World

Maybe Soleimani Wasn’t Universally Loved, After All

In their abiding faith that the Soleimani killing had to be a disaster, the media played along with the regime’s show of mourning, and some commentators even talked as if Soleimani was a beloved national and national icon, like the Beatles and Winston Churchill rolled into one. It turns out that not all Iranians admired the terror mastermind, and his killing combined with the accidental downing of the jet airliner unleashed anti-regime protests over the weekend. Jim mentioned this in the Jolt today, but the scenes of Iranian students jeering people for stepping on American and Israeli flags are extraordinary:

 

World

A Different Idea of Deference

Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, attend a Commonwealth Day youth event at Canada House in London, March 11, 2019. (Chris Jackson / Pool via Reuters)

We are unlikely ever to know for sure what led Harry and Meghan to request a (partial) abdication from the responsibilities of being a ‘senior royal’. If I had to guess, (which is all I can do), one starting point for the current mess may stem from a failure by Harry to explain (or by Meghan to understand) how Brits see the royal family.

Yes, for the most part, they support the monarchy as an institution, and, yes, there is enormous personal respect for the Queen, 93, and still plugging on gamely. But this respect coexists with a willingness to mock, tease, and find fault with the royals. There is nothing new about this, although its extent has ebbed and flowed over the centuries — George IV (1820–1830) received rougher treatment than George VI (1936–52) and deservedly so (but that’s a different topic).

Most of the current ‘senior’ members of the royal family have been ridiculed, caricatured, and criticized, sometimes fairly, sometimes not. Many of them have been at the sharp end of gossip columns. It comes with the territory. With the taxpayer paying so many of their bills, the public expects that it has the right to pry and jeer, as well as the (sort of) obligation to cheer. Celebrities on the American side of the Atlantic are certainly not immune from this sort of treatment — far from it — but they are cocooned, flattered, and deferred to in a way that, for all the pomp and ceremony, a British royal generally is not. They can also indulge themselves in ways that would be frowned upon if a member of the royal family tried the same trick: The coverage of Meghan’s wildly extravagant baby shower was . . . instructive.

Few Brits have much doubt that the royals live very well, but, as they are paying for at least of part of this lifestyle, they prefer both a nod to frugality (ask the Queen how this is done) and, when it comes to the high life, a little discretion. This was something that, say, Princess Margaret (the Queen’s late sister) was unable to grasp — and she paid a price for it.

And Brits tend not to like being lectured by their royals. To borrow an idea from Lenin, the royal family is a living flag. Its members are important for what they represent, but not for who they are. Their opinions have, for the most part, no more weight, therefore, than those of a piece of cloth. The Queen has always understood this (which is why her public pronouncements are largely confined to uplifting banalities). Prince Charles, on the other hand, has never been reluctant to express his point of view on subjects on which he has no obvious expertise and to expect that he should be heard respectfully simply because of who he is. That has often played poorly. The Duke and Duchess of Woke seem to have fallen into the same trap. Harry should have known better. And someone should have told Meghan that being royal is a role, and reminded her — not that she should have needed reminding — that actors don’t get to write the script.

Culture

Big Families in the New York Times

A baby smiles during a baptism for babies led by Pope Francis in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, January 12, 2020. (Vatican Media/Handout via Reuters)

The Parenting section of the New York Times has just published an interesting article featuring parents who are raising families of more than four children. Something that was commonplace even a few decades ago now deserves commentary and analysis in the pages of the nation’s most-read newspaper.

But the feature — written by Laura Vanderkam, a working mother of five children under the age of twelve, who welcomed her newest baby at the end of 2019 — does a good job of exploring what it’s like to raise several children at a time when fertility rates are continuing to drop and the average woman in the U.S. is now having fewer than two children over the course of her lifetime.

Under these conditions, it makes sense that fewer and fewer people understand why couples would choose to have so many children that they need to purchase a car like the Ford Transit, which, as Vanderkam puts it, is “more commonly employed as an airport shuttle.”

Perhaps surprisingly, a 2018 Gallup poll found that 41 percent of adults in the U.S. think that it’s ideal to have at least three children, a figure that rose from 33 percent in 2011. But even so, the same poll found that half of Americans say it’s best to have only one or two children. And 41 percent doesn’t look like much when you consider that, back in the 1960s, nearly three-quarters of respondents told Gallup that three or more children is ideal.

I can attest firsthand to the fact that large families are counter-cultural and, as a result, often misunderstood or derided. I grew up in a conservative Catholic community in the Washington, D.C., area, the same community that author and Washington Examiner writer Tim Carney talks about in Vanderkam’s piece when he explains raising six children with his wife.

