Elections

Thin the Herd Further, DNC

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From left: Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at the Democratic presidential debate in Houston, Texas, September 12, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

There’s an old joke often expressed well into banquets and conferences, where a speaker says, “We’re at the point where everything that needs to be said has been said, but not everyone has said it.” We’re already at that point with the Democratic primary debates. Tonight was a three-hour ordeal, and candidates largely repeated the arguments they made in the previous two debates. There’s not much reason to expect tonight will generate any dramatic swings in the polling in the coming days or weeks. The conventional wisdom will remain that this is a three-person race, with Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders having far and away the best shots at the nomination.

Perhaps the most dramatic moment came when Julian Castro “went there” on Biden’s age. Discussing the government-based health insurance he envisioned, Biden’s verbiage was typically garbled, declaring, “If you lose the job from your insurance company, from your employer, you automatically can buy into this.” So is it a form of health insurance that you choose to buy into, or something you’re automatically enrolled in? Earlier Biden had said, “Anyone who can’t afford it gets automatically enrolled in the Medicare-type option we have.”

Castro jabbed, “You just two minutes ago said they would have to buy in. Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” Everyone knew what Castro was hinting at – forgetfulness, age, maybe even Alzheimer’s – and just in case anyone missed it, as the crowd either went “oooh” or booed, Castro repeated the “are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” line. Whether or not you think Biden’s mental state and health are fair game for the public to consider, Castro’s attack will be seen by many as personal and over the line for a candidate to bring up. For what it’s worth, ABC News’s Matthew Dowd said he was hearing from other Democrats who thought the attack was a “disqualifier,” “mean,” and “vindictive.”

It was another just-good-enough night from Biden. He came out with vigor, and he seemed to be enjoying himself early on. But his answers got sloppy, choppy, and verbally messier as the night wore on. It wasn’t that his mind wasn’t working; it was that he would start a sentence, he would think of another point, and then try to jump to explain that other thought without clearly finishing the first one. A lot of his later answers devolved into “word salad.” There’s good reason to wonder if he’s going to really falter in one of these debates some night. But Biden closed well by discussing resilience and discussing the tragedies in his life. Almost nobody’s backing Biden because they think he’s got the best policies, or that he’s the most articulate advocate for them. They’re backing him because he’s the person they connect with the most.

Warren is playing it safe; she may not be throwing haymakers against anyone for a while. Almost all of the candidates seemed to have gotten a memo about speaking more positively about President Obama. Someone must have told Warren to avoid any tone or comment that could be labeled “shrill”; this was the softer, kinder, more uplifting Warren. This is probably exactly what you want to do when you’re in second place, there are still a lot of debates to go, and the guy in third is closer to you on policy. When pushed about her plan for withdrawal from Afghanistan, Warren answered that she traveled to that country with John McCain, she’s talked to a lot of experts, and three of her brothers served in the military. This is three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust debating.

Poor Bernie Sanders. He desperately needed a throat lozenge tonight. He still shouts almost every answer, he still rattles off statistics, he’s still insisting that the United States has the highest rate of child poverty in the world. (We don’t. It’s higher than it ought to be, but we’re not the highest.) But this style, tiresome as it can be over three hours, got Sanders to this point, and he’s unlikely to ever change.

A lot of these candidates have strengths on paper but just don’t shine on the stage, or they get lost in the crowd. Harris’s demeanor was a little different tonight, as if she had been coached to be warmer or funnier. She didn’t really go after Biden like she did in the first debate, and no one really went after her, either, now that she’s back in single digits.

Klobuchar had some slightly better-than-usual moments, arguing that Sanders’s health-care proposals are simply unaffordable, but it’s the same story as the previous two debates. She’s soft-spoken, pleasant, a little corny with her jokes . . . and completely forgettable.

The big news before the debate was Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes candidate Andrew Yang’s pledge to give $1,000 a month to ten families for a year. It’s gimmicky, but maybe Yang needed to do something like that. When Yang gets a chance to speak – which isn’t often – he seems like a normal and relatable guy for a tech multimillionaire.

Buttigieg was fine, in the sense that no matter what was asked, he was able to pivot and maneuver to the anecdotes and points he wanted to make. Sometimes this got a little glaring, when he worked in a complaint about members of the military staying at Trump’s hotels in Scotland when asked about his policy proposals for Afghanistan. Trump-bashing is a really convenient crunch for all of these candidates when they’re in a jam, and they use it when their proposals about what to do after Trump are fuzzy, excessively optimistic, or implausible.

Remember when so many analysts said Cory Booker was one of the big winners of the last debate? Here we are, a month later, and nothing has changed for Booker in the polls. He was good again tonight. A month from now, will anything change?

Reports of the dramatic reinvention or relaunch of Beto O’Rourke are greatly exaggerated. Everything he says sounds like a pander, including “good evening.” He is still clumsily answering in Spanish. His pledge, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15s” ensures he’ll never get elected statewide in Texas. For almost every issue, he shares an all-too-perfect anecdote about someone he met on the trail. This was the sort of rhetorical maneuver that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did smoothly and convincingly. With O’Rourke, you can always see the strings.

For anyone who actually knows a thing or two about these issues, these debates are pretty painful, watching ten candidates offer variations of bumper-sticker slogans, pretending that we can withdraw our way to world peace, regulate our way to good health, release our way to no crime, and spend our way to prosperity.

At one point, Yang asked, “Why do we lose to the fossil-fuel companies? Why do we lose to the gun lobbyists? We all know why. Our government has been overrun by money and corporate interests.” Really? That’s the only reason Democrats lose? Because there’s a lot of money that comes from Steyer, and Bloomberg, and Soros, and Hollywood, and trial lawyers, and academia, and so on. Corporate America’s hardly a lockstep right-wing force in American politics, particularly on social issues. The idea that the only reason Democrats lose in elections or policy battles is the influence of sinister wealthy conservatives is a fairy tale that liberals tell themselves so they can sleep comfortably at night, secure in their self-righteousness.

National Security & Defense

Hawks and Trump

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My latest column defends John Bolton from some of the criticisms of him but also argues that the case for a hawkish and confrontational foreign policy is especially weak right now.

NR Insider

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Yes, I know I’m shamelessly ripping off Pedro’s campaign slogan in the classic comedy Napoleon Dynamite, but when it’s true, it’s true. As you may have heard, we have a new membership program. It’s called NRPLUS, and it’s amazing. The benefits may (or may not) include the following:

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Politics & Policy

1984 and Today

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President Ronald Reagan in a 1984 debate with the Democratic nominee, former vice president Walter Mondale (via C-SPAN)

This morning, I had a couple of thoughts about 1984 — not Orwell’s novel but the presidential year in America. Yesterday, Sam Stein of The Daily Beast tweeted, “Andrew Yang’s campaign manager just called to tell me that at tomorrow night’s debate, Yang will be doing ‘something no presidential candidate has ever done before in history.’ He declined to go further than that.” Our Alexandra DeSanctis responded, “Finish answering a question with time to spare?”

I flashed back to 1984 — not one of the presidential debates but the vice-presidential one. After Ferraro gave an answer on U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union, the moderator, Sander Vanocur, said, “Vice President Bush, your rebuttal?” Bush answered, “No rebuttal.” That surprised me. I have never seen that done, apart from that moment.

I also thought about one of the (two) presidential debates — the first one. Reagan did not perform well. Not at all. Many people thought he looked tired and, frankly, out of it. The question would surely arise in the second debate, and it did, delivered gently by Henry Trewhitt (of the Baltimore Sun). He said,

“Mr. President, I want to raise an issue that I think has been lurking out there for two or three weeks and cast it specifically in national security terms. You already are the oldest president in history, and some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent encounter with Mr. Mondale. I recall that President Kennedy had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?”

The Gipper was well prepared for this. “Not at all, Mr. Trewhitt,” he said, “and I want you to know that, also, I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Now, Mondale was in his mid-50s and had been attorney general of Minnesota, a U.S. senator for two terms, and vice president — but it was a great line. The crowd in the hall roared, as did people across the country, and Trewhitt knew a home run when he saw one: “Mr. President, I’d like to head for the fence and try to catch that one before it goes over, but I’ll go on to another question.”

Why do I bring up all this? Joe Biden has looked shaky, out of it, not quite up to it — policy positions aside. He will have to put this to rest, as Reagan did — whether in a debate or elsewhere. This is a big burden to bear, a big problem to solve.

Reagan was reelected in 1984. Right after his second inauguration, The New Republic ran a cover, showing Reagan throwing his head back in laughter, as I recall. The tagline was, “Is He All There?” (The article was by Carl Bernstein.) My collegiate self burned at this. (I was a big Reaganite by that point.) But people had, and have, a right to ask.

Politics & Policy

The Heavy-Handed Political Tomes on Your Child’s Bookshelf

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A young gils looks over a children’s book at a rally by former President Bill Clinton on behalf of Hillary Clinton during a stop in San Diego, Calif., May 4, 2016. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Responding to a sighting of The ABCs of AOC: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from A to Z, Noah Rothman predicts, “Children’s sections in libraries have not yet become a cultural crusade of the right, but it seems a matter of time. Hagiographic portraits of Democratic politicians and appointees from wall to wall.”

Perhaps your child’s school library has Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, which is different from Elizabeth Warren: Nevertheless, She Persisted. Or maybe your child’s bedroom bookshelf has I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, or Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx. (Poor Elena Kagan. How come she doesn’t get a children’s book about her?) Don’t worry, Representative Ilhan Omar pops up in the forthcoming Muslim Girls Rise.

Back in 2016, I took a look at HarperCollins Children’s Books Hillary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to Lead, and found that (surprise!) the book got some pretty basic facts wrong in its desire to tell an inspiring story about Clinton — perhaps most glaringly declaring “the odds were against her” in her 2000 Senate race in New York. If other politically themed children’s offerings are similarly heavy-handed and rewrite history for the sake of a better story, conservatives will have good reason to complain.

It’s not hard to see why publishers churn out children’s books focused on popular political figures. Selling books is hard. (Ahem.) Writing a book about a political figure with a well-established fanbase is a safe bet; these books are probably bought by every diehard lefty with a young niece, convinced that the lavishly illustrated Brave Hillary and the Bad Orange Monster will inspire the toddler to dream of being secretary of state someday. It’s certainly easier than writing an original or good children’s book.

