How Progressives Ruined Scottish Education


I recently wrote a piece for The Spectator’s U.K. edition on the ruinous nature of progressive education in Scotland.

Politics & Policy

What about Liz Cheney?

Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) attends a tribute ceremony for Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick in Washington, D.C., February 3, 2021. (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

Some of my friends and colleagues — more in sadness than in anger, of course! — affirm that Liz Cheney cannot expect to continue in a position of leadership in the Republican Party.

I am sure there are polls she could consult. I think she should consult Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

Today, when all the axes have hewn what they hacked, when all that was sown has borne fruit, we can see how lost, how drugged were those conceited youths who sought, through terror, bloody uprising, and civil war, to make the country just and content. No thank you, fathers of enlightenment! We now know that the vileness of the means begets the vileness of the result. Let our hands be clean!

So has the circle closed? So is there indeed no way out? So the only thing left to do is wait inertly: What if something just happens by itself?

But it will never come unstuck by itself, if we all, every day, continue to acknowledge, glorify, and strengthen it, if we do not, at the least, recoil from its most vulnerable point.

From lies.

When violence bursts onto the peaceful human condition, its face is flush with self-assurance, it displays on its banner and proclaims: “I am Violence! Make way, step aside, I will crush you!” But violence ages swiftly, a few years pass—and it is no longer sure of itself. To prop itself up, to appear decent, it will without fail call forth its ally—Lies. For violence has nothing to cover itself with but lies, and lies can only persist through violence. And it is not every day and not on every shoulder that violence brings down its heavy hand: It demands of us only a submission to lies, a daily participation in deceit—and this suffices as our fealty.

And therein we find, neglected by us, the simplest, the most accessible key to our liberation: a personal nonparticipation in lies! Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me!

And this is the way to break out of the imaginary encirclement of our inertness, the easiest way for us and the most devastating for the lies. For when people renounce lies, lies simply cease to exist. Like parasites, they can only survive when attached to a person.

“Live not by lies,” Solzhenitsyn wrote. It is a little promise, the smallest pledge: Not through me.

Good advice then. Good advice now.

Health Care

CDC Summer-Camp Guidance Is So Absurd, Even Fauci Can’t Keep a Straight Face When Asked about It

Dr. Anthony Fauci attends a Senate committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 18, 2021. (Anna Moneymaker/Reuters)

CDC guidance on children’s summer camps has gone so far that even Anthony Fauci couldn’t keep a straight face when asked to defend it.

On NBC’s Today Show, host Savannah Guthrie asked Fauci about the absurd CDC guidance on summer camps, which says that vaccinated adults and children have to wear mask outdoors unless eating, drinking, or swimming. This even though children are at low risk for severe COVID-19, and the risk of outdoor transmission is extremely low. 

“I wouldn’t call them excessive Savannah, but they certainly are conservative,” Fauci responded, having to pause so he could start chuckling. “And I think what you are going to start to see is really in real time continually reevaluating that for its practicality. Because you’re right, people look at that and they say, ‘Well, is that being a little bit too far right now?’”

When you’re losing Fauci, maybe it’s time to rethink whether you’ve gone overboard. 

PC Culture

‘We Reject Ideas of Natural Gifts and Talents’


That is a direct quote from the California Department of Education’s draft framework for K12 education. Robby Soave has much more on the framework here; it argues against separating kids by ability before high school and downplays the importance of giving bright kids access to high-school calculus.

You can argue about when schools should start providing different classes for kids with different skill levels, and about whether smart seniors should be focusing on calculus or some other topic. But when the “experts” in charge of your education system can’t even admit that giftedness exists, and they insist on holding advanced kids back in the name of “equity,” you just might have a problem.

Incidentally, not all leftists are this stupid in the face of human differences. You can read my review of Fredrik deBoer’s The Cult of Smart here.

Health Care

How a ‘Public Option’ Could Save Money

Federal government health-coverage forms (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

The “public option,” a government-run health-insurance plan that competes with private plans, has been a big idea on the left in recent years. Matthew Fiedler of the Brookings Institution has a worthwhile new piece about what it would take to make this concept work.

He writes:

This analysis considers how a public option would need to be designed to replicate Medicare’s ability to pay providers substantially less than private plans while still eliciting provider participation. In brief, I argue that a public option would likely need two key features. First, it would need to set prices administratively (as the Medicare program does) rather than through negotiations with providers (as private insurers do). Second, it would need to be impossible for a provider to serve patients covered by the public option’s private competitors without also serving patients covered by the public option.

Basically, the government would need to set rates by fiat and force health-care providers to take them. It couldn’t actually compete with private plans on equal terms.

He continues:

The analysis then considers whether there is still a rationale for creating a public option if policymakers are unwilling to adopt these design features—or simply do not wish to reduce provider prices. I conclude that, without paying providers less, a public option likely could not set lower premiums than typical existing plans; its lower administrative costs and lack of a profit margin would likely be more than offset by disadvantages in utilization management, risk selection, and diagnosis coding. It might be able to offer lower premiums than existing plans that have broad networks and looser utilization controls, but at best only slightly lower. Thus, for this type of public option to create significant value, it would need to offer better coverage than existing plans (and convince consumers of that fact). A public option’s lack of a profit motive offers a reason it might offer better coverage, but far from a guarantee. In sum, while it is hard to envision this type of public option doing much harm, it also might not do much good.

Read the whole thing.

Politics & Policy

Where Did the Absurd ‘Diversity Training’ Idea Come From?

(Devonyu/Getty Images)

Diversity training is a huge industry today, with many companies and speakers claiming that they can (for a hefty fee) root out all those nasty latent prejudices in people. After all, academics tell us that nearly all white people have racial biases. Companies and educational institutions now spend billions lest they be accused of not caring.

In today’s Martin Center article, Professor Alexander Riley looks at this phenomenon.

Riley writes, “In the typical scenario, students, staff, and faculty submit themselves to the mercies of hectoring lectures and demeaning demonstrations that purport to reveal white privilege and the oppressive conditions faced by ‘underrepresented populations’ in their institutions. Former Smith College staffer Jodi Shaw’s account of how, as part of such training, she was humiliatingly reduced to her racial identity and reprimanded for her role in the oppression of non-white co-workers is but the most recent high-profile example being discussed and debated.”

Riley reports on the sheer mania for “diversity, inclusion, and equity” on his campus at Bucknell.

There is no reliable evidence to show that any of this actually changes people for the better, but nobody dares to say that the emperor is wearing no clothes.

How did “diversity training” begin? Riley explains: “It was born the day after Martin Luther King Jr. died. On April 5, 1968, Jane Elliott, an Iowa third-grade teacher, conducted an experiment intended to inform her students what it was like to be non-white in America. Elliott staged a world in which her radical view of race relations in the country was produced within her class of white students. Brown-eyed students were collared, ostracized, insulted, and bullied by their teacher and the blue-eyed students. Then the process was reversed, and blue-eyed students became the targets.”

What started out as cruel humiliation of a few third graders has now spread to millions of adults.

“Contemporary diversity training,” Riley states,  “reinforces [Elliott’s] view. Consider, for example, this talk by a former Bucknell diversity officer, who claimed that no white person can meaningfully say ‘I am not a racist’ and suggested that whites who disagree are de facto supporters of the violent ‘racial tyranny’ that is the United States.”

An unchallengeable dogma has been unleashed on America, one that accomplishes nothing except to provide incomes for people with otherwise useless academic credentials.


Knocks on Texas Civics Bill Ring Hollow


Critics of a Texas bill that blocks “action civics” (mandatory political protesting for course credit) and Critical Race Theory (attacks on “whiteness,” “Euro-Centrism,” etc.) are off the mark. Their complaints are outlined in an article for the Dallas Morning News that does little to explain the powerful arguments in favor of the bill (HB 3979, and a companion bill in the senate, SB 2202). That’s a shame, because Texas is home to Tom Lindsay and Lucy Meckler, whose deeply thoughtful and well-researched critique of action civics for the Texas Public Policy Foundation is among the best and most influential such studies in the nation. Why not interview opinion leaders on both sides of the question, Morning News?

That said, the critics of HB 3979 do make a legitimate point about a small flaw in the bill that I believe can and should be corrected. Before I get to that worthy tweak, however, let’s look at the less meritorious complaints.

The educators questioned by the Morning News portray the bill as “politicized,” and warn against substituting the judgement of the legislature for the judgement of “professional educators.” The problem, however, is that supposedly “professional educators” throughout this country are increasingly abandoning non-partisanship and turning political. “We can’t be neutral!” is their chant. The practice of action civics allows, invites, and even mandates that teachers bring their politics into the classroom, by telling them to organize extracurricular student protests for course credit.

These protests purport to be for causes the children already favor. Unfortunately, a combination of teacher bias, peer pressure, and the hard-left orientation of the non-profits that push action civics means that these student demonstrations are invariably on the left. Lindsay and Meckler show this to devastating effect in their report. The advocates interviewed by the Morning News hold up as positive examples students who lobbied to name pecan pie the official Texas state pie. The reality, I’m afraid, as Lindsay and Meckler show, is mandatory after-school student lobbying for gun control, Green New Deal–style legislation, opposition to the border wall, branding the Founding Fathers as wealthy, white, economically motivated slaveowners, and more. (Read the report!) Advocates of action civics are aiming to produce a nation of Greta Thunbergs, not Paula Deens.

Nothing prevents students from getting politically involved after school. But why not do it the right way — on their own time, as genuine volunteering, and without pressure from schools and teachers likely to steer them toward their own preferred policies? Texas public schools serve families of every political stripe. We shouldn’t subject children to teacher biases and peer pressure over live political controversies.

