The USMCA Goes into Effect Today

President Donald Trump, Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attend the USMCA signing ceremony before the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. (Andres Stapff/REUTERS/)

That’s the U.S.–Mexico–Canada trade agreement that replaced NAFTA. The Republican National Committee and others are using the occasion of the deal’s going into effect to back up the president’s conceit that NAFTA was a disaster and the USMCA is a great triumph.

The USMCA is actually mostly identical to NAFTA, which is fine since NAFTA was a good agreement. The way the party’s communications hands are spinning otherwise is by insinuating that every lost manufacturing job in the U.S. since NAFTA was adopted must be its fault. “Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reveals that the U.S. has lost 4.5 million manufacturing jobs since NAFTA took effect.” Note that the BLS isn’t saying what the RNC is implying, the NAFTA caused these manufacturing-job losses, or any net losses in employment at all.

The RNC also cites the International Trade Commission’s rosy projections of the USMCA’s economic effects, while leaving out that the projection is based on the removal of Trump-created uncertainty about trade among the three countries.

In National Review, I reviewed the changes from NAFTA to USMCA and concluded that on balance they made the agreement slightly worse. I noted, for example, that the International Monetary Fund believes the new agreement will reduce the production of cars and car parts in all three member countries. The good news is that the rhetoric about the “disaster” of NAFTA has not been matched by dramatic action.

Law & the Courts

Repeating It Doesn’t Make It So

Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch smiles at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, March 20, 2017. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Remy Green and Avika M. Cohen have launched a series of articles explaining why the tirelessly reiterated tautology of Justice Gorsuch’s Bostock decision is not just correct, but obviously correct. Further, they argue that critics of the statement — from Alito on down to little old me — constantly acknowledge its correctness while trying to dispute it. Having decided that the airless logic is unassailable, they pronounce us all asphyxiated.

Once again, the “argument” is that one has to know a person’s sex to know whether they are homosexual or transgender. Therefore, all discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is ipso facto a subspecies of sex discrimination. Alito’s examples of times when the federal government itself managed to practice SOGI discrimination without ever consciously taking into account the sex of the individuals is ignored, of course.

They’ve done nothing to disprove the critic’s argument that Gorsuch’s ruling vindicates a contested view of human nature only by smuggling them in as presumptions and starting points. Nor do they contend with the run-on consequences of such a ruling, pointed out in the WSJ by David Crawford and Michael Hanby, that “It is impossible to redefine human nature for only one person.” Such an argument would bolster the opinion of Justice Kavanaugh that treating SOGI discrimination as sex discrimination doesn’t just present logical traps but also doesn’t make sense historically — or sociologically either. Being a gay man isn’t equal to being a woman. Asserting this was, until recently, recognized as not just homophobic but misogynistic.

Green and Cohen simply assert that same-sex marriage and marriage between a man and a woman is not only legally the same thing, but cannot be distinguished in any way whatsoever. “The only conceivable difference in the act itself is the subjective philosophical and moral weight with which the employer views the act because of the sex of the actor,” they write.

Think harder.

But the larger problem is that they just keep repeating the assertion — taken from Gorsuch, that knowledge of sex is necessary for SOGI discrimination (itself contestable) — therefore SOGI discrimination is in some way sex-based. “As the law literally says — and means — ‘sex’ can’t be a relevant factor in a negative employment action without raising a Title VII question,” Green and Cohen harrumph.

This is, as Ryan Anderson has called it, just half an argument. I’ll let Anderson explain:

Gorsuch’s theory does not test for sex discrimination. In a case of sex discrimination, sex must not only be a “but-for” cause of differential treatment; that differential treatment must also entail disadvantageous terms or conditions to which members of only one sex are subjected. The simplistic test that Gorsuch puts forth looks for the “but-for” cause and “negative” treatment, but it doesn’t link the two: It doesn’t look for disadvantages directed at individuals of only one sex. He’s offered half a theory of sex discrimination.