Though from a small family myself, nearly all of my best childhood friends had more than three siblings — and some had as many as eight or nine. When our parents took us to an amusement park together, people assumed we were some kind of field trip or daycare center rather than three families spending a weekend together.

That isn’t to say that the culture is always hostile to large families. For the most part, aside from the occasional snide column insisting that having children harms the environment, it’s much more common that people simply don’t understand the choice to have more than a couple of children, especially considering that raising children takes so much money and so much work.

The Times piece shows skeptics how these parents make it work. “People who are raising two kids think this seems immensely hard, and so they imagine that six is three times harder than raising two kids,” Carney told Vanderkam. “[But] the marginal increase in difficulty is smaller with each one.”

At the same time, while parents of large families have to make trade-offs, they learn to relax about the sorts of things that many parents of just two children take too seriously. “Many ‘requirements‘ of modern parenting aren’t requirements at all,” Vanderkam writes. “One poll done for the Today show in 2013 found that while mothers of three children experienced more stress than mothers of one or two, mothers of four or more experienced less.”

Kristin Reilly, a working mother of seven kids, put it even more succinctly: “Once you eventually get past two or more kids, you have to accept that not everything is going to be perfect.”

In other words, parents of many children learn something we all could benefit from internalizing: Trade-offs are inherent to life, and whether we have eight children or none at all, we’ll be better off if we know that joy doesn’t come from a life that’s picture perfect.

Culture

Great Souls

Dmitri Shostakovich (Wikimedia Commons)

On the homepage today, I have a piece about a great musician, Mariss Jansons. A conductor from Latvia, he died in recent weeks. In the last few years, I had taken to calling him “Mahatma Jansons” — not “Maestro” but “Mahatma.” The title means “Great-Souled One,” and it certainly fit Jansons: not just a great musician but one whale of a guy.

In my piece, I tell several stories about him, and several stories from him. Here on the Corner, I’d like to relate a couple of other things, just for fun.

I asked him to talk about Shostakovich, in one of the interviews I had with him. Dmitri Shostakovich was our last great composer, many think — not “last” as in “last ever,” but “last” as in “most recent.” (Shostakovich died in 1975.) Jansons said that Shostakovich was an anxious, guarded man. (He lived a life of almost unimaginable pressure in that Soviet state.) He mumbled.

There were two things he liked a lot, said Jansons: soccer and women. Or, as Jansons put it — I can see him and hear him right now, with a big smile on his face — “soccer and woman.”

Here is a story. Shostakovich and Mstislav Rostropovich, the cellist, were close. One day, Shostakovich called him and said, “Slava, I need you. Can you come over?” Rostropovich would have done anything for the great man, understandably. “Right away,” he said. When Rostropovich entered, Shostakovich said, “Thank you so much for coming, Slava. Please sit down. Now, let’s think.”

So, they sat and thought. At least Shostakovich did. Rostropovich didn’t know what to think. They sat in silence. Ten minutes passed. Twenty minutes. A half-hour. Forty-five minutes. An hour. An hour and ten minutes.

Without warning, Shostakovich turned to Rostropovich and said, “Thank you so much, Slava. You’ve helped me a lot. You can go now.”

That story has the pure ring of truth, and occasions a number of thoughts.

Again, my piece on Mariss Jansons is here. If you have not known him up to now, it’s not too late — it never will be (thanks to recordings, testimonies, etc.). A man to know.

Elections

Bahnsen Scores Warren

In two weeks or thereabouts Elizabeth Warren: How Her Presidency Would Destroy the Middle Class and the American Dream, written by our comrade, David Bahnsen, will be in bookstores. The title says it all. Today, on Fox and Friends, host Pete Hegseth and David talked about the financial consequences of Warren’s socialist policy prescriptions. It was great and informative stuff. You should watch the segment:

Politics & Policy

Refugees and Local Control

A “Refugees Welcome” mat at an immigration rally in New York, City, March 3, 2017. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

On Friday, Texas governor Greg Abbott became the first governor to exercise the quasi-veto over refugee resettlement President Trump made available to states and localities in an executive order last fall.

The letter Governor Abbot sent to the State Department wasn’t strictly necessary; states and localities are supposed to opt in, so those that just don’t do anything by the January 21 deadline shouldn’t be sent any refugees. (Strictly speaking, states and localities don’t actually have a veto; the executive order gives the Secretary of State the authority to send refugees anyway, but an affirmative rejection makes that politically very difficult.)

