About Last Night

Candidates at the Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 14, 2020 (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)

Watching the Democratic debate last night, I made some notes, and here they are, FWIW — or should that be FWTW (the “T” standing for “they’re”)?

• No one will defend the Iraq War — on left or right. Everyone denounces it as a disaster, the worst mistake ever. My guess is, this will change, as time goes on.

• I am not an expert — I’ve lived in Manhattan for 20-plus years — but I don’t think anyone in Brooklyn has a Brooklyn accent thicker than Bernie’s.

• When I was in college, Wolf Blitzer published a book on the Middle East: Between Washington and Jerusalem: A Reporter’s Notebook (1985). How young he must have been!

• Joe Biden brags that, as vice president, he organized our pull-out from Iraq. I wouldn’t brag about it.

• Bernie Sanders says that Bush 43 and his team lied and lied about Iraq. Donald Trump said the same thing, of course, in an interview with . . . Wolf Blitzer. 2008.

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. [Republicans did, of course, 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.”

There you go.

• Pete Buttigieg talks about cyber threats — which reminds me of an interview I had with John McCain in 2015. He said that he had recently been briefed on cyber threats, and this briefing was the most alarming he had ever received. This got my attention. McCain had received a lot of briefings — on terrible matters — in his career.

• These candidates are talking about Trump as if he were a reckless interventionist!

• Pete’s story about “shipping out,” and the guy who couldn’t turn around to pick up his toddler? Gag-making, in my opinion. Maybe I don’t have standing to criticize — but I dislike the infantilizing and sentimentalizing of soldiers.

• Biden always says that he was elected to the Senate as “a 29-year-old kid.” Kid? Well, maybe from his perspective now . . .

• I must say, Elizabeth Warren gets off a very good line, re Afghanistan: “We’ve ‘turned the corner’ so many times, we’re going in circles.”

• When Tom Steyer looks directly into the camera — often imploringly, beseechingly — I am a bit creeped out.

• Often, Biden is a garbled mess when he speaks — without the entertainment value that Trump (sometimes) offers.

• I am a strong believer in alliances. But these guys talk about “allies” so vacuously — evincing so little understanding of U.S. responsibility — I’m tempted to go unilateralist.

• Bernie and Trump talk about trade in basically the same way — with one exception: Bernie laments the conditions of workers in foreign countries.

• Sanders, I think, is Jeremy Corbyn. But will the American electorate agree?

• I cannot believe that the American people will elect a socialist. But then, the American people have surprised me a lot, so . . .

• Bernie says he will raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. I hear Bill Buckley in my head: “Why not $16?” If I were a questioner in this debate, I’d ask Bernie that, I swear.

• Say what you will about the old Bolshie, he has impressive vigor and sharpness.

• I should not say this, but, you know? I’m a writer — an opinion writer — so what the hey (hay?). Senator Warren is an amazing-looking 70-year-old.

• The candidates assail the “greed and corruption” of the health-care industry. I wish Milton Friedman were around to say, “May I talk to you about the greed and corruption of government?”

• Amy Klobuchar on her dad: “He got married three times, but that’s a whole ’nother story.” I loved that — especially the “’nother” (which I grew up saying, in the Midwest, and still say, of course).

• On health care, Pete pushes choice — consumer choice. Whoa, sounds suspiciously Republican.

• He talks about the federal budget deficit, and the national debt, too. Wait a minute, is that legal, in politics?

• Of the Affordable Care Act — a.k.a. Obamacare — Biden says, “It was a big deal.” He left out his adverb! (Actually, I’m not sure what part of speech that word is.)

• Pete says things like “writ large.” Uh-oh — the electorate will never go for that, will they? The demotic is where it’s at, baby.

• Watching this debate, I think, once or twice, “I wonder how Bloomie would do.”

• I can see him saying to Pete, “I realize New York is no South Bend, but . . .”

• Biden refers to Hunter Biden as “my surviving son” — very, very canny. Cheap, maybe, but canny.

• Klobuchar’s invocation of Joseph N. Welch and McCarthy? Shrewd, effective, and even moving.

• As they go on about climate, I think, “I wonder whether Al Gore is watching, and, if he is, what he thinks.”