Along numerous other falsehoods, exaggerations, and misstatements that are beyond this blog post, they misrepresent the writer Hadley Arkes, portraying as a recent fit of pique an argument he’s made about the role of natural law in jurisprudence for decades.

Green and Cohen end their case against everyone by reassuring everyone that with the Bostock decision “the sky didn’t fall.” Which is the same defense one could make of any event in human history. That is: not a very good one at all.


Gallup Poll: 64 Percent of Americans Don’t Want Higher Immigration


I’m trolling a little bit with that headline. But at least it has the benefit of being true, unlike the headline Gallup itself went with: “Americans Want More, Not Less, Immigration for First Time.”

Here are the actual data:

It’s true that more Americans want higher immigration than want lower immigration — something that has never been true before. (This lends some support to the “thermostat” theory in which public opinion goes against the president in power.) However, leaving immigration levels where they are is still easily the median opinion, and the plurality by a slim margin too. The status quo is what we get when neither side has the numbers to make a change, and neither the immigration-increasers nor the immigration-decreasers sit within 15 points of a majority.

As I always say, we should be tinkering with the skill level of the immigrants we bring in, not the number.

Politics & Policy

The Left’s Coronavirus Narrative Is a Myth

A man walks by an illuminated flag of The United States as the coronavirus outbreak continues in Manhattan, New York City, March 13, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

To this point, 71 percent more Americans have died in New York nursing homes than have died in the entire state of Florida, which not only has a larger population but a population that skews older. To this point, New York’s death rate has been ten times larger than Florida’s. So, naturally, liberals are busy concocting a narrative that holds that the failures of the American response to coronavirus have been the fault of Trumpian nihilists in the Red States.

The “toxic imbecility” of Republicans is getting people killed, writes Max Boot. “Trumpism, not polarization, drives America’s disastrous coronavirus politics” says Ezra Klein. Some pundits who push this myth, Paul Krugman in particular, had even had the temerity to suggest that the country look to New York State for advice.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but today it’s clear that NYC has been the key spreader of the infection nationally, and clear, too, that NYC was unable to flatten the curve.

Deaths per million:

New Jersey: 1,708.7

New York: 1,651.6

Connecticut: 1,212.2

Georgia: 264.2

Florida: 163.2

Texas: 86.1

There are numerous factors beyond our control that created this reality — perhaps the weather, or the population density, or centralized nature of the city, or whatever else researchers will uncover one day. There’s a reason why San Francisco recorded fewer than 50 coronavirus deaths and New York City has about 18,000, and it’s probably not the ideology of its mayors. But that works both ways around. There is simply no way that an open-minded person can arrive at the conclusion that red states bear some unique responsibility for this tragedy.

Let’s remember that initial national lockdown efforts were intended to flatten the curve so that hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed with COVID cases, not to shutter the economy in perpetuity (or until a Democrat wins the White House) to ensure that no one gets sick anymore. Other than the New York area, which is led by a governor who made perhaps the single most deadly policy mistake in the entire crisis, this goal has largely been achieved. In the United States, the death rate (the stat that matters more than any other) has been as low, or lower, than most major European nations:

Deaths per million:

Belgium: 854.0

UK: 657.7

Spain: 606.9

Italy: 575.3

Sweden: 523.7

France: 445.5

U.S.: 397.8

(All the foreign countries above, incidentally, have some form of socialized health-care system, which I’m constantly being assured by liberals would have mitigated the effects of coronavirus.)

Most nations that have done better than the United States in this regard (sans Germany) are far smaller, and have an easier time containing spread by shutting down borders; or are more authoritarian, with the kind of pliant populations and governments that some U.S. pundits seem to desire.

There was always going to be an accompanying spike with more testing and reopening, and states need to calibrate their reactions as the facts on the ground change. But, to borrow a phrase, this is primarily a question of science. The crude partisan tale we keep hearing regarding red states, on the other hand, is little more than a fiction.

