Politics & Policy

Most ‘Independents’ Aren’t

Pew Research provides a useful reminder that most of the people who consider themselves politically independent — 81 percent of them — lean toward one party or the other. Only 7 percent of Americans don’t lean toward either. These non-leaners tend, perhaps unsurprisingly, not to be politically engaged.

Sometimes people point to the high number of people who describe themselves as independent — 38 percent of the public, compared to 31 percent who say they’re Democrats and 26 percent who identify as Republicans — as a reason to think that a third party could really take off. The facts mentioned above undercut that idea.

PC Culture

Times Were Never Better for LGBT Folks

We tend to overestimate the importance of the identity of the president vs. the vast power of the culture as a whole. As recently as 1988, 57 percent of Americans thought homosexual acts should be illegal. Today support for gay marriage is at 67 percent (both according to Gallup polling).

The idea that locking people up for their homosexuality was hugely popular as recently as my senior year in college seems to me so utterly bizarre that it still throws me for a loop. But a country can change internally without really looking that different on the surface. The increase in tolerance for our gay brothers and sisters, like the similar, slightly earlier shift in attitudes toward interracial relationships, is a wonderful development in our country and an example of how things we don’t much think about keep getting better.

For gay Americans, the outlook continues to improve even in parts of the country that were previously less welcoming than the cities on the coasts. We learn this from no less an authority than a self-described “queer, transgender woman who has spent most of her life in red states,” a Daily Beast reporter named Samantha Allen covering LGBT issues. Allen, in a New York Times op-ed, makes reference to the (ridiculous, unnecessary) panic on the left that followed the election of President Trump and notes that those fears have proved unfounded. From the piece:

On my road trip through what is ostensibly Trump country, I met many L.G.B.T. people who saw no need to flee their conservative home states for the coastal safe havens of generations past, thanks to local progress.

In Utah, I made arts and crafts with transgender and gender-nonconforming teenagers, most of whom belong to Mormon families. Over coffee in the Rio Grande Valley, a nonbinary friend told me that the region’s L.G.B.T. people remain as hardy as the prickly pear cactuses of South Texas. And in an Indiana town where everyone knows everyone, a transgender woman in her 50s told me how much things have changed in her area since she first came out over the course of the 2000s.

“It’s so much better,” she said. “It’s so much freer. It needs to be reported.”

Allen adds that “queer people, simply put, are everywhere” and that Americans who know them are increasingly comfortable with them. The often-repeated suggestion that people who opposed the Trump Administration should pack their bags and head for Toronto turned out to be pure paranoia.

Economy & Business

High Deficits Are Nothing to Cheer

Alan Cole applauds President Trump’s fiscal record — perhaps it would be better to call it the fiscal record of President Trump and the Republican Congress of 2017-18 — on the ground that deficits have not caused a dangerous increase in inflation or interest rates. Cole’s case raises two sets of questions in my mind.

First, how would the Federal Reserve have reacted if deficits had been lower? (How, that is, would it have reacted if Congress had restrained spending or refrained from cutting taxes?) Cole suggests that the economy would have been weaker in that case. The employment rate would, for example, be lower. Presumably inflation would also have been at least a bit lower. In that case, though, wouldn’t the Fed have done less to raise interest rates in 2017-18? (It raised the federal-funds rate 7 times, or 8 if you count the hike in December 2016.) And wouldn’t that combination of a looser fiscal and tighter monetary policy have left us in more or less the same position that we have been with respect to Cole’s concern (the amount of “money in the economy”)?

Second — assuming that the answer to that question is yes – would it be preferable to have had a lower deficit and lower interest rates (and lower expectations of future interest rates)? It seems to me that the answer to that question, too, is yes, if only because it would have meant that expected future taxes and federal interest payments would be lower.

I therefore conclude that the increased deficits of this period have been a mistake, albeit not a catastrophe.


Brexit: More Chaos and Confusion

Theresa May has not given up on her deal. Next week, she will make a third attempt to get her deal with the EU through parliament, the government has said. The date for “meaningful vote” number three has not yet been set.

