Politics & Policy

Planned Parenthood President Ousted after Less Than a Year in Charge

Planned Parenthood president Dr. Leana Wen speaks at a protest against anti-abortion legislation at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2019. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

Leana Wen, a physician who has led Planned Parenthood since last fall, announced via Twitter this afternoon that she has been ousted from her position by the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Wen, a physician who was most recently a health commissioner in Baltimore, said the board voted to replace her at a “secret meeting,” even as they “were engaged in good faith negotiations about [her] departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.”

According to the New York Times report this afternoon, sources said “there had been internal strife over [Wen’s] management” and Planned Parenthood leaders believed the group “needed a more aggressive political leader to fight the efforts to roll back access to abortions.”

Wen was appointed to lead Planned Parenthood last September after the resignation of Cecile Richards, who had served as the group’s president for twelve years. Wen gave more context on her ouster in a statement released on Twitter just after the news broke:

As a physician and public health leader, I came to Planned Parenthood to lead a national health care organization that provides essential primary and preventive care to millions of underserved women and families, and to advocate for a broad range of policies that affect our patients’ health. I believe that the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue but a health care one, and that we can expand support for reproductive rights by finding common ground with the large majority of Americans who understand reproductive health care as the fundamental health care that it is.

I am leaving because the new Board Chairs and I have philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood. It has been an honor and privilege to serve alongside our dedicated doctors, nurses, clinicians, staff, and volunteers who are on the frontlines of health care in our country. I will always stand with Planned Parenthood, as I continue my life’s work and mission of caring for and fighting for women, families, and communities.

Wen’s short tenure had been largely free of controversy. Though she evidently wasn’t as polished as Richards nor nearly as adept at presenting the group’s talking points, she managed to avoid any significant missteps. The biggest blip came in January, when she gave an interview to BuzzFeed outlining her strategy to expand provision of routine health-care services for women. The piece also noted Wen’s supposed effort to refocus the group away from politics: “People aren’t coming to Planned Parenthood to make a political statement,” Wen said at the time.

But after the profile came out, the Planned Parenthood president claimed to be unhappy with the final product. “I am always happy to do interviews, but these headlines completely misconstrue my vision for Planned Parenthood,” she tweeted the morning the BuzzFeed piece dropped. “Our core mission is providing, protecting and expanding access to abortion and reproductive health care.”

This episode, though not itself a death knell for her presidency, was revealing. Unlike Richards, Wen didn’t have a knack for balancing Planned Parenthood’s self-contradictory talking points. The group’s executives ritually parrot the false statistic that abortion is a mere 3 percent of its services. Its latest PR campaign revolved around the slogan “This is health care,” clearly an effort to redirect away from discussion of abortion and recast it as a health-care procedure. With her attempt to backtrack from what appeared to be insufficient dedication to abortion rights, Wen accidentally revealed that Planned Parenthood sees itself, first and foremost, as an abortion provider.

One way to look at her departure is through the lens of that BuzzFeed interview, especially in light of her statement today. Was Wen sincerely more concerned with expanding real health-care options at Planned Parenthood, and less concerned with expanding its provision of abortion — and that’s why she was unceremoniously dismissed? Possibly. But it’s difficult to imagine that could be true of someone so willing to lie in service of preserving a regime of unlimited abortion on demand.

Elections

Life Is Rough When You’re a Second-Tier Democratic Presidential Candidate

New Jersey senator Cory Booker speaks at Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in Los Angeles, Calif., April 22, 2019. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The second-quarter fundraising reports for the Democratic presidential candidates are in, and if your name isn’t Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris, you’re in trouble.

The writing is on the wall for everybody else. A lot of these campaigns are running on fumes. Gillibrand has $8.2 million left in cash on hand, but twelve have less than $3 million.