Film & TV

Jaws 45 Years Later

A hammerhead shark swims close to Wolf Island at Galapagos Marine Reserve August 19, 2013. Picture taken August 19, 2013. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

1975 was a pivotal year in Hollywood history for two reasons. First, it just about marks the end of the post-Production Code boom of auteur-driven cinema. Studio releases from the ensuing period included The Godfather, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, The French Connection, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Annie Hall, The Deer Hunter, Chinatown, Barry Lyndon — to name a few. Directors had license to indulge. The stories were sophisticated (think David S. Ward’s twist ending in The Sting). The studios made money — never big bucks — however, critics and audiences worshipped these ‘gritty’ films. It was a glory and guts kind of era, not one characterized by bean-counting profiteers.

The second reason is largely responsible for the first. In the summer of 1975, an unknown auteur had a chance to launch his directorial career. It seems ridiculous now, but he had very little confidence then. In fact, he thought his career was over before it began. Production was hell. Crew members didn’t take his cues seriously. But at 27 years old, somehow, someway, Steven Spielberg pulled off a miracle and forever changed Hollywood filmmaking.

Prior to Jaws, studios dumped their B-list fare into the summer junkyard, saving the fall and winter for the big-budget, star-studded prestige releases. But Jaws was unique, deliberately crafted and marketed for a season, and thus Spielberg and Universal Studios established the summer “blockbuster.” Jaws was purposefully released nationwide in half the number of theaters usually allotted for a studio film. In cities, Americans waited hours on lines circling around whole blocks. The hype — and fear — ballooned. TV advertising, as opposed to print reviews, continually touted the film with “saturation booking.” Jaws also marks the point at which studios sought “high-concept” ideas — easy to pitch, easy to market — that prompted a string of ’80s box-office hits. Legend has it, screenwriter Dan O’Bannon pitched Alien as “Jaws in space.”

There’s the artistry and pluck, too. Unlike most summer blockbusters made today (Christopher Nolan’s movies are the exception, not the rule) Jaws is every bit as dramatic and compelling as the best Oscar-bait. Brody, Quint, and Hooper — all three idiosyncratic to the core — share a rich dynamic. Filming on boats with a mechanical shark was an unprecedented technical crucible. The cinematography, editing, John Williams score, and Spielberg’s direction built tension and suspense much like a Hitchcockian thriller. Not to mention, the script is chock full of classic lines such as “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”; “Smile, you son of a b****”; and “This shark, swallow you whole.”

So if you need a rewarding — albeit terrifying — distraction from 2020 this Fourth of July weekend, crush a Narragansett beer Quint-style and enjoy one of the greatest cinematic feats in Hollywood history before some woke imbecile pulls it from streaming platforms. But a caveat to parents with young kids. I watched Jaws in second grade. For years afterward, I couldn’t jump into a pool, let alone an ocean, without thinking about a Great White shredding my legs — or worse yet, swallowing me whole.


New Gallup Poll Finds Relative Stability in Public Opinion on Abortion

Anti-abortion marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

This week, Gallup released some additional results about public opinion on abortion from its annual “values and beliefs” poll. The results provide further evidence that public attitudes toward abortion have remained fairly stable during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the new poll found that 46 percent of Americans identify as “pro-life,” while 48 percent identify as “pro-choice.” Overall, the percentage of people who identified as pro-life has fallen by three points since last year’s Gallup survey. The same poll found that 70 percent of Americans favor some restrictions on abortion, another slight decline from last year’s Gallup poll.

The demographic breakdown of the results is fairly unsurprising. Partisanship and political ideology both remain very strong predictors of abortion attitudes, and older Americans are more likely to identify as “pro-life” than younger Americans. However, the differences in abortion attitudes between various age demographics are small, which is noteworthy because many abortion surveys conducted during the 1970s and 1980s found a substantial generation gap in abortion attitudes. At that time, many young adults were far less likely to oppose abortion than were senior citizens. The fact that the current generation of young adults is more likely to identify as pro-life than previous generations were is a reason for pro-lifers to remain hopeful.

