Film & TV

A New Cinematic Masterpiece

Tom Schilling in Never Look Away (2019) (Sony Pictures Classics)

I was about 15 minutes in when I thought,“This is probably a great film.” An hour and a half later I found myself checking my watch frequently, because though I knew the movie was going to run over three hours, I was dreading the ending. I spent the third hour thinking about what makes a masterpiece and why this one, gloriously, qualifies. It’s about the biggest themes (art, war, love, death), it’s emotionally overwhelming, its dialogue is lapidary, its musical score transporting. It’s one of the best films of the decade.

The German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck already has one of the best films of the century to his credit: 2007’s The Lives of Others. His new one is, I think, even better. It may be the best German film I’ve ever seen. Never Look Away is the title. It comes out January 25 in New York City, February 8 in Los Angeles. Through the eyes of a young Dresden boy who grows up to be a famous artist modeled on Gerhard Richter (described in a New Yorker profile of Donnersmarck as the greatest painter living), Never Look Away considers Germany from the 1930s into the sixties, when the Dusseldorf avant-garde art scene heralded a postwar rebirth of youthful dynamism in which artists began fully to reckon with the Nazi period of the previous generation.

The film opens in a public museum which turns out to be hosting the infamous “Degenerate Art” show. A guide explains the Nazis stance toward this in harsh terms. Yet later in the film we’ll hear almost exactly the same critique made by a Communist in East Germany. In one of many spellbinding sequences, an art teacher holds up posters advertising the main postwar parties of the Right and Left (the CDU and the SPD) and sets fire to both of them, telling his students that a true artist must be of no party. Kurt, the central figure of the film, who is a little boy when he visits the Degenerate Art exhibition, then after the war is an art student in both East and West Germany, absorbs this and creates an exciting new style of painting that combines astonishing craft with what one observer calls “genuine force in some mysterious way.”

Through Kurt (played as an adult by Tom Schilling), Donnersmarck  considers the balances and opposites of the German twentieth century: Life and death are both present in the persona of an SS doctor (Sebastian Koch, the star of The Lives of Others) who for good measure is both an obstetrician and an abortionist, a Nazi and Communist, a German speaker who masters Russian, an Ossi and a Wessi. Kurt’s work is painting but it’s photography, it’s new yet backward-looking, it’s tabloid yet it’s profound. His bildung is a deeply moving tale in its own right as a sensitive little boy surmounts one handicap after another on his way to greatness but it’s a much more expansive cinematic metaphor for German history as well.

I’ll have more to say about this mammoth achievement later.


How Clickbaiting and Ratings Mongering Cuts against Liberal Media Bias

One of the admittedly minor complaints about liberal media bias has long been how the MSM elevates extremely marginal Republican or right-wing politicians in order to tar conservatism and the GOP as a whole. Whether it’s the now forgotten W. Cleon Skousen, David Duke — briefly an actual Republican politician — or more recently, figures like Dana Rohrabacher, the ploy was as annoying as it was effective.

Controversy has always sold newspapers and driven ratings, but in the era of media balkanization and specialization, the need to fuel the outrage machine has never been stronger. And as a result, it can run against the grain of the imperatives of ideological or partisan bias.

Newly elected Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib are getting an enormous amount of media coverage. For some, this might seem like proof of liberal media bias itself. And to some extent it might be, particularly in the case of AOC. But even there, having the Democratic party defined by a socialism-promoting ingenue who literally wants to abolish the existing energy infrastructure in the United States in a decade, is not necessarily in the national party’s electoral interests. The Democrats took back the House by winning over Republican or Republican-friendly districts, not AOC’s comfortably Democratic district.

Meanwhile, the spectacle of two anti-Israel fanatics talking themselves into knots trying to defend themselves against charges of anti-Semitism or terrorist sympathies can’t be the messaging Nancy Pelosi craves in her first month as speaker. But it’s great for ratings, graded on the curve of what counts for good ratings in cable news. The journalists interviewing these women may not be as tough as many of us would like, but the result for the average voter may be the same.


Senate Votes Unanimously to Rebuke Anti-Catholic Tests

On the Senate floor yesterday evening, Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) led an effort to reaffirm the constitutional clause forbidding the use of religious tests for public officeholders. The resolution was agreed to by unanimous consent.