May’s announcement comes ahead of the upcoming vote, originally scheduled for today, on whether to delay Britain’s departure from the EU.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, who rejected May’s last two deals because of the backstop (EU customs union) arrangement, are meeting with the government to find a solution.

Some members of the European Research Group, a hard-line pro-Brexit Tory faction, have already voted with the prime minister on her deal. Others have said they would consider doing so if Brexit seemed to be in danger.

Um. It is in danger.

On Wednesday, parliament voted on whether a “no deal” Brexit should remain the legal default. Initially, the prime minister had said this would be a “free vote,” (meaning Tories could vote however they liked). It is clear that she and most of her cabinet oppose leaving the EU without a deal (i.e. “no deal”).

Unbelievably, at the last minute, the government changed its position, causing confusion and chaos in the Commons, and asking Tories to vote against blocking no deal. Presumably, the government realized that giving up the possibility of no deal would be giving up control of the Brexit process.

Too little, too late.

The updated motion — a blanket rejection of no-deal Brexit — passed 321 to 278, with a majority of 43.

NB: In another vote on Wednesday, parliament rejected the Malthouse Compromise, which was an amendment calling for a short delay to Brexit followed by a “managed no-deal.” This lost 364 to 164.


The British House of Commons Vote, Translated for Us, by Daniel Hannan

NRI Marketing

Ides of March Alert: Deadline to Register for NRI Ideas Summit Nears

Kudos to the good folks at NRI for the terrific line-up assembled for the two-day discussion of “The Case for the American Experiment,” taking place in Washington, D.C., on March 28–29 at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. There’s still time — but now, not much — to register. The deadline is Friday, March 15. To quote Perry White, Great Caesar’s Ghost!

Get complete information about this terrific conference, and reserve your ticket — which entitles you to join us at the Whittaker Chambers Award dinner, which this year will honor First Amendment champion Mark Janus (subject of the cover piece in the new issue of NR) — on the NRI site, right here.


Politics & Policy

What Isn’t Missing from the Abortion Debate

(Carlos Barria/REUTERS)

Anna North of Vox interviewed Dr. Kristyn Brandi, a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Health, under the headline, “What’s missing from the conversation about late abortions, explained by a doctor.”

The main points in the article will, notwithstanding the title, be familiar to anyone who has been following the debate.

1) “Late-term abortion” is a phrase used only by ignorant hicks, while “late abortion” and “abortions later in pregnancy” are medically approved; this distinction is absolutely vital.

2) The percentage of abortions that take place “later in pregnancy” is small — Brandi rounds it to 1 percent — and the number isn’t worth estimating. We’re talking, very roughly, about 12,000 cases a year.

3) While “abortion opponents claimed that babies are sometimes born alive after failed abortions that happen late in pregnancy, and that they are then ‘left to die’ or even executed by doctors,” this is false because “the case of a baby born after a failed abortion is so rare as to be essentially unheard of.”

I’ll repeat what I said about a previous “fact check” of this kind.

We don’t have reliable numbers about how often these cases occur nationally. The state of Arizona reports that ten cases happened during five months in 2017. Florida reports eleven for the full year of 2017. The CDC has an estimate, which it suggests could well be too low, of 143 cases from 2003 through 2014.

Whether you think these numbers are too small to be worth thinking about will probably turn on whether you think human beings at that stage of development have a right to life.

4) “Often” abortions late in pregnancy are done for reasons “related to health,” and there is no need to dwell on the fact that nobody has asserted otherwise, to inquire about percentages or numbers, or to suggest that the legal availability of abortions late in pregnancy should be restricted in any way to make sure they are “related to health.”

5) Laws protecting babies born alive in the process of an abortion are unnecessary because existing laws already cover such cases.

The new twist in this article — new, at any rate, to me — is the claim that the federal ban on partial-birth abortion makes it illegal to kill or withhold ordinary medical care from these babies. To its credit, Vox includes a link to the text of the partial-birth law. The operative provisions are not lengthy (search for “Sec. 1531” here). They are narrowly drawn, and forbid the intentional killing of a child who is partially outside the mother’s body. No provision of federal law specifically forbids killing or withholding ordinary medical care from infants who survive abortion, or stipulates penalties for doing these things. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, mentioned negatively in the article, would fill these gaps in the law (with penalties for the abortionist rather than the mother).