Long term, there have been very durable gains in pro-life sentiment. Gallup polls conducted in 1995 and 1996 indicated that less than 37 percent of Americans identified as “pro-life.” When the results from Gallup polls conducted between 1995 and 2009 are averaged, “pro-choice” outpolled “pro-life” by six points. However, over the past decade, the pro-life position has reached parity with the pro-choice position. The 14 polls Gallup has conducted on this issue since 2010 show that an average 47 percent of Americans identify as pro-life, and an average 47 percent identify as “pro-choice.”

Since 2010, abortion attitudes in the United States have been relatively stable, and this is a more important finding than many realize. During the past ten years, Americans have become wealthier and are achieving higher levels of formal education. Meanwhile, as the results from other questions in Gallup’s values-and-beliefs poll indicate, Americans are adopting increasingly permissive views on a range of social issues. Many years of schooling, high-income levels, and liberal views on social issues are all strongly correlated with support for legal abortion. As a result, it is an impressive fact that support for the pro-life position has remained stable in the face of these strong cultural headwinds. It is a testament to effective pro-life educational efforts and to the enduring dedication of pro-life activists across the country.


Can Trump Define Biden as a Tool of the Left?

President Trump speaks at a campaign rally for Senator Luther Strange in Huntsville, Ala., September 22, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

A Politico story, being boosted by the Biden campaign, says President Trump’s attempt to portray Biden as the hapless plaything of his party’s radicals isn’t working. It might not work: The fact that Biden beat Bernie Sanders for the nomination and has opposed some left-wing nostrums such as Medicare for All will at least complicate Trump’s efforts. But the Morning Consult/Politico poll the article cites doesn’t really back that conclusion.

The key finding that the article highlights is that only 17 percent of the public believes that Biden is more liberal than most Democrats. But the Trump campaign isn’t trying to persuade Americans that he is. Trump himself has said, “He’s not radical Left. I don’t think he knows what he is anymore, but he was never radical Left. But he’s controlled by the radical Left, and now he’s really controlled.” Data on whether the public, and especially swing voters, think Democrats have moved to the left and whether it thinks Biden would be too influenced by the Left would be more relevant to the argument Trump’s campaign is making.

More important, Politico is missing the extent to which the campaign is trying to alter public opinion. If 80 percent of the public already thought that Biden is more liberal than most Democrats, there would be no need for a campaign to try to link him to extreme liberalism. Nor would there be a point to it: If that’s what the polls said, we’d have to conclude that most voters don’t hold Biden’s leftism against him enough to disturb his lead.

The key questions are whether the campaign can increase the number of voters who think Biden would give the Left too much power, and whether increasing that number would tighten the race. We don’t have enough evidence to answer those questions.


Come On, Trump Is Not Going to Abandon His Bid for Reelection


Mickey Kaus, who voted for Trump because of his hard line on illegal immigration, sees a particularly grim outlook for the Trump reelection campaign and catastrophic results if Democrats enact an amnesty in 2021. He writes:

The fantasizing about Trump abandoning his attempt at reelection should probably be taken seriously and even egged on — by those of us who voted for him as well as by anonymous “GOP operatives” who probably didn’t. Trump himself is clearly thinking a lot about losing these days, as when he mused, absurdly, that President Joe Biden would have to finish his border wall. . . .

If Trump is going to do this, he should do it soon — before the convention, while there’s time to consider possible replacements and let voters get used to whomever is picked.

A GOP convention where the delegates needed to select a new nominee would be an epic drama in any circumstance . . . now envision it occurring during an ongoing pandemic, in a city that just enacted a requirement that people wear masks indoors.

But it’s really hard to imagine Trump choosing to not run for another term. As much as the president dreads the label “loser,” I suspect he would dread the label “quitter” even more.

