Blow Up the Supreme Court

Charlie, why didn’t Trump think of this dodge? The next time someone asks him if he’ll go peacefully in the event he loses the election, he can say, “It’s a great question and I don’t blame you for asking it. The moment I answer that question, the headline in every one of your papers will be about that, other than focusing on what’s happening now.” And he could explain that he’ll be happy to give his answer after the election is over.

Elections

The Case against Kamala Harris

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In August, I wrote up a fairly comprehensive case against Kamala Harris — her contempt for the Constitution and the separation of powers, her years-long record of authoritarian impulses, both stated and acted upon, her belief in executive fiat, and her willingness to use the power of government against the civil liberties of those who disagree with her. Quin Hillyer has more thoughts on how Mike Pence could have hit her harder, had he not been so concerned with being civil and polite to a female opponent. Among others: “She has a weird attraction to street protests, so much so that even as Minneapolis was violently burning, she was threatening (“Beware!” she said) that the protests would continue all year, beyond the elections, while she personally raised money for a group posting bail even for Minneapolis murderers.” I agree with his conclusion: “Kamala Harris has neither the judgment, the decency, nor the American values to be vice president, especially for what the oldest president in history. Electing her would be a cataclysmic disaster.”

Education

Re: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Punishes Doctor Who Questioned Affirmative Action

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I posted on NRO a couple of months ago about how the University of Pittsburgh removed a program director at its medical center because he published a scholarly, peer-reviewed white paper discussing the pitfalls of affirmative action for black and Hispanic students. The U.S. Department of Education is now investigating this matter for possible legal violations, relating to free speech and also to racial discrimination. Hans Bader, to whose earlier article I linked in my earlier post, also has chapter and verse on this latest development here.

Elections

Joe Biden Once Again Refuses to Answer Whether He’ll Blow Up the Supreme Court

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

I want to underscore once again just how flatly unacceptable Joe Biden’s now oft-repeated non-answer on packing the Supreme Court is. Here is Biden, once again, refusing to answer the question. “You’ll know my opinion of court packing,” Biden says, “when the election is over.”

This makes no sense. Biden says, “It’s a great question and I don’t blame you for asking it.” But then he says, “The moment I answer that question, the headline in every one of your papers will be about that, other than focusing on what’s happening now.”

Well, yeah, of course it will. Biden seems to think that this is some minor issue that can wait until after the election — akin in seriousness to the question of whom he intends to appoint to head up the Department of the Interior. It’s not. It’s extremely important. Voters need to know whether Biden wants to blow up the Supreme Court before they vote, not after.

I genuinely cannot think of any question — however minor — to which “I can’t respond to that because otherwise you’ll write about it” would be an acceptable answer from a presidential candidate.

This is becoming a problem. And it’s not just me who has noticed.

Politics & Policy

Speaker Pelosi Revs Up, Yes, the 25th Amendment

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.,) speaks during a news conference in Washington, D.C., September 18, 2020. (Al Drago/Reuters)

Does it get any stupider than this?

So, unless some reasonably sane person talks her out of it, Speaker Pelosi is planning to roll out her 25th Amendment plan tomorrow to remove President Trump from office. Less than four weeks from Election Day, when there is not an iota of indication that he is under any disability that would prevent him from discharging his duties. And with not even the remotest chance of meeting the constitutional requirements to invoke the amendment. Truly.

Pelosi thinks President Trump should tell the world when his last negative test was, prior to testing positive for the coronavirus, reportedly last Thursday night. For what it’s worth, I think he should, too. So, I imagine, do most of us. Claims continue to swirl that he attended gatherings while on notice that he might be sick and contagious. A number of administration staffers, as well as others who’ve been at the White House for events, have tested positive in recent days. It’s a totally fair question (just like whether Democrats are going to pack the Supreme Court!), and he ought to answer it without bobbing and weaving.

Furthermore, the speaker has taken her fair share of hits for parading around San Francisco’s Chinatown section in late February, unmasked, mixing with crowds, urging tourists to come, assuring everyone that fear of disease was “unwarranted in light of the precautions that are being taken here in the United States.” No one has hit “Crazy Nancy” harder than the president (surprise!), so she is taking no small amount of “what goes around, comes around” pleasure in his plight (while, of course, praying for his health). That’s the way this game is played, and she’s entitled.

But the 25th Amendment? Again? We covered this a couple of years ago.

The point of the amendment is not to substitute for impeachment or otherwise undo the result of an election over political disputes. It is to address the situation when a president is beset by a profound disability, such as a stroke, that renders him or her unable to perform the duties of the office.

As the president is an elected official, the choice to continue in office unless impeached and removed generally belongs to the president for as long as the president is capable of continuing. Thus, most of the 25th Amendment addresses situations in which the president either obviously cannot perform the duties of the office (death or impeachment and removal), or voluntarily steps aside, at least temporarily.

Section 4 of the amendment, however, contemplates the rare Woodrow Wilson situation, when it is apparent because of some severe disability that a president cannot function as president, but the president cannot or will not step aside. Section 4 does trot out the possibility that Congress could enact a law creating a committee of some kind that could pronounce a president unable to function — in lieu of having a majority of the heads of the executive departments make that determination. Nevertheless, whether we’re talking about a congressionally created body or the cabinet, Section 4 says they must have the support of the vice president in judging the president incapacitated.

President Trump does not have a disability. Vice President Pence would not even entertain a claim that the president is incapacitated, nor should he. Neither would a single member of the cabinet. And, in the unlikely event Pelosi could coerce a majority of the Democrat-controlled House to support such a cockamamie idea, the GOP-controlled Senate would not consider it, so there is not the slightest chance passing a bill creating a committee to assess the president’s condition — a bill that the president would never sign in any event.

Other than that, it’s a great idea. Especially if the speaker is trying to establish that she’s the one who has gone off the deep end.

Elections

Kamala Harris Will Not Be Elected President

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at the 2020 vice presidential campaign debate in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 7, 2020. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Well, I’m really tempting fate with this one, aren’t I? Kamala Harris, who is likely to be the vice president of the United States come this January, will enter the 2028 (or perhaps even the 2024) Democratic primary as a, if not the, frontrunner. After all, many thought her one in 2020, and four to eight years as Biden’s No. 2 can’t hurt, right?

Her 2020 presidential campaign imploded before the Iowa caucus, reportedly amid intra-campaign power struggles that crippled its operations and rendered it ineffectual. But truthfully, that’s not why Kamala Harris — “For the People” — ultimately flamed out. It floundered because the candidate was not up to snuff. She wasn’t likable, she wasn’t genuine, she wasn’t consistent, and she wasn’t an impressive orator. Every single one of those candidate and character flaws were on display during Wednesday night’s vice-presidential debate with the incumbent, Mike Pence.