If you want students to be informed and active citizens acquainted with current controversies, try high-school debate. That’s where young people study both sides of the argument, while learning that every side’s viewpoint has strengths and weaknesses (whether the Dallas Morning News reports on them or not). That’s real civics. Learn how to understand and respect both sides of the argument before you choose up sides and head out to protest.

The replacement of traditional debate with one-sided school-sponsored political demonstrations is a microcosm of what’s wrong with civil society today. If students participated in debate first, they’d show more respect for the freedom of speech of those with whom they disagree. Without debate and traditional civics, student demonstrations morph into shout-downs. That’s the mess we’re in, and we certainly don’t need more of it. Action civics nowadays is dominated by young people who descend on politicians to harangue, not to learn. Even California senator Dianne Feinstein has been mobbed by “action civics” kids more interested in making a scene than in listening to what she had to teach them about the legislative process.

Ah, but doesn’t action civics teach “media literacy,” and isn’t that good? Well, I’ve read the “media literacy” stuff they push nowadays. It’s the Democratic Party’s view of “fake news” in disguise. The new “media literacy” coursework lionizes the mainstream press and downright idolizes so-called media fact-checkers, despite their notorious bias. Media bias is barely mentioned. Instead, “media literacy” materials cleverly steer students away from, say, conservative blogs, in favor of the mainstream press. The “media literacy” materials I’ve studied were actually financed by the same social-media giants that make a practice of shutting conservatives out.

That brings us to critics of the HB 3979’s provision barring private financing of civics curricula. It sounds like a nice way to save the state money, but private financing of public-school curricula is a way for leftist foundations to end-run citizen control of the public-school system. It’s already happened in Illinois, where hard-left foundations pushing Critical Race Theory and action civics have “generously” stepped in to commandeer an entire state’s civic-education system. I guarantee you, if Texas allows private funding of its civics classes, a ton of wealthy donors from Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the entire woke-capitalist empire will step in to “donate” curricula tailor-made to turn Texas blue.

Now let’s cover the complaints about the bill’s supposedly “chilling effect” on classroom discussion. There is one important and legitimate point here. The rest of the grousing is deeply misleading. Public K–12 schools are not colleges or universities. States and school districts rightly enjoy wide latitude to decide on curricula, and K–12 teachers have only the most limited free-speech rights when in the process of teaching. In that context, a teacher’s job is to deliver the approved curriculum, not to preach his own point of view. States have every right — and every obligation — to prevent teachers from putting students through exercises that attack their “whiteness” and such. That is what HB 3979 does, and that is a very good thing.

I do, however, recommend a small tweak. As currently written, HB 3979 and its companion senate bill do prevent teachers from even discussing certain concepts related to race and racism. This may be legally permissible, but it is not a good idea. Critical Race Theory may not be a particularly good thing, but it’s out there. Students ought to be able to ask about it, and teachers ought to be able to address it. After all, we do want teachers to be able to explain why Critical Race Theory is a bad idea.

It would be a simple thing to tweak HB 3979 along the lines of the language in my model bill with the National Association of Scholars. This would permit discussion of the most troubling concepts of Critical Race Theory, but would prevent teachers from teaching them in such a way as to inculcate them in students. This would show the right kind of respect to the critics of HB 3979, while still protecting the substance of the bill.

In general, however, HB 3979 actually frees teachers up from intrusive speech mandates favored by the advocates of action civics. Action civics actually forces teachers to discuss current controversial issues in the classroom. (Right before organizing all those student demonstrations. What a coincidence!) Well, some teachers prefer to teach civics via historical examples and some prefer to focus on current controversies. Why constrain a given teacher to do one or the other (if not to invite generally left-leaning teachers to indoctrinate their students on current politics)? Ordering overwhelmingly left-leaning teachers to bring politics into the classroom is a prescription for trouble. It’s also unfair to teachers with currently unfashionable views who rightly fear being “canceled” if they say the wrong thing.

In short, with an easily arranged tweak, HB 3979 is the way to go. It will protect Texas from the scourge of politicization currently sweeping across the country in the form of action civics and Critical Race Theory, and that protection is urgently necessary. Pass the bill, then pass the pie.

Politics & Policy

All the Right Enemies: Episode IV


Ron DeSantis has all the right enemies — this we know. But up to this point, I have catalogued examples of his helpful opponents on the left: CBS and the perpetrators of 60 Minutes’ shoddy hit piece on the Florida governor, potential 2022 gubernatorial opponent Nikki Fried, and MSNBC’s Joy Reid.

Much to DeSantis’s delight, though, he may have some enemies in the seedy alt-right underworld as well. Scott Greer, a former Daily Caller employee who used to write pseudonymously for the white-nationalist Radix Journalcomplains that DeSantis might not be the “promised NazBol-” (National Bolshevism, oh joy!) “strongman” because he signed into law a bill requiring “public K-20 educational institution to treat discrimination by students or employees or resulting from institutional policies motivated by anti-Semitism in an identical manner to discrimination motivated by race.” The horror.

If DeSantis has the ire of not only the most dishonest names in left-wing media, but also the most despicable people that the media will attempt to cast him as being an ally of, the governor’s future might be even brighter than we thought.

Politics & Policy

Eating Chicken Is So Popular, Stocks Are Running Low

(villagemoon/Getty Images)

The animal rights/radical environmentalist cabal wants to get us to quit eating meat. The vegans claim the mantle of compassion — ignoring the fact that human beings are naturally omnivores and that the only way to go totally meat and dairy free is to take supplements. Even then, such diets are bad for children.

The environmentalists want to make us quit eating meat because of food animals’ supposed contributions to global warming. Much of the focus is on cattle, but we are told that the climate crisis! requires drastic cuts in meat consumption.

America apparently isn’t buying it. Instead, we are purchasing fried chicken at record rates. From the Bloomberg story:

The popularity of chicken — from sandwiches and tenders to nuggets and wings — is fueling such demand for fried poultry that America is starting to run short.

KFC says it’s struggling to keep up with soaring demand for its new sandwich, while North Carolina-based chicken-and biscuits-chain Bojangles reported outages of tenders across its 750 locations.

KFC saw its comparable-store sales soar 14% in the most recent quarter in the U.S., due in part to its new chicken sandwich that’s selling twice as much as past new sandwiches.

McDonald’s, which also reported higher-than-expected first-quarter sales, didn’t mention any supply constraints when it reported earnings Thursday but did say sales so far of its new chicken sandwich line are “far exceeding expectations.”

Poultry companies have been struggling to keep up with demand from quick-service restaurants. The biggest challenge for Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., the second-biggest U.S. chicken producer, is labor, according to Chief Executive Officer Fabio Sandri. The company expects to pay $40 million more this year to pay and retain workers, Sandri said Thursday.

Me? I don’t care what people eat. That’s a personal choice — kind of like taking the COVID vaccine should be. I respect vegetarians and vegans, but also those who like to barbecue the night away. I don’t see one side of the food divide as superior to the other.

I do get tired, however, of the constant haranguing from those who think their vegetarian food choices are morally superior, or who claim the high ground of compassion because they favor polices that would make meat — that splendid source of essential nutrition — too expensive for poor people to buy.

Those types of advocacy articles get most of the play in the media — liberal, conservative, and mainstream. I have to say, it’s kind of refreshing to see the apparent failure of anti-meat propagandizing.

Politics & Policy

America’s Great Gun-Buying Surge Continues

AR-15 rifles for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Penn., October 6, 2017 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The United States is still in the midst of the greatest gun-buying binge in its history. From The Reload:

April 2021 saw the most gun sales of any April on record.

The month saw nearly 1.7 million background checks on gun sales, according to an industry analysis of FBI numbers released on Monday. That puts it about one percent up from the previous record set last year. It also continues the remarkable surge in gun sales that has gone on for more than a year.

Last year’s surge saw around 5 million first-time buyers, including historic numbers of women and minorities. After the Capitol riot in January, CNN and others attempted to tie the spike in gun buying to right-wing unrest, but the trend had been ongoing since the pandemic began. If Americans felt helpless when sequestered in their homes in April, the rash of summer riots and the “defund the police” movement certainly didn’t allay those concerns. It’s worth noting as well that gun manufacturers are having a tough time keeping up with demand. These numbers could be larger.

And, as long as Democrats keep talking about gun confiscation and regulations, expect the trend to continue.

Health Care

Biden Sets ‘Bold’ Goal of 790,000 Shots Per Day until July 4

President Joe Biden speaks prior to signing the “American Rescue Plan,” a package of economic relief measures to respond to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, at the White House, March 11, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Today, President Biden set a goal of 70 percent of adult Americans having at least one coronavirus vaccine shot by the Fourth of July. Much like Biden’s 100 million shots in 100 days, this figure sounds impressive and ambitious, but appears much less daunting once you look at the current rate.

As of this morning, according to the CDC, 56.3 percent of Americans over age 18 have at least one dose — 145.3 million adults. Reaching the 75 percent threshold will require another 48.2 million shots.

That sounds like a lot, but there are 61 days between tomorrow and July 4 — meaning the United States needs to average a bit more than 790,000 shots per day. While the number of shots administered per day has dropped from a peak in mid-April, the U.S. is still averaging 2.29 million shots per day.

If, starting tomorrow, the U.S. averages half what the current average is — about 1.14 million per day –we will still hit Biden’s goal before the end of June.