• Most of the time, I think Joe Biden should be at home, enjoying his grandchildren. Maybe writing his memoirs. Not stumbling along like this. Embarrassing.

• That question to Pete, about black voters? People always act as if black Americans were of one mind — voting in a bloc, with no diversity of views among them. Is this fair?

• One of the questioners to Amy: “How are you going to inspire voters with a message of pragmatism?” A damn good question. They want them their bread and circuses (especially the latter, I think).

• Oh, my gosh, Amy said her name! I’m so glad — because I’ve never really known how to pronounce it. She says “KLO-buh-shar.” (Not “boo” for the middle syllable, and not “char” for the last — as in “charcoal.”)

• Sanders calls America “the richest country in the history of the world.” Huh. Wonder how it got that way. Also: Is this a good thing, in Bernie’s view?

• Biden says that eight years of Trump would “fundamentally change the nation.” I think that both the Left and #MAGA believe that.

• The Dems have roughly half the country, of 320 million people, and these are their final six, when it comes to putting up a challenger to Trump? He is a lucky man, as he was in ’16. Hillary last time. Biden, Bernie, or Warren this time?

• I got more, but this is — these are — enough, surely. God bless America.

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The Democrats Are Out of Touch on the Economy

Buttigeg, tonight, said that the Dow Jones was up but people still felt down. Biden said that everyone but the rich is getting clobbered. And they’re the two leading candidates in the “moderate lane.”

These remarks don’t reflect the actual economic statistics, and they don’t reflect the public’s assessment of the economy either. The economy’s condition is helping President Trump’s campaign. Democrats can’t do a lot about that fact, but denying reality seems like a good way to compound the problem.


The Great Progressive Duel Ends With Both Candidates Throwing Away Their Shot

From left: activist Tom Steyer, Sent. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, January 14, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

We had 48 hours of buildup to the Great Progressive Presidential Candidate Duel, and then both contenders threw away their shots. About 30 minutes into tonight’s debate, we finally got the long-awaited Bernie Sanders–Elizabeth Warren showdown . . . but clearly, both candidates lost their nerve and didn’t see much benefit from a sustained head-on confrontation.

Sanders offered a rather vehement denial that he had told Warren in private conversation that a woman couldn’t defeat Donald Trump. “How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could not be president of the United States?”

But after Sanders offered his emphatic disavowal, moderator Abby Phillip bizarrely asked Warren how she felt when Sanders said it – implicitly assuming in her question that Sanders had indeed said it! The right question in that situation was, “Senator Warren, did Senator Sanders just lie?

Warren began with a disingenuous declaration that “Bernie is my friend and I’m not here to fight with Bernie.” Then she said, “Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women, Amy and me!” Warren’s not quite right. Amy Klobuchar actually withdrew from a race to be Hennepin County attorney in 1994. Klobuchar won the county-attorney election four years later, and was reelected with no opposition in 2002. She won Senate elections in heavily Democratic Minnesota in 2006, 2012, and 2018.

Keep in mind, Warren has run in two elections in her life, both as a Democrat in Massachusetts. John McCormick notes that Warren keeps insisting that “nobody thought that anyone could beat [Scott Brown].”

Then the pair got into an odd semantic argument over Warren’s boast that she was the only candidate on stage to defeat an incumbent Republican in the past 30 years. (Brown, when Barack Obama was running for reelection atop the ticket in 2012.) Sanders corrected her, pointing out that back in 1990, he beat an incumbent GOP congressman. (With some key help from the NRA, as I wrote earlier this week.) Is 1990 within the past 30 years? Does it matter if the number is 29 years and not 30? Keep in mind, during that time, Biden, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg never took on an incumbent Republican and Tom Steyer’s never run for anything else in his life.