Pence is a talented and disciplined debater to be sure, but Harris was entirely unable to hold her own. As in the primary, she fell back on nervous laughter when her opponent drew blood and repeated herself inarticulately when she had nothing to say. Take her word salad of an answer to a simple question from an eighth grader: “If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?”

First of all, I love hearing from our young leaders. And when I hear her words, when I hear your words, Brecklin, I know our future is bright because it is that perspective on who we are and who we should be that is a sign of leadership, and is something we should all aspire to be. And brings me to Joe, Joe Biden. One of the reasons that Joe decided to run for president is after Charlottesville, which we talked about earlier. It so troubled him and upset him like it did all of us, that there was that kind of hate and division. What propelled Joe to run for president was to see that over the course of the last four years, what Brecklin described has been happening.

Contrast this partisan, meandering response to Pence’s simple, smooth answer about the friendship of the late justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

I look at the relationship between Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the late justice who we just lost from the Supreme Court, and the late justice Antonin Scalia. They were on polar opposites on the Supreme Court of the United States. One very liberal one, very conservative. But what’s been learned since her passing was the two of them and their families were the very closest of friends. Here in America, we can disagree. We can debate vigorously as Senator Harris and I have on this stage tonight. But when the debate is over, we come together as Americans. And that’s what people do, in big cities and small towns all across this country. So I just want to encourage you, Brecklin. I want to tell you that we’re going to work every day to have government as good as our people, and the American people each and every day. Love a good debate. We love a good argument. But we always come together and are always there for one another in times of need. And we’ve especially learned that through the difficulties of this year.

Moreover, Harris is downright mendacious. Asked by Pence if a Biden administration would support Democratic court-packing, Harris could not stop repeating the phrase “Let’s talk about packing.” When she finally started to answer, it became readily apparent to anyone watching that she really didn’t want to talk about court-packing, because she started rambling about how Trump hadn’t appointed any black judges to Courts of Appeals before finishing with: “You want to talk about packing a court? Let’s have that discussion.” That kind of inartful dodge won’t prove fatal to a VP candidate whose running mate is up nine points in the polls, but I doubt that voters will tolerate it at the top of a ticket one day.

Her denial that Biden would seek to ban fracking — an agenda item she promised in her own primary campaign and that Biden has contradicted himself on — was similarly clumsy: “I will repeat and the American people know that Joe Biden will not ban fracking. That is a fact. That is a fact.” Well if saying it only made it so! Note that she failed to outline what the Biden position on fracking was, exactly.

It is doubtful that the mistake of picking Kamala Harris as his running mate will cost Joe Biden the election, but I don’t believe that that mistake will propel Harris to a winning campaign of her own one day. To be elected president, you need to have a baseline level of charisma and political talent. Last night proved that she is far from reaching the necessary benchmark in either category.

Elections

Pence and Harris Both Dodge the Debate’s Substantive Abortion Question

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Debate moderator Susan Page of USA Today speaks during the 2020 vice presidential debate, Salt Lake City, Utah, October 7, 2020. (Justin Sullivan/Reuters Pool)

Yesterday evening’s vice-presidential featured a rather rare occurrence: The moderator asked a direct, useful, specific question about abortion policy.

To both Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, moderator Susan Page posed parallel questions, asking each candidate what they’d like their respective home states to do in the event that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. The question was helpful in two ways that most mainstream outlets’ occasional questions about abortion policy usually are not.

First, it implied, correctly, that in the event Roe is overturned, policy-making on abortion will return to each state government. Most often, media discussions of Roe insinuate or assert that if the ruling were overturned or revised, it would spell the total end of legal abortion.

Second, Page’s question pressed the candidates to articulate their stances on specific abortion restrictions. Typically, journalist questions that touch on abortion sound something more like, “Why do you think a woman’s right to choose is so important?” or “What will happen to reproductive rights if Roe v. Wade is overruled?”

To her credit, Page offered something more valuable. After pitching a hypothetical in which Roe is overturned, she asked Pence, “Would you want your home state to ban all abortions?” and Harris, “Would you want your home state to enact no restrictions on access to abortion?”

Unfortunately, neither candidate chose to respond directly to Page’s useful, entirely fair question. For Pence, it was something of a missed opportunity. Although he did reiterate his pro-life stance and managed to return to the issue later on to knock Harris for the Democratic Party’s unpopular embrace of taxpayer-funded abortion on demand, he didn’t address the specific point of what laws he’d like Indiana to enact in a post-Roe landscape.

His failure to do so was disappointing, not least because he passed up the chance to offer a powerful, simple case for why he defends the right to life of every unborn human being. His stance on abortion, the GOP’s stance, is not popular with most Americans — but neither is that of the Democrats. To admit that he’d back an abortion ban wouldn’t have been a costly error; it would’ve been to admit the obvious and to use that opening to articulate his belief in the dignity of every human life, in stark contrast to the Democrats. What’s more, Pence missed an opportunity to showcase what pro-lifers want the U.S. to look like after Roe: not a country where women are punished, and not simply a country where abortion is illegal, but a country where abortion is unthinkable, where the mothers and fathers of unborn children never feel as if killing their child is their best or only choice.

Meanwhile, Harris’s response to Page was a masterclass in deflection and deception. She focused primarily on the inane argument that, because “millions of people are already voting,” it’s corrupt for Trump and the GOP Senate to confirm a justice to the Court. Then she pivoted to stale, muddled talking points about the future of Obamacare.

Sandwiched in the middle was this euphemism-laden response to the actual question: “There’s the issue of choice, and I will always fight for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body. It should be her decision and not that of Donald Trump and the vice president, Michael Pence.”

Harris’s reply rests on three tropes common to defenders of unlimited legal abortion. First, she eschews the word abortion entirely, switching to the code word “choice.” Next, she repositions an act that kills an unborn human being as a woman’s right to control “her own body,” an unscientific claim that dehumanizes the fetus. Third, having pretended that the only body involved in abortion is the woman’s, she reframes the question as a matter of who gets to decide, when in fact the real questions at the heart of the debate are, “What happens in an abortion, and should that act be permitted?”

Susan Page deserves credit for attempting to raise real questions about abortion. Pence and Harris both should’ve been more honest with the nation in their answers.

Politics & Policy

Mike Lee Is Right about Democracy

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Sen. Mike Lee (R, Utah) (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Few incidents more starkly illustrate the dearth of civic education in American life than a mob attacking Senator Mike Lee for his completely factual tweet pointing out that the “objective” of the Constitution is to protect liberty and to allow individual flourishing, not to acquiesce to the whims of the majority.