Law & the Courts

On Espinoza, Palmer v. Thompson, and Looking behind State Law

(Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images)

Michael Dorf asks how the Court’s decision in Espinoza, which prevented the Montana supreme court from “leveling down” to avoid discrimination — i.e., shutting down an entire scholarship program to avoid sending money to Christian schools — can be squared with Palmer v. Thompson, which allowed the Jackson, Miss., city council to shut down the city’s swimming pools rather than integrate them:

[W]ith a few notable exceptions, ever since the landmark decision in Erie RR v. Tompkins, federal courts are supposed to treat state law the same, regardless of whether it emanates from a state legislature or a state court. Accordingly, perhaps we shouldn’t read CJ Roberts to be saying that the Montana legislature could have eliminated the program for exactly the same reasons that the Montana Supreme Court did. . . . The majority’s response to Justice Ginsburg implicitly creates tension with either Erie or Palmer. If the Montana legislature could have done what the Montana Supreme Court is barred from doing by the SCOTUS, there’s tension with Erie‘s rule that state courts are as authoritative on state law as state legislatures. But if the rule is the same for the Montana legislature and the Montana Supreme Court, then that rule — government cannot level down if en route to the leveling down decision, it discriminates on an illicit basis (like religion or race)– contradicts Palmer.

Dorf offers three possibilities:

  1. Erie states a general proposition, but it is not quite true that state courts and state legislatures are always treated identically for federal constitutional purposes. Various provisions of the federal Constitution take for granted the existence of separate branches of state government. That fact was the basis for the controversial concurrence in Bush v. Gore . . .
  2. Or perhaps Palmer is no longer good law. In this view, if it were possible to prove that a legislature actually took the steps that the Montana Supreme Court took, then its action would be invalid. . . . Yet . . . the Court hasn’t actually overruled Palmer yet . . .
  3. Perhaps the best explanation is that CJ Roberts does not regard the flaw in the Montana Supreme Court process as analogous to the illicit intent in Palmer. . . . Thus, the state law ruling is reviewable as resting on the federal ruling. . . . Footnote 4 of the Espinoza majority opinion pretty clearly implies that on remand the Montana Supreme Court must reinstate the scholarship program, although the Montana legislature could repeal it. But then we’re back to Explanation (1), which runs into Erie. If the Montana legislature can repeal the scholarship program in its entirety, then presumably the Montana Supreme Court can decide that (a) the original program violated the state no-aid clause; (b) but giving aid to secular schools while withholding it from religious ones violates Free Exercise (because the SCOTUS says so); and therefore (c) as a matter of state law the program is invalid.

Now, I agree that Palmer is, and should be, on some shaky ground, especially since the city council’s decision in that case was in direct response to a federal court order, but as I explained yesterday, the simplest answer is that (1) and (3) are not really different. The theory of Palmer is not necessarily that the discriminatory motives of the city council are irrelevant, but that it opens a Pandora’s Box for courts to start examining the motives of political actors, who can make decisions for any number of reasons. When a state court reads a discriminatory state constitutional provision to mean what it says and require “leveling down,” there is no such problem: The discriminatory motive is right there in the state court’s explicit legal reasoning, and it emanates from a discriminatory action taken by the state constitution. This does no violence to Erie. The theory of Erie is that a state-court decision (whether on state common law or state statutory or constitutional law) is final and binding on federal courts — a conclusion Espinoza not only respects, but depends upon (the Court did not question that the Montana supreme court’s conclusion that its decision was dictated by the state’s Blaine amendment). That does not mean, however, that federal courts must be blind to the difference between how courts and legislatures operate and make decisions.

(As for Bush v. Gore, as Dorf alludes to, that’s a different animal in any event because — a point we may return to shortly in the faithless-elector cases now before the Court — Article II of the Constitution does not say that the states direct how their electors are appointed; it says explicitly that “the Legislature” of each state does so. Erie, as a decision grounded in the implicit structure of federalism, cannot trump the explicit text of Article II.)


White Privilege Exists


White privilege exists. It can be seen in this video captured at an anti-police protest in New York, in which white protesters taunt NYPD officers as uneducated and illiterate.

“You guys go to clown college for like 26 weeks,” one woman tells the officers.