Economy & Business

The Conservative Mind and the Market


Samuel Gregg has a smart piece in The Spectator on conservative attitudes toward the free market, which tend to swing with the general tide:

It’s worth remembering that the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, called himself an ‘old Henry Clay Tariff Whig’ in 1859. For several decades after the Civil War, the Republicans were the party of protectionism. Donald Trump’s self-description as ‘Tariff Man’ is actually consistent with these older Republican traditions, to which many market-skeptical conservatives now relentlessly draw attention.

I find myself settling in with Irving Kristol’s attitude to capitalism. Two cheers, not three.

Politics & Policy

Weighing the Costs of COVID Versus the Costs of Lockdowns

A man walks in downtown Lisbon on the first day of the second national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic in Portugal, January 15, 2021. (Pedro Nunes/Reuters)

Writing for AIER, Professor Don Boudreaux looks at the enormous discrepancy between the costs of COVID and the costs of the politically mandated response to the disease, namely lockdowns.

Boudreaux writes:

Yet there was no such careful calculation for the lockdowns imposed in haste to combat Covid-19. Lockdowns were simply assumed not only to be effective at significantly slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, but also to impose only costs that are acceptable. Regrettably, given the novelty of the lockdowns, and the enormous magnitude of their likely downsides, this bizarrely sanguine attitude toward lockdowns was – and remains – wholly unjustified. And the unjustness of this reaction is further highlighted by the fact that, in a free society, the burden of proof is on those who would restrict freedom and not on those who resist such restrictions.

His analysis is sound. As a matter of science, policy-makers should be just as interested in the costs of the problem as in the costs of any proposed solution to it. But that has been far from the case. Those who question the “solution” that politicians immediately settled upon have been subjected to nasty ad hominem attacks and had their works censored. Despite mounting evidence that mandatory lockdowns are a very poor, high-cost response, I’m aware of no politician or “progressive” writer who has said, “I think I was mistaken in concluding that the lockdown policy was right.”

That’s par for the course, though. There are lots of questions where clear-minded analysis throws statist policies into question. For instance, there’s an abundance of evidence that the harm done by minimum-wage laws is far greater than the benefit, but have you heard of any politician who supported increasing the minimum wage later admit that doing so was detrimental and that he regretted it?

Statists never admit error or apologize. They just demand more power.

Liz Cheney May Have to Be Ousted, but That’s a Sad Reflection of the GOP

Rep. Liz Cheney speaks during a news conference with other House Republicans at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., December 10, 2020. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Much of the debate over whether Representative Liz Cheney should remain in Republican leadership has divided those who agree with her statements about the 2020 election and those who see them as tantamount to betrayal. But there’s also a third position — which is that she’s right, but is now too unrepresentative of her party to help lead it. That, in itself, is a sad reflection of the state of the Republican Party.

It’s increasingly looking as though, having survived one attempt to oust her as conference chair, Cheney will have a difficult time remaining in leadership. Her repeated statements affirming

Politics & Policy

The State of Play in the House GOP


With shots fired in both directions, it looks like there will be another showdown over Liz Cheney’s leadership position as early as next week.

Chad Pergram of Fox has a useful thread on what’s going on:


Adam Silver Can’t Explain Away the NBA’s Cozy Relationship with China

Security personnel at the venue that was scheduled to hold fan events ahead of an NBA China game between Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers, at the Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai, China, October 9, 2019. (Aly Song/Reuters)

National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner Adam Silver is among those rarest of things: a political-science major making a lot of money. A lot of money — around $8 million a year, in fact. There’s not a single congressional staffer or journalist or operative with that same degree who isn’t jealous of Silver’s financial success. There’s also not, for those who’ve read Silver’s recent interview with Time, a single one who’s not haunted by the question: How did he do it? Because as a trained talker with the task of representing a sport, Silver embarrassed himself in what was supposed to be a flattering piece about the league. Asked about the state of the NBA’s relationship with China, Silver responded like this:

We continue to televise our games in China. Our most significant television partner is Tencent, which is a streaming service in China. And we have hundreds of millions of fans in China who we continue to serve. I’ll take a step back there and restate the NBA’s mission, which is to improve people’s lives through the game of basketball. And we think exporting NBA basketball to China and to virtually every country in the world continues to fit within our mission. The political science major in me believes that engagement is better than isolation. That a so-called boycott of China, taking into account legitimate criticisms of the Chinese system, won’t further the agenda of those who seek to bring about global change. Working with Chinese solely on NBA basketball has been a net plus for building relationships between two superpowers.

Were I a spokesman being asked a general question about my organization’s cozy relationship with a genocidal regime that uses concentration camps, rape, and forced abortions to persecute a religious and ethnic minority, I might refrain from opining about what does and does not constitute legitimate criticism of that regime. I might also, even if I rejected the idea that there was a moral imperative to boycott it, not be dismissive of those who do advocate such a course of action.

Moreover, if I were a freshman hoping to pass an introductory international-relations course in the political-science department, I might refrain from relying solely on buzzwords and phrases such as “engagement is better than isolation.” What kind of engagement? And toward what ends? In a follow-up answer, Silver says he’s not “claiming that by virtue of televising NBA games in China lo and behold, there’ll be a reckoning in China to adopt a Western point of view about human rights.” But, he insists, “I do think that in order to bring about realistic change, we have to build relationships. At the end of the day we’re all human beings.” Again, that kind of answer would be better received while passing around a bong in the dorm, rather than as any kind of serious argument in the classroom or public sphere.

Legitimizing the Chinese Communist Party in any way is morally unjustifiable, and Silver is almost assuredly ashamed of doing so for his employer’s, as well as his own financial profit. Watching him flail while trying to pretend there’s some kind of real benefit to the world, or to the Uyghurs suffering in Xinjiang, would be delightful if it weren’t so sad, and leaves you wondering if the NBA is getting its money’s worth.


Market Report

A direction sign on the floor at a Vons grocery store in Pasadena, Calif., June 10, 2020. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

The self-serve olive bar is back at my supermarket. The one-way signs have been removed from the aisles. The cashiers are no longer required to clean the belt between customers. After a year of so much loss and misery, little restorations mean a lot.

Masks will be the last thing to go, but we’re getting there. Two-thirds of residents in my upstate New York town are vaxxed (I’m one of them) and at least half the people in my county.

For the annals of the minor annoyances of corona times, I submit the Problem of the Plastic Produce Bag. In a cold fall and winter, with the dryness of outdoor air and indoor heat, it is basically impossible to open such bags without a moistened fingertip. Not only were we not touching our faces, but we wouldn’t have dreamed of licking our fingers. So you’d stand there struggling, scrunching the “open here” (yeah, right) end of the blasted bag for what seemed like the better part of a morning, sharing a masked laugh with another customer doing the same thing at the proper social distance on the other side of the oranges and grapefruits.

At one point, I discovered a solution to this tiny problem. The market puts out containers of pineapple in a barrel of crushed ice. Around the rim of the barrel, I could touch a bit of ice — itself socially distanced from the pineapple — and presto, my fingers gained just enough moisture to easily open the bags. Only once did I encounter another shopper doing the same, that lady having become desperate with plastic-produce-bag rage. Partners in crime and ingenuity, we assured each other we weren’t harming anyone or even ourselves with this furtive ice-touching.

In the produce aisle yesterday, I resumed what, pre-COVID, I never knew was a (minuscule) luxury of normal life: Reader, I licked my finger under my mask.

On the reinstated olive bar, a sign asks customers to don the single-use plastic gloves provided before picking up the long-handled spoons. Casual observation suggests that compliance is not high — though I would say common sense is.

Politics & Policy

Joe Biden Has a Weird Understanding of Patriotism

President Joe Biden arrives to address a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2021. (Melina Mara/Pool via Reuters)

Things Joe Biden finds patriotic: wearing masks and paying taxes. Things Joe Biden can take or leave: constitutional amendments.

Back in 2008, while running for vice president, Biden claimed that paying higher taxes for redistributionist policies was “patriotic.” It was, he explained, “time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut.” This would be a big part Barack Obama’s “Economic Patriotism,” a plan written by an administration that kept telling us left-wing economic policies were synonymous with patriotism, but religious freedom, freedom of speech and economic freedom were antiquated notions in need of fixing. And, well, if you disagreed, Biden might accuse you of “betting against America.”

Now, Biden, who says the United States is merely an “idea,” will demand more patriotic compliance by pumping another $80 billion into the IRS for enforcement. Just as the Founders imagined.

And when Biden was asked last week why he continues to participate in his unscientific, performative, vaccine-undermining mask-wearing, he explained: “It’s a small precaution to take that has a profound impact. It’s a patriotic responsibility, for God’s sake.” Upholding the rule of law or defending your nation or giving blood or volunteering at your community food bank might be patriotic. Wearing masks is repressive on a personal and societal level and should only be done (perhaps) during emergencies; and even then, as minimally as possible and with utter disdain — much like paying taxes.

Politics & Policy

No, Nothing Happened to the Border Crisis

Migrants are detained by a U.S. Border Patrol agent after crossing the Rio Bravo river to request asylum in El Paso, Texas, March 27, 2021. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

This observation is sort of like shooting fish in a barrel, but it does illuminate how out-of-sight often means out-of-mind in the national political conversation: on May 2, Jen Rubin of the Washington Post wrote a column entitled, “Hey, whatever happened to the border crisis?”

If Rubin had bothered to read the newspaper she works for, she would have learned, “unauthorized crossings along the Mexico border have remained near 20-year highs this month, with slightly fewer unaccompanied minors and family members taken into custody by U.S. agents but more adults arriving than in March.”