Then again, Twitter is a perfect analogy for “democracy,” isn’t it? The more demagogic and hyperbolic you are, the bigger the mob you can gin up; the more you scaremonger and distort reality, the more success you are likely to find; the more pressure that mob exerts, the easier it is to shut down open discourse.

Madison could have been talking about Twitter when he wrote how “passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason.” But he was arguing for federalism — an idea that the modern Left is intent on destroying with its crusade to dismantle the Electoral College, states’ rights, Senate filibusters, and the courts, among other institutions.

States created the federal government, not the other way around, yet you would never discern it through the sneering contempt of pedigreed experts like Katie Hunt or Anne Applebaum, or any number of Lee’s critics. You would never know from them that the more centralized the “democracy,” the less Americans will have a direct say over the decisions that govern their lives.

The democracy that Democrats are suddenly so fond of doesn’t preserve diversity; it demands widespread conformity. And the only reason liberals are enamored with majoritarianism these days is that it is a useful tool in imposing their will on the nation — in education, guns, health care, marriage, you name it. The people of Provo have no interest in imposing their will on Brooklyn. I wish the reverse were true as well.

Of course, the Left is also involved in a perpetual game of Calvinball. Because if we imposed their new love of majoritarianism retroactively, there would be no Roe v. Wade, or Obergefell v. Hodges, or Miranda v. Arizona, or any number of counter-majoritarian decisions that they surely deem highly moral and needed.

On the other hand, having read Lee’s book and interviewed him, I am certain his views on individual liberty and democracy have been consistent. “Democracy” — in the proper way that Lee understands it — is not by default more moral, or more useful, or more virtuous than other systems. Ask the minority in Russia or in Gaza.

Today, “democracy” really just means “my preferred policy outcomes.” It’s a false idol, a clumsy system that often corrodes freedom and prosperity. The Left sees democracy as a cudgel to impose their cultural and ideological values on the minority. This is why we have separation of powers. This is why a Supreme Court exists. This is why we have deliberative bodies such as the Senate. This is why we have states. And this is why progressives want to weaken all those institutions.

Elections

The Real Pence Audition

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Vice President Mike Pence at the 2020 vice presidential campaign debate in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 7, 2020. (Morry Gash/Pool via Reuters)

Isaac Schorr argues that last night’s debate was “Mike Pence’s final audition for the 2024 GOP primary. He aced that audition, and very well could become president one day.” I agree that Pence generally did well, and reminded Republicans of what it is like to have a normal, competent, articulate spokesman for their ideas on the stage — while doing so in the person of a man whom Donald Trump’s most devoted supporters can trust not to throw the president under the bus. If a Republican primary was held today to replace Trump, Pence would surely be the frontrunner.

But that is from the perspective of today. If Trump pulls out another upset victory on November 3 and serves out the full four years of his second term, Pence will almost certainly be the nominee in 2024, or at least a powerful frontrunner. Al Gore in 2000, George H. W. Bush in 1988, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and Richard Nixon in 1960 were the last four sitting vice presidents to seek the presidency after a two-term president stepped down, and they all won the nomination (although Humphrey is not much of a precedent, as he did not win a single primary and was selected by the convention only after his chief rival was assassinated). But if Trump loses — especially if he loses badly, with Republicans losing the Senate and faring poorly further downticket — there will be a lot of hunger in the party to turn the page on Trump and choose someone not tied to him at the hip.

This does not mean that the party will suddenly veer to the left and select a Larry Hogan or Charlie Baker–style social liberal, or that it is likely to get behind someone widely identified with anti-Trump sentiment within the party. Even vanquished, Trump will have too much residual support for that, and will probably devote his Twitter account to trashing any candidate he sees as having worked against him. But nobody will want 2024 to be a second referendum on an election Republicans lost. Pence might eke out the nomination in 2024 if he faces a fractured field (Walter Mondale bounced back from the 1980 Carter disaster to do so — but consider how that ended), but unless this year’s Republican ticket can make a credible showing a month from now, he will fail the audition that really matters for a vice president who wants to become the candidate in his own right.

Elections

Marquette Poll: A Mask Mandate Is Popular in Wisconsin, Campaign Rallies Aren’t

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Left: President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colo., February 20, 2020 Right: Former vice president Joe Biden at a campaign rally in Los Angeles, Calif., March 3, 2020 (Kevin Lamarque, Mike Blake/Reuters)

Biden leads Trump 46 percent to 41 percent in the latest Marquette poll of likely Wisconsin voters. The results reveal that Trump’s populist instincts have led him to say and do some very unpopular things:

Biden has now dipped just a bit below the magic 50 percent mark — he leads Trump 49.5 percent to 44.0 percent — in the RealClearPolitics average of Wisconsin polls.

Elections

Biden Can’t Have It Both Ways on the Virus

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Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks while making a campaign stop in Pittsburgh, Pa., September 30, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

When your campaign media arm is also known as “the media,” not only may you enjoy being asked almost nothing but friendly questions, but you may also find that internally inconsistent assertions go unchallenged. Consider the Biden position on coronavirus: He would be tougher on the virus and also easier on the economy at the same time. How’s that?

Think of coronavirus response as a seesaw: If you stomp down on the economic end, and grind it into the ground, the other end — public safety — rises high. At least in theory. We can’t actually be certain how effective the lockdowns have been in containing the virus.

But here’s something we do know: You can’t have both ends of the seesaw high up in the air at the same time. Crush the economy, maybe there’s a big uptick in safety. Loosen up the economy and allow people to mingle in public spaces, and there is a corresponding rise in risk. What is the proper balance of health vs. jobs? No one can really say. If we welded shut the door of every American dwelling, we’d probably reduce the transmission of the virus. And as soon as the doors opened, the virus would start spreading again.

Abetted by the media that shows no interest whatsoever in calling out the logical inconsistencies of Democrats, Biden contends both that he would have been quicker on the draw to prevent the spread of the virus and that he would have magically saved everyone’s job at the same time.

What are we to take away from this? What exactly could Trump have done that would have averted school closings and job layoffs? Biden’s coronavirus talking points are nothing but magical thinking: He would have “listened to the science,” he would have “taken it more seriously,” he would have “set an example.” The virus doesn’t care about any of this blather. We have to live with the reality of a worldwide pandemic to which there are no solutions that minimize economic loss and health risks at the same time. A couple of months ago, French people on Twitter were bragging that life was back to normal in France after a lockdown quashed the virus. Now France, having reopened its economy, is having a second wave of the virus. Same thing in Spain. Both countries have seen record surges in recent days. Britain is having another outbreak too. Germany just had 4,000 cases a day for the first time since early April. The chart of economic activity in Western Europe in this piece is pretty much the inverse of the chart of coronavirus infections. See-saw. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to save lives,” is the sort of meaningless blanket statement Biden tends to make. Biden cannot have it both ways. There are tradeoffs.