Democratic voters seem extremely focused on seeing Trump leave office on January 20, 2021, and not quite so focused on what happens on January 21. Between this cycle and 2016, we’ve watched 16 debates featuring the Vermont senator. In Bernie Sanders’s world, the American people face no problems that are truly thorny and complicated and involve trade-offs. In Sanders’s narrative, the root of every problem is that “we” haven’t “stood up” enough to somebody powerful – big multinational corporations, big banks, big oil, big pharmaceutical companies. And apparently once we “stand up” to these powerful forces, the problems will just get solved. He envisions repeating the sweeping legislative legacy of Lyndon Johnson but has none of the deal-making or persuasive powers LBJ demonstrated. President Sanders would be rudely surprised to learn that one of his most difficult obstacles would be centrist Democratic lawmakers who aren’t on board for the whole socialist revolution. The state of Vermont – politically controlled by well-meaning progressive Democrats — crashed and burned when it tried to enact single payer, and nobody on that stage wants to even acknowledge it.

Watching Joe Biden tonight, I realized why his not-so-great debate performances over the past year haven’t damaged his standing in the polls much. Everybody already knows what they think of Biden, Democrats by and large like him, and it would take something really dramatic to get them to change their mind about him. Their opinion about Biden was written in cement that dried sometime in Obama’s first term. Month after month, he turns in debate performances that are shaky here and there, but overall okay or good enough, and surprisingly, few others on the stage take big swings at him.

For the last debate before people start voting, this debate was pretty mild, with few metaphorical punches thrown. Biden, Sanders, Warren and Pete Buttigieg all have a shot at winning Iowa and New Hampshire. Maybe all of the Big Four feel good about where they are, and don’t feel like taking any big chances. If anybody on that stage needed to make a splash, it was Klobuchar, and we got . . . more of the same. This was not the kind of performance that will double her support and get her some delegates.

People like me who kept complaining about having ten candidates on stage finally got our wish. Still, Steyer remains an absolute waste of space, a billionaire who’s signed up for some sort of presidential-candidate fantasy camp, where he gets to experience what the real candidates do. He kept saying dumb things like, “I just want to emphasize what Bernie Sanders said.” You don’t have to, Mr. Steyer. Sanders just said it so that you don’t have to say it. If you have nothing else to add, why are you up on stage?

Politics & Policy

Nancy Pelosi’s Conspiracy Theory

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wields the gavel as the House of Representatives votes in favor of two counts of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill, December 18, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The term “conspiracy theory” has gotten a bit diluted over the past couple of years. These days the media often use it as a way to dismiss some right-winger’s suspicion that, say, a Democrat is corrupt, or is not being truthful, or has some motivation other than the purported one. But what Nancy Pelosi is peddling right now is a conspiracy theory, and also a discredited one. It’s also, by the way, nuts.

The strong implication is that either the Russians “decided” (rather than simply tried to influence) the 2016 election or they’re about to decide the 2020 election. Both of these ideas are Alex Jones–level bonkers.

There is just no reason to believe that Russia (with or without Trump’s collusion) decided 2016. Unlike most conspiracy theories, this one was actually exhaustively investigated using the full force of the executive branch of the federal government, including subpoena power. Russian influence extended not much farther than a few goofy Facebook memes and the Wikileaks dump that unearthed some slightly embarrassing John Podesta emails, none of which anyone seriously thinks affected the election outcome. Luke Thompson reviews what he calls “Putin Derangement Syndrome” here.

The prospect that a losing candidate Trump might not accept defeat was a major national scandal. Pelosi and much of the Democratic party are still pushing the idea that the 2016 result was illegitimate. The speaker should take her own advice from October 2016:


Oh, Those Terrible Misogynist Iowa Democratic Caucus-Goers!

Sen. Amy Klobuchar during the Democratic primary debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Calif., December 19, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

As mentioned in today’s Jolt, 29 Democrats of varying stature ran for president this cycle, and as the year begins, only four really have a serious shot at the nomination. Supporters of the early departure candidates — and perhaps some candidates themselves — love to blame their failure to appeal to voters on the media. The media didn’t give them a chance, didn’t pay enough attention, didn’t focus on their best issues . . . it’s as if these candidates and their top staff never contemplated that the media might not be a completely cooperative force to their presidential dreams.

I suspect this whining works, and some media institutions try to compensate for the fact that the majority of their coverage will focus on the candidates who have a shot at actually winning this thing. This means that when John Delaney talks to 20 people at Burns’ Grill & Doon Steakhouse in Doon, somebody will cover it, like Iowa Public Radio. (You never know, God forbid, he could get hit by a bus as he’s leaving. That would be news, compared to “Delaney Looks To Build Momentum As Iowa Caucuses Draw Closer.”) I continue to believe that this kind of well-meaning credulous coverage amounts to enabling individuals who are trapped in a deep and sad form of psychological denial.