The effort was prompted by recent questioning of a Catholic judicial nominee, Brian Buescher, over his membership in the Knights of Columbus. Democratic senators Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Kamala Harris (Calif.) asked Buescher whether his Catholic faith would prevent him from serving as an impartial judge, and Hirono went so far as to demand that he drop his membership in the Knights and recuse himself from any case on which the group has taken a position.

“Expressing the sense of the Senate that disqualifying a nominee to Federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates the Constitution of the Unites States,” the resolution read in part. It also quoted John F. Kennedy who, as a Democratic senator, said of the anti-Catholic bigotry expressed toward his presidential candidacy:

For while this it year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. . . . Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you, until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

The fact that Democratic senators agreed unanimously to back this resolution — restating the promise that religious liberty is at the heart of the American experiment, both in the First Amendment’s protections and in the constitutional prohibition on religious tests — matters tremendously.

I suggested last week that the opposition to Buescher on the grounds of his membership in the Knights could perhaps best be understood as a trial run for a Democratic effort to prevent the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, should President Trump have the chance to nominate another justice, and should he choose her.

This resolution is a concrete promise that any similar religious tests applied to Barrett, or to any other judicial nominee on the basis of his or her religious beliefs, ought to be out of bounds and decried as a violation of the Constitution.

Politics & Policy

Shhhhh, Mr. Mayor

Rudy Giuliani (YouTube screengrab via ABC News)

For almost two years now, I’ve been hearing that unless you think the allegations of collusion are conspiratorial nonsense — or, worse, a Deep State hoax —  you are a conspiracy theorist or an idiot of one variety or another. For instance:

I’ve always been a skeptic about most of the outsized versions of the Russia-collusion narrative put out by the resistance types, but I’ve also been a skeptic of this kind of thing as well. I never thought that it was crazy to think that the Trump campaign wanted to collude with Russia. We’ve known that since the details of the Trump Tower meeting spilled. And we knew Paul Manafort was a scummy Russian remora for a long time. And, the moment the MAGAers started defending Julian Assange as a heroic truth-teller, you knew that someone in that orbit was too chummy with the Russian intelligence cut-out.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the folks who mock and ridicule the collusion theory incorporate Rudy Giuliani’s performance last night:

From the Washington Post’s write up:

“You just misstated my position,” Giuliani said. “I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign.”

Cuomo’s face contorted into an expression of disbelief. “Yes, you have,” he shot back.

As recently as July, Giuliani was asked by Fox News contributor Guy Benson, “Regardless of whether collusion would be a crime, is it still the position of you and your client that there was no collusion with the Russians whatsoever on behalf of the Trump campaign?”

“Correct,” Giuliani responded at the time.

But on Wednesday, Giuliani appeared to amend his previous comments on the subject.

“I said the president of the United States,” he protested, arguing that he had only ever said Trump himself was not connected to any Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.”

The president’s attorney has gone from parroting the president’s own declarative positions (“There was no collusion,” “witch hunt,” “hoax” etc.) to, in effect, “Sure, the campaign may have colluded with Russia, but my client has plausible deniability he knew anything about it. And, besides, if he colluded with the Russians he wasn’t president at the time.”

It’s possible Giuliani had too many martinis before he went on CNN. But, even so, you don’t have to be an imbecile to think Giuliani’s not helping.

National Review

National Review Summer Editorial Internship

National Review is accepting applications for its summer editorial internship. The intern will work in our New York office, receive a modest stipend, participate in every part of the editorial process, and have some opportunities to write. The ideal candidate will have an excellent academic record and some experience in student or professional journalism. If you wish to apply, please send a cover letter, your résumé, and two of your best writing samples (no more, please), all as PDF or Word files (no links, please), to editorial.applications (at) Review Summer Editorial Internship (Note: This internship is separate from internships offered by National Review Institute, as well as a business and publishing internship that will be advertised separately.)


True Tales

The Big O, Oscar Robertson, in 2018 (Gary A. Vasquez / USA TODAY Sports)

My Impromptus yesterday, I began with some remarks about James Harden, the basketball star, going on to discuss ballet. A reader writes that he was never much for basketball or ballet. But:

Back in the late 1950s, my father took me to the Boston Garden to see the Celtics play. I must have been seven, eight years old. My first impression was striking. The Celtics were playing the Cincinnati Royals (Oscar Robertson, Wayne Embry). When the Celtics brought the ball up the court, it all flowed so smoothly. It was flawlessly choreographed. Maybe this could qualify as a workingman’s ballet?