Biden, of course, like Trump, would not even have the authority to impose nationwide mask mandates or lockdowns, which are properly left up to state and local authorities. So his suggestions that he might shut down are mere acts of imagination anyway.

Elections

The Art of the Deal

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Twice in the span of just a few days now, the president has begun publicly negotiating against himself. On Tuesday afternoon, Trump instructed Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and his own “representatives” to stop discussing a coronavirus-relief bill with House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Whereas he and down-ballot Republicans could have benefited politically from Pelosi’s holding the bill hostage to Democratic priorities such as bailing out blue states if Trump had held his tongue, er, thumbs, his declaration credit-claimed for shutting down negotiations. Even the president himself implicitly admitted the folly of that strategy just a few hours later when he started tweeting again, this time about the kind of bills that he would sign.

Then, this morning, upon learning that the Commission on Presidential Debates was changing the format of the second debate between Joe Biden and himself such that the two would not be in the same room together, Trump announced that he would not be attending. Think what you may about the change — it strikes me as unnecessary, though mostly harmless — it’s hard to overstate how foolish it is for Trump, down almost nine points nationally, to back out of a debate. Joe Biden has no need of more high-stakes confrontations — the status quo suits him just fine. Already, Biden has seized on this strategic error and scheduled a solo town hall with voters for next Thursday. Trump looks like a whiny quitter, and gets robbed of an opportunity to change the race’s dynamic. The art of the deal, folks.

Elections

Montana Senate Poll: Daines 52 Percent, Bullock 43 Percent

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Senator Steve Daines (R., Mont.) speaks to a reporter in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2017. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

A new poll of the Montana Senate race, conducted October 5–7 by Emerson, shows Republican incumbent Steve Daines leading his Democratic challenger Steve Bullock by 9 points:

Republicans have been worried about the Montana Senate race because the state has a robust recent history of ticket-splitting. Bullock, the sitting Democratic governor, won reelection in 2016 even as Trump carried Montana by 20 points. Montana’s Democratic senator Jon Tester won reelection in 2012 even as Mitt Romney carried the state by 14 points.

Daines’s improved standing could be a sign that the fight to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court may help Republicans in some red states.

Daines led Bullock by just one point — 45 percent to 44 percent — in the last non-partisan poll of the Montana Senate race, which was conducted September 14–16 (before the current Supreme Court vacancy arose) by the New York Times and Siena College.

Emerson’s last poll of the Montana race, conducted at the beginning of August, showed Daines leading Bullock 50 percent to 44 percent.

Health Care

Trump’s Treatment and Fetal Tissue

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White House physician Sean Conley (right) walks with other doctors to speak to the media about President Donald Trump’s conidtion, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., October 4, 2020. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Antonio Regalado reports for MIT Technology Review:

When the president faced a deadly encounter with covid-19, his administration raised no objections over the fact that the new drugs also relied on fetal cells, and anti-abortion campaigners were silent too. Most likely, their hypocrisy was unwitting. Many types of medical and vaccine research employ supplies of cells originally acquired from abortion tissue. It would have taken an expert to realize that was the case with Trump’s treatment.

Last Friday, as Trump developed worrisome symptoms of covid-19, the president received an emergency cocktail of anti-coronavirus antibodies made by Regeneron. These molecules are manufactured in cells from a hamster’s ovary, so-called “CHO” cells, according to the company—not in human cells.

But cells originally derived from a fetus were used in another way. According to Regeneron, laboratory tests used to assess the potency of its antibodies employed a standardized supply of cells called HEK 293T, whose origin was kidney tissue from an abortion in the Netherlands in the 1970s.

There is some dispute about this last point. Professor Frank Graham, who established the cell line, recently wrote that the cells may have had their origin in a spontaneous miscarriage. If, however, the conventional account of their origin is the correct one, the question becomes whether someone who recognizes abortion to be a grave injustice may licitly use a medical treatment that was developed in a way that involved that injustice. This Public Discourse essay concludes that under certain conditions, the answer is yes. (As does this one; both are very good.) Those conditions include that the use of the treatment does not encourage additional abortions and occurs for a virtuous reason (such as, in this case, saving multiple lives). There need not be any hypocrisy.

A similar issue arose during the George W. Bush administration as it considered federal funding for stem-cell lines that had involved the destruction of human embryos in their production. Bush’s policy, supported by most pro-lifers, was to fund research using only those lines that had been produced prior to the announcement that funding would be available. That way, the funding would not encourage more destruction of human embryos.

That policy was extremely controversial. Critics said it restricted funding too much, sacrificing medical progress in the name of a misplaced scruple. It was not, however, frequently held to be hypocritical to seek to make something good of (what Bush rightly considered to be) past evils.

Elections

An All-Purpose CNN Report on Last Night’s Debate

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Salt Lake City, Utah

It became the historic moment of a historic night. Tiring of Vice President Pence’s relentless mansplaining, historic VP candidate Senator Kamala Harris of California, who is historically female and historically non-white, slayed her non-historic opponent by saying, “Mr. Vice President, I am speaking now.” By repeating the phrase four times, Harris inspired viewers across the country and defied stereotypes, put her name into the histo—

Elections

And Now, the Suspense, of Whether There Will Be More Debates This Cycle

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The stage awaits the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, September 28, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

More than 73 million Americans watched the first debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden; the president seemed quite pleased with this, tweeting, “HIGHEST CABLE TELEVISION RATINGS OF ALL TIME. SECOND HIGHEST OVERALL TELEVISION RATINGS OF ALL TIME. Some day these Fake Media Companies are going to miss me, very badly!!!”

In light of that, I will be genuinely surprised if Trump does not participate at all in a debate a week from tonight. It’s just too big an opportunity and too big a potential audience, for a presidential campaign that needs to gain traction in a slew of big swing states.

This morning, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that for the second debate, the candidates would “participate from separate remote locations.” Trump and his team find this unacceptable.

“For the swamp creatures at the Presidential Debate Commission to now rush to Joe Biden’s defense by unilaterally canceling an in-person debate is pathetic. That’s not what debates are about or how they’re done. Here are the facts: President Trump will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate, so there is no need for this unilateral declaration. The safety of all involved can easily be achieved without canceling a chance for voters to see both candidates go head to head. We’ll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead.”

– Bill Stepien, Trump 2020 campaign manager

(Stepien tested positive for coronavirus Friday and is in quarantine.)