The executive order giving states a greater voice was long overdue. The 1980 Refugee Act, that established the taxpayer-funded resettlement system, required both that states be consulted and that Washington reimburse them for the costs imposed on them by the arrival of refugees (who are eligible, and make extensive use of, welfare from the day they arrive). It will come as no surprise that both these requirements have been abandoned; the “consultation” has become a fiction, with even states that withdraw from the system being sent refugees anyway, and resettlement has become an unfunded mandate because Congress welshed on its promise to reimburse states. (This led the state of Tennessee to sue the feds, claiming that the refugee resettlement program represents commandeering of state resources.)

Texas is the only state so far to have said it won’t opt in; the State Department lists 37 states that have opted in, plus three more whose letters are in the mail, and New York, which will certainly follow suit, for a total of 41 so far. This includes 18 of 26 Republican governors, though two big GOP states, Florida and Georgia, have yet to say what they’re going to do.

How is it that so many Republican governors have opted in when only a few years ago there was such a ruckus about Obama’s plans to admit tens of thousands of Syrian refugees? The taxpayer-funded resettlement contractors attribute it to the influence of churches, with the increasingly left-leaning headquarters staff of the Southern Baptist Convention specifically claiming credit. This narrative sees the opt-in decisions as a rebuke of the president.

That’s wishful thinking on their part. More important are two factors which the president himself is responsible for. First, the number of refugees imported for resettlement is at the lowest level in decades. In December of 2019, only about 1,700 refugees were resettled, as opposed to more than 7,000 in December 2016. Because there are so few new refugees being admitted, it’s a lot less politically risky to agree to take them. Tennessee governor Bill Lee seems to be facing significant pushback, both from the legislature and from Republican activists, but my sense is that other governors figure the low numbers mean the issue won’t have enough salience with enough voters to cause them pain.

The second, and related, factor is the makeup of the refugees. At the end of the Obama administration, plans to resettle ever-larger numbers of Syrian Muslims are what drove much of the furor over resettlement policy. But the percentage of newly resettled refugees who are Muslim is less than half what it was then; of refugees resettled in December 2016, 54 percent were Muslim; last month, only 21 percent of a much smaller number were Muslim. 

So long as refugee numbers are low, and not drawing disproportionately from the Islamic world, even governors with pretty hawkish constituencies may well feel free to accommodate the federal contractors (like Catholic Charities, Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) that lobby for continued resettlement. But the next Democratic administration — whether in one year or five or nine (or 13?) — is guaranteed to massively increase refugee numbers to levels unseen even in the wake of the Communist takeover of Indochina, at least partly out of revenge against Republicans (à la Tony Blair in the U.K.). Until then, though, the president’s push for more local control over refugee resettlement will have some of the wind taken out of its sails by the president’s own reduction in refugee numbers.

Politics & Policy

Newsom: Make California ‘No Kill State’ — for Animals (but Not Sick People)

Misplaced priorities are California’s specialty. Here’s an example: Governor Gavin Newsom wants to end euthanasia in animal shelters. From the Sacramento Bee story:

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants California to stop euthanizing animals, and he’s ready to put taxpayer money toward the cause. “We want to be a no-kill state,” Newsom said during a press conference where he presented his 2020-21 budget.

Specifically, Newsom’s budget calls for a $50 million one-time general fund allocation to the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program to develop a grant program for animal shelters, with a goal of helping local communities “achieve the state’s policy goal that no adoptable or treatable dog or cat should be euthanized,” according to the budget summary.

Ironically, as the governor works to save animals from death, California not only legalized assisted suicide but allows encouraging suicide to the terminally ill, and moreover, promulgated a regulation granting access to doctor-prescribed death to dying patients who are involuntarily committed in psychiatric hospitals due to mental illness.

I am certainly not against “no kill” animal shelters. I just wish Newsom were as committed to promoting “no kill” health care.

Economy & Business

Feminists against Choice

Rae Paoletta meditates in a cat yoga class at a cat cafe in Brooklyn, N.Y., March 13, 2019. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

It’s been a joke for years that half the women you see sitting around Starbucks in yoga pants at 11 a.m. seem to have degrees from Harvard Business School or Yale Law School. That lots of extremely expensively educated and capable women are choosing to spend many of their prime years shuttling their kids to violin practice and making Rice Krispie treats for bake sales does not fit the preferred feminist narrative, which is that it’s retrograde and maybe demeaning to be a stay-at-home mom.  Naomi Schaefer Riley writes in Commentary, “The idea that women’s M.B.A.s turned out to be of no more use than the MRS degrees that their mothers and grandmothers received was more than many people could bear.”