The day after Rubin wrote her column, CNN reported, “throughout April, Customs and Border Protection has encountered an average of just under 6,000 people daily at the southern border, according to a Department of Homeland Security official, which is in line with the March average of around 5,560 people daily… During the first three weeks of April, around 122,000 people were encountered by US border authorities on the southwest border, another signal that the month will likely be similar to March, according to preliminary data obtained by CNN.”

Oh, and late April doesn’t look quiet, either:

On April 23, agents near Brackettville, Texas arrested a Mexican national with a prior conviction of Sexual Assault in Tarrant County, Texas. On April 27, agents arrested a Mexican national near Uvalde with a prior conviction for Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child in San Antonio, Texas. The next day, Uvalde Station agents arrested a Honduran man with a prior conviction for Sexual Assault out of Phoenix, Arizona.

Agents disrupted 69 smuggling cases attempting to smuggle 364 migrants further into the U.S. throughout sector and made 4,640 apprehension in the past seven days. Del Rio Station agents had multiple instances where they apprehended over 100 individuals at one time.

And that’s just one small stretch in one week. The El Paso office arrested 27 wanted people in a one-week span for outstanding warrants for crimes including multiple sexual assault/abuse of a child charges, aggravated assault, larceny, robbery, prostitution, fraud, possession of heroin, marijuana smuggling, forgery of financial instruments, and possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

Wait, there’s more in the Post, from the Associated Press:

A tractor-trailer slams into an SUV at an intersection on a remote California desert highway, killing 13 of 25 people crammed inside the late model Ford Expedition.

A man dangles a toddler over a border wall near Santa Teresa, New Mexico, allowing her to fall on her face before he disappears into Mexico.

A 40-foot (12.2-meter) cabin cruiser overloaded with 32 people capsizes just off the San Diego coast, killing three and critically injuring another person. The others aboard survived, with one in critical condition.

The incidents, which occurred over the last two months, show how smugglers put migrants at extraordinary peril for profits, whether by car, on foot or at sea.

We will find out how many enforcement encounters the U.S. Customs and Border Protection had in the month of April in a couple of days, but it’s looking like it’s going to be in the neighborhood of March’s 172,331 — a 71 percent increase over February 2021 and the highest level in one month in nearly 20 years.

Nothing happened to the border crisis. It’s still going on, day after day. The only thing that changed was that the national media stopped talking about it quite as often and as loudly as it did earlier in the year.


Anti-Racism and Anti-Communism

Communists wave Soviet flags near the statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin in Stavropol, Russia, May 1, 2009. (Eduard Korniyenko/Reuters)

A great many college leaders today are on the anti-racism bandwagon, insisting that everything possible be done to eradicate racism.

But suppose that someone were to say, “Communism is also bad. Let’s have a campaign on campus to stamp it out too.”

George Mason University economics professor Bryan Caplan ponders the differences between anti-racist and anti-communist campaigns in this post.

He sees no difference.

Among Caplan’s reasons for thinking that an anti-communist campaign would be bad: “Once the re-definition of ‘Communism’ starts to snowball, people will self-censor to avoid becoming victims of semantic inflation. So the policy doesn’t merely persecute people for leftist leanings; it stifles the creation and evaluation of any idea that a paranoid fanatic might interpret as ‘Communist.’* Universities should be especially horrified by this consequence, because universities are supposed to be centers for the creation and objective evaluation of ideas.”

Similarly: “Once the re-definition of ‘racism’ starts to snowball, people will self-censor to avoid becoming victims of semantic inflation.  So the policy doesn’t merely persecute people for non-leftist leanings; it stifles the creation and evaluation of any idea that a paranoid fanatic might interpret as ‘racist.’ Universities should be especially horrified by this consequence, because universities are supposed to be centers for the creation and objective evaluation of ideas.”

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Dan Klein

Politics & Policy

Two Months Later, How’s the Lifting of the Mask Mandate Going in Texas?

Texas governor Greg Abbott (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

When Texas governor Greg Abbott lifted the state’s mask mandate on March 2, he was simply leaving it up to individual businesses to decide whether they wanted to require masks depending on circumstances. As expressed by Beto O’Rourke, who called the GOP a “cult of death,” here was the typically temperate response of many in the Democratic Party and its media wing, otherwise known as “the media”:

They literally want to sacrifice the lives of our fellow Texans, for I don’t know, for political gain? To satisfy certain powerful interests within the state? This isn’t hyperbole. You heard our lieutenant governor, arguably one of the most powerful positions in the state of Texas, say on Fox News at the beginning of the pandemic, we are willing to die. Old people are willing to sacrifice their lives in order for the economy to reopen. . . . Unconscionable, unacceptable, we’re not accepting it. We’re moving forward on an individual and collective basis to help our fellow Texans.

Okey-doke. More than 60 days have gone by. Let’s look at the the numbers for some locations via the New York Times‘ helpful tracking tool:

New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced with great fanfare yesterday that he is so delighted with his numbers that he is reopening the state almost back to normal levels and lifting most capacity restrictions at a point when . . . the New York City death toll is still double the nation’s, and more than double Texas’s. Will Democrats complain that Cuomo is presiding over a “cult of death” for being too hasty about reopening? New York has the second-highest unemployment rate of any state (only Hawaii is worse off), and if it has purchased a lot of additional safety with all of that economic pain, it’s hard to see.


A Diabolical Bind

Gulchehra Hoja (Photo courtesy of Radio Free Asia)

Gulchehra Hoja is a Uyghur-American journalist, working at Radio Free Asia. We have a piece about her on the homepage today, here. She is a warm and very brave lady. She and her colleagues at RFA report the truth about what the Chinese government is doing to the Uyghur people. The government then retaliates against their families.

The bind that these reporters are in is diabolical.

Back in China — in Xinjiang Province, or East Turkestan — Gulchehra Hoja was a media star. She was on Uyghur-language television and Chinese television, more broadly. She was in commercials, videos, and movies. But in 2001, something fateful happened: She took a trip to Europe. She spent a lot of time indoors, staring at a relatively new thing, namely the Internet. This was not possible in China.

I’m reminded of Chinese people who go to Taiwan — to Taipei, usually — for vacation. Many of them stay in their hotel rooms at night. They are watching television, fascinated by the political debate, amazed at what can happen in a free and open society.

In Vienna, those 20 years ago, Gulchehra Hoja offered her services to Radio Free Asia.

Flash forward to 2018. On January 28, Hoja published an interview with a survivor of the camps — the concentration camps that the Chinese government has set up in the northwest of the country. The man’s name was Omurbek Eli. It was the first such interview ever published — an interview with an escapee or survivor.

On the night of January 31, the government arrested a full 25 of Hoja’s relatives, including her mother. Some of the relatives, Hoja has never even met: They were born after her defection.

Under other circumstances, her mother would have wanted to die in the camps, rather than eat the foul, noxious food. But she ate it, in order to survive. Once released, she gave the reason: She did not want her daughter to blame herself, if she died.

She and her daughter were able to have a phone call. And mother said to daughter something both admiring and almost funny: “You must be doing a good job, because you have made them very angry.”

At Radio Free Asia, there are 15 Uyghurs, or Uyghur Americans. Eight of them currently have family in the camps. The Chinese government is trying to shut them up. It’s not working.

Again, my piece on Gulchehra Hoja is here. For a Q&A podcast with her, go here. She and her colleagues fight off despair and other emotions. They know they are providing a voice for the voiceless. They are doing everything they can to counter a barrage of lies, coming from the dictatorship in Beijing.


Cornyn Is Mistaken on Civics Bill

Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) speaks during the second day of Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on October 13, 2020. (Stefani Reynolds/Reuters)

Now that President Biden has issued a rule giving priority to grants in history and civics that promote the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory (CRT), it is even more clear than it already was that the $6 billion appropriated by the Civics Secures Democracy Act will be used by the federal government to impose these toxic approaches on local schools, just as President Obama used Race to the Top grants to force Common Core onto the states. In effect, the Civics Secures Democracy Act creates a second Common Core, this time built around radical Critical Race Theory, and civics as leftist political protest (“action civics”).

Yesterday, the Civics Alliance convened by the National Association of Scholars issued an appeal to Senator John Cornyn and Representative Tom Cole, both Republicans, to withdraw their co-sponsorship of the Civics Secures Democracy Act, particularly in light of the new Biden rule. I was a signatory of that appeal and wrote about it here.

A spokesperson for Cornyn has now responded to the appeal by rejecting it and maintaining instead that the Civics Secures Democracy Act will actually prevent the Biden administration from forcing Critical Race Theory onto America’s schools. Unfortunately, Cornyn’s response is flat-out inaccurate and in no way allays the concerns about this bill expressed by the signatories of the open letter.

Cornyn’s response was issued as a reply to a piece about the controversy at Breitbart by Dr. Susan Berry, and you can read his response at the top of that article, linked here.

Cornyn’s response expresses outrage at Biden’s new rule on Critical Race Theory. Cornyn then goes on to claim that the Civics Secures Democracy Act will actually prevent Biden from imposing Critical Race Theory on America’s schools. Cornyn tries to establish that point with two arguments.

First, Cornyn claims that his bill “actually prohibits the Biden administration from establishing federal curriculum, like CRT.” Unfortunately, this is both mistaken and misleading. It’s true that the bill includes a “rule of construction” stating that “nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the Secretary of Education to prescribe a civics and history curriculum.” Notice that this is not a “prohibition.” It merely says that nothing in the bill shall be construed to “authorize” the secretary of education to “prescribe” a civics and history curriculum.