What Vox apparently thought was missing from the abortion debate was a little more misinformation.


Can Parliament Block Brexit?

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks ahead of a vote on Brexit in Parliament in London, England, March 13, 2019. (Reuters TV via REUTERS)

Theresa May’s voice was hoarse as she stepped up to the dispatch box on Tuesday. “I commend this motion to the House,” she croaked, referring to her amended version of the Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union — a deal parliament already defeated by historic margins in January.

Tuesday’s deal suffered an unsurprisingly bad defeat. Unsurprising because in pushing this deal — which would tie the post-Brexit United Kingdom, and especially Northern Ireland, to the European Union indefinitely — May had effectively abandoned her old negotiating slogan, “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

The deal may have had its silver linings, for a person inclined to search for them, but parliament correctly deemed it unworkable. Perhaps May is hoping for a third “meaningful vote” whereby an increasingly desperate parliament will take whatever they can get their hands on — the same deal tied up with a new ribbon and bow. Indeed, since the EU has been utterly uncompromising thus far, a third vote would be little more than a measure of parliament’s desperation.

One way out of this deadlock, of course, would be to leave without a deal as the UK is scheduled to do on March 29. Today parliament voted to remove no deal Brexit as the legal default by 312 to 308 (admittedly closer than some expected) and will soon vote on whether to delay Brexit presuming the EU grant permission to do so.

However, to be clear, today’s vote is non-binding and parliament will need to act swiftly in order to render it meaningful. Even a delay to Brexit would not fundamentally change the terms of the debate: Britain is scheduled to leave the EU. MPs can fight about when this will happen, but the fundamental problem is how.

For members of parliament, especially those who represent Leave constituencies, to be seen to be actively trying to prevent Brexit would be politically dangerous. Though some MPs seem to be flirting with the notion that no Brexit might be better than a bad deal, it remains to be seen how many will commit to this at the risk of their careers.

No doubt, preventing Brexit has been what many MPs have been hoping for all along. They didn’t want to leave the EU. Now they a free to exploit the chaos, point the finger, and claim it was all just too darn complicated in the first place. The EU, to its delight, is making an example of BritainIf Britain cannot leave the European Union, no one can.

Theresa May’s various deals, which are little more Brexit-in-name-only (aka “soft Brexit”) don’t solve the issues at hand. Which is why the deal lost first time by 230 votes. And the second time around — again, essentially the same deal — by 149. Perhaps if she asked a third time, she’d lose by 81. And then a fourth time by some lesser margin. And so on. Perhaps Brexit will be delayed and parliament will get desperate. Perhaps parliament and the European Union will find a way to stop Brexit altogether.

What happens next is, as always, anyone’s guess.


Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (March 13, 2019)

I’ll be at the Sheen Center in Manhattan tonight talking with Sohrab Ahmari about his book on faith, From Fire by Water. Details here — join us if you’re in town and able.

Today is the sixth anniversary of Pope Francis’s election as pope. I was in St. Peter’s Square that night. I remain most struck by how he asked for prayers. He would repeat that again and again. Sometimes I wonder if a lot of what we’re seeing in the Church in the world would look different if believers took prayer more seriously — even more seriously than having an opinion on every matter under the sun. Before every thought, word, and action. And in gratitude.

What’s wrong with the world? Maybe really communicating the desire for true faith — total trust in God alone — may be a start. It would start to put to death our unbelief and hypocrisies, putting us on the road to true conversion to Beatitudinal living of the sort that the world needs.

1. Thomas Hibbs, a longtime writer for National Review and this website, is the new president of the University of Dallas.

2. George Weigel on the Vatican and Australia’s Cardinal Pell

3. John Allen: Will Pell be abuse crisis’s Eichmann, Count of Monte Cristo or Rosenbergs?

4. Arthur Brooks and the Dalai Lama

5. A conversation about the Bladensburg cross case before the Supreme Court

6. Bethany Mandel’s love letter to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

7. I read this story about a mother leaving her child at the airport and the plane turning around and wondered in a domestic air situation if the plane actually would.