Then there is the “non-frontrunner but not-quite-delusional” middle ground. Politico writes a lengthy, detail-filled profile of Amy Klobuchar, following her on the stump in Iowa, with the headline, “Why Voters Are Nervous About Amy Klobuchar,” and quotes a supporter of hers in the Cedar Rapids Ramada as lamenting, “the misogyny is so thick.” Another sad case of an Iowa Democratic caucus-goer denouncing other Iowa Democratic caucus-goers. You figure the vast majority of Iowa Democrats voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election and just about half voted for Clinton in the caucuses last year. Iowa has a Republican woman governor, a Republican woman senator, two Democratic U.S. House congresswomen, eleven women state senators, and 33 women state representatives. This is some pretty fickle and ineffective misogyny.

If you squint, you can make the “Klobuchar’s getting hot at the right time” argument, as the latest Monmouth poll has her at 8 percentage points, her second-highest number yet. Except . . . getting any delegates out of Iowa requires getting 15 percent of the vote. Klobuchar needs to more or less double her current support to walk out of the state with any delegates.

Step back for a moment. Politico is writing a lengthy profile piece trying to unravel the mystery of why Amy Klobuchar never caught fire as a presidential candidate.

There is not one suspect in this alleged mystery. Klobuchar wasn’t that well-known when the race began; it was a crowded field; her debate performances ranged from okay to easily forgotten; she’s not the choice of the party establishment or the progressive grassroots, she doesn’t have the resources to blanket the airwaves the way Bloomberg and Steyer can . . . she’s a perfectly fine, almost generic Democratic candidate in a field that was bursting with more exciting options. Sure, a Midwestern mom with corny jokes makes for a heck of a contrast with President Trump, but you can’t blame Democrats in Iowa or anyplace else for wondering if they win that matchup.


Will Biden’s Iraq War Lie Come Back to Bite Him? 

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden delivers a foreign policy address in Manhattan, New York City, January 7, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

All eyes are on the Warren-Sanders contretemps today, but one other thing to watch heading into tonight’s big debate is whether Joe Biden will finally pay a price for falsely claiming he opposed the Iraq war right when the war began.

Following the killing of Iranian Quds Force general Qasem Soleimani, Biden has been running hard as the Democratic candidate ready to handle foreign policy on “day one,” and that message may be working out for him (if this Monmouth poll of Iowa is right). But the focus on foreign policy has also prompted renewed scrutiny of Biden’s support for the Iraq war, and Biden has responded to these questions by evading the truth.

“Immediately, the moment it started, I came out against the war at that moment,” Biden said during an interview in September. As CNN’s Daniel Dale points out, Biden’s campaign said he “misspoke” and only meant to say that he opposed the manner in which the war was conducted, but a week ago Biden made a similarly dishonest claim when asked by a voter in Iowa about the Iraq war. He falsely claimed he merely voted for the authorization of force to give President Bush diplomatic leverage to get weapons inspectors back into Iraq.

But Biden said in June 2003, three months after the war began, in an interview on CNN: “I, for one, thought we should have gone in Iraq.”

The Sanders campaign has telegraphed that it’s itching for a fight on the issue. One campaign staffer has been circulating this video of Biden from July 2003: 

In the July 2003 speech, Biden said:

Some in my own party have said that it was a mistake to go to Iraq in the first place and believe that it’s not worth the cost, whatever benefit may flow from our engagement in Iraq. But the cost of not acting against Saddam I think would have been much greater, and so is the cost, and so will be the cost of not finishing this job. The President of the United States is a bold leader, and he is popular. The stakes are high, and the need for leadership is great. I wish he’d use some of his stored-up popularity to make what I admit is not a very popular case, but I, and many others, will support him when he makes the case.

Whether Sanders successfully follows through with the attack at tonight’s debate, and whether that attack really resonates with voters, remains to be seen. There is, after all, a recent example of another presidential candidate who misled voters about his opposition to the Iraq war and nevertheless won his party’s nomination.