Politics & Policy

‘A Dirty, Filthy, Disgusting Word’

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President George W. Bush greets Marines during a visit to Al-Asad Air Base in Anbar Province, Iraq, September 3, 2007. (Jason Reed / Reuters)

When John Bolton left his job as national security adviser — President Trump says he fired him, Bolton says he quit — the secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, weighed in. “The president’s view on the Iraq War and Ambassador Bolton’s was very different,” he said. Yes, they were very different.

Trump’s view has long been that George W. Bush & Co. lied the country into war. He said so in one of the Republican primary debates, during the 2016 cycle: “I want to tell you, they lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none. And they knew there were none.”

This is a charge of high treason, of course. It is hard to think of anything more damnable than lying your country into war.

Trump made the same charge in 2008, talking with Wolf Blitzer on television:

Blitzer: “Nancy Pelosi, the speaker?”

Trump: “Well, you know, when she first got in and was named speaker, I met her. And I’m very impressed by her. I think she’s a very impressive person. I like her a lot. But I was surprised that she didn’t do more in terms of Bush and going after Bush. It was almost — it just seemed like she was going to really look to impeach Bush and get him out of office, which, personally, I think would have been a wonderful thing.”

Blitzer: “Impeaching him?”

Trump: “Absolutely, for the war, for the war.”

Blitzer: “Because of the conduct of the war.”

Trump: “Well, he lied. He got us into the war with lies. And, I mean, look at the trouble Bill Clinton got into with something that was totally unimportant. And they tried to impeach him, which was nonsense. [N.B. “They” did impeach him.] And yet, Bush got us into this horrible war with lies, by lying, by saying they had weapons of mass destruction, by saying all sorts of things that turned out not to be true.”

Blitzer: “Their argument is, they weren’t lying, that that was the intelligence that he was presented, and it was not as if he was just lying about it.”

Trump: “I don’t believe that.”

Strange as it may be to hear, the current president of the United States — a hero of the Republican party and the conservative movement — has the same view of the Bush administration and the Iraq War as the hard Left. As Code Pink, for example. George W. Bush has virtually no defenders among Republicans and conservatives today (and therefore no defenders). If they exist, they are very quiet. It may not always be this way, however. And the argument over the Iraq War — the interpretation of the Iraq War: its beginnings, its fighting, its end — is very important.

Trump was very hot for the impeachment of Bush. Indeed, it was the one thing he faulted Pelosi for (not impeaching). He speaks about impeachment in a different way now. Earlier this year, he was asked about the prospect that Pelosi & Co. would impeach him. He answered, “I don’t see how they can because they’re possibly allowed, although I can’t imagine the courts allowing it. I’ve never gone into it. I never thought that would even be possible to be using that word. To me, it’s a dirty word — the word ‘impeach.’ It’s a dirty, filthy, disgusting word.”

Politicians are nothing if not flexible, even an outsider like Donald J. Trump.

Elections

It’s Not Just the Press That’s Skeptical of Biden

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Joe Biden walks with supporters at a pre-Wing Ding march from Molly McGowan Park in Clear Lake, Iowa, August 9, 2019. (Gage Skidmore)

Ryan Lizza of Politico reports that the Biden camp is frustrated by its media coverage. The former vice president’s advisers attribute this mix of ambivalence and hostility to the generation gap. A “well-known Democrat backing Biden” tells Lizza, “You have a press corps in which most of them were in college when Barack Obama ran for president and they have fundamentally no understanding and experience in how politics works.” Lizza adds: “To Biden world, it’s the media’s cultural affinity for this New New Left that explains why the Biden-will-soon-collapse storyline has such staying power.”

It’s not just the cool kids who are unenthused about Biden, however. Plenty of the un-woke Democratic establishment is, too. They worry, in private conversation and occasional public comment, that at some point the Democratic frontrunner’s many liabilities, on display for close to half a century, will crash his candidacy. Just the other day, David Axelrod groused that Biden is “creating a more damaging meme” by “serially” distorting his record. Recently a veteran pollster told me of his skepticism that Biden would even make it to Iowa.

Biden might not care about the media narrative. What matter more are the anxieties of Democratic elites, many of whom will be super-delegates — excuse me, “automatic delegates” — to next year’s convention. It will be they who, in a closely divided three-way race, may ultimately decide the party’s nominee.

Elections

The Problem with Pete Buttigieg

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Pete Buttigieg greets supporters before the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention in Manchester, September 7, 2019. (Gretchen Ertl/Reuters)

In a 2018 midterm election that didn’t give Republicans a lot to laugh about, one development that no doubt left them smiling was watching progressives across the country donate $80 million to Beto O’Rourke, in a Texas Senate race that was always going to be a steep uphill climb. Democratic party leaders can fairly grumble that if even a fraction of that money gone to, say, Stacey Abrams or Andrew Gillum or Bill Nelson, 2018 would have gone even better for them.

The grassroots donors are always going fall in love with the candidates they want to fall in love with, whether or not it represents the best way to spend finite resources.

Today Bill Scher raises the fair question of whether Pete Buttigieg is this cycle’s Beto O’Rourke — a walking charm machine who thrills the donors but is running in a race he can’t win, amounting to a waste of resources.

Buttigieg has raised $32 million since the start of the cycle, an off-the-charts sum for a guy who started the race as an obscure mid-sized city mayor. The New York Times notes he’s the rare candidate who has simultaneously impressed both the elite big donors and the online left grassroots donors. For obvious reasons, gays and lesbians are thrilled to see an openly gay Democratic presidential candidate. He’s a Midwestern veteran who can get donors to write checks in Silicon Valley, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.

And yet . . . he’s at 4.8 percent in the RCP average nationally, 7.5 percent in Iowa, 7.6 percent in New Hampshire, 5 percent in Nevada, 4.7 percent in South Carolina. A solid fifth place in a 24-person race isn’t bad, but it’s still fifth place. After making a big splash, Buttigieg is sliding into “noteworthy also-ran” status.

Playing off Ron Brownstein’s classification of “beer Democrats” and “wine Democrats,” Scher mocks Buttigieg as “the IPA of Campaign 2020, a hipster nerd flavor” and laments, “even though the Democratic donor community has been expanded with the rise of easy-click online giving, it remains a small, disproportionately white, disproportionately wealthy faction of the total Democratic electorate.”

But the issue isn’t really that they’re white (the United States is still 76.5 percent white, according to the Census Bureau), and we shouldn’t be surprised that big political donors tend to be wealthier than average because they’re the ones who are likely to have the money to donate to a political candidates. No, the issue of which kind of candidate attracts swooning donors relates a bit to Amanda Hess’ essay in today’s New York Times, observing that the most important political figures in American life no longer have constituents, they have fans, complete with merchandising. The South Bend mayor personifies, crafted, and sculpted an image and “brand” that intensely appeals to some Democratic party demographics but not others. He is exactly the guy you want if you need to wow a group of big Democratic donors in the Hamptons. He is not the guy you want speaking from the pulpit of an African-American church in Charleston.

David Brooks called Buttigieg “an older person’s idea of what a young person should be” — Harvard, Oxford, McKinsey Consulting, time in uniform, married, talks a lot about his faith in a way that soothes secular progressives, opposes the designated hitter in baseball. It’s like he was engineered in a laboratory to be the subject of a a gushing New York Times magazine cover piece.

Part of the problem is that Buttigieg more or less came out of nowhere, and voters haven’t “traveled” with him yet. Even Obama had been on the national scene for two years when the 2008 campaign cycle started in January 2006. He’s 37, but looks young enough to get carded if he tries to buy beer. He’s polished and prepared and good in his debate performances — maybe a little too good. It’s a fine line between polished and slick. You can almost hear his past presentations in corporate conference rooms: “At McKinsey, we believe your company’s greatest problem is also your company’s greatest opportunity . . .”

Democratic primary voters can be forgiven if they like Buttigieg but aren’t sure they want to trust him with the nomination yet.

World

Copping onto Labour’s Brexit Madness

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Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the House of Commons in London, England, September 3, 2019. (©UK Parliament/Roger Harris/Handout via Reuters)

New prime minister Boris Johnson is re-shaping (possibly shrinking) the Tory party while dedicating it to the mission of accomplishing Brexit very soon. The Liberal Democrats have revived themselves by promising to revoke Article 50 and pretend the whole thing was a giant mistake. 

Labour has tried to have it both ways on Brexit for some time now, but the commitments it has made to keep everyone on board make their position ludicrous. And finally, European politicians are realizing that whatever Johnson intends, at least it will end uncertainty. What Labour wants to do is even worse. 

Essentially the Labour party’s position is that Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is not good enough, and so they will negotiate a much better one. But their position is also that once the details of their Brexit are hammered out, the people deserve another vote on it. In other words, Labour will delay that bloc from moving on to new business, get them to agree to another deal, one that very well may be rejected. And perhaps a considerable number of Labour MPs would campaign against the deal their party leadership has just negotiated. If the first years of Brexit negotiations were already a farce, what would Brexit 2 Electric Bugaloo and Referendum 2: Remainer’s Revenge be? 

According to Bruno Waterfield of The Times, EU officials are realizing they screwed up by playing footsie with the opposition: 

One Brussels source close to negotiations said the EU had “made mistakes” with Labour and was now horrified at the party’s convoluted position as political chaos in Westminster raises the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn taking the keys to Downing Street.

“They want us to negotiate a ‘credible’ deal and then they will campaign against it in a referendum? That is mad.

Sports

Sorry and Not Sorry

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Left: Bianca Andreescu during her match against Serena Williams at the U.S. Open. Right: Then-Oakland Raider wide receiver Antonio Brown during a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers. (Robert Deutsch, Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports)

Got a sportscast for you, with two experts, two gurus: our own David French and Vivek Dave, of Chicago (originally of Greater Detroit, like me). If those two guys don’t know it, it’s not known or worth knowing. We open with college football: Nick Saban and an army of others, including Army, the football team (which is attached to a service academy, I understand). We talk a little Major League Baseball, and especially the Boston Red Sox — who fired their general manager, Dave Dombrowski. Last season, the Red Sox had one of the greatest teams in history — in all of baseball history — winning 108 games and virtually sweeping the World Series. But “What have you done for me lately?” applies.

Then we get into the NFL — particularly the stories of Andrew Luck, Antonio Brown, and Tom Brady. Luck is out of the game (he turns 30 today) and Brady keeps on trucking (42). “He’s an alien,” remarks Vivek, admiringly.