More important is the fact that precisely the same sort of rule was operative when Obama pressed Common Core on the states. Sadly, that rule did precisely nothing to block Common Core. The danger that I and others have long warned of in both Common Core and the present case is that of a de facto national curriculum, not a legally literal one. The conditions imposed by Obama on his Race to the Top grants may not have met the legal requirements for “prescribing” a formal “national curriculum,” at least as adjudicated at the time. Nonetheless, they were perfectly sufficient to take control of the direction of American education in math and reading. Similarly, well before Biden reaches the current de jure legal definition of prescribing a national curriculum, he can easily impose action civics and Critical Race Theory on the nation via the multibillion-dollar carrots authorized by Cornyn’s bill and the national tests that states would be required to administer to their students by that bill. The content of Biden’s rule on Critical Race Theory makes that all too clear.

This brings us to the second and more serious flaw in Cornyn’s response. Cornyn maintains that his bill will actually prevent Biden from imposing the priorities contained in his new rule on Critical Race Theory. Why? Because according to Cornyn, the grants authorized by the Civics Secures Democracy Act are “formula grants,” as opposed to grants to be disbursed at the discretion of the secretary of education. In other words, Cornyn maintains that the grants under his bill would be disbursed to various states according to an automatic formula relying on neutral criteria such as their population in relation to other states, thereby preventing the secretary of education from exercising discretion by deploying the pro–1619 Project and pro–Critical Race Theory criteria in Biden’s new rule.

This is simply mistaken. The Civics Secures Democracy Act explicitly authorizes the secretary of education to makes grants to the states (and to other entities such as nonprofits, educational institutions, etc.) on a competitive basis. Section 103(a) of the bill states: “The Secretary of Education is authorized to make grants to states, on a competitive basis, to support educational programs in civics and history . . .” (emphasis added). (See the text of the bill, Page 8, Lines 22-23.) It’s true that once a particular state has won a grant competition, the amount of its grant will be determined by a formula based on factors such as its population relative to other states. (Page 9, Lines 1-4) But the grants themselves are to be awarded at the discretion of the secretary of education, based on his judgment as to which proposals best fulfill the priority criteria outlined in the bill itself.

Those criteria clearly favor action civics. Other criteria mesh perfectly with the new Biden rule favoring the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory. Cornyn’s bill, for example, allows the secretary of education to award grants based on his judgment as to which have the greatest potential to “improve knowledge and engagement among students traditionally underserved,” or to “close gaps in knowledge and achievement among students of different income levels, racial and ethnic groups, and native languages.” (Pages 7, Line 24—Page 8, Line 11) The new Biden rule explicitly favors Critical Race Theory because it takes the position that CRT is the best way to address the needs of traditionally underserved students with diverse racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds.

In other words, Biden’s education secretary does indeed have discretion to decide on which states, nonprofit organizations, higher-education institutions, etc., should win competitions for grants. And the new Biden rule creates guidance that meshes with the priority criteria already in the Civics Secures Democracy Act. The result will be that the Cornyn bill, in practice, will be used by the Biden administration in just the way Obama used Common Core — and with the additional ability to cut off funding to states whose students are not learning the curriculum effectively imposed by the mandated national test. The massive civics grants will serve as politically irresistible carrots that will commit states to forcing ideas such as the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory onto their school districts — even the most conservative districts in deep-dyed red states.

I am not the only analyst to read the plain meaning of the bill’s text in this way. Consider the excellent analysis of the Civics Secures Democracy Act by Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins, education experts and longtime critics of the Common Core: “The bill authorizes the Secretary of Education to make grants of $585 million per year to states ‘on a competitive basis,’ giving the secretary leeway to set the particulars of the competition. As with past programs, this arrangement will weaken the integrity of state and local policymaking and bend it toward federal prescriptions. For example, the Race to the Top competition rewarded states for commitment to the Common Core, a controversial initiative with abysmal results.”

In short, Senator Cornyn’s defense of his bill is mistaken and untenable. I hope he will abandon support for this bill before he hands Biden the tool he needs to force action civics and Critical Race Theory onto every school in the nation.

Health Care

Jahi McMath Was Not Brain Dead

Nailah Winkfield, mother of Jahi McMath, speaks to the media outside Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, Calif., December 30, 2013. (Norbert von der Groeben/Reuters)

Readers may recall the sad case of Jahi McMath out of Oakland, Calif. In 2013, Jahi experienced a severe bleeding event after throat surgery and a subsequent cardiac arrest. She was successfully resuscitated, but her brain was catastrophically injured from loss of oxygen. Doctors at Oakland Children’s Hospital declared her brain dead and announced plans to remove Jahi from life support.

Not so fast. Jahi’s mother, Latasha “Nailah” Winkfield, did not believe her baby was dead. She sued to keep her daughter’s life support maintained. It made national headlines. Eventually, a deal was worked out in which California issued a death certificate and Jahi was transferred to her mother’s care still attached to life support. Nailah moved Jahi to New Jersey that permits a religious exemption from brain death, insisting that her daughter was severely disabled, but alive.

I initially supported the brain-death declaration, but changed my mind over time when Jahi’s body did not begin to breakdown, as almost always happens in brain-death cases. Moreover and far more importantly, the noted neurologist Alan Shewmon reviewed the tapes of her seeming responsiveness and opined that while she met the criteria for brain death at the time, he believed she wasn’t any longer. He stated under penalty of perjury that she was not dead, but severely disabled. (Shewmon does not believe that brain death is a legitimate diagnosis.) I wrote about these twists in Jahi’s story repeatedly.

Well, it now turns out that Nailah and Shewmon had it right. An article detailing the results of examination of Jahi’s brain by another neurologist, published in the respected Journal of Neurosurgical Sciences, explains precisely why she was not really brain dead. meaning, she was not dead at all. Rather, the doctor opines that she experience a severe cognitive disability of a kind not  observed heretofore. From, “Jahi McMath: A New State of Disorder of Consciousness“:

BD has been characterized by the loss of all HRV power. On the contrary, all HRV bands, BD were preserved in this patient, demonstrating preservation of autonomic function. Moreover, autonomic reactivity to “mother talks” stimulation demonstrated remaining function at different levels of the central autonomic system. These results support Dr. Shewmon’s analysis of Jahi McMath’s videos, who emphasized that her movements reflected responses to her mother. . . .

Jahi McMath was a rare and argumentative case. The concept of BD is not denied with the discussion of this case but brings back the debate of using or not ancillary tests in BD confirmation.

In conclusion, Jahi was in a new state of disorder of consciousness, non-previously described, that I have termed as a “responsive unawake syndrome”

So much for the arrogance of, “The mother just can’t accept reality,” or, “She is in it for the money,” disdain that was thrown at Nailah constantly by people who loathed her for fighting for Jahi’s life. Perhaps one lesson in this tragedy is that doctors should be less dismissive of loved ones’ perspectives in cases like Jahi’s (and Terri Schiavo’s, among others).

On a personal note: I had the great honor of visiting Nailah and Jahi in New Jersey, a visit arranged by Terri Schiavo’s brother, Bobby Schindler, who, almost alone in the world, stood courageously in solidarity with Nailah during the entire ordeal. For what it is worth, I found her to be a mother who was very aware of her circumstances and fighting fiercely for her beloved daughter’s life without ulterior motives.

It was a day I shall never forget. Nailah asked Jahi to touch her right index finger and thumb together. Jahi appeared to be trying to comply — it was hard to say for sure, but her hand began to shake. A few minutes later, I saw her slowly move her thumb and forefinger together and touch them. I nearly jumped out of my shoes, as she complied precisely with what Nailah had asked of her. It is important to note that Jahi’s digits did not “jerk” or “twitch” during the movement, as one would expect from an involuntary action. Rather, it appeared entirely volitional and controlled.

So, I am not surprised that Jahi was not really dead for all those years she lived in New Jersey. I wrote — and still believe — that scientists around the world should want to know more about her case and to further explore the brain-death diagnosis. Hopefully, this article will spark renewed interest. People need to have faith that when a loved one is declared dead, they are really dead.

Post Script: Jahi really died in 2018.


Immigration: A Response to Hilditch

Migrants cross a river next to an construction crew working on a section of the new U.S.-Mexico wall between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, February 5, 2019. (Jose Luis Gonzalezz/Reuters)

In response to An Alternative View of Immigration Reform

Why has “comprehensive immigration reform” — defined as legislation that increases legal immigration, legalizes many illegal immigrants who have put down roots here, and increases enforcement of the laws going forward — consistently failed of enactment over the last 20 years? I took a stab at answering the question in a recent column, prompted by George W. Bush’s renewed push for the idea, a push that I suggested was likely to fail for the same reason its predecessors had.

Cameron Hilditch raised several objections to my analysis here at NRO.

First, he writes, I’ve made “an exclusively interests-based case for immigration restrictionism, a case that takes no account of historic American values on the issue.” But I didn’t make a case of any kind for restrictionism. In the passage that Hilditch seems to have in mind, I merely observed that if you want to persuade people that more immigration would make the U.S. “better off,” as Bush said, you should explain how. Note also that skepticism about increasing immigration is not the same thing as advocacy of reducing it.

Second, Hilditch faults me for allegedly being dismissive of the economic case for high-skilled immigration. I plead not guilty. My actual point was that a higher level of immigration, which Bush advocates, is not necessary to have more high-skilled immigration. You could couple more high-skilled immigration with less low-skilled immigration. An argument for more high-skilled immigration is therefore not an argument for more immigration in general.

Third, Hilditch suggests that Republicans who have doubts about creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants are mistaken since it “is not only morally right but practically inevitable.” Neither his moral nor his practical argument touches the principal doubt I mentioned: the suspicion that promises of enforcement will not be taken any more seriously than they were after the 1986 amnesty. I don’t think a path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants is inevitable; it has been held off already for nearly 20 years.

