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

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

President Donald Trump listens to reporters in Washington, D.C., August 30, 2019. (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.


John Bercow, Westminster Arsonist

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.


Tulsi Gabbard Should Support the Hyde Amendment

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

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.


Study: Admissions Discrimination at Virginia Public Universities

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

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

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.”

In this country, we pledge allegiance to the flag, not the president. We swear fidelity to the Constitution, not the…

Posted by Carly Fiorina on Monday, September 9, 2019

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

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.


Should We Read Anything into Carly Fiorina’s Tweets?

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.


Hungary and Radio Free Europe — a Touchy Question

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.

Politics & Policy

Tulsi Gabbard Says She Supports Regulating Abortion in the Third Trimester

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, August 10, 2019. (Gage Skidmore)

In an interview with Dave Rubin yesterday, Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard conceded that abortion should not be permitted during the last three months of pregnancy unless the mother was at severe risk.

Gabbard told Rubin she views abortion in a “libertarian” way, saying she doesn’t think government should be dictating women’s choices. “I think that there should be some restrictions though,” she added. Rubin asked if she had a “cutoff point,” to which she replied: “I think the third trimester. Unless a woman’s life or severe health consequences is at risk, then there shouldn’t be an abortion in the third trimester.”

When Gabbard first became involved in politics in the Hawaii state legislature, she called herself pro-life, but later said having been deployed to Iraq changed her view of the issue. Since becoming a member of Congress, Gabbard has maintained a 100-percent rating from Planned Parenthood. She supports federal funding of abortion, but she did not co-sponsor a Democratic bill in the House that would repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the direct use of taxpayer funds to cover abortion procedures. She also did not sponsor the Democratic “Women’s Health Protection Act,” a piece of federal legislation that would override state restrictions on abortion.

Though Gabbard’s acknowledgement that third-trimester abortions ought to be regulated is a small concession, it’s much more than any of her fellow Democratic presidential candidates has been willing to offer on the issue — despite the unpopularity of elective late-term abortion among Americans, including those who consider themselves “pro-choice.”

Law & the Courts

Viewpoint Neutrality Protects Both Drag Queens and Millions of American Christians

From left: Sohrab Ahmari, moderator Ross Douthat, and David French at the Catholic University of America, September 5, 2019. (Institution for Human Ecology/YouTube)

Late last week I debated Sohrab Ahmari at Catholic University. Our exchange was of course inspired by his broadside against me in May, a broadside that began (oddly enough) with a seemingly-random tweet about something called “drag queen story hour.” Sohrab wrote, “If you can’t see why children belong nowhere near drag, with its currents of transvestic fetishism, we have nothing to say to each other. We are irreconcilably opposed. There’s no polite, David French-ian third way around the cultural civil war. The only way is through.” This is the tweet that launched a thousand think-pieces.

Even though the battle over “Frenchism” began with a tweet about drag queens, I honestly did not expect that discussion of drag queens would consume so much of our debate (you can watch the whole thing here). Yet the question of how (or whether) the right should respond legally to drag queens in libraries permeated much of the proceedings. My position was simple — I don’t like drag queen reading hours, but I also want to preserve for all Americans the First Amendment-protected right of viewpoint-neutral access to public facilities when those facilities are opened up for public use. I don’t want the government dispensing access on the basis of its preferred messages or its preferred speakers. Handle bad speech with better speech. Counter bad speakers in the marketplace of ideas, not through the heavy hand of government censorship.

So if my way is inadequate, what was Sohrab’s better plan? I pressed him on this point, and he countered with two ideas. First, hold a Senate hearing where Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley would make the leader of a national library association “sweat.” Second, pass local laws specifically banning the practice. The first idea is hardly worth addressing. It does nothing except (further) elevate drag queen reading hour on the national stage, and it would be unlikely to go as well for his side as Sohrab expects. Librarians can be quite effective at waxing eloquent about the First Amendment and pointing to the countless other ways that public access to libraries improves the public square.