In due course, we get to tennis, and to Bianca Andreescu, the Romanian-Canadian winner of the U.S. Open. After beating Serena Williams in the final, she apologized to the crowd in New York. MCTE (Most Canadian Thing Ever).

Finally, what if LeBron James (for example) had dedicated himself to tennis, from an early age? This is the sort of question that can absorb the sports mind.

Again, find our gurus here.

P.S. I forgot about the music. “We Are Fam-i-ly.” “Another One Bites the Dust.” “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” The music of sports, one way or another, which we recall and, to a degree, celebrate.

Elections

Who’s Ready for a Three Hour Debate?

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Former Vice President Joe Biden gestures during the second night of the first Democratic presidential candidates debate in Miami, Fla., June 27, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Over at Politico, the great Jeff Greenfield observes Joe Biden “has actually not had that much experience in televised debates with multiple candidates. Indeed, his best performances have come in his two vice presidential debates; one-on-one contests with a single adversary whose arguments were familiar, and with plenty of speaking time to flex his storytelling muscles. Until this year, he has never found himself in a crowded debate as a front-runner, where he is the clear target of opportunity. Thus far, he has seemed unprepared for the challenge.”

There’s one more factor working against Biden tonight. The geniuses at the Democratic National Committee and ABC decided that tonight’s ten-candidate debate will be three hours. The high-pressure circumstances of a live nationally-televised debate are mentally and physically taxing to many candidates. The previous debates were two hours and change. It is not difficult to imagine Biden (or any of the septuagenarian candidates) fading a bit in that third hour. Only a limited number of people will be interested in watching all three hours; millions of people see what happened the day after in short segments shared on social media. Biden could have a pretty good night for the first two hours or so, and then a bad gaffe or lapse at the end, and that would become the big story.

Elections

Wine, Beer, and Democrats

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Biden’s coalition, writes Ron Brownstein, looks a lot like the coalition that won most Democratic presidential primaries in the late 20th century: blue-collar whites and African Americans, the so-called “beer track” voters who gave the nomination to Walter Mondale, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore. That coalition broke up in 2008 and 2016, with African Americans aligning with college-educated white liberals instead of with blue-collar whites to deliver the nomination to Barack Obama and later Hillary Clinton. But it appears to have re-emerged, for now.

Warren, on the other hand, is a “wine track” candidate whose appeal is concentrated among college-educated whites: the kind of Democratic voters who backed Gary Hart and Bill Bradley. To win the nomination, she’s going to have to start showing more appeal either to African Americans or to white voters without college degrees. Does she have “a plan for that”?

Music

John Relyea, Man of Parts

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John Relyea, right, with Peter Seiffert during a rehearsal of Weber’s opera Der Freischütz at the Salzburg Festival in 2007 (Calle Toernstroem / Reuters)

I have a Q&A with John Relyea, live from the Salzburg Festival. (Or “live to tape,” as I believe they say.) He is a wonderful singer, a wonderful guy — and it turns out, a wonderful conversationalist. Relyea is a Canadian bass-baritone. He is the son of two singers. (It often works that way — in all fields, actually.) (I once wrote a piece about that.) (At my stage, you can say “I once wrote a piece about that” about virtually anything.) Relyea studied with Jerome Hines, the famous American bass. He talks about Hines and teaching generally. And about roles. And about national anthems (the singing of them). And about many interesting things. “Mozart is always a balance of mind and heart,” he says — and don’t forget the heart. He also touches on the Seattle grunge scene. And rock. He once played the guitar. He is a man of parts, John Relyea, and not just opera-and-oratorio parts.

You will enjoy him a lot. As a bonus, he has a great voice — speaking voice, I mean, in addition to the other one. Again, here.

Health Care

On (and about) ‘Study Drugs’

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Over at the Spectator (U.K.), I have a piece about study drugs (i.e. amphetamines) on American college campuses. It’s entitled “American universities are fueled by amphetamines — so I tried them.”

I discovered that serious review of the literature, as well as the late father of the Attention Hyperactivity Attention Disorder diagnosis, psychologist Keith Conners, make clear that the population of affected children lies between 2 to 3 percent:

But in the 1990s, the combined effect of loosening the diagnostic criteria (so that exuberance, eccentricity and the ordinary struggles of day-to-day life were all potentially pathological) and allowing American drug companies to have another go at marketing amphetamines (which had been curtailed by regulation in the 1970s) created a perfect storm of supply and demand.

In addition, I spoke to around ten student users who detailed a range of experiences, including one young man who, after a head injury, ended up snorting ten times the standard daily dose and going to rehab.

And I also detail my own experience . . . After being diagnosed with ADHD, I was prescribed Adderall in what became an unblinded n-of-1 trial.

Read the piece and listen to the podcast with Dr. Barbara Sahakian to learn how it all turned out . . .

Elections

Poll Shows Biden and Warren Tied ahead of Third Debate

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Former Vice President Joe Biden at The Graduate Center of CUNY in the New York City, July 11, 2019. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

The latest Democratic primary poll from The Economist/YouGov, released yesterday, shows former vice president Joe Biden tied with Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren as ten of the candidates prepare to debate tonight in Houston.

The survey shows Biden and Warren tied at 26 percent among registered Democratic voters and tied at 24 percent among respondents who said they will vote in a Democratic presidential primary or caucus this cycle. In a distant third is Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), at 16 percent among registered voters and 17 percent among likely primary voters.

The poll seems to reflect a general consensus that the Democratic primary has narrowed to a three-person race, and more recently even to a two-person race, pitting frontrunner Biden against Warren, who has managed largely to consolidate support from primary voters looking for a more-progressive option than the former vice president.

Despite struggling in the first debate and delivering an unexciting performance in the second — and in spite of a series of gaffes and inaccurate statements on the campaign trail over the last two months — Biden has held a solid advantage over the rest of the field since entering the race in April. The new Economist/YouGov data are the first national data since an August 26 Monmouth poll to show anything other than Biden in the lead.

The Monmouth poll from late August suggested a three-way race, with Sanders and Warren at 20 percent and Biden just behind at 19, but when a series of subsequent surveys showed Biden back on top, it was generally considered an outlier.

Biden, Warren, and Sanders will face off tonight in a debate hosted by ABC and featuring seven other Democratic candidates: Senators Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.); South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg; former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke; former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Religion

Doug Wilson’s Broadside against Liberalism’s Defenders

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Sohrab Ahmari and David French (Images via Twitter)

I suppose it says something about David French that he finds himself surrounded by wildly divergent critics. It’s not an altogether bad place to be. The 16th-century Reformers battled radical Protestant utopians trying at sword-point to usher in the new heavens and the new earth at the same time they battled Roman Catholic utopians who thought they already had. Strange bedfellows somehow have a habit of reuniting.

New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Ahmari, along with many at First Things magazine, now infamously thinks the problem with late-modern liberalism is people like David French who don’t understand that the legal principles embodied in our liberal order are insufficient to a just and flourishing society. We need to alter those legal principles and grant the coercive state the prerogative to nudge things along to our — well, Ahmari’s — desired ends. Comes now influential Protestant pastor Doug Wilson, who seems to agree with this assessment of French.

If he has said it once, French has said it a thousand times: politics (and law) is downstream from culture. There is no political or legal solution for cultural problems, and culture is primarily the domain of civil society—you know, things like families, churches, schools, and magazines. In other words, the very kinds of things to which Doug Wilson devotes his talents. And David has been busy ensuring that Doug can continue all this cultural work by asserting on his behalf the legal principles embodied in our liberal order. It really is a marvel: a guy spends his life making sure cultural influencers like Doug Wilson and Sohrab Ahmari might legally go about influencing things; and when they face widespread lack of societal influence they decide to blame their lawyer. It’s not amusing.

Ironically, I’ve read Doug Wilson write “politics is downstream from culture” something like ten thousand times. Nevertheless, he has taken the opportunity to write a laborious essay informing the ostensibly naive, “lovable,” “bewildered,” “nice man” David French that our liberal order requires a wide cultural “center of gravity” and a “system of shared cultural values” in order to work. The condescension is inexcusable, but leave it aside for the moment. The Dutch have a saying about the sort of thing going on here: Doug is “kicking down an open door.” The very first person who would agree that we have a culture problem is David French.

Before I get to some of the particulars, I need to point out the flabbergasting question that is begged. Yes, Doug: we need a cultural center of gravity; we need the “unwritten” constitution; we need people to recognize the transcendent idea at the heart of our Republic; we all need to be “Creationists” in the sense of the Declaration of Independence. How do we attain that goal? Since Wilson is enjoining the debate on the side of Sohrab Ahmari, does he agree that we need to dispense with the liberal order itself by grasping the reins of power and coercing our way to a society ordered to the “highest good”? (Actually, when actually faced with the actual living and breathing David French, Ahmari has now clarified that what he really wants is for some senators to jawbone at a bureaucrat on national television.) Now, given the context, one might think Doug agrees with this overall “post-liberal” project (e.g., First Things, Patrick Deneen, et. al.), but apparently not. He has now informed me on Twitter that he meant all this as a defense of the liberal order!

He begins by lambasting  “viewpoint neutrality.” Wilson imagines that “viewpoint neutrality” refers to some kind of philosophic ultimate epistemic commitment to relativism, and, boy howdy, does he go to town on that absurdity, as only he can. Except, of course, nobody was talking about some kind of ultimate epistemic commitment to relativism. They were instead talking about the legal principle that the state should provide equality before the law when it comes to accommodation for use of public spaces. Maybe you don’t like it; maybe you’ve got a better idea to manage things in a diverse, pluralistic society; maybe you’ve got a principle that only ever lets the “right” people use public spaces, and with which no government official will ever label you the wrong kind of person. French, who is in a better position to know than anyone else involved in any of this, happens to think that this legal doctrine has been an enormous boon to Christian cultural influencers, and that whatever downsides are a pretty decent tradeoff, all things considered.

It’s also the case that things like equality before the law and not showing partiality are decidedly not neutral; they are divine commands in the Bible, however imperfectly we might apply them (c.f., Lev. 19:15; Dt. 1:17; 10:17; 16:19). One would think that would be something of comfort to Wilson. I’m having trouble fathoming the complaint here.