The above quintet is the top five in national polling, Iowa polling, New Hampshire polling and South Carolina polling. In the RealClearPolitics averages, the closest sixth-place finisher is Cory Booker in South Carolina… at 4 percent. Sure, something could change, but most of the candidates have had their televised debate debuts. We saw during the last round how difficult it was to have a breakout moment on a crowded debate stage with moderators most interested in the frontrunners. Julian Castro had some good moments knocking around Beto O’Rourke, but that didn’t turn into a monumental wave of donations. He raised $2.8 million in this past quarter. That’s good enough to rank 12th out of 22 candidates; Buttigieg raised about nine times as much.

Until the formal end of their campaigns, I’ll have a lot of fun mocking this small army of candidates known as The Asterisks. But for now, let’s pause and have a few molecules of sympathy for those “rising star” politicians who are painfully learning that their stars will rise no further. You work hard, you have success at the state level, you think you have impressive accomplishments, you think you’re charismatic and like-able, and then one morning you wake up to find you’ve got less support in New Hampshire than the Hollywood New Age guru. Politics is rough, man.

John Hickenlooper had the kind of resume that usually looks good: two-term mayor, two-term governor of what was, not long ago, a hard-fought purple state. He’s got a quirky sense of humor, which you would think would be worth something, but nope. He can’t break past one percent anywhere.

As far back as 2017, publications like Vogue gave Kirsten Gillibrand the glossy “she could be the next president” treatment. She had replaced Hillary Clinton in the Senate, cosponsored a slew of bills, voted against every Trump nominee. Her fans raved about her retail politicking skills, but apparently they’re worthless. She’s visited New Hampshire 55 times! Five of the last six polls in that state have her at one percent.

Back in 2012, Julian Castro was the rising star among in the Democratic Party, and a lot of publications labeled him “the Latino Obama.” He’s the only Latino candidate in the Democratic field. But forget nationally or the early primary states; Castro can’t even break out in his home state in Texas. In the six surveys of likely Democratic primary voters in Texas this year, Castro was named the first choice of 3, 4, 2, 4, 5, and 4 percent.

Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet are all multi-term senators with law degrees from good schools, and they’re all still trying to break out of that “oh yeah, that person’s running, too” category. (Bennet can at least boast he’s gotten George Will’s endorsement, for all the good that will do him in the Democratic primary.) All three adopted some vague somewhat-centrist strategy for this presidential cycle – Booker is trying to be uplifting and talk about love and unity, Klobuchar is attempting to showcase “Minnesota nice,” Bennet is talking about empowering citizens. Whatever they’re selling, few Democratic voters seem to be buying it so far.

Most of these lawmakers adopted some version of Barack Obama’s path to the presidency. Serve in the Senate, mix up some bipartisan cooperation on less controversial legislation with some “tough” stances to show the grassroots you’re a fighter, suck up to the interest groups that traditionally power the party, promise the moon and figure out how to pay for it later, and hope that personal charisma can carry you the rest of the way.

Maybe that only works if you’re as naturally talented on the stump as Barack Obama in 2007 and 2008. Or maybe even the Barack Obama of 2007 and 2008 would have a hard time standing out in a crowd of 25 candidates.

National Review

The Great James L. Buckley, Still Great

At the National Conservatism conference in Washington, ambling amidst the crowd is James L. Buckley, much revered in these parts — and all parts of the conservative movement — hero-worshipped as he passes by, smiling and humble, some of us knowing we are in the presence of a truly great American. Earlier today, this correspondent was invited to a lunch at the headquarters of The Fund for the American Studies, featuring the retired federal jurist discussing federalism — referring to the remarks he gave at the recent NRI Ideas Summit — with a group of law students (he is pictured here with, to his left, TFAS president Roger Ream). It was a wonderful gathering, with His Honor making a profound defense of constitutional originalism, and in particular expressing his admiration for Justice Clarence Thomas.

James L. Buckley

Read his remarks to get a flavor of what he told the young lawyers. And if you cannot get enough of this unique American, and are inclined to nostalgia, you may enjoy this 1971 Firing Line episode, in which younger brother Bill interviews his recently elected older brother. It’s a terrific slice of American and conservative history.

And think about attending the forthcoming (September 12th in NYC) TFAS Journalism Awards Dinner.

Politics & Policy

2024?