PLUS: The National Review Institute has an internship program and the application deadline is approaching at the end of this week. Details here.

Politics & Policy

The Power of Money in Politics Is Overrated

Progressives have a go-to explanation for why their cherished policies haven’t already been enacted: Moneyed interests have corrupted the political system to block them. It’s pretty common to hear that explanation offered for why guns aren’t more tightly regulated, carbon emissions aren’t capped, single payer is an uphill climb, and Israel has U.S. government support.

At Bloomberg Opinion, I argue that money is far from being the most important reason for progressive frustrations on these issues. The real obstacle to the Left is that millions of Americans don’t agree with it — and no amount of  “campaign-finance reform” will change that.


College and Elitism

Jim Geraghty writes,

In recent years, it’s become somewhat more fashionable to say “college isn’t for everyone,” although I notice you don’t often hear it followed by, “and that’s why I don’t want my children to go to college.” I suspect the more accurate sentiment is, “college isn’t for everyone; someone else’s kids shouldn’t bother applying, but I still think of it as the entry ticket to white-collar work, so I’m making sure my kid gets in, no matter what.”

I’d say that in recent years, the evidence has accumulated that our governmental and cultural push to maximize college enrollment is failing large numbers of young people. Consider, as Oren Cass notes, that our system is designed to usher high-schoolers to college enrollment, then to graduation, and finally to a career that requires a college degree, yet achieves this outcome for only one out of six people.

It is true that our debates about education, like our debates about other public-policy issues, are dominated by people who have college degrees and expect their kids to earn them as well. In those debates people who got their degrees from the most selective colleges have vastly disproportionate influence. These facts distort our debates, and especially distort them when it comes to education.

It does not help us achieve greater clarity in these matters to attribute the view that “college isn’t for everyone” to elitism, especially when the opposite assumption — “everyone should follow the same course to success that I did, or be a loser for life” — is vulnerable to the same objection.

PC Culture

Sandy Salmon’s Iowa Campus Free-Speech Act

Representative Sandy Salmon, along with ten co-sponsors, has introduced House File 276, a campus free-speech bill based on a model published by Arizona’s Goldwater Institute. (I co-authored that model, along with Jim Manley and Jonathan Butcher.) The Iowa legislature is considering other campus free-speech bills, but Salmon’s model includes what the others do, and more.

Only HF 276 has real teeth when it comes to critical issues like discipline for shout-downs and other suppression of speech. At the same time, Salmon’s bill grants students robust due process rights in a way that other proposed bills do not.

The Salmon bill also includes an oversight system controlled by state-university regents and trustees, the bosses of administrators. Knowing that their bosses (the regents) can potentially submit a critical annual oversight report to their funders (the legislature) will lend backbone to administrators faced with shout-downs or other forms of speech suppression.

A bill protecting student groups from discrimination based on their sincerely held beliefs has already passed the Iowa state senate. That’s good news, especially for traditionally Christian groups that too often suffer discrimination. Salmon’s House proposal provides the same protection for student groups, but overall is a stronger and more comprehensive solution to the campus free-speech crisis.

Law & the Courts

Is the Threat of the Death Penalty Good for the Innocent?

Inmates at San Quentin state prison in San Quentin, Calif., June 8, 2012 (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

In response to Gavin Newsom Is Nullifying California Law

Regarding the California death-penalty moratorium Charlie rightly excoriates on process grounds, I wanted to raise an aspect of capital punishment that is not discussed enough: There’s strong evidence that if someone is innocent, they’re far more likely to be exonerated if they’re sentenced to death. This is not conclusive proof the the death penalty is good on balance — far from it — but it deserves to be taken into consideration and rarely is, simply because so few people even know about it.

Back in 2014, there was a much-discussed study finding that “if all death-sentenced defendants remained under sentence of death indefinitely at least 4.1% would be exonerated,” whereas “in a previous study we found that 2.3% of all death sentences imposed from 1973 through 1989 resulted in exoneration by the end of 2004.” As far as the headline result goes, it’s an interesting piece of work, though it relies on some fairly strong assumptions about how many exonerations would happen in a counterfactual world.