One of Wilson’s readers pointed out his misunderstanding of “viewpoint neutrality,” and eloquently explained the distinction between legal architecture and ultimate epistemic commitments. He responded:

I am happy to distinguish the two neutralities as you describe them. But here in our world, when we are seeking to defend objective neutrality in, say, the courtroom, and others are attacking that procedure (and doing so for metaphysical reasons), we need a better defense than “this is the way we have done it for centuries.” Because their reply will be “precisely.” And you do it that way because you inherited this system from slaveholders. Critical theory is a universal corrosive, and we have no defense against it apart from an appeal to the transcendent.

For someone who was just himself a moment ago attacking, not defending, the procedure of objective neutrality, I fear he might be giving readers whiplash. As for his insistence that one needs some kind of transcendent answer to such attacks, I hope he gets good exercise kicking through open doors.

Wilson’s second point accuses French of not really being supportive of viewpoint neutrality, because he wouldn’t approve of a bunch of Baptist kids doing a Bible Story Hour at the local library. I have zero idea why he thinks this, because his discussion is entirely fact and evidence free. What is a fact, however, is that plenty of presumably Baptist kids wanting to proselytize on college campuses have benefited from legal advocacy like French’s. I have no reason to think things would be different for a library.

Wilson’s third salvo is that religious liberty is a Christian idea. It includes a helpful insight:

An ostensibly neutral state with an accumulated reservoir of historic Christian moral capital can preserve religious liberty, but only for a time. But run it out a few decades. You cannot make Herbert Marcuse the Secretary of Free Speech at Animal Farm without finding out, to your chagrin, that some animals are more equal than others. Religious liberty for Christians is not a principle that can be derived from the premises of an aggressive secularism.

So the problem is a depleted reservoir of historic Christian moral capital, not the legal architecture of the liberal order (itself a product of that very moral capital). Who has the responsibility to replenish this reservoir of moral capital? Politicians? The state? If Wilson doesn’t like our current arrangement, what is the alternative? But wait! I was told by Wilson himself that he is defending the liberal order. So does he want an alternative, or not? It is awfully hard to tell. It seems to me he just wants to rhetorically light up this straw-man with his Zippo lighter from as many angles as possible.

Notice how quickly in that paragraph the liberal order transforms into ”aggressive secularism.” This is an equivocation that thoroughly plagues this debate. In a similar context, James K. A. Smith speaks of liberalism as an “architecture” and as an “ethos.” These things are quite distinguishable. If people want to equate the Western legal tradition with the illiberalism of contemporary aggressive secularism, they are entitled to make that mistake. I would just point out that that is exactly what the aggressive secularists want you to do. (What do you think all the minimizing of Judeo-Christian influence on the American founding is about?) Strange ground to cede for erstwhile opponents of secularism.

Most of the rest of the essay is entirely irrelevant to French, though there is one bit that I cannot let stand. Wilson argues: “There is a difference between behavior that libertines like and and behavior that will preserve liberty. French doesn’t see it yet, but he is actually defending the former, while Ahmari is urging a return to the latter.” In light of all that David French has said and written about culture, I find it incredible that one could seriously level that accusation.

Be that as it may, perhaps French, and those of us in his camp, believes that the American experiment is the greatest political arrangement yet devised for the triumph and flourishing of freedom and virtue, precisely because free virtue is real virtue, organic moral fiber, not outward conformity produced by fiat. Perhaps he knows that virtue is the work of fathers and mothers, gospel ministers, and school founders and teachers, rather than by politicians and lawyers. Perhaps he knows this is a fallen world where we do not have the luxury of a system of unfailing perfection, and that there are always tradeoffs, lamentable as they might be. Perhaps he is owed an actual constructive proposal for establishing this never-seeming-to-arrive utopian society that has no downsides. Alas, there’s nothing in Wilson’s broadside that improves on Ahmari’s efforts so far.

World

Quebec Court Declares Euthanasia ‘Foreseeable Death’ Limitation Unconstitutional

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Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s ‘Thanatron,’ often referred in the media as the ‘Death Machine,’ is seen during a press preview for the Sale of the Estate of Jack Kevorkian at the New York Institute of Technology, N.Y., October 27, 2011. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A few years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada conjured a positive right in the Canadian Charter (constitution) to euthanasia. The justices did not merely make it legal, but essentially ruled that anyone with a diagnosed medical condition that causes “irremediable suffering” — as defined subjectively by the patient — has a right to be killed by a doctor. This is true even if there are treatments available that could objectively palliate the patient’s symptoms.

Rather than push back, as could be done under Canadian law, Parliament meekly legalized lethal injection homicide — known as the euphemistic Medical Aid in Dying (MAID). But it added a tepid protective requirement: Death has to be “reasonably foreseeable” (whatever that means) in order to qualify for killing.

Now, a Quebec court has ruled that minor limitation to be an unconstitutional impediment to a desired death. From the Globe and Mail story:

Denying them access to assisted dying because they are not terminally ill is “forcing them to endure harsh physical and psychological suffering,” Justice Baudouin said in her 197-page judgment. “The court has no hesitation in concluding that the requirement that their death has to be reasonably foreseeable is violating the rights to liberty and security of [the plaintiffs.]”

I have no doubt similar rulings will be made in other Canadian courts. Having read the original Supreme Court ruling, how could it be otherwise?

Consider the context in which homicide-by-doctor (or nurse practitioner) has been made a fundamental right:

  • According to a study published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, only 15 percent of Canadians have access to quality palliative care. Yet, there aren’t any Supreme Court or lower court rulings declaring the inability to have one’s symptoms palliated a violation of Charter rights.
  • There is a right to receive euthanasia, but no concomitant right to suicide prevention.
  • Disabled people in Canada have been pushed toward euthanasia by bureaucrats denying the kind of independent living support that would help a suicidal disabled person want to live — who then offered the patient euthanasia instead. Just last month, a man with ALS chose to be killed after the government refused to pay for care that would have allowed him to stay home with his son. Clearly, there is no Charter right to receive the kind of care that would help you not want to be killed.
  • Not only that, but doctors have been told in Ontario that if they are asked by a qualified patient — which could include almost anyone with a semi-serious medical or disabling condition under the Supreme Court’s ruling, perhaps even mental illness — to be killed, they must participate by doing the deed or procuring the death doctor for the patient. And if their faith holds that to be a grievous sin or their conscience follows the Hippocratic Oath’s proscription against killing patients? Tough. Become a podiatrist or get the hell out of medicine!
  • Canada also conjoins organ harvesting with euthanasia. This means that depressed people with disabilities — and I believe eventually mental illnesses as allowed now in Belgium and Netherlands — will be killed when they would have lived for years, induced into the lethal decision by the belief that their deaths will have greater value than their lives.
  • Canadian pediatricians are preparing for the euthanasia of children. Some have already volunteered to kill young patients once it becomes legal.

Whenever I have raised the alarm about the collapse of medical morality in Belgium and Netherlands caused by legalizing euthanasia, domestic death peddlers have soothingly assured that those countries are not like the U.S. Such things would never happen here.

And Donald Trump would never be president. Canada is our closest cultural cousin. Creating a right to euthanasia has made it death obsessed.

If it can happen there, it can also happen here. Those with eyes to see, let them see.

Elections

Watch: Kat Timpf Explains Why Beto O’Rourke Is the Perfect Instagram Model Candidate

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In her latest video for National Review, Kat Timpf explains why Beto O’Rourke’s social media tendencies fit those of an Instagram model rather than of a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

National Security & Defense

Wait, Who Didn’t Like John Bolton?

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John Bolton at CPAC 2017 (Gage Skidmore)

While explaining why John Bolton departed the role of national security adviser, President Trump explained today in the Oval Office that his efforts to reach out diplomatically to North Korea had been complicated by Bolton comment about “the Libyan model.”

In an April interview with Chris Wallace, Bolton said:

WALLACE: OK. So, let’s talk about your position, the U.S. position going in, what the U.S. wants from Kim. Will President Trump insist that Kim give up, ship out, all of his nuclear weapons, all of his nuclear fuel, all of his ballistic missiles, before the U.S. makes any concessions?

BOLTON: Yes, I think that’s what denuclearization means. We have very much in mind the Libya model from 2003, 2004. There are obviously differences. The Libyan program was much smaller, but that was basically the agreement that we made.

In another interview with CBS, Bolton said: “What we want to see from [the North Koreans] is evidence that it’s real and not just rhetoric. One thing that Libya did that led us to overcome our skepticism was that they allowed American and British observers into all their nuclear-related sites. So it wasn’t a question of relying on international mechanisms. We saw them in ways we had never seen before.”

Both the North Koreans and Trump seemed to interpret the remark as something akin to the Western-backed effort to topple Moammar Gaddafi. A few weeks later, Trump declared, “the Libya model isn’t the model that we have at all when we’re thinking of North Korea.”

Today, Trump continued to talk as if Bolton had called for a Western-backed insurgency against the regime. “We were set back very badly when John Bolton talked about the Libyan model! And he made a mistake! And as soon as he mentioned that, the Libyan model – what a disaster! Take a look at what happened to Gaddafi with the Libyan model! And he’s using that, to make a deal, with North Korea? And I don’t blame Kim Jong Un for what he said after that, and he wanted nothing to do with John Bolton. And that’s not a question of being tough, that’s a question of being not smart, to say something like that.”

(Trump also repeatedly complained about Bolton’s role in the decision to invade Iraq, which was not exactly a state secret when Trump chose to hire Bolton.)

Elsewhere, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani also publicly applauded the departure of Bolton. The president reportedly “discussed easing sanctions on Iran to help secure a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani later this month,” a move Bolton reportedly vehemently opposed, believing it would give the Iranians something they want in exchange for simply agreeing to meet with us.

Monday, Bolton and Trump reportedly got into a “bitter argument” about the president’s decision to invite the Taliban to Camp David.

Reassuring, isn’t it?

If the leaders of North Korea and Iran don’t like the U.S. national security adviser, that is a good thing. It’s not his job to be liked by the leaders of hostile states.

Health Care

Dutch ‘Forced Euthanasia’ Doctor Cleared of Charges

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(Pixabay)

I could have told you this would happen. A Dutch doctor who lethally injected a dementia patient, has been cleared of criminal charges.

Euthanizing dementia patients isn’t against the law in Netherlands if the patient expressed a desire to die before losing competency. What made this particular case notable was that the patient who was killed wanted to decide the time, and never gave consent. Moreover, she was not only drugged to allow her to be killed easily, but when she woke up she fought against the doctor and struggled to stay alive. Rather than stop, the doctor had her family hold her down as so she could be dispatched by lethal injection.