President George W. Bush leads a conversation on Social Security in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2005. (Jason Reed / Reuters)

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If the federal deficit and federal debt are problems, but no one talks about them, do they cease to be problems?

We can ask the same about social-welfare entitlements, too.

A headline yesterday read, “WH projects $1 trillion deficit for 2019.” (Article here.) The federal debt is now at $22.5 trillion. (Check the clock.) Romney and Ryan warned about these things during the 2012 campaign. See the thanks they got?

Here is a nugget from a report on Sunday: “Trump recently told West Wing aides that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told him no politician had ever lost office for spending more money.” He is a canny ol’ bird, McConnell.

Here is a headline from late last year: “Trump is reportedly not worried about a massive US debt crisis as he’ll be out of office by then.” (Article here.)

But it’s not just Trump — it’s everybody, pretty much. Everyone is willing to “kick the can down the road” and let future generations deal with the mess. Romney called this “immoral.” (Typical moral preening by a goody-goody and spoilsport.)

Running for the presidency in 2016, there were 17 Republicans. Fifteen of them said that entitlements were a big problem, calling out for reform. The other two were Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee. Trump said that reform was unnecessary — that what we had to do was ferret out “waste, fraud, and abuse” in the federal government. Dukakis and others used to talk this way, and we conservatives laughed at them.

Huckabee was a little different. He said that we had promised citizens that they would have their Social Security. They had paid into the system. And we could not break our promise and let them down.

He did not really disagree with George W. Bush, the great Social Security reformer, or would-be reformer. Bush said over and over that his reforms would not affect people counting on their Social Security. He said that anyone could opt to remain in the current system. But he wanted to give younger workers different options — because those workers, not without reason, were doubtful that Social Security would be there for them.

Bush had touched the “third rail of American politics.” He did it with abandon, you might even say reckless abandon. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Joe Andrew, said that his party would “fry” Bush on that rail. Bush said that he was “runnin’ for a reason” — he wanted to effect necessary changes, not simply mark time in office.

I am speaking of the 2000 campaign. Bush won that year — but he almost lost Florida, owing in large part to his stance on Social Security. (You may remember a post-election battle, too.)

In his first term, Bush did not do much about entitlements. He had other priorities, chiefly a war on terror. When he won reelection, he said he had the wind at his back and political capital to spend. He chose to spend it on Social Security reform. That’s how important he thought it was. He got nowhere with it, however.

Democrats, of course, called him a would-be murderer of grandmothers, and Republicans were very anxious. They held back. I have long thought that Americans will not rouse themselves to do anything until the crisis hits. No one wants to repair the roof while the sun is shining. Then, when the storm hits, they scramble up, in desperation.

Almost certainly, 2020 will be a write-off year, where these matters are concerned. The Left, represented by the Democratic presidential nominee, won’t talk about them. And the nationalist-populist Right, represented by President Trump, won’t talk about them. So, in all likelihood, it’ll be another four years.

How about 2024? Who will be brave? Who will be truth-telling? In my view, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney — and Paul Ryan — were. And they are now seen, by the Right at large, as untrue conservatives. This relates to our ongoing debate: What is conservatism?

I do know one thing, I think — that, as Margaret Thatcher said, the facts of life are conservative. And they will reassert themselves, good and hard, whether we want to face them or not.

Economy & Business

Strawman Elegy

The Wall Street bull in New York, March 7, 2017. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

I like and admire our friend J. D. Vance, but I do want to throttle him just a little bit — just a little! — when he says things like this: “The question conservatives confront at this key moment is this: Whom do we serve? Do we serve pure, unfettered commercial freedom? Do we serve commerce at the expense of the public good? Or do we serve something higher, and are we willing to use political power to actually accomplish those things?”