There are data on this: Scholars Pamela Stone of CUNY and Meg Lovejoy of Harvard cover the terrain in Opting Back in: What Really Happens When Mothers Go Back to Work. Lovejoy and Stone are not pleased by what they find, because they’re feminists.

Larding their account with lots of sneering about “privilege” and “the patriarchy,” Stone and Lovejoy effectively tell these women (who typically never return to their high-powered, high-status, high-paying jobs after a stint as homemakers and instead tend to go into less stressful but more rewarding careers in philanthropy or the nonprofit sector) that they’re betraying the sisterhood. The choices that make such women happy as individuals make Stone and Lovejoy unhappy as feminists.

The authors frame such choices as illusory. You might even call them manifestations of false consciousness. Choices with which they disagree can’t properly be called choices:

Their affluence, their understanding of the privilege of their position, their professed perfectionism, and their strong sense of personal agency led them to adopt the narrative of choice.

Weird how feminists feel it’s okay to tell women how they should think. Why can’t these women understand their duty to make choices that will cost them happiness in order to satisfy the larger goal? That goal is the demands of the feminist collective and its obsession with measuring women’s success by, inter alia, what percentage of CEOs or senior partners are female.

The very women who are best positioned (and indeed expected) to surmount barriers and close gender gaps instead pursue career-family strategies that work for them individually, but that ultimately exacerbate and increase gender inequality overall.

(Emphasis in the original.) Expected? Expected by whom? Feminists seem to expect women to measure success almost entirely in career terms, meaning postponing or entirely forsaking having children while pouring their lives into jobs, even jobs they may not find meaningful or rewarding. Most women understand there is much more to life than climbing the greasy pole of corporate success. Feminism is frustrated by this and other obvious truths.

Culture

‘You Mean a Lot to a Lot of Us’

Sir Roger Scruton (www.rogerscruton.com)

It might seem inappropriate, even offensive, to say this, but I’ve enjoyed spending time with Roger Scruton today. I know he would understand. I’ve been looking at e-mails from him, and listening to a podcast or two we did together. It’s hard to think of better company.

The great thinker and writer has died today — Sunday, January 12 — at age 75. His books and essays will go on and on.

“His books come at you fast and furious and glorious,” I once said in introducing him. He had recently published three. There are more than 50 all told. Scruton’s books are on philosophy, art, sex, music. It was a pleasure to talk with him about anything and everything — and to learn from him about anything and everything.

Sometimes, the topic of conversation was the latest annoyance or indignity, usually involving politics. In 2016, I sent him a piece about “identity politics” and art, which sprang from an incident at the University of Bristol (in Scruton’s native England). A production of Aida — the musical by Elton John and Tim Rice, not the opera by Verdi, not that it matters — was canceled, owing to upset about race.

He wrote me,

It may interest you to know that the kids at Bristol disinvited me a couple of weeks ago, after I had been invited by the Vice Chancellor to give a Richmond Lecture, on the grounds of things written a quarter of a century ago about homosexuality which do not conform to today’s orthodoxy.

There you go.

You know the phrase “a beautiful mind”? That was the title of a movie in 2001, about the mathematician John Nash. Roger Scruton was — is (what tense to use?) — a beautiful mind. Indeed, I used the phrase for the title of a podcast in 2017.

We talked, early in that podcast, about this “post-truth” age of ours. Roger had just written about it. Here is a paragraph from his article:

The concept of truth has been the victim of massive cyber-attacks in recent decades, and it has not yet recovered. The most recent attack has come from social media, which have turned the Internet into one great seething cauldron of opinions, most of them anonymous, in which every kind of malice and fantasy swamps the still small voice of humanity and truth.

In our podcast, he spoke of truth as a lodestar, and a thing to cling to — a weapon as well. It was truth, he said, that saw us through our struggle with Soviet Communism. One thinks of Solzhenitsyn: “Live not by lies!”

Roger played a role in this struggle — particularly in Czechoslovakia. Indeed, he wrote a novel based on his experience, Notes from Underground (2014). I wrote a little post, from which I’ll quote:

It is a story of Czechoslovakia in the last years of Communism. Roger participated in the underground, to the extent a foreigner could. His book is a political story — it tells you a lot about living in a police state — but it is primarily a love story, I think. And a knockout of a love story.

Incidentally, 1984 is too little credited with being a love story, in addition to all the other things it is.