Fourth, he writes, “If America is going to pursue a nakedly restrictionist immigration policy, let’s dispense with all the talk of shining cities on hills and last best hopes of Earth.” Unless we are defining anything short of open borders as “nakedly restrictionist,” America isn’t going to pursue any such policy.

National Security & Defense

Yes, Hold China Back

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, April 14, 2021. (Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via Reuters)

Antony Blinken’s 60 Minutes interview yesterday hit some of the right notes, particularly on Xinjiang and Hong Kong. But the secretary of state also made some perplexing comments about the goal of U.S. actions to respond to China’s misbehavior:

It is the one country in the world that has the military, economic, diplomatic capacity to undermine or challenge the rules-based order that we care so much about and are determined to defend.  But I want to be very clear about something, and this is important:  Our purpose is not to contain China, to hold it back, to keep it down.  It is to uphold this rules-based order that China is posing a challenge to.  Anyone who poses a challenge to that order, we’re going to stand up and defend it.

Blinken might have meant to argue that Washington’s goal isn’t to make life hard for ordinary people in China, as the Chinese Communist Party often charges. But, unlike what his comments actually seemed to suggest, the goal of the burgeoning bipartisan consensus against Beijing’s malign activities is and should be to prevent the CCP from doing further harm to the victims of its rule and from exerting its power over others. Punishing genocide requires that China be made an international pariah. Deterring a future assault on Taiwan calls for planning a unified allied military response. Failing to do everything possible to thwart Beijing’s dangerous ambitions and growing global influence would be a grave mistake.

There’s plenty of room for debate about whether this amounts to a formal doctrine of containment, but the purpose of U.S. policy should be to hold China back, if by China one means the totalitarian party-state that has a grip on every aspect of Chinese society and intends to co-opt to its own ends the very order that Blinken defends.

Politics & Policy

Learning Liberty with John Milton


Aeon has recently published an excellent essay on John Milton’s Areopagitica, the Puritan poet’s great defense of the freedom of speech and of the press. Written at the height of the English Civil War, when the political tempers of both sides were long past frayed, the tract is a shining example of principle triumphing over passion. It’s worth revisiting as a reminder of how difficult it has always been for our species to resist the temptation towards the censorship when the opportunity to censor arises.


Democracies Abetted Iran’s Election to a U.N. Women’s Rights Post

(mizoula/Getty Images)

The election of Iran, China, and other countries with delinquent human-rights records to the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women last month kicked off an international whodunnit.

According to the NGO U.N. Watch, at least five Western democracies eligible to vote on commission membership would have needed to support Tehran’s bid. Meanwhile, the U.S. government called the development “troubling” but declined to issue a sharper condemnation.

Human-rights advocates blame this ambiguous stance on the Biden administration’s efforts to reenter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, as ongoing talks in Vienna get closer to producing an agreement to jumpstart the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “The Biden administration has joined Canada and Europe in a most disciplined reticence to criticize the Islamic Republic’s mounting repression, in the hope that the lack of scrutiny will be seen by the regime as another concession to curb its nuclear program,” said Marian Memarsadeghi, a senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute.

The problems with Tehran’s participation in any international entity involving women’s equality should be self-evident. At a Monday morning U.N. Watch press conference that focused on Iran’s election to the commission, panelists, including Memarsadeghi and Shaparak Shajarizadeh, an activist who was jailed twice and assaulted for speaking out against Iran’s mandatory hijab law, pointed to Iran’s manifest hostility to women, including the fact that the age of marriage for girls is 13 and that domestic violence and marital rape are not criminally punishable. (Read more on this from Isaac Schorr.)

All of which makes it astounding that Western democracies voted for Iran. But it’s not unprecedented; although Iran wasn’t on the commission when it was elected, it had previously served terms on the body. China was already on the body, and it won an additional term with votes from nine of the 15 Western governments eligible to vote, despite its own abominable record on women’s rights.

Usually, there’s no formal vote for commission membership, as backroom negotiations leads yield a number of candidates that precisely matches the number of open seats for the commission, but the Biden administration said that it specifically called for a vote in order to put countries on the spot.

Still, ballots were cast in secret, so there’s no easy way to identify the Western countries that sided with Tehran. With only two exceptions, the Western democracies on the commission have remained silent, but as public pressure grew, Canada’s ambassador to the U.N. confirmed that his country had not voted for Iran.

The U.S. government has also strongly implied that it opposed the result. In the April 23 statement, a spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the U.N. elaborated on Washington’s stance:

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield believes the unopposed candidacies of countries that engage in torture, abuse, and violations of human rights and due process was a troubling feature of this election.  That’s why the United States called for the vote on the Commission on the Status of Women, specifically to allow countries to register their opposition.  The United States supports candidates in the UN system that seek to contribute positively to its work and mission and reinforce the foundational values of the UN system, including human rights. We continue to call on regional groups to put forward candidates with strong human rights records for these UN bodies.

Since then, the State Department has invoked almost identical language to answer other reporters’ questions, including during a briefing by State Department spokesperson Ned Price on April 29. He delivered the pro forma response, but in follow up questioning declined to explicitly condemn Iran’s election to the commission: “In this case, I think that Iran would qualify for much of what I just said: countries that have very troubling records, deeply disturbing records.”

“That’s a change in position,” said Hillel Neuer, the director of U.N. Watch, this morning, pointing out that the administration’s current stance falls far short of then-U.N. ambassador Samantha Power’s expression of “outrage” when Iran won a seat in 2014.

With talks on reviving the Iran deal in full swing, the administration has apparently decided that taking a softer stance on women’s rights will help strengthen its negotiating position. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is that several European countries at the U.N. see it more appropriate to elevate brutal authoritarian regimes to key positions than to draw a clear line opposing their behavior.

Open the Schools Already

Florida teachers, whose unions were against their members returning to school, hold a car parade protest in front of the Pasco County School district office in Land O’ Lakes, Fla., July 21, 2020. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

For all the talk about following the science, it is amazing to me that there is still a debate about whether public schools will open for full time instruction in the fall. We have lots of evidence that hybrid schools hurt kids at home and kids in the classroom too. We have evidence that opening schools does not increase community transmission and that keeping kids home from school doesn’t lower the spread either. We also have lots of evidence of the impact of school-closing on mothers.

There is much more we know about why we should reopen the schools. But I

National Security & Defense

The CIA’s Recruitment Video Is Well-Targeted


Progressives seem upset that the CIA has “co-opted” their language in a new recruitment video that features a “cisgender millennial” woman who says she is “intersectional,” that she is “unapologetically me,” and that she refuses to “internalize misguided patriarchal ideas.”

Personally, I think the move makes perfect sense. The sort of people who talk like this are already experts in manipulating, infiltrating, surveilling, and extracting dubious confessions from the rest of us — and, as a result, they already possess most of the skills for which the CIA is looking.

Politics & Policy

New Guttmacher Report Shows Impressive Pro-Life Progress at the State Level

Pro-life activists hold placards as they walk during the 48th Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 29, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

This past Friday, the Guttmacher Institute released a policy analysis highlighting the significant legislative progress that pro-lifers have made at the state level in 2021. The report indicates that a whopping 536 pro-life laws have been introduced this year. More important, 61 pieces of pro-life legislation have been signed into law and 13 states have enacted at least one pro-life law. Furthermore, eight gestational age limits have already been enacted. The Guttmacher Institute states that the number of pro-life laws enacted during the past four months is “unprecedented.” Excellent news for pro-lifers!

Guttmacher also noted that legislatively, last week was the most productive week for pro-lifers in at least a decade, as 28 pro-life bills were signed into law. Highlights from the year included Idaho and Oklahoma each passing bills that protect preborn children after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Additionally, Montana passed legislation protecting preborn children after 20 weeks gestation. Arizona governor Doug Ducey signed a bill prohibiting abortions due to a prenatal diagnosis such as Down syndrome. Additionally, in response to the recent FDA decision allowing women to obtain chemical abortion drugs by mail during the pandemic, Montana, Indiana, and Arizona all enacted safeguards on chemical abortions.

There are several important lessons pro-lifers can learn from this. First, impressive pro-life progress can take place at the state level even during Democratic presidential administrations. During the Clinton administration approximately twelve state level pro-life parental involvement laws took effect and eleven states passed Casey-style informed-consent laws. During the Obama administration over 400 state-level pro-life laws were enacted. Various Supreme Court decisions, including Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Gonzalez v Carhart, and pro-life gains in many state legislatures have made it easier to enact these protective pro-life laws.

Second, the success that Republicans have enjoyed at the state and local level has made it much easier to pass protections for unborn children. Currently, Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature in 30 states and possess unified control of government in 23 states. In fact, even though Democrats won the Presidency and control of both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate during the most recent election cycle, Republicans actually won unified control of two additional state governments during the 2020 election cycle. As recently as 1990, Republican controlled both chambers of the state legislature in only five states. The investments that pro-lifers have made in local elections are certainly paying impressive dividends.

Finally, in many blue states, pro-lifers are playing good defense. Recent Guttmacher Institute policy analyses often highlight states that have either expanded access to abortion or made abortion policy more permissive. However, social liberals and supporters of legal abortion and have enjoyed little success at the state level this year. Efforts to repeal the pro-life parental-involvement law in Illinois remain stalled. Thus far, the New Jersey state legislature has been unable to pass the Reproductive Freedom Act, which would explicitly make abortion legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy and make it possible for non-physicians to perform abortions. Finally, in April, pro-lifers defeated a bill to legalized assisted suicide in Connecticut.