Is there a conservative who actually endorses “pure, unfettered commercial freedom”? I know conservatives who want to make it a little easier to operate a hair-braiding business without a license and 500 hours of “professional education,” and I know conservatives who think you should be able to start a moving company without asking permission from a preexisting cartel of moving companies, and conservatives who want Americans to be able to work from home without having to file tax returns in multiple jurisdictions. Vance works in venture capital. He no doubt has been within smelling distance of the SEC. Conservatives do not (in the main; there’s always that one guy) propose to abolish the SEC, or to leave banks unregulated, in spite of the constant Democratic claims to the contrary. Who is the champion of “unfettered commercial freedom”? Who? It is nobody in the Republican party, and, as far as I can tell, nobody writing in National Review.

Fetter away!

Vance worries about serving “commerce at the expense of the public good,” as indeed do most other conservatives. But that gets pretty complicated pretty quickly. On balance, commerce overwhelmingly serves the public good, and attempts to use the fat fingers and long nose of Washington to disentangle commerce and its social effects in a Goldilocks-satisfying manner historically have not gone very well. His complaint with Facebook et al. is that people enjoy using these products too much. I agree, though I’d argue that the real root of that evil is the mobile phone itself. (I’m in an airport lounge, listening to one of those cretins who insist on using a speaker phone in a public place. Brilliant conversation you’re having there, Caitlyn.) The press is full of panicked parents complaining about their children’s use of social media or, lately, Fortnite. I do not have a great deal of confidence in the parents of this country — I have met your children, America — but I nonetheless believe that they are better suited to deal with the addictive features of social media than is, say, Ilhan Omar.

But on the broader point: Who is it that Vance imagines is on the opposite side of that argument? We may disagree about how to go about best regulating business and nudging the profit motive toward service of the public good, but I can think of few conservatives, even radical libertarians such as myself, who in principle seek to serve commerce “at the expense of the public good” or who believe we should be indifferent to the question.

“Do we serve something higher,” Vance asks, “and are we willing to use political power to actually accomplish those things?” Our strange new nationalists (neopaleocons, I suppose we should call them) ask the strangest questions. Paul Ryan was often held up by conservatives of this stripe as the mascot for soulless, market-dominated, Chamber of Commerce conservatism. But would anybody say that Paul Ryan had no conception of the national good and no sense of higher moral purpose, or that he was unwilling to use political power to accomplish those things? Every Tom, Dick, and Hillary in our nation’s hideous capital has some high sentiment to share and zero hesitation about using political power in pursuit of their own often eccentric moral visions. Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are precisely alike in that much at least.

How does that work out in fact? American cities are governed by people who spend millions of dollars on inclusion-and-diversity programs while the roads have potholes of practically lunar circumference. The nice people in Washington are practically Jimi Hendrixing on fine and noble sentiment (’scuse me while I puke and die) and will talk your ear off about “serving something higher,” but they can’t balance the books, secure the border, or win a war to save their useless lives. They cannot manage the federal version of fixing potholes, and the potholes need fixing.

Is there someone who actually believes the things Vance here is criticizing? If so — who? Because it is a mystery to me, and you’d think I’d know, running dog of capitalism that I am.

If the situation is not as Vance describes it — if in fact we disagree about how rather than whether to serve the public good — then that is a different conversation. And that might be a good conversation to have. But if you are telling me that the problem is Mark Zuckerberg and the solution is Donald Trump, I’m moving to Switzerland.

Elections

Brace Yourselves, America. Mark Sanford Might Be Coming.

Mark Sanford (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Any GOP presidential primary challenge against Donald Trump is going to be the longest of long shots. From 2015 to today, Republicans who didn’t like Trump largely stopped thinking of themselves as Republicans, and the Republicans who remain are largely supportive, with the percentage expressing approval usually in the eighties. There just aren’t that many Republican primary voters who are eager to shop around for another option this cycle.

As Jack Crowe notes, former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford is thinking of running for president this cycle. Sanford told the Charleston Post and Courier that “he will take the next month to formulate whether he will mount a potential run against Trump as a way of pushing a national debate about America’s mounting debt, deficit and government spending.”

Not only would Sanford have a near-impossible time winning the nomination, not only would he have a hard time winning the state (Trump’s approval rating among south Carolina Republicans was at 79 percent in April), at this point it’s an open question if Sanford would win more votes in his old House district.