Obnoxious as it may be to quote one’s own blurb, let me do so in the case of Notes from Underground: “Roger Scruton knows many things, including communism, the human heart, and the English language. He was perfectly positioned to write this extraordinary, haunting novel.”

Yes, indeed. And as I remarked to Roger, it’s one thing to write an elegant novel. Lots of people write elegantly. It’s another thing to have insights worth writing down, elegantly or not.

How does Roger know all that he puts in this book, and his other books? These intricacies of the human heart and so on? Whatever the case, he does, and the elegant writing is almost incidental. Roger Scruton is a seer, which can be unnerving.

Yes.

In our 2017 podcast, I brought up Kenneth Minogue, and, specifically, something Roger had written about him. Ken was an Australian-born political scientist who died in 2013. I quoted Roger in a piece of my own about Ken. This is what I quoted:

In many ways he was a model of the conservative activist. He was not in the business of destroying things or angering people. He was in the business of defending old-fashioned civility against ideological rage, and he believed this was the real meaning of the freedom that the English-speaking peoples have created and enjoyed.

Scruton further wrote, “For Ken Minogue, decency was not just a way of doing things, but also the point of doing them.”

In my own piece, I wrote, “That is an unusual, striking sentence, worth pondering.” In the podcast I’ve mentioned, I asked Roger to elaborate on it, which he did, eloquently. I will quote just a bit of him:  “The idea of decency is an extremely important one, and is fundamental to the sort of worldview that you and I share. We don’t construct our worldview out of ideological nostrums.”

And Scruton’s words about Minogue — they apply to him as well, right?

Okay, a different subject: smartphones. Roger didn’t have one. The rest of us do. He worried about humanity’s attachment to these devices (a literal attachment, certainly in my case). His “main fear” about the smartphone, he said, was that “it is leading people to outsource their entire mental capacities.” He continued, “Their memory is in that little instrument.” And we can hardly find our way to the bathroom without a GPS.

All right, what about music? He was an authority on it and a powerful writer on it, yes. (He had a special relationship with Wagner.) But he was also a practitioner — a composer himself.

When I talked with him in that 2017 podcast, he had been listening to Othmar Schoeck: a Swiss composer whose dates are 1886 to 1957. I had never heard Schoeck or even of him. Roger said, “Look him up.” And then he had a piece of praise for technology: “One of the great things about YouTube is that you can rectify your ignorance straightaway.”

So true.

We talked for a bit about the glories of YouTube. But Roger noted a downside: “Whenever you give a lecture, people now will film it, and put it up on YouTube. . . . And there you are, immortalized, with all your mistakes and bad grammar and your rudeness, and you can’t get away with it.”

I had just spoken with Teodor Currentzis, the Greek conductor. One of our topics was YouTube. “It’s like a knife,” he said. “You can cut your bread with it or you can kill someone with it. It all depends on how you use it.”

Of how many different technologies is that true?

Norman Podhoretz told me that he judged Anna Karenina the best novel — ever. I mentioned this to Roger — who agreed. “There are competitors,” he said, including Middlemarch. “But there are weaknesses in the Eliot, and there are no weaknesses in the Tolstoy. Every character is absolutely real, and engaged from the depth of his being in the story. All the details are absolutely right.”

He also named The Brothers Karamazov, Emma, Madame Bovary, and Ulysses. “Those are all books that I read again and again.”

Coincidentally, he had just read — or re-read — War and Peace. It is “wonderful,” he said, but not perfect, like Anna Karenina. The problem is, “it’s got a kind of thesis that impedes the forward movement of the drama,” and “a thesis is an artificial thing that the novelist is imposing on the world, not a thing that grows from the world.”

More than once, naturally — how could we not? — Scruton and I talked about conservatism. He said in 2017, “My life’s work, in a way, has been an attempt to define the word ‘conservatism’ and to rescue it from being a term of abuse.” He wanted it instead to describe “a coherent political philosophy and social outlook.”

Another conversation — a 2015 podcast. I said that I refused to act as “a commissar of conservatism,” a role that many — and many ignorant people — are all too happy to assume. I said that, “if I appointed anyone as commissar, it would be you.” He answered, “I would be very lax in my duties. My view is that the most important thing for conservatives is to be in alliance with each other, not to have witch hunts over small points of doctrine, not to identify heresies and persecute them and so on.”

Does that contradict the 2017 statement I have quoted? I doubt it. Scruton was latitudinarian, as Bill Buckley would say. He was big, broad, capacious. He could bring down the hammer — he had principles — but he was no dogmatist. What genuine conservative is?