That said, even though pro-lifers have made significant progress at the state level, the Biden administration is aggressively seeking to expand access to abortion both at home and abroad. Shortly after Joe Biden’s inauguration, the Mexico City Policy was repealed. NGOs that promote or perform abortions are now eligible to receive U.S. foreign-aid dollars. Additionally, the Biden administration is moving to restore Planned Parenthood’s eligibility for Title X grants. This means Planned Parenthood will receive tens of millions of additional federal dollars. Finally, this month President Biden will release his fiscal 2022 budget proposal, which will likely call for a repeal of the Hyde Amendment. As always, pro-lifers would do well to be diligent.

Politics & Policy

Apparently, That’s the Wrong Kind of Press Freedom

President Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Today, President Biden declared, in an official proclamation:

Today, on World Press Freedom Day, we celebrate the fierce bravery of journalists everywhere. We recognize the integral role a free press plays in building prosperous, resilient and free societies. And we recommit to protecting and promoting free, independent, and diverse media around the world.

This is the same president whose administration barred media from facilities holding migrant children for two months, and who has only allowed limited access since.

Biden may have been inspired by his old boss, President Obama, who once accepted an award for government transparency in a ceremony that was closed to the press.

Health Care

Masks in September

A medical team member wearing a protective suit checks a student’s temperature during testing for the coronavirus at a school in Baghdad, Iraq, December 14, 2020. (Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters)

Israel, deep into its process of vaccinating the population, is seeing COVID-19 levels drop to next to nothing. Remarkably, the most populous county in the U.S. reported zero new COVID deaths yesterday. It is time to celebrate that the pandemic is really coming to a close where the vaccines are widely available. Many counties in the United States have vaccinated more than 70 percent of residents over 65 years of age.

And yet, here in the Northeast of the United States, one hears “word” circulating, from school districts and administrators, that children — even young children — will continue to be masked in September and that districts are planning to mask at least until there is no evidence of a winter surge. This flies in the face of what we know about COVID transmission, and of what other countries have experienced. It also just strikes me as backwards, and as a recipe for having yet another full school year in masks and deferring the question to September 2022.

Proceeding unmasked in September will get people used to the idea that schools operating close to normality are not a danger. If there is a winter COVID surge in the community or the emergence of a new variant, then any temporary adoption of masks among teenage students can be quickly deployed and quickly abandoned in spring when case loads drop.

Too many leaders and institutions are waiting for a zero-questions attitude that cannot emerge until they themselves act on the evidence on hand. If you want people to believe the evidence that the schools are safe, stop operating them as if they are unsafe.

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Political Vulnerabilities

President Joe Biden speaks during the Democratic National Committee’s “Back on Track” drive-in car rally to celebrate the president’s 100th day in office at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Ga., April 29, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Republicans haven’t found a line of attack on the president personally, I write at Bloomberg, but that doesn’t mean he’s in the clear.

The same Pew poll that found widespread approval for Biden’s personal traits found that a majority of Americans don’t think he shares their views.

He’s getting very low ratings on his handling of immigration and guns. He has taken some unpopular positions. Voter identification requirements, which Biden wants to ban, have strong support from voters. Statehood for the District of Columbia, which Biden backs, usually polls badly.

Surveys are finding public qualms about all the spending. Biden’s already got a slightly negative rating on the issue. . . .

Politics & Policy

The Democratic Bind on H. R. 1

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) confers with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), and other members of Congress before President Joe Biden his speaks at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via Reuters)

The Democrats’ “For the People Act” is going nowhere, but a lot of them have talked themselves into believing that Republican states are engaged in a voter-suppression rampage that will cost them elections. And, as this Politico story shows, Democrats in Congress who know better aren’t willing to say it on the record.


NAS Alliance Appeals to Cornyn to Abandon Bogus Civics Bill

Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., on February 22, 2021. (Demetrius Freeman/Reuters)

Leading members of the Civics Alliance, convened by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) to fight action civics and related dangers, have issued an open letter appealing to Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) and Congressman Tom Cole (R., Okla.) to abandon their support for the egregiously misnamed “Civics Secures Democracy Act.” This $6 billion bill (which should be named the Action Civics and Critical Race Theory Harm America Act) will impose these pernicious pedagogies on every school in the nation, just as Obama used massive federal grants to spread Common Core. Cornyn and Cole are Republican co-sponsors of this “bipartisan” bill, and their exit from that sponsorship could kill this legislative monstrosity before it manages to destroy American education.

Cornyn and Cole now have an excellent reason to abandon the bill. The new Biden rule giving priority to federal grants that push the 1619 Project and critical race theory confirms suspicions that this $6 billion appropriation will be used to impose Biden’s vision of America’s supposedly “systemic racism” on the next generation. On top of that, the priority criteria written into the bill itself will push politicized “action civics” on the schools, forcing children to engage in (invariably leftist) political protests after school as a requirement for their courses.

The open letter rightly gives Cornyn and Cole the benefit of the doubt. After all, few Americans had even heard of “action civics” until recent months, and the critical race theory craze has only taken over the Democratic Party since last summer. Given that, early Republican support for a seemingly traditional civics bill was understandable. Authentic civic education is a good thing, to say the least (although it is a matter best left to states and especially to local school districts, rather than the federal government).

Unfortunately, Biden and the Democrats have now fully embraced the anti-civic education being pushed by the radical Left under the misleading label of “civics,” and that is what the billions of dollars appropriated by this legislation will support.

Given the open embrace of the 1619 Project and critical race theory by the new Biden rule, it’s clear that the good intentions of Cornyn and Cole will be used to achieve the very opposite of what they are aiming for. That means it is urgently necessary for them to reverse course and abandon the so-called Civics Secures Democracy Act. The Biden rule has transformed the politics of this issue. Cornyn and Cole ought to respond accordingly by repudiating this badly misguided bill.

Some of the signatories of the open letter are of particular note. It will be of interest to Representative Cole of Oklahoma to see the names of Brandon Dutcher, senior vice president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and Sheryl Kaufman, an influential D.C. insider who served as communications director for former Oklahoma congressman Jim Bridenstine. Journalist Christopher Rufo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, has taken a leading role in exposing the use and abuse of critical race theory in our schools. Ryan Williams, president of the Claremont Institute, heads one of the country’s leading centers of authentic civic education. Eunie Smith, Phyllis Schlafly’s successor as the head of Eagle Forum, remains a leading voice with grassroots activists across the country who care about education. (I am also a signatory.)

The open letter invites other members of the Civics Alliance and other interested citizens to sign the appeal to Senator Cornyn and Representative Cole, which you can do here.

The Civics Secures Democracy Act is a dagger pointed at the heart of American education. As the open letter stresses, that bill cannot be “fixed.” Whatever tweaks are made, so long as the billions of dollars the bill appropriates are administered by the Biden administration, they will go to fund radical anti-civics pedagogies instead of traditional civics. In the event that Biden tweaks his new rule in response to public outrage, the intentions of his Department of Education have been revealed by the language already floated. Any future tweaks will be nothing more than disguise.

The good news is that Cornyn and Cole might very well bring the Civics Secures Democracy Act down just by abandoning their co-sponsorship. John Cornyn, in particular, might single-handedly sink this bill. No one now is positioned to do more to block the spread of critical race theory and action civics throughout this country than John Cornyn. I very much hope that he seizes the moment and does the right thing.


University of North Carolina Disgraces Itself with Latest Faculty Hire

Nikole Hannah Jones (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah/ via YouTube)

To land a professorship in American colleges and universities, you have to either have a superb record of academic achievement or espouse radical leftist ideas. The former still prevails in hard sciences (although standards there are beginning to erode), but in many other academic fields, “wokeness” is now the main consideration.

Consider, for example, the decision by the journalism school at the University of North Carolina to offer a professorship to Nikole Hannah-Jones. She was the driving force behind the New York Times’ 1619 Project, a piece of propaganda that scholars all across the political spectrum have blasted. Nevertheless, Hannah-Jones was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for it. Now UNC wants her.

In today’s Martin Center article, Jay Schalin examines the hiring of Hannah-Jones and finds it very lamentable.

What’s wrong with the 1619 Project? A lot. Schalin writes, “For instance, she claimed that ‘one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery’ as British anti-slavery sentiment grew. There is almost no hint of that in factual history.” When called out on this false claim, Hannah-Jones has resorted to evasions and personal attacks. What a model for aspiring journalists.

“The real goal of The 1619 Project,” Schalin writes, “was not historical or journalistic, but political agitation. And an angry, underhanded politics at that; Hannah-Jones admitted that her underlying intent is to get ‘white people to give up whiteness.’”

Does UNC think she will do anything other than promote leftist activism among its journalism students?

Schalin sums up: “Academia is part of a powerful coalition with Democratic socialists, the media, and ‘woke’ crony capitalists; the coalition has been in the ascendance for several decades, and it may be that it can continue this intellectual charade indefinitely.”


The Wrong-Take Hall of Fame

Bill Maher (HBO/YouTube)

It’s easy to complain about Twitter, but sometimes it delivers a spectacular gem. The Pessimists Archive rediscovered this clip of Bill Maher in 2003, shortly after the SARS outbreak in Asia:

“New rule: Stop scaring us with diseases we will never get!” Maher declares to chuckles from the audience. “First it was SARS, then it was monkeypox, West Nile, and now Asian Bird Flu, which doesn’t scare me because I’m not a sparrow in Thailand. Mysterious Asian diseases just don’t come knocking at your door,” and then Maher makes a joke about the recent divorce of Neil Bush, the president’s brother.