Trump thinks he has enough leverage to get the CPD to change their decision, and maybe he does. He wants the visual of himself, tall and strong, healthy behind that podium, and possibly Biden wearing a mask the whole night. A virtual debate lessens the visual impact, although it probably would actually be a format that would rein in Trump’s worst instincts. I cannot begrudge the almost-78-year-old Biden or anyone else wanting to remain more than six feet away from the president (and perhaps the whole White House entourage) seven nights from now.

Trump’s current refusal also takes over the news cycle. We are now in for several days and nights of “Will he or won’t he? Stay tuned for the next episode of The Apprentice!” where most members of the political media world will be on the edge of their seats, wondering what he will do. That’s just where Trump wants them.

Politics & Policy

No, Democracy Is Not ‘the Objective’

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One reason I left Twitter is that, on its political side at least, it is full of semi-literate outrage merchants who lack a solid grasp of reality or history and who dumb down our conversations at least as much as the president does. Here, sent to me by a friend (as I’ve learned, you can check out of Twitter any time you like, but you can never leave), is a nice example of the genre:

This is not a controversial statement from Mike Lee. Rather, it is an elementary restatement of the American system as understood by both sides. Lee is a conservative, but the point he is making is equally appreciated by progressives, who also consider that the Constitution restrains “rank democracy” in certain areas. I assume, for example, that Kasie Hunt believes that she is protected against government censorship irrespective of what a majority of voters, or of “democratically elected” Senators, think of the matter. And if she does believe that — if she doesn’t, she has some explaining to do — then she knows exactly what Lee is saying. Democracy is a tool, not an objective. It has many uses, and is almost always better than the alternative. Sometimes, though, in order for liberty and equality to flourish, it needs to be checked. It is a good thing, not a bad thing, that our elected representatives are aware of this.

Politics & Policy

Gun Ownership in a Time of Uncertainty

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‘You don’t need a gun,’ is one of the most popular arguments of anti-Second Amendment crowd. The right to bear arms, critics say, was invented by men in powdered wigs who owned flintlock muskets and didn’t have a modern police force to protect them. My reductionist answer is, ‘better safe than sorry!’ But Antonin Scalia Law School’s David Bernstein has written an eye-opening paper on the upside of gun ownership during the recent deterioration of law and order. You can read the whole thing here.

Elections

Interrupting Is Not Evidence of Sexism

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People watch the debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris at a tavern in San Diego, Calif., October 7, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

One of the main media narratives that has metastasized since yesterday evening’s vice-presidential debate is the notion that Mike Pence is a sexist because he interrupted Kamala Harris. On several occasions while she was speaking, when Pence made a quiet comment or attempted to speak over her, she shot him a glance and issued an obviously pre-planned, “I’m speaking right now, okay?”

The look on her face made it very clear that this reply had been calculated in advance to convey something along the lines of, “I’m a woman, so I’m very used to being interrupted, but I’m empowered so I’m going to silence you now.”

Despite the fact that Harris herself interrupted both Pence and moderator Susan Page on more than one occasion, Democrats and their many media allies have rallied to her defense in the wake of what was an all around pretty poor debate performance, insisting that she actually won because she had been interrupted.

CNN’s top headline on the debate reads: “Harris on Pence interruption: Mr. Vice President, I am speaking.”

Here’s NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell’s “reporting” on the subject:

Woke celebrity Mark Ruffalo insists that Pence’s few interruptions are proof of his white supremacy:

One writer for the New Yorker was already getting the interruption spin machine revved up and ready to go while last night’s debate was still taking place:

Immediately following the debate, George Stephanopolous offered the sophisticated view that Mike Pence had been “mansplaining,” the progressive word for when a man whose politics they hate says anything to a woman whose politics they love.

Lots of progressives, especially left-wing feminists, suddenly have lots of thoughts to offer about the not-so-secret sexism that apparently motivates men every time they interrupt a woman. The fact that almost the entire media immediately fixated on this line of attack says a lot about how (badly) they thought Harris performed. It’s also evidence of how facile and superficial woke identity politics is.

What could possibly be more condescending than to say to a successful female politician, “You won because the man you were debating interrupted you a few times, and it made me feel bad for you”?

Pence interrupted both Harris and the moderator a few times. He shouldn’t have. Harris herself also interrupted Pence on more than one occasion, and she interrupted or spoke over the moderator. She shouldn’t have. None of this was evidence of sexism. It was, after all, a debate, where there’s generally a bit of back and forth and tension, and everyone expects the candidates to be contentious when attempting to make their point.

Mike Pence treated Harris exactly the way he would’ve treated a Democratic vice-presidential candidate who was a man, exactly the way he treated Tim Kaine in 2016. Harris’s cheerleaders should have more respect for her than to use this foolish argument in her defense.

Elections

But What Happens in January?

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden waves next to Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Wilmington, Del., August 19, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Kamala Harris’s lies about fracking, taxes, and the Green New Deal, along with her refusal to answer whether she would try to destroy the Supreme Court, are designed to help the Biden-Harris ticket win the election by downplaying the radical and unpopular parts of its agenda. It may work.

But then what?

American presidents who openly campaign for change usually struggle to pass most of their agenda items. How, I wonder, do Biden and Harris believe that they are going to fare in office if they won’t admit what they want to do at all. Joe Biden has said many times in public that he wants to ban fracking. Now, having realized that this position is a liability in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, he has changed his mind — to the point at which he now denies ever having said it at all. By its own terms, the ticket’s tax plan, which would not “raise taxes on anybody making 400,000 or less per year,” is flatly incompatible with the promise to completely repeal the 2017 tax reform law. Biden’s website praises the Green New Deal, but when asked about that, he and Harris pretend this isn’t true. And neither will even talk about whether they hope to embark upon what would be the greatest act of constitutional vandalism in a century. Certainly, this helps the campaign look more moderate to swing voters. But it doesn’t help them after November. If these plans are too radical for the electorate now, they’ll be too radical for the electorate in January.

President Trump has provided us with a good example of this. Trump was unusually open about the sort of judges he would put on the Court, and, having won, has managed to follow through on his promises in that realm. By contrast, Trump was incoherent, inconsistent, and often dishonest on the question of health care (and still is), and, as a result, he has failed to do anything in that area beyond create an electoral liability for himself in 2020. It is irritating how often Democrats are helped along during campaign season by a media that is all too happy to let them lie brazenly whenever someone brings up a fact that might hurt their chances at public office. But, in the long run, this hurts the party too, when, after all the votes have been counted, the same voters think back to those moments of indignant deception and say, “wait a moment, but you said . . .”