But note the careful phrasing describing that counterfactual: The world where these folks are exonerated isn’t one where there’s no death penalty, but one where “all death-sentenced defendants remain[] under sentence of death indefinitely,” meaning they are neither executed nor removed from death row.

Why is this? Because the threat of death is what sets off the incredibly intensive search for evidence of innocence and puts courts on high alert. As the authors explain,

The rate of exonerations among death sentences in the United States is far higher than for any other category of criminal convictions. Death sentences represent less than one-tenth of 1% of prison sentences in the United States, but they accounted for about 12% of known exonerations of innocent defendants from 1989 through early 2012, a disproportion of more than 130 to 1. A major reason for this extraordinary exoneration rate is that far more attention and resources are devoted to death penalty cases than to other criminal prosecutions, before and after conviction.

The vast majority of criminal convictions are not candidates for exoneration because no one makes any effort to reconsider the guilt of the defendants. Approximately 95% of felony convictions in the United States are based on negotiated pleas of guilty (plea bargains) that are entered in routine proceedings at which no evidence is presented. Few are ever subject to any review whatsoever. Most convicted defendants are never represented by an attorney after conviction, and the appeals that do take place are usually perfunctory and unrelated to guilt or innocence.

Death sentences are different. Almost all are based on convictions after jury trial, and even the handful of capital defendants who plead guilty are then subject to trial-like-sentencing hearings, usually before juries. All death sentences are reviewed on appeal; almost all are reviewed repeatedly. With few exceptions, capital defendants have lawyers as long as they remain on death row. Everyone, from the first officer on the scene of a potentially capital crime to the Chief Justice of the United States, takes capital cases more seriously than other criminal prosecutions — and knows that everybody else will do so as well. And everyone from defense lawyers to innocence projects to governors and state and federal judges is likely to be particularly careful to avoid the execution of innocent defendants.

The disparity remains even within murder cases, which obviously entail severe consequences even when death isn’t on the table. One-quarter of murder exonerations are in death-penalty cases, but only a tiny percentage of murderers are sentenced to death. And as the 2014 study’s author’s note, when death-sentenced inmates are removed from death row and resentenced — usually to life in prison — “their chances of exoneration appear to drop back to the background rate for all murders, or close to it.”

Again, this is hardly a dispositive case for the death penalty (about which I’m conflicted myself). The biggest problem is that putting an innocent person on death row, beyond increasing the chance they’re exonerated, can also . . . you know . . . kill them. One might also easily see all this as evidence that we should ramp up efforts to ferret out innocence in non-death-penalty cases. Given that California hasn’t actually executed anyone in years, though, I wonder if a formal moratorium could do more harm than good.


The Astonishing Hypocrisy of Media Matters

Angelo Carusone (MSNBC via YouTube)

If there’s one thing we can absolutely count on in our post-ethical partisan era, it’s that for every scandal, there is, in short order, a similar — sometimes astoundingly similar — scandal on the other side. Sometimes, the comparisons are just so on-the-nose that you have a hard time believing they’re real. Remember when Virginia’s Democratic lieutenant governor hired Brett Kavanaugh’s lawyers to defend him from allegations of sexual assault? Remember when his accuser hired Christine Blasey Ford’s attorneys? Remember when the leader of a #MeToo organization called Time’s Up resigned to . . . vigorously defend her son against allegations of sexual misconduct?

Well, here we are again, and this one is a doozy. It turns out that Google works for conservative organizations as well, and Daily Caller News Foundation reporter Peter Hasson found out that the president of Media Matters has his own checkered online past. Here’s Peter:

But Carusone has his own track record of inflammatory statements. Carusone’s now-defunct blog included degrading references to “trannies,” “jewry” and Bangladeshis.

For example, here’s a summary of a particularly insulting post called “Tranny Paradise”:

Carusone posted a lengthy diatribe in November 2005 about a Bangladeshi man who was robbed by “a gang of transvestites,” as Carusone described it. Carusone was offended that the gang was described as “attractive” in an article.