In a post on André Previn, I detailed the man’s sheer versatility. A reader writes, “You unaccountably omitted his comedic skills.” Quite right. Here is Previn, in 1971, with the legendary team of Morecambe & Wise.

Previn wrote an opera on A Streetcar Named Desire, the Tennessee Williams play. I mentioned this, and a reader wanted to be sure I had seen what The Simpsons did with Streetcar. I had not: here.

What about the mystery of race? The screwiness of race? The madness of race? I touched on this in my column yesterday. I got a note from my friend Mike Brown, the editor of the Rockdale Reporter, in Texas. He cited a piece by Tony Hillerman, collected in The Great Taos Bank Robbery (1973).

Anglo, as used in northern New Mexico, doesn’t exactly mean Anglo-Saxon. It is best explained by repeating an old story which has delighted several generations of Santa Feans. It seems a Negro citizen was accosted at the Precinct Seventeen polls by a Spanish American and asked how much was being paid for votes. “I don’t know,” said the Negro, “they haven’t got around to us Anglos yet.” In other words, Anglo is a negative term meaning the person so designated is of neither Spanish nor Indian descent.

Marvelous. I’m reminded of my old friend, and NR’s old friend, Pat Gigliotti, who grew up in Kansas City. Some mothers did not want him to date their daughters because he wasn’t “white.” (He was Italian American.) Now he lives in L.A. and is considered an “Anglo.”

Says Pat, “I can’t figure out whether that’s a promotion or a demotion.”

He also gets a kick out of “Latino.” Because Rudolph Valentino, you see — the Italian matinée idol — was the original “Latin lover.” Race’ll drive you nuts. (Don’t let it.)


State of the Union Uninvite Is a Big Deal

I think Jonah and Ramesh make much too light of Nancy Pelosi insulting President Trump by uninviting him from giving the traditional State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress.

The State of the Union Speech may not be constitutionally required. It may be a spectacle. It may be manipulative theater. Everything that Jonah and Ramesh think wrong with it may well be true. But it has also become a deeply embedded national tradition and one of the few times in which our president and a representative of the opposing party speak to a national audience about important issues. We swamp creatures may be jaded by the whole thing, but I think many citizens still thrill to the sight of nearly every American national leader gathered together in the House chamber to hear a speech by the president of the United States.

Beyond that, the disinvitation — if it holds — is a body blow to the norms of fundamental political civility that is clearly intended as a flipping of the proverbial bird to the president and his supporters. This affront is a big deal that will stoke ideological antipathy and increase the bile of our political discourse.

If we want to do away with the State of the Union Speech, fine. But we shouldn’t shrug at this “temper tantrum” (to borrow the Democrats’ favorite shutdown talking a point) thrown by the country’s most intractably partisan leader.


Massachussets to Maine Is Not Nigeria to Nebraska

The Statue of Liberty (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

In the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo briefly makes the case for “opening up America’s borders to everyone who wants to move here.” There is, Manjoo contends, “room for a brave politician to oppose President Trump’s racist immigration rhetoric not just by fighting his wall and calling for the abolishment of I.C.E. but also by making a proactive and affirmative case for the vast expansion of immigration.” How “vast”? In theory, at least, unlimited.

I have many objections to this approach, the first of which is philosophical. Manjoo seems to view immigration controls as intrinsically “feudal,” whereas I think that such a system ensures that the existing polity enjoys the power to decide who joins it and by what criteria — a power that, in my view, is the hallmark of the nation state. Because the United States has in times past boasted a more liberal system of immigration than it currently does (and, at other times, a much stricter one), it is often assumed that state-imposed controls are a modern innovation of which the Founders would have disapproved. This, though, is incorrect, as anyone who has read Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton on the subject will know. As my friend Jay Cost has observed, immigration was treated as a political question right from the beginning of the republic, which is one reason that Jefferson and Hamilton so seamlessly shifted their positions whenever it suited them. That the United States reserved the right to decide who came in was not controversial in the eighteenth century, and that at various points the borders were effectively open should not be taken to indicate otherwise. Governments may choose not to exercise powers they enjoy without being assumed to have relinquished those powers. The Chinese Exclusion Act and the facility at Ellis Island co-existed for decades.