As I wrote here when this case first came to public awareness, the euthanasia authorities cleared the doctor of wrongdoing because she meant well, don’t you know. But there was a bit of an international uproar over the case, and so the doctor was prosecuted.

Now, a court has also cleared the doctor. From the BBC story:

The 74-year-old patient, who died in 2016, had expressed a wish to be euthanised but also indicated that she wanted to determine the right time. Judges said the doctor acted lawfully as not carrying out the process would have undermined the patient’s wish.

In other words, the patient was deemed no longer competent to want to stay alive.

Don’t get me wrong. There was never any chance the doctor would lose her license or do any jail time for the homicide, and indeed, the Dutch prosecutor said as much publicly. You see, the point in cases such as this in the Netherlands is not to punish wrongdoing, but rather, to set precedents for death doctors to follow going forward. Indeed, this is why supposedly restrictive guidelines don’t restrict much of anything. It’s all a big fat fraud.

Once a society accepts the culturally cancerous premise that suffering justifies killing, the issue of actual consent becomes increasingly less important. Indeed, once one is consigned to the killable caste, there are almost no protections at all — as the court’s approval of the homicide by doctor of an incompetent woman struggling against being put down clearly demonstrates.

Those with eyes to see, let them see.

Health Care

On Eccentricity

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(Pixabay)

How do Americans feel about eccentricity? Maybe it’s not fair to generalize. Nevertheless, I was recently researching the over-diagnosis and overmedication of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which is a major problem in the United States, but not so much in the United Kingdom. Part of that is to do with how the respective health care systems are set up — as I’ll explain here later. But I do wonder if part of it is cultural as well.

This question has serious implications on the individual level. For instance, in the following TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson tells a charming story about Gillian Lynne, the talented choreographer who deserves to be more famous than she is. As a child in the 1930s, before people had a name for ADHD, Lynne was taken to see a specialist because she couldn’t sit still at school. The doctor turned on the radio. And Lynne, upon hearing music, began to dance. “Mrs. Lynne,” the doctor said. “Your daughter isn’t sick. She’s a dancer!”

But imagine the doctor had said “your daughter has ADHD” and put her on a daily dose of amphetamines instead? Would she have discovered her talent? Would she have devised the choreography for the musical, Cats? Probably not.

There are societal considerations regarding eccentricity. In the third chapter of On Liberty (1859), “Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being,” the English philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote that:

In this age, the mere example of nonconformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.

“The chief danger of the time,” Mill wrote. He was right. Then, as now.

Culture

Ten Things That Caught My Eye Today (Sept. 11, 2019)

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1. The church that rose when the towers fell

2. Memories of 9/11 attacks linger for fire department chaplain

3. 9/11: When John Paul II grieved with America

And Pope Benedict’s prayer at Ground Zero

Pope Francis’s remarks at an interreligious event there

4.

 

5. From Katrina Trinko at the Daily Signal: A Former Abortionist Explains Her Change of Heart 

6. Babylon Bee: Report: 95% Of Christians Agree The Other 5% Should Keep Adopting

(it’s satire, but . . .)

7. Yahoo News: Parents of children with mental illness look at shooters and wonder, Could that be my child?

8. A Pastor Dies By Suicide: Three Things We All Need to Know

9. About women and preaching at Mass

10.

https://twitter.com/uhennessey/status/1171791729957187585?s=11

National Security & Defense

September 11 Was Never Going to Be Like December 7

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Flowers are left on names on the National 9/11 Memorial in N.Y., September 11, 2018. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Among the many feelings, thoughts, and emotions on September 11, 2001, I can remember asking myself, “Is this how Americans felt on December 7, 1941? Is this how we felt when we heard that there was an air raid on Pearl Harbor?” A fractured nation unified, instantly, and then marched relentlessly to victory. December 7 is the dreadful day that launched one of the most glorious and courageous episodes in American history. We call the generation that fought that just war the “greatest generation” for good reason.

On September 11, a fractured nation unified, instantly, and we went to war within days. The echoes of December 7 were unmistakable. But the narrative was never going to be the same. It couldn’t possibly be the same. Even in those first days, President Bush recognized the difference. He warned us of the difference. In his speech to Congress he said, “Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest.”

But none of us really knew what it meant to fight an enemy that would never surrender, that would never stop trying to find a way to kill Americans. So, here we are, 18 years later, still at war. Yes, previous military successes have meant that our footprint is much lighter than it was than the heights of the Afghan and Iraq conflicts, but American troops are still fighting and dying in the nation that launched the 9/11 attacks. They’re still fighting and dying in the lands that are tainted with ISIS’s presence.

We’re weary now. We’re drained of false hope and misplaced idealism. We’ve endured the consequences of George W. Bush’s idealism about our “friends” — that they were at least somewhat ready for democracy and that removing terrible tyrants would allow freedom to flourish. Instead — particularly in Iraq — ripping away the tyrant (with insufficient forces to keep the peace) unleashed horrific sectarian violence.

We’ve also endured the consequences of Barack Obama’s misplaced idealism about our enemies — his hope that they were but a tiny few extremists who would marginalized in the wider Muslim world if only America reset its relationships in the Middle East. His administration withdrew from Iraq, embraced elements of the Arab Spring, and negotiated a nuclear deal with one of our principal jihadist enemies. Yet by 2014, the world confronted the largest and most potent jihadist force in modern history.

On this 9/11 anniversary, our war-weariness shouldn’t distract us from noting and being thankful for an extremely important fact — in spite of jihadists’ plans and most fervent desires, we have not endured another attack on American soil that remotely approaches the scale of the attacks on the Pentagon or the World Trade Center. We haven’t even experienced attacks on the scale of the November 2015 ISIS assault on Paris. Our safety is not accidental. It’s not the product of luck (though we have been lucky on occasion). It’s the consequence of hard fighting and constant vigilance. The war that George Bush described to Congress on September 21 continues, and it will have to continue so long as we face an enemy that seeks to do us harm.

Books, Arts & Manners

Reading for a ‘Fair View of the Progress of Man’

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That was the touchstone for long-time Harvard president Charles Eliot in choosing what works to include in The Harvard Classics. Today, few college students read more than a minute fraction of the literature Eliot thought important; most read none at all.

Our latest Martin Center article is an abridgment of the introduction Eliot wrote for the 1910 edition.

“The best acquisition of a cultivated man,” Eliot wrote, “is a liberal frame of mind or way of thinking; but there must be added to that possession acquaintance with the prodigious store of recorded discoveries, experiences, and reflections which humanity in its intermittent and irregular progress from barbarism to civilization has acquired and laid up.”

Yes, but if Eliot were around to say that now, he’d incur the wrath of SJW types. Liberalism, in the sense in which Eliot used it, is regarded as a code word for oppression.

If you’d like to fill a five-foot shelf with beautiful volumes that happen to contain a great deal of enlightening reading, The Harvard Classics will do very nicely.

U.S.

America Is Still Counting Those Killed by the 9/11 Attacks

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(Brad Rickerby/Reuters)

Most Americans have probably heard of retired FBI special agent John O’Neill, who retired from the FBI in August 2001 to become chief of security for the World Trade Center. He had escaped from the North Tower but returned to help others, and was killed when the tower collapsed. (Harvey Keitel played him in The Path to 9/11.) They may not have heard of  FBI agent Lenny Hatton, who saw smoke and fire coming from the North Tower of the World Trade Center and rushed to the scene.  He reported critical information to the FBI and assisted emergency responders in leading people from the World Trade Center buildings to safety and lost his life when the tower collapsed.

Until I saw this morning’s statement from the FBI Agents Association, I did not know that 16 FBI agents and employees have died since the attacks from illnesses relating to their work at Ground Zero: Dennis Bonelli, Steven A. Carr, William R. Craig, Brian L. Crews, Laurie Fournier, Jerry D. Jobe, Laurie Johnson, Mark C. Johnston, David J. LeValley, Mark J. Mikulski, Melissa S. Morrow, Robert M. Roth, Gerard D. Senatore, Rex A. Stockham, Paul H. Wilson, and Wesley J. Yoo.

According to the New York Police Department, 241 officers have died from cancer and other diseases that stemmed from their work on the site. The Uniformed Firefighters Association of New York now lists 204 FDNY deaths due to 9/11 illnesses over the past 18 years.

That’s at least 461 more good men and women who departed this earth before their time because of al-Qaeda.

Earlier this year, after some angry accusations that Congress was shirking its duties, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law a permanent 9/11 First Responder Victim Compensation Fund,  to replace a temporary fund that paid awards to about 22,400 people at a cost of about $5.2 billion.

Science & Tech

Four Republican Senators Write to Facebook over ‘Censorship’ of Pro-Life Content

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(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Four Republican senators sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this morning, criticizing the social-media platform’s recent “fact check” of pro-life organization Live Action. In a copy of the letter obtained exclusively by National Review, Senators Josh Hawley (Mo.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Kevin Cramer (N.D.), and Mike Braun (Ind.) condemn what they call Facebook’s “pattern of censorship” and call on the group to submit to an external audit.

At the end of last month, Facebook notified Live Action that fact-checkers had given a “false” rating to two videos shared by the group’s president Lila Rose. One featured Rose herself and the other featured Dr. Kendra Kolb, a board-certified neonatologist; both videos included the claim that abortion is not medically necessary. After bestowing a “false” rating on the videos, Facebook prevented Rose and Live Action from promoting or advertising content and alerted users who had shared the two videos that they had spread “false news.”

But as the senators’ letter points out, Facebook’s “fact check” was conducted by two abortion providers, both of whom also have formal ties to abortion-rights activist groups: Daniel Grossman, who is on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, and Robyn Shickler, a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health.

“No reasonable person would describe Grossman or Shickler as neutral or objective when it comes to the issue of abortion,” the letter states, “yet Facebook relied on their rating to suppress and censor a pro-life organization with more than 3 million followers.” The letter calls this a violation of “Facebook’s supposed commitment to non-partisanship.”

The senators note that this incident is just one example of significant “bias against those with conservative viewpoints, especially on the issue of abortion,” not only at Facebook but also at Twitter, Google, and Pinterest. “You have repeatedly insisted that these numerous instances of discrimination, censorship, and suppression of speech are merely glitches, not evidence of systemic bias,” they add.