Elections

Mike Pence Showed Trump How TV Debates Are Won

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Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the vice presidential debate with Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 7, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

At some point during last night’s vice presidential debate, perhaps about 20 minutes in, it became clear that Susan Page wasn’t moderating the debate. Mike Pence was. 

He obviously knows how to use this medium well. Hardly anyone remembers the moderators’ questions after these debates are over. The only clips that have anything more than an evening-long afterlife are those of the candidates’ soliloquies. The whole point of televised debates is to generate a few of these clips and then fire them around social media and the news networks like a pinball. 

Vice President Pence, moreover, generated his own string of debate highlights last night more or less entirely on his own terms. When asked a question, he used the first portion of his time to reply to whatever Kamala Harris had just said before moving on to address the question at hand. Once he ran out of time, he often just kept speaking, though not in the whiny, aggrieved, confrontational manner in which the president treated Chris Wallace last week. Pence simply killed the moderator’s objections with polite deference while continuing to make his point all the while until Page’s protestations ceased. 

He would not be rushed and he would not be herded or corralled by the moderator. On the one occasion on which Page put her foot down and forced the debate on to the next topic, the vice president simply waited his turn and then continued where he left off.  Throughout the debate, he managed to provide himself with enough time to say everything he wanted in response to Harris and get off most of his own points as well. For all intents and purposes, he was the timekeeper. 

Of course, Pence was also helped by the fact that whenever Harris addressed him directly, she came across as a haranguing second-grade school teacher: “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking. I’m speaking. Okay?” Self-control is not an attribute that American voters have come to associate with the Trump administration, but the vice president showed such a superabundance of it last night that it seemed to spill over out of his own person and envelop the entire debate. 

It remains the case, however, as my colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty has pointed out, that none of this matters now. Trump’s monumental personal shortcomings have already vandalized his own chances at re-election beyond repair. But it was still edifying to see Pence treat a television debate the way it deserves to be treated. These are fundamentally unserious affairs. No one can learn anything consequential about either party’s platform in ten-minute segments split into two-minute subsections. How voters are supposed to get a firm grasp on each party’s foreign policy on China in a shorter time than it takes to listen to Bohemian Rhapsody once through is beyond me. When faced with constraints as absurd as these, the best thing a politician can do is precisely what the vice president did: Treat them with polite, statesmanlike contempt and try to orchestrate as many useful soundbites for himself as possible. Until we can get Joe Rogan involved, this, I’m afraid, is the best we can hope for.  

On a final note, it seems increasingly clear that Republicans have a lot to look forward to if Harris wins the Democratic nomination in 2024. It’s not for nothing that the Biden campaign has been hiding her away under lock and key until last night. She inspires no affection, trust, or sympathy whatsoever. It’s not at all clear that she can past the instinctive “I like this person” test in many places across the country outside of the Bay Area. You’d think that the Democrats might have been able to see that coming given how she performed in her own party’s primary, but alas. 

Even more concerning from a Democratic perspective is that Mike Pence isn’t anywhere near the top of the GOP’s talent pool in terms of raw political talent. In spite of this, he still managed to beat Harris handily last night. A presidential debate in four years’ time between Kamala Harris and, say, Tim Scott, could turn out very badly indeed for the Democrats. 

White House

Freefall: Larry Kudlow on Managing the U.S. Economy in a Pandemic

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Larry Kudlow is the director of the National Economic Council, a position he has held since April 2018. As such, Mr. Kudlow was on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis in its early days, trying to manage and maintain one of the strongest economies in U.S. history and prevent it from falling into a catastrophic depression.

Kudlow discusses in detail what those dark days were like for him and the rest of the Trump administration and how it felt to be on the receiving end of withering and seemingly endless criticism from the media and the administration’s political opponents. Kudlow also discusses why he thinks the economy is well positioned for a strong rebound once the virus is under control and why he fears a Biden administration may reverse many of the economic policies Kudlow has championed, which led to the economic progress achieved before the pandemic struck.

Recorded on October 6, 2020

Politics & Policy

A Glimpse of Boring Normality

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A short review for Bloomberg Opinion:

In a refreshing change from the first presidential debate, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris were merely evasive. The vice-presidential candidates interrupted each other so little and engaged in name-calling so rarely that they appeared positively statesmanlike by comparison.

But there were more questions dodged than answered. . . .

Elections

Pence Won, But It Doesn’t Matter

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Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the 2020 vice presidential campaign debate in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 7, 2020. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

It was nice to have a debate where the two rivals could complete sentences. Some of those sentences managed to communicate complete thoughts.

Beyond this reassurance that two members of America’s political class are capable of tenth-grade level interaction, I don’t think the debate mattered to the election in any serious way.

Kamala Harris was strongest at the start because the topic was the COVID-19 pandemic. Pence tried to avoid talking about the administration’s poor comparative performance with peer nations, and instead tried to honor the sacrifices Americans had made. He probably tried this tactic one too many times, spoiling the effect and looking evasive.

Kamala Harris again said her line about not taking a vaccine if it’s only endorsed by Trump. I’ve written about how this is misleading about how the vaccines are being developed. Pence rightfully hit back. There is no way for Trump to produce a rogue vaccine.

However, overall Mike Pence turned in a very competent performance. I don’t find Pence an inspiring orator. I don’t think he’s all that politically canny or courageous. He’s not one for bold ideas. What he has is a character high in conscientiousness and low in neuroticism. Maybe some will find him a little low energy. But he comes across as unflappable. To a seasoned eye, it’s obvious that he studied his briefing books hard ahead of the debate and diligently rehearsed the important lines and questions.

He highlighted every area where Democrats are unpopular, tax raises, court-packing, and so on. He avoided talking about issues where Republican positions are less popular. Maybe Harris’ awkward evasion on court-packing puts more pressure on Joe Biden to answer. Personally, I don’t think Democrats will have the votes in the Senate to start packing the Court. But they don’t want to alienate progressive voters and progressive media on Twitter by saying it won’t happen.

For me, the most satisfying part of the debate was when Pence took a page from Tulsi Gabbard. After Harris talked about Trump’s comments Charlottesville, Pence noted the shocking racial disparities she produced as a prosecutor in California.

Did the performance help Mike Pence in the future as a potential successor to Donald Trump? I doubt it.

Elections

Mike Pence Put the Harris-Biden Agenda on the Spot

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Vice President Mike Pence (left) and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris take part in the 2020 vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 7, 2020. (Justin Sullivan/Pool via Reuters)

The vice-presidential debate had the surreal air of normality that descends whenever we hear from Mike Pence instead of Donald Trump.