Down in South Carolina’s first Congressional District, Katie Arrington beat Mark Sanford in the 2018 House primary, making the primary fight almost a referendum on loyalty to the president. Sanford lost narrowly — 46.5 percent to Arrington’s 50.6 percent — and no doubt that loss was surprising and deeply disappointing to the incumbent. Sanford chose to not endorse her in the general election, and it is believed that a considerable number of Sanford donors and allies sat out the general election.

In November, Arrington lost to Democrat Joe Cunningham, 49.2 percent to Cunningham’s 50.6 percent. She explicitly blamed Sanford: “We lost because Mark Sanford could not understand that this race was about the conservative movement — and not about him.”

All of this assumes, of course, that South Carolina even has a GOP presidential primary next year. Since 2017, South Carolina Republicans have sounded skeptical about whether they would hold a primary, suggesting they would only hold one if Trump had serious competition. This morning, State GOP chairman Drew McKissick was already denouncing Sanford: “The last time Mark Sanford had an idea this dumb, it killed his governorship.”

This is all separate from the question of whether America’s mounting debt, deficit and government spending” is an issue that Republicans particularly care about at this moment. We can argue that they ought to, but the evidence is that by and large, they do not.

This isn’t to say Sanford’s announcement wouldn’t have any impact. He’s probably unnerving William Weld, former Massachusetts governor and Libertarian candidate for vice president, who announced a 2020 bid.

U.S.

How National Is “National Conservatism”?

The “national conservatism” conference underway in D.C. is making a strong case that nationalism can be a benign force — but the nationalism the speakers are describing doesn’t sound a lot like President Trump’s version of it. At Bloomberg Opinion, I suggest that nationalists ought to address the difference.

Education

Josh Hawley Takes Aim at Higher Ed

Senator Josh Hawley in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., July 11, 2019. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Over on the home page I have some thoughts about the true nature of the student-debt “crisis” and some ideas for how to deal with it. Coincidentally, today Josh Hawley announced some very relevant reforms.

Per his press release:

SEN. HAWLEY: BREAK UP HIGHER EDUCATION MONOPOLY, PROVIDE MORE OPTIONS FOR CAREER TRAINING

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is introducing two pieces of legislation this week that will expand federal aid for people pursuing vocational education and will put higher education institutions on the hook for students unable to repay student loans.

It’s an odd definition of “monopoly” that encompasses a sector with thousands of competing options, but okay: Higher ed is pretty dysfunctional and these reforms target two big problems with it.

Hawley’s first bill will “make more job-training and certification programs, like employer-based apprenticeships and digital boot camps, eligible to receive Pell Grants through an alternative accreditation process.” This is a good idea. There’s no reason we should be subsidizing college to the exclusion of other ways to learn important skills.

His second bill requires “colleges and universities to pay off 50 percent of the balance of student loans accrued while attending their institution for students who default, and forbids them from increasing the cost of attendance to offset their liability.”

The idea of a “money-back guarantee” for college isn’t crazy; it forces schools to take responsibility for their students’ outcomes, rather than accepting students who don’t have the skills to graduate, collecting tuition for a few years, and then sending the kids along poorer, indebted, and lacking a credential.

But I’m not sold on the idea of forbidding colleges “from increasing the cost of attendance to offset their liability.” I’m not sure it’s possible to enforce such a rule — and while higher ed in general is inefficient, I’m not sure it’s possible for every college to shoulder a new liability without raising its prices at all. Further, if tuition hikes resulted from this legislation, they would basically “price in” half the school’s default risk, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It would be better to require these payments — providing schools a big incentive to be careful about whom they admit and to teach students marketable skills — and let the market handle it from there. Rather than forcing schools to make cuts until they can cover the liability without a tuition hike, let them strike a balance between service cuts and price hikes and compete to see who figured out the best one.

Couple other things: Might it encourage students to default if doing so will force their college to “pay off” half their loans, especially once they miss payments for a while and start getting close to that threshold? (The consequences of defaulting are pretty severe, so maybe not, but it’s worth thinking about.) And should colleges be liable for the interest their former students rack up, or just for the money they actually collected in tuition payments etc.?