Toward the close of our podcast in 2017, I said to Roger, “You strike me as basically content, and not someone who fears for the future. Like any thinking person, you have concerns, but you strike me as someone who is not panicked about the world.”

“Well, it would be nice if that were true,” he replied. “I do have moments of panic, but I also think that we can’t rectify everything. The world is outside our control. All we can ever do is create around ourselves communities of mutual affection and mutual understanding. And to attempt constantly to rectify things is to risk making them worse. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our utmost to rescue people from error and delusion. But . . .”

But we should not knock ourselves out trying to remake the world. Leave that to the Communists (and oppose them without let-up).

At the very end of that podcast, I said, “You mean a lot to a lot of us, and I’m grateful for you. As we said in America in the 1970s, keep on keeping on.” He said, “I will do just that.”

What a useful life — a questing life and a teaching life — from a beautiful mind, and a beautiful person. Wow.

These are just a few notes, and there are a thousand more things to say. Others will say them, and I may say a few more myself. For example, Roger was brave, outstandingly brave — he had nerve. But I’ve said enough, for now. So grateful for this marvelous, brainy, benevolent fellow. A knight — “Sir Roger” — and not just literally.

Culture

Roger the Great

Awful news today that Roger Scruton, one of the great philosophers of our age and surely one of the great conservative thinkers of all time, has died after a struggle with cancer.

Scruton’s was just an unfathomably fruitful and productive mind. He published at least fifty books, produced countless essays, was constantly giving brilliant lectures, and even wrote music and starred in a documentary or two, all of which just sparkle with his brilliance. He ran an underground counter-university in communist Eastern Europe and was always ready to fight for truth and beauty and tradition, but there was nothing he treasured more than home—with his Sophie and Lucy and Sam.

For a sense of his writing on conservatism, I suppose one place to start may be How to be a Conservative, though there are many others you could choose from. But it has always seemed to me that the deepest of Scruton’s work was not his expressly political writing or his academic philosophy but his writing about the things he loved most: art and music, food and drink, architecture, and beauty more generally. This was the real essence of his conservatism. It was an expression of love for lovely things.

I had the privilege of spending a little time with Scruton when he and I were both fellows at the Ethics and Public Policy Center for a few years (it would be ridiculous to say he was a colleague, I spent all our time together in awe of the man). What stood out most was his great sense of humor and humility and the sheer breadth of his knowledge and wisdom. He would also routinely drink an entire bottle of wine over lunch and then go right back to writing something brilliant.

The work he leaves behind is a treasure for the ages. But if a single theme unites it, it would have to be his willingness, even eagerness, to stand courageously in defense of what he loved—and his confidence, born of deep learning and insight, that it was what deserved to be loved, and that others would see that if he showed them.

We have lost a true giant. RIP.

National Security & Defense

Rand Is Right; Lindsey’s Wrong: Limiting the President’s War Powers Is Patriotic

Sen. Rand Paul (Chris Keane/Reuters)

On Wednesday, Republican senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee announced that they would support a Democratic resolution to limit the president’s war powers — and unsurprisingly, they’re taking some heat for it.

Equally unsurprising is that they’ve particularly pissed off Lindsey Graham, who wasted no time in scolding his colleagues for playing a “game with the war powers act” — calling the act “unconstitutional,” and claiming that their support amounts to “empowering the enemy.”

Paul fought back in an interview with CNN Wednesday night, saying: “I think it’s sad when people have this fake sort of drape of patriotism and anybody that disagrees with them is not a patriot.”

He continued:

I love my country as much as the next guy. For him to insult and say that somehow we’re not as patriotic as he is, he hasn’t even read the history of the Constitution,” he continued. “The Constitution specifically says the warmaking power resides in Congress… He insults the Constitution, our Founding Fathers and what we do stand for in this republic by making light of it and accusing people of lacking patriotism. I think that’s a low gutter type of response.

Paul is correct.

First of all, he was absolutely right to characterize Graham’s response as “low gutter.” After all, it’s not like Graham had offered an original thought. No, he just regurgitated the exact same talking point that hawks like him always use to try and shut down anyone who dares to question the war machine. It’s not shocking; it’s not new; it’s been happening for decades. In fact, the only thing that’s changed is that now, it’s also become a catch-all, knee-jerk antiphon to use any time someone criticizes President Trump.