Both vice-presidential candidates left some major weapons little-used until the end: Kamala Harris focused heavily on attacking Donald Trump for standard Republican policies (the Iran Deal, tax cuts, Roe v. Wade), rather than for Trump’s defects as a leader; Mike Pence laid off Harris’s own awful record. On both counts, the gloves finally came off late in the game. Harris drew some blood early in the exchanges on the coronavirus, but otherwise, it went downhill fast for her. This was a very good debate for Mike Pence and did not reflect well on Harris. Watching Pence, it was easy to wish he was the one at the top of the ticket. I very much doubt many viewers felt the same way watching Harris. Even the fly that landed on Pence’s head during the debate seemed happier on his side.

There were far fewer interruptions, although the candidates did butt in on each other several times, and Harris in particular was noticeably touchy about this (amusingly for Harris, who in the Senate Judiciary Committee made a name for herself interrupting Jeff Sessions at a hearing fifteen times and was finally asked to let the witness answer a question). Moderator Susan Page loudly emphasized early that the candidates should not interrupt. Pence did manage, repeatedly, to keep talking after his time was up simply by continuing in his usual calm tone. On several occasions he answered a prior question instead of the one posed, then went back in his next answer to the question. His speaking style is very deliberate, and will not be rushed. Pence did muff one line when he dropped a zinger about how Joe Biden should know plagiarism; many Americans may not know that Biden’s first presidential campaign immolated over his fabulism in appropriating another man’s life stories, and Pence never bothered to go back to it. Both candidates conspicuously avoided answering questions about the health of the presidential candidates or their plans in case the president became incapacitated.

Pence’s problem, of course, is that he has to defend Trump as if Trump is a normal Republican like himself. That was toughest in dealing with Harris’s charges on the virus, which Pence mostly ignored, but he caught her up for trying to pretend that her statements talking down the safety of a vaccine were just for a vaccine only approved by Trump — when, of course, no vaccine will be produced without the involvement of scores of scientists and the FDA. And Harris seemed completely unprepared when Pence uncorked a prepared line of attack on the Obama Administration’s 2009 response to the swine flu.

Once the debate moved out of the first section and into comfortable Republican ground — economic plans, national security, the courts — Pence was on his strongest turf. Harris ran away from Biden’s — and her own — statements and proposals repeatedly, which is consistent with the Biden-Harris campaign’s pattern of fleeing any discussion of what it actually intends to do if elected. She said Biden would repeal the Trump tax cuts, then backtracked hastily to deny that Biden would raise taxes on anyone making above $400,000 — both can’t be true. She denied any intent to ban fracking, when Biden has said so on the trail and she has endorsed proposals to do so. Pence had the upper hand because he told people to go look at what is actually in the plans on their website and in specific things Harris has voted for or sponsored. On the whole, Harris spent almost the entire discussion of domestic policy running away from the Biden-Harris proposals in general and the most progressive parts of it in particular. It is clear which campaign wants to talk about the Green New Deal, and which does not.

On the other hand, both vice-presidential candidates had to run from their own records — Harris away from her time as a hardline prosecutor in order to paint herself as a law enforcement reformer, Pence from his former stance as an ardent free trader when he was a Congressman. His broadsides against Biden’s support for NAFTA and China trade would have rung hollower if contrasted with how Pence himself once spoke and voted on trade.

On foreign affairs, Harris played to the weakest of Democratic arguments — Trump is too unilateral, foreigners prefer the Chinese dictator to our president, pulling out of the Iran Deal was bad, killing Soleimani brought retaliation, all the John Kerry hits. She had nothing to say when Pence bore down on Biden for opposing the raid that got Osama bin Laden, which is ground the Biden campaign can only ignore.

I noted earlier Harris’s made-up history on Abraham Lincoln’s Supreme Court nomination in 1864, which attributed an invented line that Lincoln never used. More broadly, no viewer could have missed the point, which Pence hit multiple times and Harris refused to answer, about the Democrats expanding the Supreme Court. The two sides drew some predictable lines on policing, but that left Pence to reprise the Tulsi Gabbard attack lines on Harris’s record as a prosecutor, the lines that sank Harris’s presidential campaign. She was not much better prepared for them the second time around, and had to keep insisting that she would not be lectured by Mike Pence.

Biden is well ahead in the polls now, and it may well be that this debate won’t matter. But then, that is all the more reason why clips of Harris denying things in Biden’s agenda could come back to haunt Biden and Harris in office a year or two from now.

Elections

Mike Pence Aces the Audition

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Vice President Mike Pence at the 2020 vice presidential campaign debate in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 7, 2020. (Justin Sullivan/Pool via Reuters)

On Wednesday morning, I wrote a pre-debate primer about how the vice-presidential debate would be Mike Pence’s final audition for the 2024 GOP primary. He aced that audition, and very well could become president one day.

I haven’t approved — well, no — I’ve been disgusted by the sycophancy that he has exhibited since being selected as Donald Trump’s running mate in 2016. And I’ve never thought him a particularly charismatic figure either; But that doesn’t mean he’s not talented. On the debate stage with Kamala Harris, Pence left no doubt about his own aspirations and abilities.

Pence’s capacity to respectfully and convincingly weave stories into a coherent articulation of the merits of his own worldview and the problems with his political opponents’ is undeniable. On coronavirus, Pence held his own and rightfully pointed out that the Biden campaign is without novel ideas to address it. On every other subject, he embarrassed the California senator on both substance and style. Without apology, he defended the pro-life position. Without reservation, he explained why the strike that eliminated Qasem Soleimani was not only justified, but vital to U.S. interests. The whole evening was a reminder of just how appealing the conservative agenda can be when it’s not packaged within Donald Trump.

In 2024, Mike Pence has a case for being that package.

Elections

Kamala Harris’s Dangerous Vaccine Game

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On numerous occasions during the vice-presidential debate, Kamala Harris said that Democrats would listen and follow the “science.” Her cynically dangerous answer on vaccines says otherwise.

Given an opportunity to walk back her previous attacks on massive private-public efforts to come up with a COVID vaccine, Harris doubled down, saying, “If Donald Trump tells us to take it, I’m not taking it.”

What does that even mean? Harris knows that Trump isn’t cooking up a serum in the basement of the White House. She knows that big pharma isn’t going to intentionally release unsafe vaccines to destroy their companies. She knows that Trump can’t force the FDA to release those unsafe vaccines. She, and others, are generating doubt about a potentially life-saving drug to win an election.

Please read Ellen Carmichael’s excellent deep dive into the consequences of sowing distrust over vaccines. Polls now show that only half of Americans say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine. So what happens if Trump wins? What happens with therapeutics? Democrats and the media have been scaring Americans over safe and prescribed drugs like Hydroxychloroquine simply because the president champions it. Eli Lilly is close to releasing antibody therapy that reduced virus levels and hospitalizations. What happens if Trump says “take it?” Will Harris say don’t? It’s just an insane position.