“You know a hairdresser has to go to school for longer than you do,” another white protester interjects. “Half of you don’t even have a college education . . . but you want to sit here and tell me that you’re educated enough to make demands about s*** you know nothing about!”

The white protester then points at a black officer and says, “You should know better,” and proceeds to call the officer a “f***ing Black Judas.” The protester says this without any hint of irony.

A majority of George Floyd protesters in New York City — about 60 percent — are white, the New York Times reported earlier this month:

The pattern evident in the streets has now been confirmed by early demographic data: Researchers fanned out across three American cities last weekend and found overwhelmingly young crowds with large numbers of white and highly educated people.

By contrast, the officers in the lower ranks of the NYPD, who are bearing the brunt of the protests, are majority non-white: 55 percent of lower-ranking officers are Latino, African American, or Asian, according to The City.

The footage above shows what happens when “highly educated people,” no doubt the beneficiaries of white privilege, protest in the name of “anti-racism.” The result is class warfare, waged downward against allegedly “uneducated” working people who happen to be part of a more diverse cohort than the protesters themselves.


Another Thought on Frederick Douglass and the Emancipation Memorial

The Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C., June 19, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Last week, I wrote a post about the speech Frederick Douglass delivered at the unveiling of the D.C.’s Emancipation Memorial, also known as the Freedmen’s Memorial, dedicated to Abraham Lincoln on the eleventh anniversary of his assassination.

In the recent furor over American statuary, a group of angry D.C. locals decided the monument must come down, because it shows a freedman kneeling before Lincoln, a design they’ve written off rather simplistically as racist. And it wasn’t just an angry mob making this claim: D.C.’s non-voting congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has advocated removing the monument to a museum. In her statement on the subject, Holmes Norton asserted that African Americans did not have buy-in as to the statue’s design and that Douglass had “in his keynote address at the unveiling of this statue . . . expressed his displeasure with the statue.”

As I pointed out in my post last week, Douglass’s formal remarks did not contain any such expression and in fact seemed strongly to refute the view that the monument was degrading to freedmen and women. The memorial to Lincoln was, after all, funded by recently emancipated slaves, specifically to honor him for all that he had done to help them achieve emancipation; Douglass’s speech as recorded makes this especially clear. And as this video illustrates, there is more than one way to interpret the statue’s imagery. Some might view the kneeling man as being in a position of supplication, especially looking back with modern eyes. But, per Douglass, this certainly wasn’t how the monument was intended by those who sponsored it, nor is it the only accurate way to read the design — others see the man looking up and out of bondage.

But I wanted to add something further to the subject, because I’ve since received some additional information from a scholar of Douglass, political-science professor Peter C. Myers, who pointed me toward some clarifying material. Apparently, the likeliest source for Holmes Norton’s claim (which she seems to have taken from the D.C. Park Service’s website, itself uncited) that Douglass disliked the memorial is Benjamin Quarles’s biography of Douglass. Quarles himself does not cite a specific source for this claim, but he reports that someone at the unveiling overheard Douglass suggesting that the design did not do justice to the dignity of the freedman.

That said, as Douglass’s remarks illustrate, the freedmen and women who dedicated the monument didn’t see it as an insult to their dignity or humanity, in fact quite the opposite. It was, in his view, a humble offering from grateful emancipated slaves, who owed much to Lincoln for having helped them achieve freedom. To reduce the abolitionist’s complex views on Lincoln, emancipation, and the memorial to a mere assertion of, “He disliked the statue, so we should rip it down,” is a grave error.

What Douglass believed about the monument’s design matters to some extent, to be sure. But the simple point of whether he loved or hated or had mixed feelings about or was ambivalent about it shouldn’t be a central point in the debate over what we ought to do with the statue today. Using one offhand comment from Douglass as a trump card — as if that comment, ripped out of context, proves the statue has to go — is ahistorical nonsense, an effort to ignore the complexity and context of each historical moment in favor of scoring political points and flexing raw power, with some slight cover from the partial view of one man.