Sohrab’s second point — an outright ban — is worth addressing at greater length. Our present regime that broadly protects viewpoint neutrality in access to public facilities is the hard-won result of decades of litigation from free speech and religious liberty advocates, and it represents both a public good in its own right and a practical blessing for millions of American Christians. As our government continues to grow — including by creating an immense number of public facilities — it is quite simply just that taxpayers are able to have equal access to the facilities they paid to create.

Of course that access can be conditioned on adherence to otherwise-applicable statutes (such as existing criminal statutes, including laws prohibiting public indecency), but to grant citizens the ability to use public facilities to spur public debate advances the right of free speech, the right that Frederick Douglass called “the great moral renovator of society and government.” Free speech, “of all rights,” Douglass said, “is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power.”

But let’s move from the theoretical to the practical. Few American communities benefit more from court-mandated equal-access rulings than the American Christian community. Strike down viewpoint neutrality as a principle (or close public access to public buildings entirely), and you would suddenly find the doors of university classrooms, library reading rooms, and publicly-owned civic centers slammed in Christian faces in cities across the land. To take one example, I played a very small part in a very long legal battle waged by my friends and former colleagues at the Alliance Defending Freedom to maintain church access to public buildings in Sohrab’s own town, New York City. For years the city granted community groups broad access to its schools, but it banned worship services. ADF waged a more than decade-long legal fight to allow church access to schools — and even faced potential final defeat — before Bill de Blasio reversed the policy.

During the debate, Sohrab ominously mentioned that there are 35 “chapters” of drag queen reading hour across the land. Yet there are thousands of churches that access public buildings. There are tens of thousands of chapters of Christian groups such as Young Life, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Cru, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship that access public buildings. In any given year, there are millions of American Christians who use those spaces to preach, teach, worship, and evangelize. Even if you don’t care about constitutional principle — if you only care about raw power — equal access is one of the most powerful tools in the American Christian arsenal.

Finally, if you think for one moment that censors could manage to enact a plan that protects virtuous speech whilst only prohibiting the forms of expression you abhor, it’s important to remember that in many American spaces, leaders find Christians far more abhorrent than drag queens. I can’t count the number of times my Christian clients were compared to the Klan by university administrators and activists. While there were times we could persuade administrators to protect equal access in spite of their revulsion for orthodox Christianity, there were many other times when only the appeal to law or politics could protect access to the Gospel.

Simply put, “free speech for me but not for thee” cannot be an organizing principle of American life. It is unjust and unwise.


Ten Things That Caught My Eye (September 9, 2019)

1. I’ve been looking forward to reading this article: “Wanted: More (and Better) Foster Parents: Church-based programs aim to prepare families for the challenge of taking in kids in need

(Also a little more on Naomi Schaefer Riley’s report about how to help foster parents here.)


3. On maternity homes in D.C., including the Northwest Center and the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center

4. Time: “A Heavily Pregnant Migrant Crossed the U.S. Border Experiencing Contractions. American Doctors Stopped Her Labor, Then Sent Her Back to Mexico

5. A plea for prayer that the White House does not close our doors to refugees

6. Dr. Grazie Christie:

Bernie Sanders will probably be asked to defend his quick pivot to promoting abortion in the developing world. He may choose to simply apologize for his flat-footed response and point out that he walked it back a bit, switching to “birth control” and “women in poor countries . . . who may not necessarily want to have large numbers of babies.”

If so, Sanders would be missing a critical opportunity. This could be his chance to champion a culture of solidarity in the environmental movement, a culture where everyone in the human family is included when we make our calculations — a culture where everyone is valued equally.

7. Washington Post: ‘UVA has ruined us’: Health system sues thousands of patients, seizing paychecks and putting liens on homes

8. Gerry Bradley: Stigmatizing and Prosecuting Pornography

9. New York Times: “A Boy Was Bullied for His Homemade T-Shirt. Now the University of Tennessee Is Selling It.

10. Mother Teresa’s 15 Tips to Help You Become More Humble

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