Anyhow, while I imagine that I shan’t convince Manjoo that I am correct in my outlook, I do want to raise a couple of practical objections to the vision he outlines. Manjoo writes:

Imagine that if you passed a minimal background check, you’d be free to live, work, pay taxes and die in the United States. Imagine moving from Nigeria to Nebraska as freely as one might move from Massachusetts to Maine.

This is a pipe dream. For a start, if one has to “pass a minimal background check” then one cannot move from elsewhere “as freely as one might move from Massachusetts to Maine.” If I so wished, I could pick up my stuff now and move from Florida to California without telling anybody in a position of authority, without undergoing any form of background check, and without so much as owning a passport of any kind. That is not true — and even under Manjoo’s system would not be true — of a Nigerian hoping to move to Nebraska.

More important, though, is that the challenges facing Manjoo’s hypothetical Nigerian and the challenges facing his hypothetical Massachusetts resident are not even remotely comparable — and that in a country with a welfare state, a broadly nationalized political culture, and an ascendant insistence that “we’re all in this together,” that matters enormously. A dissatisfied resident of Massachusetts can up and move to Maine, and, ceteris paribus, do pretty well almost immediately. A dissatisfied resident of another country cannot, especially if he is poor and badly educated. It is difficult to emigrate. For most people, there is a language barrier. And, even when there is not, one has to deal with the trouble associated with shifting to a different currency, with adapting to a different culture, and with learning a new set of laws. When I moved to the U.S. at the age of 26, I was shocked to learn that my credit rating wasn’t transferrable, and that as a result my score was . . . 0. This made it extremely difficult to get an apartment, impossible to get a cell phone, and so hard to get a credit card — a card which I needed most at that moment — that I had to enter into a bizarre scheme with my new bank by which I deposited a dollar into escrow for every dollar I borrowed on my card. Naturally, I am glad I did this. Indeed, I want others to be able to do so, too; as an immigrant myself, I am in no way opposed to immigration. But the idea that moving from abroad could ever be like moving internally is so much romantic fluff.

There are some fair responses to these objections. Surely, if people want to go to all that trouble, as I did, that’s their problem, right? And, anyway, doesn’t that mean they’re really keen to be here? Moreover, first generation immigrants often work in jobs in which it is not imperative to understand English — and, besides, their children learn English pretty well, no? Also, immigrants do the “jobs Americans won’t” and, all in all, they raise GDP.

At least in the abstract, I have some sympathy for at least some of these arguments. The trouble is, they’re not especially effective when connected to a call for “open borders.” When the United States is adding a million new immigrants per year (plus some illegal immigration) — and when it is testing a good number of those immigrants for suitability — it make sense to argue that the unskilled will find manual or unpopular jobs, that the language barrier isn’t a big problem, and so forth. But if the United States were, in Manjoo’s words, experiencing a “vast expansion of immigration,” things would look rather different. Gallup estimates that, were America to open its borders, around 147 million people would move here. That’s half the current population. Even if we cut that in half, we’d be looking at 75 million new arrivals within a few years. Yes, yes, yes, economies grow. But they don’t grow that quickly — and nor do the schools, roads, and public services than undergird them. How many “jobs that Americans won’t do” do we think would be available? And, given recent trends, how likely do we think our political system would be to tell the people who didn’t do well, “okay then, go home, we bear no responsibility for your plight?” (Related: How likely do we think it would be that one of the two parties would pass up on the opportunity to use government to help those for whom the move hadn’t worked, and thereby to win enough new voters to destroy the other one forever?)

Which is to say that an influx of the sort Manjoo covets (and he’s not agnostic on the numbers) would breed an extraordinary increase in resentment — a resentment that would make the sentiments that put Trump into office seem insignificant. An America in which huge numbers of people do not speak English is not going to breed tolerance and love; it’s going to breed disdain and irritation. An America in which the regnant culture is suddenly and dramatically shifted is not going to usher in a new age; it’s going to cause a desperate, visceral reaction. If you like, you can respond to this by saying that Americans are “racist” or “selfish” or “immoral,” or that they are complicit in keeping people from other countries poor. But none of that is going to matter in reality. Polling shows that a majority of Americans want immigration levels to stay about where they are. Responding to that fact by saying, “so let 150 million people move here?” would be the height of arrogance and irresponsibility. It would also have almost the exact opposite effect of the one Manjoo hopes for. President Donald J. Trump? Open the borders and you ain’t seen nothing yet.