I was troubled by this recent dispute over the Emancipation Memorial not because I had reason to believe that Douglass was an unmitigated champion of everything about it. Rather, I was troubled by how the fight over this particular memorial continued the trend of recent weeks, as outraged mobs have cast about wildly for any justification whatsoever for their desire to rip down statues, divorcing leaders and events from their historical context and in fact not making any effort to think about their context at all. Even if Douglass absolutely detested the monument, I wouldn’t cheer to see it torn down. But, as the record shows, his views were far more complex than that, which makes the lack of context even worse.


‘Slipping and Sliding down the Polls’


This week on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Jim discuss Trump’s recent polling problems and the Supreme Court decisions handed down this week. Listen below, or subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

Politics & Policy

‘The Word “Experience” Is Still Good’

President George W. Bush waves as he walks onto the stage to give his speech on the final night of the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York, September 2, 2004. (Rick Wilking / Reuters)

Today, I have a piece on the homepage called “Tested (or Not).” It’s about presidential candidates and experience. I take that word “tested” from Bob Dole, who used it a lot: who used it in his 1996 campaign, when he was the GOP nominee, and in 1988, for that matter, when he tried for the nomination against Vice President Bush and others.

“I’ve been tested,” Dole would say. He meant in war, in politics, and in life. He sure had. He is being tested still, in fact, dealing with old age, finding ways to serve regardless.

I’ll tell you a funny story. After he lost the nomination to Bush in ’88, someone said, “Well, there’s always ’96.” (The person must have assumed that Bush would win the general election and run for reelection four years later.) Dole quipped, darkly, “Yeah, that’s how old I’ll be.”

Today, in fact, Dole is 96.

Last week, Sean Hannity asked President Trump a very good question: “What are your top priorities for a second term?” And the president gave a very interesting answer.

“Well, one of the things that will be really great — you know, the word ‘experience’ is still good,” he said. “I always say talent is more important than experience. I’ve always said that. But the word ‘experience’ is a very important word. It’s a very important meaning.”

The president went on to explain that, when he was elected to the job, “I didn’t know very many people in Washington, it wasn’t my thing. I was from Manhattan, from New York.” But “now I know everybody.”

Trump was saying, I suppose, that a second term would be better than the first, because he has gained experience.

Pre-2016, I would quote our Richard Brookhiser, who would say, “The presidency is not an entry-level political job, unless you’ve won a world war.” Trump has turned things on their head (a great strength, his supporters say).

This morning, I was thinking about second terms, and the importance of answering, “What would you do with four more years?” In 2004, when he was running for reelection, George W. Bush gave a surprisingly programmatic convention speech. It was even wonky, in parts. He decided he had to answer the question: What’re we gonna do, besides just continue?

Maybe Trump will give such a speech at his own convention.

Also, Bush took account of some reservations that many had about him, personally. He did it in a very deft way, I think:

In the last four years, you and I have come to know each other. Even when we don’t agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand. You may have noticed I have a few flaws, too.

People sometimes have to correct my English. I knew I had a problem when Arnold Schwarzenegger started doing it.

Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger — which in Texas is called “walking.”

Now and then I come across as a little too blunt — and for that we can all thank the white-haired lady sitting right up there.

He was referring, of course, to his mother.

Can Trump pull off something like this at his convention this year? Should he try?

Back to experience. It is not the be-all, end-all, of course. Plenty of other factors come into play. No one has been more experienced than James Buchanan — who had been a House member, an ambassador, a senator, secretary of state . . . The man who succeeded him had served just one term in the U.S. House (and four in the Illinois house).

As I say in my piece today, Joe Biden’s choice of running mate seems especially important, given worries about Biden’s age and health. Will she (the potential vice president, and president) be “ready on Day One”? Is that true of Val Demings, elected to the House in 2016? Of Keisha Lance Bottoms, elected mayor of Atlanta in 2017?

Ordinarily, I would say no. But Trump has rendered things extraordinary, right? Before being elected president, he had been a tabloid figure: a reality-TV star, a Howard Stern guest. So, do Republicans have a leg to stand on when and if they say of Demings or Bottoms, “Not enough experience, not ready?”