The letter concludes by calling on Facebook to issue a correction, remove restrictions on Rose and Live Action, and submit to an external audit, which they say must be “real and meaningful.” This demand is reminiscent of Hawley’s April letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, in which he demanded a third-party audit of the platform after an account for the pro-life film Unplanned was suspended. A spokesperson for Twitter later told National Review that the suspension had been due to mistakenly linking the account for Unplanned to another account that had violated the rules.

Since joining the Senate this January, Hawley in particular has carved out space for himself as a vocal critic of tech companies, even going so far as to propose a bill that would amend Section 230 to remove larger companies’ immunity from liability unless their policies for regulating content are deemed politically neutral. He has also proposed legislation attempting to curb social-media addiction by banning features like infinite scroll and autoplay.

Update 9/11/19 7:00 p.m.: The International Fact-Checking Network, the unit of the Poynter Institute responsible for providing fact-checking assistance to Facebook, has issued a statement responding to the GOP senators’ letter and listing the steps the group is taking to investigate the incident.

A spokesperson for Facebook has provided National Review with a statement in response to the letter from senators to Zuckerberg and the statement from the IFCN:

Posts by Live Action and Lila Rose were fact-checked by a third party, independently certified by the International Fact Checking Network. We have been in touch with the IFCN which has opened an investigation to determine whether the fact checkers who rated this content did so by following procedures designed to ensure impartiality. While the IFCN investigates, we are removing the relevant fact checks and have communicated this to the members of the US Senate who brought this specific concern to our attention.

Read the full letter here: GOP Senators’ Facebook Letter

World

The Consistency of John Bolton

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John R. Bolton (left), who at the time was President Trump’s national-security adviser, and William B. Taylor, who was acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, lay wreaths at the Wall of Remembrance in Kyiv, August 27, 2019. The wall commemorates soldiers who have died in the war against Russia in eastern Ukraine. (Gleb Garanich / Reuters)

Obviously, John Bolton was never an easy fit in the Trump White House. His worldview and experience are one thing; Trump’s are another. The contrast was most vivid, I think, in the last week of August.

Trump was at the G-7 meeting in France. He kept calling for the readmission of Russia to the group. Russia was kicked out in 2014, because Putin had started a war in Ukraine and annexed Crimea. He has done nothing to earn readmission.

Talking to the press, Trump said some weird things about Crimea. The peninsula, he said,

was sort of taken away from President Obama — not taken away from President Trump, taken away from President Obama. President Obama was not happy that this happened, because it was embarrassing to him, right? It was very embarrassing to him, and he wanted Russia to be out of the — what was called the G-8, and that was his determination. He was outsmarted by Putin.

And so on.

Currently, Trump is withholding military aid to Ukraine and denying the country’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, a White House visit. Apparently, this is because Trump is trying to force the Ukrainian government to intervene in U.S. presidential politics by launching an investigation of Joe Biden. Really. The Washington Post editorialized on this matter, here.

While Trump was in France, calling for the readmission of Russia to a group of democracies, John Bolton was in Kiev, laying a wreath at a memorial. He tweeted, “It was an honor to represent the American people in paying our solemn respects to Ukrainians who have died in the defense of their nation against Russian aggression.”

From 2016 onward, we have seen remarkable transformations: Free-marketeers make excuses for protectionism; hawks and anti-Communists make excuses for nauseating love-fests with Kim Jong-un. Bolton, by contrast, has remained steady. As far as I can tell, his views on Kim, Putin, the Taliban, Iran, and other matters remain the same. Bolton is still Bolton. He has not shape-shifted or been body-snatched.

According to reports, Bolton was unwilling to go on television to defend the president in certain respects. He left that to others. There are always people willing to do the president’s bidding, whatever that bidding is. You remember Trump’s first press secretary, on Day One: Trump had enjoyed “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” (Actually, no.)

It goes without saying that the president, whoever he is, gets his way. He is the one the voters elected. No one elected a staffer, and no one elected a cabinet member, either. But if I were president — there’s a thought! — I hope I would want solid, strong-willed advisers around me, willing to disagree. A court of sycophants is not very helpful.

If I am ever elected — don’t hold your breath, or, alternatively, don’t worry — please hold me to this.

Anyway, Bolton is out of the White House, although I hope he will be back in government someday, somehow, and, as I’ve had many occasions to say over the years, I salute the Stache.

Economy & Business

Beto Stumbles into a Good Point on Housing Policy

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Beto O’Rourke speaks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention in Manchester, September 7, 2019. (Gretchen Ertl/Reuters)

To the extent he’s getting any coverage at all today, Beto O’Rourke’s getting knocked around by right-of-center publications for his tweet late last night declaring that “Living close to work shouldn’t be a luxury for the rich. It’s a right for everyone.” I wrote about it in the Morning Jolt, Tristan Justice wites about it over at The Federalist, Allahpundit over at Hot Air, Timothy Meads over at Townhall . . .

But as dopey as O’Rourke’s invented new right is, his broader comments get to the crux of a problem about where this generally good job-creating economy is creating all those new jobs.

Big cities and their surrounding regions are creating jobs at a healthy clip, but in most places the housing supply is not keeping pace. This means Americans are finding the jobs they want in places like the New York metro area, Silicon Valley, or Sun Belt cities, but they can’t find a place to live near the job that’s affordable, so they end up living further away. And that means longer commutes, more time stuck in traffic, greater day care and after-school care needs, more missed dance recitals soccer practices and family dinners, and so on.

O’Rourke would be well served to break from his habitual “fill-in-the-blank is a right for everyone, not just a privilege for the wealthy” framing of whatever he’s talking about at the moment. (Today he tweeted, “Women’s health care shouldn’t be a privilege for the few, but a right for everyone.”) Declaring that Americans “have a right to live close to work” is asinine, but declaring, “The country as a whole would be better off if more Americans had more housing options close to their jobs” would probably generate a broad consensus.

In his subsequent remarks, O’Rourke vaguely alluded to the real obstacle to expanding the supply of housing in particular neighborhoods:

Here’s a tough thing to talk about, though we must: rich people are going to have to allow, or be forced to allow, lower-income people to live near them.

No doubt you can find rich Republicans who don’t want poor Democrats living near them. But by and large, when you have a wealthy urban enclave, you’re going to find a lot of rich progressives.

Farhad Manjoo wrote about California Democrats derailing initiatives to build more housing and concluded that “what Republicans want to do with I.C.E. and border walls, wealthy progressive Democrats are doing with zoning and Nimbyism. Preserving ‘local character,’ maintaining ‘local control,’ keeping housing scarce and inaccessible — the goals of both sides are really the same: to keep people out.” Silicon Valley towns are kicking out people who live in recreational vehicles. Residents of a wealthy enclave in Seattle shouted down proponents of a proposed tax for homeless services. The Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council in San Francisco wants to make proposed buildings shorter, and with fewer units. Wealthy progressives like their neighborhoods just the way they are, and they are interested in helping the poor… move to somewhere else.

If O’Rourke was serious about this, he could theoretically assemble a broad bipartisan coalition of free-market Republicans and poorer Democrats who want to open up wealthy neighborhoods to more housing units. As Phil Klein notes, “right now, there is cross-ideological agreement that local zoning and regulatory restrictions are a significant barrier to building more affordable housing, and creating more housing density. Breaking down zoning barriers has an appeal to free market, limited government conservatives, but also to liberals who see the classism and racism at the heart of NIMBYism.”

But that would amount to declaring war on “limousine liberals,” and that’s not an easy way to win a Democratic presidential primary.

I doubt Beto is interested in taking my advice, but I’d urge him to try this approach. It’s not like his other ideas — such as confiscating semiautomatic weapons — are catching fire.

White House

Bolton Out

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As I noted yesterday, Bolton gave Trump his unvarnished advice, and was willing to ruffle feathers—including Trump’s—in doing it. I thought the Camp David blow-up would benefit Bolton, since he was so obviously proven right. But stories about Bolton’s opposition to the deal  in the press may have irked the president even more. Regardless, at the end of the day, Bolton is a hawk with a firm view of the world and Trump, who believes he can negotiate his way through any disagreement, is not. This wasn’t a natural marriage, although it was still a very good thing that Bolton was there to warn about the foolhardiness of gambits like the one planned for Camp David this week. As for the dispute over the circumstances of his departure, I believe Bolton.

Elections

Joe Biden Drifts to Wherever the Center of the Democratic Party Is

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Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Detroit, Mich., July 31, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

McClatchy News Service takes a deep look at the policy proposals of Joe Biden and concludes, “From health care to climate change to criminal justice, Biden has proposed ideas more ambitious and liberal than policies supported by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign.” They accurately observe, “Biden is labeled a moderate. But his agenda is far more liberal than Hillary Clinton’s.”

(This, of course, assumes Biden has bothered to read his own policy platform.)

Those of us who reviewed the former vice president’s lengthy career way back at the beginning of this cycle noticed that Biden never really stood near the middle of the ideological spectrum; he stood near the middle of the Democratic party. Biden’s allegedly “conservative” positions were simply popular ones that had been adopted by many Democrats. When Biden was boasting about how tough his crime bill was, everybody on both sides of the aisle wanted to be seen as tough on crime.

In his 2007 memoir Promises to Keep, Biden described his own ideology at the start of his career:

The reporters were sure I was a liberal. Senators such as Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie thought I’d be with them in every liberal cause. But the voters who had been paying attention in Delaware in 1972 knew I wasn’t going to be an ideologue. I’d run with George McGovern on tax fairness and protecting the environment and ending the bloodletting in Vietnam. I didn’t see the war as a moral issue but as a stupid waste of lives and money based on a faulty premise. And I made it clear that I honored the goals of Roosevelt’s New Deal and Truman’s Fair Deal and Johnson’s Great Society, but I also made it clear that I didn’t intend to be a rubber stamp on programs that no longer worked.

I’d also run away from a lot of the McGovern wing. I was skeptical about busing as a plausible solution to de facto segregation in the schools, and I would occasionally get an earful from young Democrats who didn’t like my opposition to legalization of marijuana and amnesty for draft dodgers. How many people were really affected by that?

The Washington Post reviewed Biden’s Senate years and found that “over the course of his Senate career, Biden was generally at or about the 25 most liberal members of the Senate, according to Voteview’s scale . . . Among Senate Democrats, Biden generally was found right in the middle of the pack, as Voteview analyzed the votes.” Biden’s lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is 12.67 out of a possible 100. For a guy who keeps getting called a centrist, that’s not really all that centrist!