The problem, of course, is that this intellectual laziness discourages independent thought. I mean, why bother to consider anything for yourself when you already know what you’re “supposed” to think? If you’re a Republican, you must support whatever Trump supports, or else you’re a disloyal, socialist-sympathizing traitor. If you’re a “patriot,” you must not question military action, because then you’re choosing the terrorists over the troops.

It really is a shame, because Paul was also right about something else: There is a patriotic case for limiting the president’s war powers. In fact, to me, it’s quite clearly the patriotic case. There is, after all, a reason why the Founders gave Congress the sole power to declare war in the first place. They were explicitly rejecting the English model, the one that they fought to be freed from, where the entire country could find itself at war based on than the whims of the king. They took war seriously; they wanted it debated and carefully considered. The truth is, it’s Paul and Lee’s position, and not Graham’s, that reflects the position of the Founders — and that seems pretty damn patriotic to me.

Law & the Courts

The Non-Delegation Conundrum

A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington December 3, 2013. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

As Robert VerBruggen noted on NRO the other day, a lot of conservative and libertarian legal thinkers are excited about the possibility that the Supreme Court will start reining in the congressional practice of granting chunks of its legislative authority to unelected bureaucracies. VerBruggen uses the hard-to-escape terminology of “reviving the nondelegation doctrine” to describe this prospect. But as his own account suggests, and I’ve argued elsewhere, “revival” is the wrong term. Never in U.S. history has the Supreme Court acted as an important restraint on the legislature’s delegation of power.

Partial explanations for this fact may lie in the lack of an obvious constitutionally based line for the Supreme Court to draw between permissible and impermissible delegations (or, to put it another way, between impermissible delegations of legislative power and permissible creations of discretionary executive power) and in the political limits of the Court’s power. My American Enterprise Institute colleague Peter Wallison responded to my skepticism about a newly vigorous non-delegation doctrine by arguing that keeping the legislature in charge of legislation is sufficiently important to our constitutional structure that the Supreme Court must attempt to do it, notwithstanding the conceptual or political difficulties. He is persuasive on that point (I am admittedly not a hard sell).

The question remains: How should the justices overcome those difficulties? VerBruggen brings up one possible answer: They could start striking down delegations in small-bore cases that won’t generate much pushback. It seems to me, though, that this idea would lead to one of two possible dead ends. Either the Court would eventually build on its precedents about small-bore delegations to start taking on major bureaucracies, in which case it would merely delay the day of political reckoning. Or it would refrain from ever taking that risky step, which would yield the perverse result that Congress can delegate its power only over the most politically important issues. The Court would not, presumably, say as much; but I’m not sure what it would say as a respectable cover story.

Adam White, another AEI colleague of mine, has drawn a parallel between the center-right interest in judicial action against delegation and the center-left interest in judicial action against gerrymandering. In both cases, the argument goes that there’s a significant deformation of constitutional government that Congress lacks the incentive to correct; in both cases, judicial intervention is therefore thought necessary; but in both cases, the Constitution doesn’t provide a rule to guide the Court in intervening.

I’ll toss out another possible idea for the Court. Maybe it could treat the delegation of legislative authority as a sign that something has gone awry constitutionally, and intervene if other such signs also appear. So, for example, an agency that exercises delegated power over major questions and has slipped the leash of presidential control, or an agency that exercises such delegated power and is accused of due-process violations, would need to be reined in. I am not sure that’s a satisfactory answer to the problem; but I’m not sure a satisfactory answer exists.

Music

Farewell to Rock’s Greatest Drummer (and Randian)

Rush drummer Neil Peart during a performance at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas in 2002. (Ethan Miller/Reuters)

Neil Peart, the Canadian drummer and leader of the Seventies hard-rock band Rush, has died. Peart had battled brain cancer for three years.

I saw Peart and his band perform at the now-demolished New Haven Coliseum during Rush’s Power Windows tour in  1985 (I think), and he was even more phenomenal in person than he was on the records. Fan polls routinely agreed he was the greatest rock drummer of his time (or indeed of all time, I would argue, though some would go with Keith Moon). I’m not sure any rock track boasts drumming that can match Peart’s breathtaking work on the 1981 song “Tom Sawyer”

Unusually for a drummer, Peart also wrote the big majority of his band’s lyrics, which were among the most ambitious ever attempted in the hard-rock space. Like many other rock lyricists (Roger Waters, Pete Townshend), Peart was a genius at tapping into the restless alienation of late-teen boys who think they’re smarter than everyone around them. It occurred to me many years later that it’s an odd kind of gift, to keep your mind stuck in that mode of detachment, anger and frustration as you advance into middle age and accumulate mansions and supermodel girlfriends. Peart told Rolling Stone four years ago, “I set out to never betray the values that 16-year-old had, to never sell out, to never bow to the man. A compromise is what I can never accept.” Well, no one wants to hear rock lyrics about property taxes and the failings of the kitchen staff.