“Did you notice the word attractive? What the f**k is that doing in there? Is the write[r] a tranny lover too? Or, perhaps he’s trying to justify how these trannies tricked this Bangladeshi in the first place? Look man, we don’t need to know whether or not they were attractive. The f**king guy was Bangladeshi,” Carusone wrote. “And while we’re out, what the hell was he doing with $7,300 worth of stuff. The guy’s Banladeshi! [sic]”

Carusone also chided police for not advising the public to “stay away from tranny bars, stay away from places [sic] where Eddie Murphy and Robert Downey Jr. have/are visiting, don’t f**king kiss a transvestite, don’t bring a group of transvestites back to your room, etc…”

And that’s just one post. Read Peter’s entire report to get the full flavor of Carusone’s scintillating insights about “Japs” and Jews.

People are still spitting mad at me on Twitter for pointing out that much of the outrage directed at Tucker Carlson is fake. That doesn’t mean Tucker’s comments were in any way decent, responsible, or right. He said terrible things, and I haven’t seen a single person defend the substance of his remarks. But the bottom line is that for most of the online world, revelations of past offensive comments aren’t causes of true anguish but rather instruments of vengeance. They’re weapons to wield against people you already despise. How do we know? Because the double standards abound. There is immense grace for allies and no mercy for enemies.

It will be fascinating to see the response to Carusone’s remarks. I expect they’ll be largely ignored. After all, one way to hide your hypocrisy is to minimize the significance of damning reports and hope no one notices. To the extent they’re not ignored, we’ll see some interesting mental gymnastics. “He’s learned. He’s grown. Tucker hasn’t.”

A consistent free-speech stance has multiple virtues. For one, it preserves a culture of free expression that has helped build the world’s greatest republic and made it a beacon of liberty for people of every faith and creed. For another, you get to opt out of the ridiculous gotcha game that has nothing to do with real debate, is completely divorced from meaningful principles, and is all about vengeance and punishment. Men who live in glass houses pelt each other with stones. They shatter our political culture. Only hypocrisy endures.


Pelosi Shoots Down Deal on National Emergencies

Republican senator Mike Lee (Utah) introduced a bill Tuesday night to curb power granted to the president under the National Emergencies Act, the 1976 law under which President Trump recently declared a national emergency in order to divert military and other funding to build additional barriers on the Southern border.

There are ongoing talks between the White House and Senate Republicans that Lee’s bill, or a modified version of it, could be passed as part of a deal in which the Senate defeats the resolution terminating the national emergency recently declared by President Trump.

“Congress gave these legislative powers away in 1976 and it is far past time that we as an institution took them back,” Lee said in a statement. “If we don’t want our president acting like a king we need to start taking back the legislative powers that allow him to do so.”

Under Lee’s bill, a national emergency declared by the president would automatically expire after 30 days without congressional approval. Under current law, Congress needs a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto.

A handful of Senate Republicans who have expressed concern or opposition to Trump’s emergency declaration, including Senators Tillis and Rubio, have suggested they’re open to upholding Trump’s national-emergency declaration in order to change the underlying law.

GOP senators Rand Paul and Susan Collins are firm “no” votes, but it was unclear Wednesday morning how other GOP senators, such as Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski, would vote on any potential deal. “I’m operating off of beef jerky and no information,” Murkowski said on Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, House speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement rejecting any deal on Trump’s emergency declaration coming out of the Senate. “Republican Senators are proposing new legislation to allow the President to violate the Constitution just this once in order to give themselves cover,” Pelosi said. “The House will not take up this legislation to give President Trump a pass.”

Most Popular


Our Bankrupt Elite

Every element of the college admissions scandal, a.k.a “Operation Varsity Blues,” is fascinating. There are the players: the Yale dad who, implicated in a securities-fraud case, tipped the feds off to the caper; a shady high-school counselor turned admissions consultant; the 36-year-old Harvard grad who ... Read More

Shibboleth Is a Fun Word

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Estimado Lector (y todos mis amigos a través del Atlántico), Greetings from Barcelona. And it is Bar•ce•lona, not Barth•e•lona. That ... Read More