So no, Joe Biden is not Bernie Sanders. But if you’re worried about the Democrats being too far to the left for your tastes, it’s fair to wonder how much a President Biden would stand up to his own party or veto legislation that Democratic majorities would send to him. Biden disagrees with the left wing of his party here and there, but he doesn’t believe he was put on this earth to be a bulwark against them.

As the primary is already demonstrating, when push comes to shove, Biden will change his position to please progressives — suddenly opposing the Hyde Amendment, declaring he regrets supporting the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, and now opposing capital punishment. As the Democratic party as a whole moves to the left, Biden will move to the left with it.

White House

Trump, Fed Up with His Own Advisors — Again

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President Donald Trump listens to reporters in Washington, D.C. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

With John Bolton’s resignation, President Trump is now looking for his fourth national-security adviser in less than three years — fifth, if you count Keith Kellogg filling in for a week in between Michael Flynn and H. R. McMaster. Yes, all cabinet offices serve at the pleasure of the president, and when the president and his top national-security official disagree so strongly, the president is entitled to ask the adviser to leave.

But anyone with two eyes can see that the temperamental, erratic Trump keeps getting fed up with staff who tell him things he doesn’t want to hear, particularly in the realm of national security. In 31 months, this president has had two secretaries of defense, two acting secretaries of defense, two secretaries of homeland security, two acting secretaries of homeland security, two secretaries of state, one acting secretary of state, two CIA directors, and three chiefs of staff.

The curt tone of James Mattis’ resignation letter and not-so-subtle allusions to what makes a good leader in his new book indicates that the former secretary of defense departed the job with great frustration about Trump’s worldview and how he treated U.S. allies.

Many who go to work for Trump seem to leave their jobs exasperated and angry. Many of the president’s fans will insist upon interpreting this as just a bad series of cabinet picks who turned out to be insubordinate, lazy, bad at their jobs, or secretly opposed to the president’s agenda. Do you think everybody Trump chose for all of these positions turned out that way? And if every one of them turned out to be such a lousy choice . . . at what point does that reflect upon the man who’s choosing them?

When the president’s agenda includes inviting the Taliban to Camp David, reinstating Russia into the G-7, buying Greenland, nuking hurricanes, and slowing down assistance to Ukraine, it’s not hard to understand why members of the military and intelligence community would have friction while working with Trump.

If there’s any silver lining to this, it’s that we can laugh at everyone who argued that Trump’s administration represented some sort of covert military takeover of the government. Remember when liberals like the gang over at The Nation complained that the retired generals in Trump’s cabinet constituted “a clique of ‘warrior-generals’ who may spell the end of the democratic experiment”? William J. Astore warned that Mattis, Flynn, and Kelly’s “presence in the highest civilian positions represents nothing short of a de facto military coup in Washington, a coup that required no violence since the president-elect simply anointed and exalted them as America’s security saviors.”

Good call, pal. You really had your finger on the pulse of this administration there. If anything, Mattis, Kelly, and later H. R. McMaster acted as guardrails that kept the president from deviating too much from the established status quo in defense and foreign policy. They’re gone, and we’ve got Trump unleashed. And unsurprisingly, an unleashed Trump is becoming an impossible boss.

World

John Bercow, Westminster Arsonist

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John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

If you pay attention to international news, you may have seen an obstreperous man bellowing “Orrr -DAH” and calling elected Parliamentarians “boy” in recent days. The Speaker of the House of Commons is charged with keeping the integrity of the Mother of Parliaments, holding to normal procedure, and fair play. He is supposed to renounce his personal politics. Right now the role is occupied by John Bercow, a bumptious, self-adoring partisan and go-for-broke Remainer who picks up and dispenses with traditions whenever it suits his agenda of derailing Brexit. Bercow has been accused of serial sexual harassment, but Remainer MPs have said that they would not investigate or try to remove him, explaining, “the most difficult decision we’ve made for hundreds of years trumps bad behavior.” In other words, he was loved precisely for his political usefulness.

Tim Stanley has a wonderfully vicious column  in the Daily Telegraph on Bercow’s announced resignation:

He is also a classic example of a liberal wrecker, as opposed to a radical revolutionary. I like radicals because they’re honest and pure. They try to conquer the institution from the outside; scale its walls, pull it down. A liberal wrecker embeds himself in the heart of the institution; he pretends to be in sympathy with it, takes power and then slowly dismantles it, piece by piece. Usually in the name of saving it from itself.

The wrecker is a snob and a narcissist. He wants all the respectability and authority that comes from the institution and its history, but he also wants to remake it in his own image – so that future generations will see not the tradition, but the lingering impression of his own ideals. What he doesn’t realise is that age and continuity are the great ballasts to institutions; the moment he pulls them down, the institution collapses around his head.

Behind a paywall — but maybe you’re like me and addicted to Brexit news.

Elections

Tulsi Gabbard Should Support the Hyde Amendment

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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, August 9, 2019. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)

In a recent interview with Dave Rubin, Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard expressed opposition to some late-term abortions. She stated that “there shouldn’t be an abortion in the third trimester” but did say she believes there should be exemptions if a woman’s life is threatened or at severe health risk. This makes her the first Democratic presidential candidate to support any kind of legal limit on abortion.

Her willingness to publicly oppose late-term abortion could have some important ramifications. While Gabbard failed to meet the polling threshold to qualify for Thursday’s presidential debate, she hasn’t ended her campaign. She has 130,000 unique donors, and her Twitter account has over 550,000 followers. It’s likely that other Democratic candidates will use future debates to object to Gabbard’s opposition to late-term abortions, focusing public attention on the fact that the other Democrats running for president support third-trimester abortions — a position that remains deeply unpopular with the American public.

Even so, while it is heartening to see Gabbard challenge her party’s orthodoxy, she still offers little comfort to pro-life voters. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only 1.3 percent of abortions each year take place after 21 weeks gestation. If Gabbard wants to effectively appeal to pro-life Democrats, she should support the Hyde Amendment, which limits the ability of federal taxpayer dollars to fund elective abortions through Medicaid. My Lozier Institute study from 2016 illustrates that the Hyde Amendment stops 60,000 abortions every year, and even analyses published by groups that support legal abortion acknowledge that the Hyde Amendment reduces the incidence of abortion.

Moving forward, Gabbard will doubtless face a great deal of opposition for favoring any restriction of abortion late in pregnancy, especially as many Democratic politicians have doubled down recently in their support for allowing late-term abortions. At an event at the College of Charleston, for instance, former Texas congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke indicated that he thinks abortion should be a legal option even the day before a baby is born.

This presents an opportunity for Gabbard to distinguish herself from the field by offering moderates and pro-life voters something more. If she began to favor the Hyde Amendment, she would further differentiate herself and, more important, show support for a popular policy that saves tens of thousands of unborn children every year.

 

Politics & Policy

Politifact’s Gaslighting on Trump, Northam, and Abortion

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Virginia governor Ralph Northam speaks during a news conference at the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond, Va., February 2, 2019. (Jay Paul/Reuters)

During his rally yesterday evening in North Carolina, President Trump devoted part of his speech to attacking Democratic politicians for their radical stance on abortion policy. Since the spring, the president has directed much of his ire on this topic at Virginia governor Ralph Northam, who during a January radio interview expressed support for a state law that would have loosened restrictions on abortion late in pregnancy.

According to the bill’s own sponsor, the legislation would have expanded the “health” exception to abortion limitations, allowing women in some cases to obtain an abortion even up to the moment of her child’s delivery. When asked to clarify this aspect of the bill, here’s what the Virginia governor said:

When we talk about third-trimester abortions, these are done with the consent of obviously the mother, with the consent of the physician — more than one physician, by the way — and it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s non-viable.

If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.

Last night, Trump described Northam as having said, “after the baby was born, the doctor will talk to the mother and make a decision about whether the baby lives.” Unlike some of Trump’s past references to the comments — in which he described Northam as having endorsed allowing doctors to “execute” babies — this summary is fairly accurate. Given the context of the governor’s response, it’s abundantly clear that he condoned permitting at least some infants to die after birth if they were meant to have been aborted a few minutes earlier.

But last night, Politifact immediately tweeted about the president’s remarks, noting “We rated his similar claim about abortion False” and linking to its own article on the same topic from February. For one thing, that article from February had to do with Trump’s claim about “executing babies” — a clearly more inaccurate claim. What’s more, the Politifact piece itself quoted directly from Northam’s interview, illustrating that Trump’s claim is at least partially true.

Education

Study: Admissions Discrimination at Virginia Public Universities

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The Center for Equal Opportunity today is releasing a study, authored by our research fellow Althea Nagai, of the use of racial and ethnic admissions preferences at five Virginia public universities: the University of Virginia, William & Mary, Virginia Tech, James Madison University, and George Mason University. We uncovered a significant amount of discrimination, especially at the first two schools.

Over the years, CEO has obtained data, as we did here, from public colleges and universities through state freedom of information laws, analyzed what we found, and released dozens of studies of schools all over the country. Today’s study is being released at a National Press Club event in conjunction with the Federalist Society’s Regulatory Transparency Project. Virginia’s public universities are perhaps the country’s most selective among those still allowed to use racial and ethnic preferences (California, for example, and a number of other states have banned such discrimination as a matter of state law).

Among the Virginia study’s findings are that the two most selective schools, UVa and William & Mary, give the heaviest admission preferences and they are to African Americans. Thus, the probabilities of admission and odds-ratios showed significant racial preference; there was a black-white SAT gap at the two schools of 180 and 190 points, respectively; and there were 1675 white applicants to UVa and 943 white applicants to William & Mary, who were rejected despite having higher standardized test scores and high-school grades than the black admittee medians.     

But perhaps the most salient finding is that all five schools discriminated to one degree or another against Asian Americans in their respective admissions. I highlight this in light of the ongoing and high-profile litigation against Harvard for its discrimination against Asian American applicants.

You can read CEO’s study here.

White House

Trump Rallies and Hate Incidents: The Explosive Study Rapidly Becoming a Boring Technical Debate

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Earlier this year I raised some concerns about a study reported in the Washington Post. It had found that when counties hosted a Trump rally in 2016, they saw a 226 percent increase in hate incidents. The Post had allowed the researchers to present the findings to the public despite the fact that their full paper had not yet been released. And the study relied on data from the Anti-Defamation League that had been called into question. Continue reading “Trump Rallies and Hate Incidents: The Explosive Study Rapidly Becoming a Boring Technical Debate”

Politics & Policy

Fiorina ‘Has No Plans’ to Run for President in 2020

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Is Carly Fiorina going to run for president in 2020? 