Thursday links

January 17 is Ben Franklin’s birthday — bio, quotes, videos, his 200+ synonyms for drunk, the bodies found in his basement, and more.

The True Story Behind ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’.

Why dreams like flying, falling, being chased are so common, and how your brain creates them.

For Al Capone‘s birthday, here’s the story of that time he bought large blocks of stock in miniature golf construction companies.

The science of mucus.

Why Did Humans Lose Their Fur?

ICYMI, Wednesday’s links are here, and include lots of snow-related stuff, animals that hunted our ancestors, the anniversary of prohibition, sneeze guard history, and igloo-building instructions.


Finding Things Out

Megha Rajagopalan (Oslo Freedom Forum)

Megha Rajagopalan is one of my favorite foreign correspondents. She grew up in Maryland and now works for BuzzFeed News. I’ve done a Q&A podcast with her, here.

She is newly in the Middle East, but she worked in China for years. China is the main topic of our podcast. I ask, “What’s it like to work as a correspondent there?” Interesting answers.

Megha knows a lot about Xinjiang Province, or East Turkestan, where the Uyghurs live, and die. The Chinese government has launched a major, horrifying assault on them. I quoted Megha in a piece I did about the issue last year.

She has spoken on this topic at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Here is one video: “The Police State of the Future Is Already Here.” And here is another: “Inside China’s Digital Authoritarianism.”

In our podcast, she talks of backpacking around Xinjiang in 2009 or 2010 — this was when she was a student. It was no paradise, no democracy, but it was not an Orwellian hellscape. When she returned as a reporter in 2017, everything was different.

I will paraphrase her: “There’s a city called Kashgar in the West. This is the cultural heart of the Uyghur people. Kashgar is an ancient city. It sat on the Silk Road, and generations of traders have gone through it. Because of that, Kashgar is very multicultural, and there are lots of colorful things: night markets, vendors selling pomegranate juice, street life, music …

“When I visited in 2017, all of that was gone. Storefronts had bars on them. When you walk through the historic part of the city, people are literally not speaking. You can feel how tense they are. There’s no music playing, which is very strange for China, because Chinese cities are vibrant, with lots of music all the time.

“All sorts of weird things now happen. You see ‘spontaneous patriotic parades,’ as bands of Uyghur people are led through the streets by Party officials, holding Chinese flags and singing patriotic songs.”

Then there is the surveillance state — pervasive, 1984-like — “visible to the naked eye,” says Megha.

She has seen a lot and learned a lot in a still-young career. Toward the end of our podcast, I ask her what drew her to journalism in the first place. A big part of the answer is: She likes to find things out. Again, our Q&A is here.


The Ultimate Question of Life’s Origins

No intellectually challenging idea has attracted more uninformed criticism than intelligent design. That includes smart people like National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson, who’s made a habit of it. Here he is commenting on “The Politics of Snobbery, and Its Inverse” (my emphasis):

The Republicans, for their part, have devolved from the holier-than-thou party of the Moral Majority to the prolier-than-thou party of Donald Trump, the party that talks about the “Real America” in accents purporting to be Texan but native to no part of the Lone Star State, the party of Duck Dynasty and bad FM country music, the party of such daft rube-bait as “intelligent design,” and the party that sneers at many of the most successful parts of this country — Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the Ivy League, Hollywood — as cultural sewers.

The Democrats have become the party of snobbery. Consider those endless fights over the treatment of evolution in high-school textbooks. Nobody seriously believes that if a high-school science teacher in Muleshoe, Texas, is legally permitted to mention heterodox views of evolution, in 20 years’ time Stanford and MIT will be intellectual backwaters. Those fights aren’t about science — do you hear progressives hounding the Washington Post about its horoscopes or lamenting Obamacare’s blessing of sundry New Age quackeries? — they’re about the loathing of those people.