Culture

Tuesday links

On July 16, 1945, the atomic age began with the Trinity nuclear test. Related, this 1954 PSA, How a Clean, Tidy Home Can Help You Survive the Atomic Bomb, and a rather naively optimistic 1957 Disney classroom film — Our Friend the Atom.

An experimental pneumatic subway secretly built in Manhattan in the late 19th century.

Why Red M&M’s Disappeared for a Decade.

The Physics of How Lawn Mower Blades Cut Grass (at 50K frames per second).

The Torturous History of the Treadmill — it was originally designed to exploit prison labor.

Gallery: The serious side of historical games.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include poorly translated English language T-shirts spotted in Asia, that time America air-dropped pianos for troops in battlefields, the evolution of the Army helmet, and the eating habits of Medieval peasants.

Immigration

‘Ilhan Omar Is Completely Assimilated’

I wrote about the controversy over  Ilhan Omar today:

American has two assimilation problems. One is immigrants feeling only a tenuous connection to America, and getting isolated in ethnic enclaves. The other is immigrants like Omar — and some of her second-generation colleagues — assimilating into the America of identity politics and grievance.

They have learned to speak not just English, but the language of oppression. They understand our system (at least no less than the average officeholder), but hold it in low regard. They know our history, as taught by an instructor cribbing from Howard Zinn.

They may be citizens, but they are certainly outraged victims.

 

Politics & Policy

J. D. Vance: ‘American Dream Is Undoubtedly in Decline’

J.D. Vance (Operation Hope via YouTube)

Washington, D.C. — In a talk this morning at the National Conservatism Conference, author J. D. Vance said the conservative movement needs to move “beyond libertarianism” to address the fact that the simple American dream of giving one’s family a better life than you had as a kid is “undoubtedly in decline.” His remarks focused on lamenting various social ills and criticizing libertarianism for failing to use political power to fix them.

“I believe that conservatives have outsourced our economic- and domestic-policy thinking to libertarians,” Vance said. He defined libertarianism as “the view that so long as public outcomes and social goods are produced by free individual choices, we shouldn’t be too concerned about what those goods ultimately produce.”

Vance gave the example of neuroscientists in Silicon Valley making more at tech companies such as Apple and Facebook to, as he put it, “addict our children to devices that warp their brains” than they do developing cures for diseases. According to Vance, libertarians aren’t concerned about that, because it is a situation produced by individual choices.

“Conservatives should be concerned about it,” he said. “We should care about a whole host of public goods and actually be willing to use politics and political power to accomplish some of those public goods.”

He returned to this theme later in his remarks after discussing the ravages of the opioid epidemic, which is the chief cause of declining life expectancies in the U.S.

“Libertarians are not heartless and I don’t mean to suggest that they are,” Vance conceded. “They often recognize many of the same problems that we recognize, but they are so uncomfortable with political power or so skeptical of whether political power can accomplish anything that they don’t want to actually use it to solve or even help address some of these problems.” He went on:

To me, ignoring the fact that we have political choices or pretending that there aren’t political choices to be made is itself a political choice. The failure to use political power that the public has given us a choice, and it’s a choice that increasingly has had and increasingly will have incredibly dire consequences for ourselves and our families.

Vance referenced someone whom he called “a very popular libertarian author,” but declined to name any names. The author, he said, talks a lot about isolation; the decline of community, family, and marriage; addiction to social media; and the skyrocketing rates of youth suicide.

“If you think those things are problems,” Vance said, “if you think children killing themselves are problems, if you think people not having families, not being married, feeling more isolated are problems, then you need to be willing to use political power when it’s appropriate to solve those problems.”

“If people are spending too much time addicted to devices that are designed to addict them, we can’t just blame consumer choice,” he added. “We have to blame ourselves for not doing something to stop it. If people are killing themselves because they’re being bullied in online chatrooms, we can’t just say parents need to exercise more responsibility.”