Politics & Policy

Watch: Kat Timpf Warns FDA’s New Vape Ban ‘May Kill People’

In her latest video for National Review, reporter Kat Timpf challenges the Trump administration’s ban on the sale of pre-filled flavored e-cigarette cartridges. According to Timpf, this is a move “which is both a terrible idea and the perfect example of what happens when government officials insist on legislating what they don’t understand.”


Our Stupid Times, Etc.

A guest is seen on the screen of a TV camera May 12, 2016. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)

I don’t think most people who read the news are too stupid to understand the news. I think they are too dishonest.

I am frankly embarrassed that we’ve found it necessary to append a note to Zachary Evans’s report on anti-Semitism to emphasize that quoting a person to illuminate his sentiments does not constitute an endorsement of those sentiments. That’s obvious. Every mentally functional adult is able to understand as much. But because there are people who want to smear National Review for political purposes, they pretend that an article about anti-Semitism written by a veteran of the Israeli military is itself an exercise in anti-Semitism. I have a hard time believing that is an honest error, because people dumb enough to make an error like that, and make it honestly, can’t read.

We get this a lot around here. National Review publishes a lot of different writers with a lot of different views. National Review also has influence and market share that is coveted by also-rans in right-wing media trying to punch their way up to Fox News contracts. And so what I think about x, or what Jay or Rick or Jason or somebody else around here thinks, becomes “National Review endorses x.”

(Never mind that they don’t even get x right, most of the time.)

National Review recently has started literally labeling certain positions as dissenting (“To the Contrary,” we call it) because Rich Lowry does not want to spend the next eleven months explaining that Ramesh Ponnuru’s views on impeachment are not those of National Review corporately. Again, I find it hard to believe that there is anybody reading NR (or reading anything else) who is actually dumb enough to need that explained to them, but it is useful to certain people to pretend otherwise. I know that NR gets a lot of grief over my work, because I am less inclined to follow the party line on Trump and on much else. I do not work for politicians and am not running for office; party lines are not my thing.

The servility of so much of conservative media in our time is astounding. I understand that there are partisans in the audience who want NR and other publications to function as party organs, but I am surprised and embarrassed by how abject and obedient conservative media has largely become. One America News Network (it is a real shame that the appropriate acronym ONAN doesn’t quite work there), which hopes to displace Fox News, runs commercials in which it boasts of the president’s “love” for the outlet.

Another commercial for a conservative television channel boasts, “President Trump says he likes us!” and notes that he has tweeted praise of them. I don’t remember whether that’s a One America ad or an ad for a different product, but it’s on the radio constantly.

Implied presidential endorsements are now part of a common marketing strategy in conservative media. Talk-radio hosts include words of praise from the president in their opening audio montages. “You wouldn’t believe the shows I’m turning down to be on your show,” Trump will say, or, “You’ll notice I walked over here very quickly!” I’m not making these up. That disgraceful stuff is what talk-radio hosts are actually bragging about in 2020. Of course most of them are smart enough to know that Trump says the same thing to everybody; they just think their audiences don’t know or don’t care.

Even making allowances for the fact that we are talking here for the most part about opinion programming, this goes well beyond what self-respect allows. Sean Hannity is for all practical purposes an arm of the Trump campaign. That’s not the same thing as hosting an opinion-oriented talk show.

It’s shameful.

It’s also unwise. When you are as all-in on a politician as, say, Hannity is with Trump, it is very difficult to forthrightly criticize him when he does wrong—and nobody takes you seriously when you praise him for doing right. Hannity is an especially slavish figure when he is trying to get out in front of a parade, and it was great fun watching him try to thread the needle in the primary when it wasn’t clear whether Trump would pull it off. But once it was clear, Hannity could not grovel hard enough, even as he criticized fellow entertainers for lacking independence of mind. Really—he did that. Remember Hannity’s tirade about Jon Stewart and Barack Obama? “I’ve never seen anybody kiss an ass like you kiss his. And now you’re sucking up to him, putting your head up Hillary’s ass and sucking up to her, too.” Is there any way in which that is not a perfect description of Hannity’s approach to Trump?