There’s some truth here. Loathing the “downscale” deplorables, the kind whose communities “deserve to die” (as Kevin has written), is certainly a driver of liberalism today. That does represent a shift. What about the idea that skepticism regarding Darwinism, or sympathy for intelligent design, that “daft rube-bait,” also represents a shift? Or the notion that worrying about how evolution is taught in public schools is, but for the social opprobrium, on a level with “horoscopes” or “New Age quackery”?

From this and previous comments of his, I’m pretty sure that Williamson has little or no idea how advocates of intelligent design make their case, identifying scientific evidence of a guiding purpose at work in biology and cosmology, as against Darwinism’s insistence on blind processes alone.

Williamson and I are alike in idolizing NR’s founder, William F. Buckley Jr., and Kevin has written movingly about his interactions with WFB. I am surprised that he doesn’t seem to know that many of the great figures of the conservative intellectual past, including Buckley, tended toward skepticism on Darwinism or sympathy for design — in no particular order, Richard John Neuhaus, Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb, Tom Wolfe, Richard Weaver. In Witness, Whittaker Chambers beautifully described awaking from the spell of Communism upon contemplating the “immense design” of his little daughter’s ear. Buckley hosted a Firing Line debate on intelligent design, which he argued for alongside his fellow debaters, mathematician David Berlinski, biochemist Michael Behe, and U.C. Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, all affiliated with Discovery Institute. Commentary published Berlinski’s great series of attacks on Darwinian orthodoxy. And so on.

Of course citing the fathers of conservatism on a scientific problem doesn’t settle anything, other than urging us that laymen are allowed to wrestle for themselves with this ultimate question of life’s origins. If they’re allowed, then, given the obvious importance of the issue, I would say they are also obliged.

I was the layman who happened to be the literary editor on duty at NR in 1996 when Michael Behe’s first book, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, was published. The book launched the modern ID movement, which has historical roots in the thinking of the co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace, who broke with Darwin over what Wesley Smith calls “human exceptionalism.”

I assigned it to University of Chicago microbiologist James A. Shapiro. His review, while rejecting the book’s positive case for design, was sufficiently laudatory to supply a blurb for the paperback, praising Behe for a “valuable critique of an all-too-often unchallenged orthodoxy.”

The science has evolved since then but not in a way favorable to standard evolutionary thinking. Shapiro and other skeptics have gone on to join forces as the “Third Way” on evolution — rejecting intelligent design, yes, but seeking an alternative to Darwinism. They gathered at a significant 2016 conference of the Royal Society in London, where Isaac Newton once presided, recognizing that the old standby, natural selection operating on random mutation, is not equipped to produce the wonders of biology.

A bunch of rubes, you say? If you want to judge for yourself, two recent books to consider are Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt. Behe’s forthcoming book, Darwin Devolves, extends his argument for design. You could also do worse than to start with a 20-minute video from Discovery Institute that I wrote, “The Information Enigma.”

Politics & Policy

Can Democratic Politicians Still Be Pro-Life?

Dan Lipinski (campaign image via Facebook)

Tomorrow’s rally at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., will feature at least a little bit of bipartisanship, thanks to Democratic congressman Dan Lipinski.

Less than one year ago, Lipinski faced an intense primary challenge from a progressive candidate, Marie Newman, in Illinois’ third congressional district. Her desire to unseat him stemmed almost entirely from one thing: His opposition to abortion. A Blue Dog Democrat, Lipinski has been pro-life his entire career — and unlike the vast majority of his Democratic colleagues who claim to be “personally pro-life,” he votes like he means it.

He is one of just a tiny handful of Democratic politicians left in Washington willing to vote for legislation such as the popular Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which prohibits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, or the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which requires that physicians provide medical care to infants born alive after a botched abortion procedure.

This drew the attention of abortion-rights lobbying groups such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL, both of which backed Newman’s campaign. She also received vocal support from progressive politicians such as Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) and socialist Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

Lipinski survived the primary, but only narrowly — by a margin of fewer than 3,000 votes. Despite Newman’s challenge and the powerful left-wing interest groups teamed against him, the Democratic representative refused to soften his pro-life position even a bit.