“We live in environment and in a culture that is shaped by our laws and public policy, and we can’t hide from that fact anymore,” Vance concluded. “The question conservatives confront at this key moment is this: Whom do we serve? Do we serve pure, unfettered commercial freedom? Do we serve commerce at the expense of the public good? Or do we serve something higher, and are we willing to use political power to actually accomplish those things?”

Elections

Some Advice for Democratic Presidential Candidates on Abortion Policy

Former Vice President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 30, 2016 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

On Sunday, the New York Times ran an interesting op-ed by Michael Wear, who directed faith outreach for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and served as an adviser in the Obama White House. In his op-ed, Wear chastises the Democratic party’s presidential candidates for their leftward lurch on abortion. He points out that many voters — even a high percentage of Democratic voters — oppose taxpayer funding of abortion. Wear cites polling data showing that many racial minorities — a key Democratic constituency — support limiting abortion. He convincingly argues that the strident, uncompromising, and absolutist position taken by Democratic politicians on abortion may well hurt them with swing voters during the 2020 election.

He urges those politicians instead to take a moderate approach, specifically encouraging them to express moral reservations about abortion and be open to supporting limitations on abortion late in pregnancy, with certain exceptions. Wear also encourages presidential candidates to support a variety of policies with the purpose of reducing the abortion rate in the U.S., including paid family leave, workplace protections for pregnant women, increased access to contraception, and strengthened social programs. Wear says that this was President Obama’s approach and hints that these policy choices resulted in abortion rates being at a historic low when Obama left office.

Unsurprisingly, given that he worked for him, Wear gives Obama more credit than he deserves. Aside from signing appropriations bills with Hyde amendment protections to prevent direct federal funding of abortion, Obama never supported any legislation that would limit abortion. And he was never an abortion moderate. As a state senator in Illinois, he voted against the Illinois Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which would’ve protected infants born alive in botched abortion procedures.

What’s more, there’s no definitive evidence that the policy tools Wear describes actually will lower abortion rates. Some research suggests that programs intended to increase contraception use tend to be either ineffective at best or counterproductive at worst. Additionally, multiple studies have found that few sexually active women say that they forgo contraception due either to high cost or lack of availability.

Similarly, while there is a body of research showing that various pro-life laws lower abortion rates, there is no corresponding body of research showing that funding for social programs reduces the incidence of abortion. Indeed, many Democrats and progressive commentators give the Affordable Care Act credit for the decline in the U.S. abortion rate since 2010, but it should be noted that the U.S. abortion rate has been falling consistently since 1980. Indeed, the low abortion rates that Wear cites as evidence of the success of Obama’s policies are more likely a continuation of the consistent downward trend in the abortion rate that began in 1980.

Even so, Wear’s broader point is a good one. Obama offered pro-lifers very little in terms of either public policy or legislation, but he was rhetorically shrewd. He did not categorically denounce or castigate pro-lifers. He realized that many Americans had concerns about abortion and acknowledged the complexity of the issue. On multiple occasions, he even expressed an interest in trying to lower abortion rates. In short, he was trying to make voters with misgivings about legal abortion comfortable supporting him in both the 2008 and 2012 election.

These lessons appear to be lost on current crop of Democratic candidates. Of the more than 20 Democrats running for president, most have publicly opposed the Hyde amendment. Similarly, no Democratic presidential candidate has identified a legal limit on abortion that they would support. When New York senator Kristen Gillibrand met with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register, she said she would only appoint judges who would uphold Roe v. Wade saying that “there’s some issues that have such moral clarity that we have, as a society, decided that the other side is not acceptable.” What appears morally clear to Gillibrand is morally complex to many, and morally repugnant to countless others. Wear is correct that Democrats who espouse such an absolutist position do so at their peril.

World

A Noble Goal: No More Czars

Mikhail Khodorkovsky in London, August 2018 (Dylan Martinez / Reuters)

In the ’90s, some of us said that there were so many scandals coming out of the Clinton administration, you could not keep track of them all, or concentrate on them all, which benefited the administration. “They just like to pick on us,” the administration could say. We see some of that in Washington now, too.