What A has to do with B here is that if media outlets don’t want to be treated like an arm of a political party or a campaign committee, then they should stop acting like an arm of a political party or a campaign committee. And this is, I think, especially true of the most partisan kind of conservative media, which in its subservience to the current administration and in its abject need to stand close to political power far exceeds the worst and most cartoonish aspects of, e.g. the New York Times opinion pages—and that’s saying something, because the New York Times opinion pages constitute one of the most insipid excuses for journalism that the English language can provide.

The awful thing is: That pathetic pandering works. There is a big market for servility.

We need better media, but we need better media consumers, too.


Sir Roger Scruton: A Life of Learning

People sometimes ask me how I came to be a conservative, growing up in Scotland. At first, I took this as an accusation and, instead of answering it, provided a comprehensive list of reasons why I wasn’t subscribed to more fashionable ideologies (e.g. feminism, socialism, or progressivism). But after years of reading Roger Scruton — Britain’s best-known conservative philosopher who died on Sunday at the age of 75 — my thinking slowly changed.

It was the director of music at the University of St. Andrews who first introduced me to Scruton. Addressing our choir, he said that Scruton, who was then a visiting professor, would be giving a lecture on the philosophy of music that we might like to attend. He made sure to add some snide remark that he “obviously” didn’t find his views on other subjects so worthwhile, which got a laugh. I asked my friend what he had meant by this. “Scruton’s, like, an arch-conservative,” she said. “And a homophobe” (which is nonsense).

I never did attend that lecture, but I looked him up. In one YouTube interview, Scruton explained that he had embraced conservatism while a student in France, at the age of 24, after witnessing the May 1968 protests. I wondered whether many conservatives first realize what they are not. After seeing this tawny-haired “arch-conservative” from the choir benches at several evensong services, I decided to see what he had to say. First, I read Aesthetics of Music. Then, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy; The Face of God; The Uses of Pessimism, and, with much trepidation, How to Be a Conservative. 

Immediately, I could tell that Scruton was not another bluffing and blustering pseudo-intellectual, but the real deal. Whether or not I agreed with him, he was evidently a learned man who had devoted his life to reading and thinking through other people’s ideas, not just espousing his own. He was not an ideologue; he was an anti-ideologue. In his book Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition, Scruton described conservatism as being “about our whole way of being, as heirs to a great civilization a many-layered bequest of laws, institutions and high culture.” He also he explained what the alternatives are:

The term ‘liberal’ is now used in two conflicting ways, on the one hand to denote the politics and philosophy of individual liberty, as advocated by Locke and his followers, on the other hand to denote the ‘progressive’ ideas and policies that have emerged in the wake of modern socialism. In effect, the two ideas belong to two contrasting narratives of emancipation. Classical liberalism tells of the growth of the individual liberty against the power of the sovereign. Socialism tells of the steadily increasing equality brought about by the state at the expense of the entrenched hierarchies of social power.

In a 2018 interview for National Review, Sir Roger told me that classical liberalism and conservatism have become closely aligned in today’s culture wars, in part “because there are so many people who wish to control us, and in doing so to wipe away the image of the past.” But he noted an important distinction: “Conservatives believe in unchosen obligations (pieties), whereas classical liberals think that the only source of obligation is choice.”

The most attractive piety of conservatism is, at least to me, a humble pursuit of lifelong learning. And in that regard, Scruton lived by example. May he rest in peace.

Politics & Policy

The Latest ‘Progressive’ Excuse for Evading Debate

Lefties don’t like having their ideas scrutinized and have lots of excuses for refusing to debate them. Marx, for example, told his followers to disregard anyone who was part of the bourgeoisie and therefore must be biased against his ideas.

A new dodge being used by leftist scholars is that they don’t want to name their opponents lest they benefit from more “clicks.” In this new AIER piece, Phil Magness calls this the Voldemort Principle and gives some illustrations.

Leftists used to relish debate, but now that so many of their notions have been mauled in intellectual battles, they often prefer to avoid it.

By the way, AIER has over the last couple of years become a truly outstanding site, with a lot of excellent content every day. Try it — you’ll like it.