Now, it’s understandable that at that time; Maher would shrug at Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome; in 2003, SARS hadn’t had much of an impact in the United States. When the outbreak ended, only 27 Americans caught it, and no American died from it. The peak of the outbreak was in the late winter and spring of 2003, when most Americans’ attention was focused upon the invasion of Iraq.

But Maher’s confident assertion that it was absurd to think that a serious Asian disease could come knocking at our door, belongs in the Wrong Take Hall of Fame, right next to Larry C. Johnson’s July 10, 2001 New York Times op-ed entitled, “The Declining Terrorist Threat,” which declared:

Americans are bedeviled by fantasies about terrorism. They seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal. They are likely to think that the United States is the most popular target of terrorists. And they almost certainly have the impression that extremist Islamic groups cause most terrorism.

None of these beliefs are based in fact. While many crimes are committed against Americans abroad (as at home), politically inspired terrorism, as opposed to more ordinary criminality motivated by simple greed, is not as common as most people may think.

I hope for a world where facts, not fiction, determine our policy. While terrorism is not vanquished, in a world where thousands of nuclear warheads are still aimed across the continents, terrorism is not the biggest security challenge confronting the United States, and it should not be portrayed that way.

Johnson is a former CIA officer and former deputy director of the U.S. State Department Office of Counterterrorism. In a 2000 interview, Johnson said of Osama bin Laden, “yes, he does not like Americans, he does not like the United States. If he had the wherewithal to kill Americans and attack U.S. targets, he would do so, but he doesn’t. He is not in the position, he’s not an army… He’d like to make our life miserable, but thank God, he’s been limited by his ability to do that, in part because his people are in jail, in part because he’s holed up in Afghanistan and no other country out there is willing to open its arms to him and say, ‘Come sit down and work with us.’”


Politics & Policy

CNN Can’t Whitewash Joe Biden Opposing the Osama bin Laden Raid

Osama bin Laden is shown in this video frame grab released by the U.S. Pentagon May 7, 2011. (REUTERS/Pentagon/Handout )

Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of Barack Obama’s announcement of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The raid was the undoubted high point of Obama’s presidency – nothing else he did was as popular across party lines – and contributed significantly to his re-election, inoculating him against criticism of much of the rest of his foreign policy. But for Democrats, there are two inconvenient facts about the raid, which I have detailed before at greater length. One, the hard part was finding bin Laden, and we found him in large part due to Bush-era policies that Obama and the Democrats had criticized. And two, while Obama deserves the credit for making the decision to go ahead with the raid (after a fair amount of hemming and hawing), and most of Obama’s team went along with the decision, the historical record is quite clear that Joe Biden opposed it.

CNN’s Zachary Wolf has a lengthy “analysis” entitled “Biden’s cautious stance on the bin Laden raid a decade ago tells us how he might handle a crisis now,” which does its best to soften, euphemize, and cloud that history without actually disputing any of it. Six paragraphs into the story, we get the first mention of what Biden’s stance was:

Would Biden have green-lit the bin Laden raid?
It’s impossible to say, since he was not President back in 2011, but Biden was in the room with Obama watching the bin Laden raid go down. In the many, many accounts of those days that have been published, Biden is universally portrayed as a skeptic of the raid.

It actually is not that hard to say. Biden was not just a “skeptic” – he thought the raid was too risky, militarily and politically, he told Obama, “Mr. President, my suggestion is: Don’t go,” and everybody in the room has confirmed it. Nobody but Biden and his most die-hard flacks claims otherwise. Wolf tries to offer an excuse:

It’s also important to note that Biden has a very good reason to view the direct use of US troops differently than any President. He’s the first since Eisenhower to have a child deployed to a combat zone.

Never mind that we have had multiple World War II veterans in the White House since then, two of whom (John F. Kennedy and George H.W. Bush) nearly died in the Pacific. Eisenhower himself had seen enough of war to want no part of unnecessary military engagements, but it is hard to imagine the architect of the Normandy invasion balking at sending a Special Forces team to get a man who killed thousands of Americans on American soil. Wolf notes that “Biden’s position on the raid was a minor campaign issue in 2020, during the presidential campaign,” which is really a damning indictment of the press and his primary opponents, neither of whom wanted to talk about the most significant evidence of Biden’s approach to being Commander-in-Chief. (Donald Trump and Mike Pence could have made a bigger issue of it, but at least both mentioned the issue).

Ten years later, Barack Obama can take a victory lap. Joe Biden can’t. On the biggest moment of decision of Obama’s presidency, Biden was there, and Biden was wrong.

Politics & Policy

Neither Libertarians nor Social Conservatives

(Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

In a strikingly original blog post, Tanner Greer wrote that communitarian conservatives (of various stripes) are counting on what he calls the “literal descendants of the ‘butternut’ settlers who delivered Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana to Trump”, to transform Republican politics in a direction more oriented to the common good than libertarianism. But, Greer warns, “they [communitarian conservatives] hope to build a post-libertarian national order on the backs of the most naturally libertarian demographic in the country!” This is wrong. Communitarian conservatives might fail for any number of reasons, but the rural, non-southern, working-class whites that Greer describes are not libertarian.

First, let’s look at who these voters are. As Henry Olsen pointed out, it is important to distinguish between southern, white evangelical working-class white voters, and non-southern working-class white voters. Southern, evangelical, working-class whites are more socially conservative, more religious, and more reliably Republican voters. Non-southern white, working-class voters tend to be less socially conservative, less religious, and less reliably Republican. The former is a Republican-leaning group, and the latter is a swing constituency.

And boy, does it swing. When looking at the rural, working-class whites who swung Pennsylvania in 2016, and almost won it for Trump again in 2020, it might help to look at a couple of rural counties.

In Fayette County, George W. Bush got 20,013 in 2000 and 40.40 percent  of the vote. Bush did better in 2004 with 25,045 and 45.78 percent  of the vote. The incremental Republican improvement continued with McCain narrowly winning the county with 26,081 and 49.62 percent of the vote. Then something odd happened. In 2012 Romney won 53.64 percent, with only 26,018 votes. Despite more favorable circumstances than 2008, Romney didn’t get any more votes. A bunch of Obama voters just stayed home.

A similar pattern emerged in Mercer County. In 2000, George W. Bush got 23,132 and 47.47 percent  of the vote. In 2004 he got 26,311 and 51.03 percent. In 2008, McCain got 26,565 and 49.36. In 2012, Romney got 25,925 and 50.97 percent. Just as in Fayette, Romney got a higher percentage of the vote, but only because Obama voters stayed home.

The picture in both Fayette and Mercer was of incremental Republican improvements from 2000 that had stalled out. The Republican vote was stuck at around 26,000 in both counties with many low-propensity voters who were willing to support the Democrats.

Now, if Greer was right, and these voters are “the most naturally libertarian demographic in the country,” the Republican establishment had just the thing for them. The Republican National Committee’s autopsy argued that the party’s economic agenda of entitlement cuts and tax cuts for high-earners was basically healthy, and suggested that the party expand its appeal by adopting “comprehensive immigration reform” (a lobbyist euphemism for upfront amnesty for the existing population of unauthorized immigrants, combined with large expansions in future immigration) combined with being “inclusive and welcoming” on social issues (a passive-aggressive way of telling social conservatives to quiet down and expect less.) The autopsy would have moved the already (relatively) small government Republican agenda of 2012 in a more libertarian direction. It was just what these voters wanted, right?

Wrong. In 2016, Trump ran on immigration enforcement to the point of mass deportations. He promised trade deals that would revive an idealized version of the mid-1900s industrial economy. He abandoned the entitlement cut promises of the 2012 Romney campaign. He promised a health-care program that was both more universal (covered more people) and more comprehensive than Obamacare. He promised vast new infrastructure spending to rebuild America.

How did these libertarian butternuts respond to this very nonlibertarian agenda? Trump broke through the 26,000 barriers in both counties. In Fayette, Trump won 34,590 and 64.33 percent in 2016. In 2020, he won 41,227 and 66.3 percent. In Mercer, Trump won 31,554 and 60.30 in 2016. He got 36,143 and 62.4 percent in 2020. Whatever is going on here, it isn’t libertarianism.

Republican politicians love to talk about upward mobility but, as Olsen pointed out, for these voters, “family and stability are more important than career and upward mobility.” They don’t want to start their own businesses, and they aren’t in awe of their bosses. They want good pay for hard work, combined with dignity and security. Trump understood that.

There are of course, many reasons why these voters – many of whom supported Obama in 2008 – will have trouble voting Democratic at the federal level as long as they identify that party with virtually unlimited immigration, hostility to gun rights, and an inability to speak of the Summer 2020 rioting (and the accompanying rise in the murder rate) with the same passion and contempt as the January 6 riot. They know that neither party establishment really understands them very well, or likes them very much.

So, if not libertarians, what are they? They are independent. They are quite willing to switch from one party to another. They are even independent of the election process. They will stay home if they feel like their interests aren’t being properly represented.

That doesn’t mean that the communitarian conservatives will win these voters over (at least not in the sense of repeating Trumpian turnout and margins.) These right-communitarians tend to be more socially conservative and (some much more religious) than these swing, non-southern, working-class whites. These voters showed they were willing to vote alongside religious conservatives, but they also voted for the first Republican presidential candidate who supported gay marriage. These voters want more from government that libertarian and small government conservatives want to give them, but it is an open question how much the desires and priorities of these voters overlap with those of the right-communitarians on social policy. This marriage might not work, but if it fails, it won’t be because of libertarianism.