That question was prompted on Monday by a somewhat cryptic broadside launched by Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and 2016 GOP presidential candidate, against “so many Republicans” who have decided to “pledge allegiance to The Party and swear fidelity to President Trump.”

“I have been called ‘disloyal’ because I am critical of Trump,” Fiorina wrote on Twitter and Facebook. She added:

I am not alone. Many others have been intimidated into silence or compelled to defend the indefensible. . . . 

It is not a citizen’s job to ‘be loyal’; it is the official’s job to earn our loyalty. And when they cannot, we vote them out of office. As citizens it is both our responsibility and our right to hold elected officials accountable: for their words, their actions and the consequences of both. 

So: Is she going to run for president in 2020? “She’s not running,” a source close to Fiorina tells National Review. “She has no plans to run in the Republican primary against Trump or as a third-party candidate.”

The source declined to speculate about whether anything could change in the future that would cause Fiorina to change her mind.

National Security & Defense

5,000 Miles from Camp David

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I’m more of a peacenik than most of the editors here at National Review, and I’d be more open to negotiating with the Taliban than our editorial is.

That being said, I don’t object to any particular in the editorial itself, but I don’t think the headline — “The Taliban Shouldn’t Get within 5,000 Miles of Camp David” — is quite right.

I don’t want to speak for anyone else around here, but I suspect that there are all sorts of places within 5,000 miles of Camp David that at least a few of my more hawkish NR colleagues would be very happy to see Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada and his colleagues: Gitmo, the supermax lockup at Florence, Colo., possibly a very quiet little corner of the Everglades . . .

Of course, it’s only about 6,700 miles from Camp David to Afghanistan, so we might want to revise that figure.

Elections

Should We Read Anything into Carly Fiorina’s Tweets?

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Carly Fiorina at CPAC 2017 (Gage Skidmore)

Over at Hot Air, Allahpundit looks at a series of tweets from Carly Fiorina and can’t resist speculating that she wants to run for president again. She did put out the same remarks on her Facebook page, but has made no comments in a similar vein on her homepage or Instagram page. If she was thinking about running for any office, wouldn’t she be at least asking people to sign up for emails or something? Sometimes, a series of frustrated tweets about the president is just a series of tweets.

“When did so many Republicans decide that we should also pledge allegiance to The Party and swear fidelity to President Trump?” asks Fiorina. That doesn’t sound like someone who sees fertile ground for a primary challenge.

If she chose to ran for president as a Republican, Fiorina would have a huge climb to knock off Trump but could probably quickly become the queen of the challengers. She’s wealthy enough to self-finance, she doesn’t have embarrassing scandals like Mark Sanford does, she doesn’t have a history of incendiary statements the way Joe Walsh does, she’s got a stronger argument about being a conservative than William Weld does, and she’s been a polished and prepared candidate. On the other hand, her last presidential campaign just didn’t catch fire. She got 1.86 percent in the Iowa caucuses and 4.1 percent in the New Hampshire primary. And it’s tougher to throw together a good presidential campaign at the last minute.

Then again, Howard Schultz did end his short-lived independent bid, meaning there’s an option that the 2020 election will come down to President Trump and some socialism-embracing Democrat, with the Green and Libertarian candidates struggling to hit four percent. If you’re a pro-business, pro-free-trade, center-right Republican, you probably see the a rerun of the same choices as 2016, with Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders replacing Hillary Clinton, as nightmarish. Maybe you could argue there’s a better-than-usual opening there for a female candidate if the race is Biden vs. Trump.

But if Fiorina wants to run, she’ll probably just come out and say she’s running – not cryptically vent frustration in a series of tweets.

World

Hungary and Radio Free Europe — a Touchy Question

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Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán speaking in Budapest on February 10, 2019 (Bernadett Szabo / Reuters)

On Friday, a headline in the New York Times read, “Radio Free Europe Is Poised to Return to a Less Free Hungary.” Last year, I did a piece on RFE — actually, RFE/RL, because the organization includes Radio Liberty — entitled “Still Broadcasting Freedom.” I thought about including the Hungarian question — Should the “radios” return to Hungary, given “democratic backsliding” in that country? — but I left it out. A magazine piece can’t include everything.

After reading the Times piece, I thought of Mark Palmer, an impressive figure of the late Cold War on the American side. In 2012, Palmer co-authored an op-ed piece arguing that the radios should return to Hungary. Before continuing, I would like to say a little about Palmer.

He was born in 1941, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (my hometown, though this has nothing to do with my admiration for him). He died in 2013, in Washington, D.C. Palmer went to Yale, then worked in journalism, for a while, then joined the Foreign Service. He became the top Kremlinologist in the State Department.

This passage from an obit will give you a flavor of him:

Throughout his career, Mr. Palmer was known for his advocacy of democratic principles of government. His notions were considered a bit quixotic in the 1970s, when U.S. foreign policy was geared more toward containment of the Soviet threat and monitoring human-rights abuses. But his ideals were vindicated over time, as democracy movements spread from one country to the next.

Palmer was a co-drafter of President Reagan’s famous speech to the British Parliament in 1982. (Sample: “What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term — the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom of the people.”) In his second term, Reagan made Palmer his ambassador to Hungary. Palmer marched in the streets with such democratic leaders as Viktor Orbán.

But as Orbán, now in charge, consolidated his power, Palmer was dismayed. He saw the Hungarian leader patterning himself on Putin, a long way from a liberal-democratic revolution.

Earlier this year, Ferenc Katrein, a Hungarian former counterintelligence officer, was moved to speak to our Voice of America. He lives abroad now, needless to say. He said, “All the Russian services — the GRU, FSB, and SVR — are highly active in Hungary and they have free rein. That was my problem. There was no effort to curtail or control them. We are a member of NATO and we have a responsibility to our allies. The question some of us started asking was, ‘Who is our partner, NATO or the Russians?’”

In 2012, Mark Palmer and his two co-authors — Miklós Haraszti and Charles Gati, distinguished figures in their own rights — were moved to write their op-ed piece. “With the fall of Hungary’s Western-style, pluralistic democracy,” they said, “the time is right for the United States to reinstate Radio Free Europe’s Hungarian-language broadcasts.” Here is some more from that piece: “While Hungary is a member of both NATO and the European Union, it is at risk of becoming a constitutional dictatorship and a pariah in the West. Its hastily adopted new constitution has no meaningful provisions for checks and balances.”

The authors listed three “serious reasons” for the return of the broadcasts. “The first is the current demise of Hungarian media freedom.” And second? “One of the lessons of Europe’s last century is that broadcast monopolies by nationalist governments lead to international tensions and conflicts.” And third? “Given the similarities in recent Russian and Hungarian attacks on the United States, Hungary may well be the first ideological outpost of Putin’s constitutional dictatorship.”

Wrapping up, the authors said this:

A new Hungarian channel, by making full use of gifted editors and reporters in Hungary, should become a hub for quality journalism, a provider of inclusive debates and fair information, inviting to all and detached from all. By cultivating rational and civilized debates, it should be a wellspring for democracy and good journalism. It should not revive the confrontational spirit of the early years of the Cold War, nor should it even turn into an opposition channel broadcasting only “bad news” that gets omitted by the official and semi-official media.

When it seemed that pluralistic democracy and a free market had taken root in Hungary, Radio Free Europe appeared to have fulfilled its mission. Now those values are officially deposed, and a legal system has been built to prevent their comeback even after the next elections. Restoring the Hungarian service could be a crucial step in promoting fair and decent values in Hungary, and in protecting democratic achievements elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe.

This op-ed ticked off a lot of people — the Orbán camp, which is not confined to Hungary but spills into other countries, including our own. Viktor Orbán is a hero and darling of nationalists and populists in America and elsewhere.

Relations between him and President Trump are very warm. “It’s like we’re twins,” Trump remarked to his counterpart. The U.S. ambassador to Hungary is David Cornstein, a New York businessman and a longtime acquaintance of Trump. Pressed by Franklin Foer of The Atlantic on what Orbán calls “illiberal democracy,” Cornstein said, “I can tell you, knowing the president for a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has, but he doesn’t.”

Ambassador Cornstein appears in the New York Times piece published on Friday — the one about what seems the imminent return of RFE/RL to Hungary. The ambassador

sought to blunt the effect of Radio Free Europe’s return to Hungary.

Mr. Cornstein . . . sought assurances from the agency that its service would not focus on negative stories about the Hungarian government, or investigative journalism, and that it would not undermine his efforts as ambassador, according to United States officials. . . .

The United States International Broadcasting Act prohibits American government officials, including Mr. Cornstein, from interfering in Radio Free Europe’s reporting.

“It’s literally illegal for the U.S. government to interfere in our editorial independence,” Mr. Lansing said.

John F. Lansing is the CEO and director of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which used to be called the “Broadcasting Board of Governors.”

Already this year, the radios have returned to Bulgaria and Romania. This is a sad development, however necessary it may be. Readers can study up on those countries and decide for themselves whether the return was warranted. They can do the same with regard to Hungary. I think they would find ample warrant for the return of the radios. I further think that they themselves would want the option of the radios, were they in Hungary, desiring a diversity of media, including media independent of the government.

A return of the radios would be a grave insult to the Orbán government and its supporters, of course. But RFE/RL has been insulting governments for 70 years. I am unbothered by this. What I’m bothered by is the governments.

The Orbán question is one of the great dividing lines on the American right today. Some see Orbán as a great defender of the West, of Christian civilization itself. In 2017, Congressman Steve King (R., Iowa) tweeted, “History will record PM Orban the Winston Churchill of Western Civilization.” (Some of us might accord that honor to Churchill himself.) In 2018, Patrick J. Buchanan was characteristically blunt: “The democracy worshippers of the West cannot compete with the authoritarians in meeting the crisis of our time because they do not see what is happening to the West as a crisis.” Hungarians, he said, “have used democratic means to elect autocratic men who will put the Hungarian nation first.”

Others — critics — see Orbán as a junior Putin. (Of course, so do some of his admirers.)

So, Ronald Reagan and Mark Palmer? Viktor Orbán and his friends? Whaddaya like? Possibly, you did not expect this debate, but here we are.