Although his willingness to vote against abortion attracted progressive opposition in the first place, Lipinski likely owed his eventual win in large part to his pro-life supporters. Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life lobbying group, organized a last-minute get-out-the-vote effort in the third congressional district, recruiting local students to knock on doors and talk to voters about the differences between Lipinski and Newman’s stances on abortion.

Now, almost exactly ten months after he pulled off that narrow win, he’ll be speaking at the March for Life. At a time when the Democratic party becomes increasingly radical on abortion — going so far as to embrace a platform that opposes the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer money from directly funding abortion procedures — that small display of bipartisan collaboration for the pro-life cause is something to be celebrated.


May Survives: Now What?

Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street following winning a confidence vote, January 16, 2019. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Theresa May’s government has won the confidence vote 325 to 306. Relative to the catastrophic defeat of May’s Brexit deal yesterday, this result must be a welcome respite for the government. The question, as always, is: Now what?

May won the confidence vote, yes, but she now has the impossible task of forging cross-party cooperation in the Commons. The fact that May’s Withdrawal Agreement was defeated 432-to-202 margin on Tuesday signifies that the deal in its current form is completely unworkable. It was dead, to begin with. So what are the living alternatives?

A different deal?

To be able to approach the EU and get a new deal, May would have to appeal to the EU’s interests since they hold all the negotiating power. In other words: May would have to try for an even softer Brexit. However, without at least the removal of the backstop clause, Parliament is almost certain to reject such a deal. Something — not least someone — has got to budge.

 An extension of Article 50 followed by a second referendum?

May opposes tampering with Article 50 on principle — as she should — since it is a betrayal of the 2016 referendum result. Nevertheless, Labour MPs are fighting hard to force Corbyn to endorse a second referendum which polls suggest the majority of Labour Party members now favor. This would require asking the EU to extend Article 50 (the piece of legislation that mandates that Britain will leave on March 29), which they would probably grant since it heightens the chance of no Brexit. Indeed, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said as much when he implied that best course of action at this point would be to cancel Brexit altogether.

But even if he got his wish, a second referendum would not be an easy fix. For instance, what choices would be presented on the ballot a second time around: Remain or a detailed description of how exactly Britain would leave? Given that two years of negotiations have not produced the latter, it seems unlikely that the government could provide it in a matter of weeks; the “voters will be more informed this time” does not convince. Moreover, how would the British people interpret their being asked to vote on the same question again? And what would happen if Britain voted to leave a second time?

No deal?

A default Brexit on March 29th is where Britain is headed according to current law.

But the argument against no deal is in part a political one. There is such feverish terror in the Commons at the prospect of no deal that it could prompt some anti-Brexit Tories to vote against the government in a subsequent confidence vote. May is trying to avoid this at all costs.

A new leader?

It’s safe to assume by this point that there is no humiliation too great to force May to consider resigning. Unlike the Conservative Party, Jeremy Corbyn can trigger multiple confidence votes. He can strike again. The thing — and a big part of the reason he lost this time — is that Corbyn doesn’t actually have any solutions to the Brexit conundrum. Polls suggest he is even less popular than May. (Quite an achievement.)

Now what? indeed.


Law & the Courts

Bullying Barr

William Barr testifies at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, January 15, 2019 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Andrew Cohen writes at Slate that Bill Barr probably won’t make good on his pledge to “stand up to Trump” if necessary as attorney general.

There is far more evidence, from Barr’s decades of public and private work, that tells us he’ll be largely deferential to Trump’s whims and caprices. It’s clear to all that Barr is deeply entrenched as a conservative Republican in the political and legal establishment of Washington, and he acknowledged that he has seen part of his role in the past as supporting the Republican agenda. This despite his pledge, during questioning by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, in which Barr said: “I will not be bullied.”

I didn’t catch much of the hearing. But all I’m getting from this passage is that Barr is a conservative Republican who believes that as attorney general he will be pursuing the Trump administration’s policies within the limits of the law and ethics. He will not allow the president to bully him into disregarding those limits. This tension is theoretically possible for any appointee in any administration, and may be especially likely for an attorney general in this one. But there is no contradiction in what Barr said, and no reason to say that his promise not to let himself be bullied came “despite” his being a Republican.

Otherwise we would have to conclude that being a conservative Republican is a disqualification for serving in a high level in a Republican administration. That conclusion would probably be gratifying to a lot of Slate readers, but doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

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