In my piece, I speak of talent and experience (as Trump did in his answer to Sean Hannity). A friend of mine, long active in politics, has e-mailed me:

If your candidate has talent, go with talent. If your candidate has experience, go with experience. If your candidate has neither, pound the podium and shout, “End the parking-meter racket!”

Yeah, those dang meters.

Monetary Policy

The Money Supply Is Growing But Money’s Still Tight


I argued in a recent column that low interest rates, even persistently and very low interest rates, do not necessarily indicate that money is loose. Low interest rates are in principle compatible with money being tight — and in practice they are compatible with money being tight today.

A number of respondents ask how I can justify that characterization given the extraordinary growth in the money supply. They’re right that the money supply is growing. One measure of it increased by 28.5 percent in May alone, compared with 4.6 percent for the previous May. But that increase has to be considered in light of the sharp increase in the demand for money balances. It’s the interplay of the two that determines whether money is loose or tight.

We can calculate the demand for money by looking at its inverse, the velocity of money, the speed with which it travels from person to person. Multiply the supply of money by the velocity, and we get the total amount of spending in the economy. The trajectory of spending has fallen a lot this year. Supply is rising, but it isn’t keeping up with demand.

If you suspect there’s something circular in what I just wrote, you’re right. The velocity of any measure of money just is, by definition, total spending divided by its supply. What I’ve said, then, reduces to the claim that we should care more about whether total spending is growing at a steady rate than about whether the money supply is.

What’s the point, after all, of characterizing the stance of monetary policy as “loose,” “tight,” or “neutral” in the first place? Presumably it’s as a guide to what the policy should be. If for example it is loose by the right criterion, it should be tightened. There is no point to adopting a criterion that treats money as loose any time the money supply grows at all unless you are committed to a policy of keeping the money supply constant. Or for treating an increase in inflation as a sign of loose money unless a constant inflation rate is the proper goal of policy.

But it would be a mistake to adopt either goal. The money supply should change in response to demand. Inflation should fall when productivity rises and vice-versa. There are excellent reasons to think that monetary policy should aim for spending to grow at a steady rate. If it is instead rising at a faster rate than it usually does, as in the late 1970s, then money is too loose. If it is rising at a rate lower than previously expected, it is too tight. That’s where we are now.


Happy Birthday, Olivia de Havilland

(Public Domain)

The last of the great Golden Age stars turned 104 today. With her creamy skin and high cheekbones, de Havilland made for a captivating leading lady at Warner Bros., which repeatedly teamed her with Errol Flynn in, for instance, Michael Curtiz’s Captain Blood (1935), which was the best pirate movie until Pirates of the Caribbean for 60 years, and Curtiz’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), which is still the best Robin Hood movie ever made. She fought hard to get Jack Warner to loan her out to David Selznick to play Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind (1939), and her sensitive, thoughtful portrayal of a Southern belle of surprising strength and limitless kindness brought her an Oscar nomination, though she lost to castmate Hattie McDaniel.

In 1943, after she had a dispute with Warner Bros. over the length of her contract, she took the extraordinary step of suing the studio and won, setting the stage for further friction between actors and studios that would eventually bring down the “studio system” in which studio chiefs signed actors to long-term contracts and controlled their careers by ordering them which roles to play. Becoming free agents, the actors and their agents seized leverage over the studios just as television began to compete with the movies, ushering in the age of biblical spectacles and dazzling musical pageants. De Havilland rebounded from Warner’s attempt to blacklist her and won two Best Actress awards, for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949).

De Havilland and her sister, Joan Fontaine, who died at 96 in 2013, are the only siblings to win major Oscars; Fontaine’s Best Actress win was for Suspicion (1941), the only Oscar-winning performance Alfred Hitchock ever directed. Fontaine had starred the previous year in Rebecca (1940), the only Hitchcock film ever to win the Best Picture Oscar. De Havilland was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2017, at the age of 100.

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