He also labeled himself a libertarian and in youth dabbled in Ayn Randism, naming Rush’s 1975 song “Anthem” for her 1937 novel Anthem, which was among George Orwell’s influences for 1984, and crediting Rand in the liner notes for her influence on the 1976 Rush album 2112. What teen boy didn’t also flirt with Rand? To persist with a Rand fixation is not the mark of a healthy mind, though. When asked in 2012 (again in Rolling Stone) if Rand’s words still spoke to him, he said, “Oh, no. That was 40 years ago.” Peart did retain his libertarianism, after a fashion. He explained:

In that 2112 album, again, I was in my early twenties. I was a kid. Now I call myself a bleeding heart libertarian. Because I do believe in the principles of Libertarianism as an ideal – because I’m an idealist. Paul Theroux’s definition of a cynic is a disappointed idealist. So as you go through past your twenties, your idealism is going to be disappointed many many times. And so, I’ve brought my view and also – I’ve just realized this – Libertarianism as I understood it was very good and pure and we’re all going to be successful and generous to the less fortunate and it was, to me, not dark or cynical. But then I soon saw, of course, the way that it gets twisted by the flaws of humanity. And that’s when I evolve now into . . . a bleeding heart Libertarian. That’ll do.

Peart died in Santa Monica on January 7. R.I.P.

World

Brand Sussex

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry leave St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle following their wedding, May 19, 2018. (Jane Barlow/PA Wire/Pool via Reuters)

Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

First, there is our own Maddy Kearns, who has some advice for Markle. On Twitter, Antonia Garcia Martinez smartly observed: “The fact royals opt out of an hereditary aristocracy to launch some direct-to-consumer, spun-bulls***, goop-style lifestyle brand is really quite telling in its social hierarchy implications. It’s the triumph of the blue checks over the blue bloods.”

Then there is Laura Perrins of ConservativeWoman.co.uk with some harsh assessments of Harry and Meghan. I think Perrins gets precisely at what is bothering a certain type of royals-watcher about the statement from the Duke and Duchess: their desire to have the cake and eat it too. She notes that while they say they are “stepping back” as senior members of the royal family, they stop short of stepping out and instead demand “a progressive new role within this institution.”

Perrins writes:

This is not about Harry and Meghan going quietly into the night; what they want is a ‘progressive new role within this institution’. In other words, they want to be able to give their leftist views using the royal platform. They don’t want to be traditional members of the royal family; they want to be royal celebrities and use their royal connections to push a leftist agenda. Harry is going to make the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated to marry the divorcee Wallis Simpson, look like a model son and Royal.

We certainly know what Meghan and Harry don’t want: the dull protocol, the service to the public, the boring plaque-unveiling events in the North of England. Most of all they don’t want the burden of duty and tradition.

I think it’s correct. They are chucking the duties and responsibilities, but in the meantime they are turning the name of their royal household into a trademark for overpriced consumer goods. And this is what they call “financial independence.” They could live the lifestyle of very wealthy millionaires just on the earnings of what Harry inherited from his mother, and on the allowance from his father’s massive income. But, they can’t be billionaire progressive political entrepreneurs and disrupters on such an income.

The ambition of Harry and Meghan seems quite a different thing from those members of the Swedish royal family who are not in line for the throne and living rather quietly in Florida.

Immigration

The Role of Skills in U.S. Immigration Policy, in One Chart

Over 5,000 immigrants wave U.S. flags after taking the oath of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles, Calif., April 16, 2013. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The CBO has an absurdly brief — four pages! — report on “The Foreign-Born Population and Its Effects on the U.S. Economy and the Federal Budget.”

There’s nothing new or surprising, but it’s always worth reminding everyone that our immigration system does not emphasize skills nearly as much as it should. Immigrants are overrepresented among those with graduate degrees, fortunately . . . but even more overrepresented among high-school dropouts. Per the CBO, 43 percent of all dropouts over the age of 25 are immigrants:

I’d add that this chart includes a lot of elderly people from generations with less schooling and less immigration. If you narrow the population to those of “prime working age,” or 25 to 54, the immigrant proportion of dropouts is a bit higher, nearly half. Only 5 percent of natives in that age range lack a degree, but 18 percent of immigrants do, so the two populations are nearly equal in size.

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