Putin’s Kremlin commits so many outrages, some are quickly forgotten, if they ever register at all. Do you remember the shootdown of the civilian airliner in the summer of 2014? It killed almost 300 people. Yesterday, RFE/RL published an excellent, disturbing piece on the matter. (Those initials, as you know, stand for “Radio Free Europe” and “Radio Liberty.” Last year, I wrote a piece on the organization, which, far from a Cold War relic, is newly vital.)

On the homepage today, we publish the second in my two-part series on Mikhail Khodorkovsky: the richest man in Russia who became a political prisoner for ten years and now, in exile, devotes himself to human rights and the rule of law in his native country. Let me paste the final two paragraphs of the piece:

What does he want to accomplish with his Open Russia movement? He does not want “to accelerate Putin’s departure,” he says. Putin will eventually go, one way or another. “The key question is, What’s going to happen after his departure? We have a quite unpleasant tradition in Russia of getting rid of one czar, only to see him replaced by another. So what I want to do is try to change that tradition.”

In the eyes of many of us, this is a noble way to spend one’s time — and money — after 17 years in business (so brief a career) and another ten in Russian prisons. At this stage, Khodorkovsky could be putting his feet up, perhaps on a Caribbean island. No one would blame him. Instead, he is in the trenches, on the battlefield. He has his critics, who don’t do half as much good, or who, more likely, do none at all.

Immigration

Why So Little Coverage of the ICE Attack?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detain a suspect in Los Angeles in 2017. (Charles Reed/Reuters)

Mostly unnoticed beneath the storm of idiotic presidential tweets and the Democratic struggle session over exactly how minority legislators should behave, a 69-year-old man conducted a terrorist attack on a government facility this weekend.

Willem Van Spronsen, armed with a rifle and “incendiary devices”, set a car on fire and was shot and killed by police officers who were responding to the scene. He also attempted to light a propane tank on fire, which “could have resulted in the mass murder of staff and detainees housed at the facility had he been successful,” according to Shawn Fallah, head of the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility.

Van Spronsen reportedly had been arrested for lunging at and grabbing a police officer during a 2018 anti-immigration protest at the Tacoma facility. Presumably, he attacked the facility out of anger at ICE’s role in the crisis on the border.

This hardly registered in the national media. Granted, all the major outlets ran news stories — but there was no outcry of protest, no concern over political violence directed at government officials.

It is very easy to imagine how a similar attack, with political loyalties reversed, would have been reported. In fact, you don’t have to imagine it: Look to last year’s Cesar Sayoc “pipe bomb spree,” which became a referendum on whether President Trump’s “violent rhetoric” somehow encouraged violence of this kind. Conservatives warned then, and should say again now, that tying lone attacks by obvious lunatics to some kind of aura cast by controversial politicians is a toxic kind of discourse which needlessly and dangerously escalates the moral stakes of political disagreement.

So no one should be blaming any politician or political group for this assault (except possibly Antifa, of which Van Spronsen was a member — the Seattle branch posted a eulogy on Facebook). But the comparative lack of interest in this attempted bombing should be concerning.

I don’t think the downplaying of this story is malicious, but it’s a good example of how media bias manifests itself under the radar. Bias is less an attempt by journalists to impose beliefs and more journalists’ beliefs affecting which stories they cover.

In this case, attacks on Trump critics fit into a media worldview that sees Trump and his supporters as basically proto-fascist, ready to use violence against their adversaries. People like Cesar Sayoc fit into that narrative: They’re “stories” that help explain why Trump supporters are dangerous.

In contrast, Van Spronsen and Antifa are aberrations from the Left’s (and by extension, large sectors of elite media) own self-conception: peaceful, progressive, and ethical. Their actions, while worthy of basic reporting, aren’t worth covering in exhaustive detail. Not being representative of the Left, they don’t really “explain” anything about national politics.

Of course, the reasonable thing to say is that dangerous, violent, lunatics have always existed and will continue to exist, and attempting to attach the blame for bomb-throwing to Democrats or Republicans is absurd. But that wouldn’t drive traffic.

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