They Cheated, So Put an Asterisk Next to the Astros’s 2017 World Series Win

Nov 3, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) holds up the championship trophy during the World Series championship parade and rally at Houston City Hall. (Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports )

Nearly every story I’ve read about the Houston Astros cheating scandal claims that MLB had handed down “severe,” “heavy,” or “harsh” punishments. I don’t buy it. Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for electronic sign-stealing during the 2017 season (they were both fired by the team.) The league fined Houston’s billionaire owner Jim Crane a paltry $5 million (the max allowed) and stripped the team of its first- and second-round draft picks for the next two seasons.

How does fining the team dissuade players from cheating again?

Stealing signs, or trying to figure out pitching patterns, has always been part of organic gamesmanship. Nothing wrong there. And yes, I know that enhanced methods have been part of baseball for a long time. Stealing signs with the help of mechanical devices wasn’t even banned by the league until 1961. It’s likely, for instance, that Bobby Thomson’s 1951 “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” homer was aided with a telescope-and-buzzer system.

Houston players basically employed the same system, electronically stealing signals from a center-field camera at Minute Maid Park and then manually relaying the pitches to the dugout and the hitters. Maybe others teams have done it as well. It’s flat-out cheating.

Baseball will claim that it can’t suspend players who participated in the scheme because it’s too difficult to find out who was involved, too difficult to levy fines, and, since there’s been player movement, unfair to teams that have done nothing wrong. Would the league embrace similar standard if it discovered a player had bet on baseball or used illegal substances? Doubtful.

How many points does being tipped off about a fastball or off-speed pitch add to your batting average? How many home runs? Who knows? It probably matters less when facing an ace, but most pitchers in the Major Leagues aren’t overpowering, and even the ones who are will rely on deception to keep batters off-balance.

So while it’s tough to speculate about alternative outcomes, it’s worth pointing out that the four games Houston won during the 2017 American League Championship Series against my beloved Yankees were all home games — the first two were won by only one run each. The Astros scored five runs in three road games and 15 in four home games. It’s true that most teams perform better at home, and the Astros are loaded with All-Star caliber players, so it’s possible that the eventual outcome would have been the same. We’ll never know, obviously; and that’s the problem.

Players on Astros reportedly told investigators that sign-stealing was “more distracting than useful to hitters.” What else were they going to say? “Sign stealing was really helpful in winning the World Series?” If stealing signs was so ineffective and such a distraction for players, why did Alex Cora export the Astros’ system to the Boston Red Sox (who were already using electronics to steal signs) in 2018? It’s difficult to overlook the fact that the 2017 World Series champion Astros and 2018 World Series champion Red Sox have both been caught up in this scandal.

Major League baseball won’t fine or suspend players who cheat. It can’t overturn championships. But it can punish players by putting an asterisk next to the team’s World Series entry, appropriately tainting it in the record books. This would be the least the league could do to respond to one of the worst, if not the worst, cheating outrage since the Black Sox scandal.

Science & Tech

Medical Progress and Its Enemies

An editorial in the New York Times gives this glib advice:

Slow down on drug and device approvals. The F.D.A. has made several compromises in recent years — such as accepting “real world” or “surrogate” evidence in lieu of traditional clinical trial data — that have enabled increasingly dubious medical products to seep into the marketplace. Dr. Hahn ought to take a fresh look at some of these shifting standards and commit to abandoning the ones that don’t work. That will almost certainly mean that the approval process slows down — and that’s O.K.

Good to know that there are no costs to keeping new treatments off the market, or at least none worth pausing to think about.


Six Questions on Warren vs. Sanders

Starting with: Who’s telling the truth? My new Bloomberg Opinion column.



Tuesday Links

Happy Feast of the Ass!

Alcohol tolerance might have saved our ancestors from extinction, scientists claim.

A 1918 Remedial Introduction to “Politics” for Newly-Enfranchised Women in the U.K.

Richard Feynman’s “Notebook Technique” Will Help You Learn Any Subject — at School, at Work, or in Life.

The Science Behind Why Dark Winter Days Bum People Out.

The Folklore of Gin.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include Pachelbel’s “Canon In D” performed by train horns, National Geographic’s 100 best photos from 2019, the history of robocalls, and a cumulative list of the Darwin Awards.

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