 

Elections

Quick Take on the Vice-Presidential Debate, from an Anti-Debate ‘Pundit’

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I am on the record as finding the presidential debates, at least in their modern incarnation, somewhat pointless. I extend this point to the vice-presidential debates as well. But I decided to make an exception for tonight’s debate, mostly out of (morbid) curiosity for what I have been missing.

And since I did so, I might as well throw my own take into the post-debate morass of dueling subjectivities that I have described in this way:

The principal attribute of today’s presidential debates is high theatricality. “Victory” comes from a superficial and subjective analysis of collected moments in them, or by an even-more subjective attempt by the candidates and by their surrogates to “spin” the proceedings in their favor after the fact.

In my view, Mike Pence seemed more effective at both getting his points across, and in “hacking” the debate format to keep saying what he wanted to say. He did so without seeming aggressive or impolite, whereas Harris’s attempts to do the same came off as cloying or whiny. Harris landed some effective attacks on Donald Trump, attacks Pence tended to sidestep by bringing people into his far rosier — some might say imaginary — view of the Trump presidency. Pence’s best moments were the surprisingly Tulsi Gabbard-esque attack on Harris’s prosecutorial record and his insistence on trying to get Harris to answer a court-packing question and pointedly noting when she failed to do so.

Will it matter? Probably not. And it may well be that my own take gets lost in the post-debate spin wars. But I humbly submit it to you all the same.

Politics & Policy

Pence Mops the Floor with Harris

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Vice-presidential debates don’t matter much, and I doubt this one will either — but Mike Pence completely dominated the debate, both on substance and style. Harris seemed to have a thin package of talking points focused on COVID and on Trump’s personality, bringing up the greatest hits like re-litigating Trump’s response to Charlottesville more than three years ago, but Pence went after Harris in detail about matters of huge importance. This is probably the first time anyone has managed to clearly emphasize to the American people the fact that Democrats are actively considering packing the Supreme Court for no other reason than that they have lost so many elections that the Court is poised to have six conservatives serving at once because Republican presidents will have filled 15 out of the last 19 seats.

Harris’s demeanor — smirking and smiling broadly when she had no riposte to Pence’s calmly articulated but hard-hitting points — could not have helped her. Harris had lots of camera time during the Democratic primary season and was such a disaster that she was at 3 percent in the polls when she dropped out. She is an inept debater.

Elections

A Good Night for Mike Pence . . . That Probably Won’t Change Very Much

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Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the 2020 vice presidential campaign debate in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 7, 2020. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Most Democrats’ objections to the Trump presidency have very little to do with Mike Pence. They may not like him or agree with him, but he doesn’t stir the vehement, enraged, all-consuming opposition in them that Donald Trump does.

Most Republicans’ objections to the prospect of a Biden presidency have a lot to do with Kamala Harris. Many Republicans either think Biden won’t stand up to progressives in his party like Harris, or he’ll be a figurehead while progressives such as Harris make the real decisions behind the scenes, or that Joe Biden simply won’t be around for long and Harris will become the 47th president.

Vice President Mike Pence could say just about anything — the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody — and make it sound calming, even-tempered, and like plainspoken Midwestern common sense. For the first 45 minutes, when Pence ran over time, he just sounded like he has one half of a sentence to finish, and sounds so reasonable as he grabs an extra twenty seconds or so. But he went to that well a little too often as the night wore on.

But overall, Pence was remarkably effective, and he does it in a way that seems to lull his opponents into underestimating him. When Pence makes an attack, it either comes across as a gentle jab — “it sounds like plagiarism,” — or he makes it sound like a compliment while subtly reminding the audience of his opponent’s flaws — “I salute Joe Biden’s 47 years in public service.”

Kamala Harris was herself, with her now-familiar deliberate, polished, theatrical TNT-legal-drama-star persona that has never been my cup of tea. If you liked her before, you probably loved her tonight. If you didn’t like her before, you probably loathed her tonight. During the presidential primary, Harris garnered plenty of rave reviews from the mainstream media for her debate performances, but . . . those debate performances never turned into much support in the polls beyond an early surge. There’s always been a gap between how much the press loves Harris and how much the electorate at large loves Harris.

The role of a vice-presidential nominee is often to be an attack dog, and Harris relished playing that role tonight, arguably at the expense of any other objectives. Susan Page asked a fair, important, and open-ended question about how a Biden-Harris administration would see China. Harris veered immediately back to the criticisms she had already made of Trump on the pandemic and the economy, and never really addressed that question. The thing is, there shouldn’t have been much to dodge on this topic! If you’re going to be tough on China, say you’ll be close on China. If you think China has been unfairly demonized, and you aim to rebuild the relationship with Beijing, say that! But not answering suggests the Biden campaign hasn’t really thought through how they’ll handle arguably the most consequential foreign relationship the U.S. has at this moment.

Finally, late in the evening, Pence put her on the spot on packing the Court, and she said, “let’s talk about packing the Court” and then . . . she never answered the question.

Mike Pence had a good night. He had a good night four years ago. But his win over Tim Kaine four years ago wasn’t really a key moment in the story of the 2016 campaign, and his good night tonight probably won’t be a key moment in the story of the 2020 campaign.

History

Kamala Harris’s Dishonesty on Abe Lincoln

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It was impossible to miss how Kamala Harris, like Joe Biden, refused to answer questions about their plans to expand the Supreme Court. But she also misrepresented history.

Harris claimed at the VP debate that Abraham Lincoln refused to nominate a candidate for Chief Justice in October 1864 because “Honest Abe said, it’s not the right thing to do” and wanted the people to vote first.

Lincoln, of course, said no such thing. He sent no nominee to the Senate in October 1864 because the Senate was out of session until December. He sent a nominee the day after the session began, and Salmon P. Chase was confirmed the same day. And Lincoln wanted to dangle the nomination before Chase and several other potential candidates because he wanted them to campaign for him. Lincoln’s priority was winning the election, which was necessary to win the war — and he filled the vacancy at the first possible instant.

Kamala Harris is simply inventing history.

Elections

Pence: Biden’s COVID Plan ‘Looks a Little Bit Like Plagiarism’

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Democratic nominee Kamala Harris fielded the first question of the vice-presidential debate and was given an opportunity to outline the Biden plan for addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

She declined to do so, instead attacking the Trump administration for its own response. I’ll be the first to criticize the president for his rhetoric since March, but Pence’s claim that the Biden plan “looks a little bit like plagiarism” rings true in the absence of an explanation of what a President Biden would have done differently.