Education

Yes, Virginia, Democrats Want Critical Race Theory in Your Schools

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An anti-critical race theory sign is held at a Loudon County School board meeting in Ashburn, Va., June 22, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

At the core of the defense by Democrats and their pundit class in the controversy over critical race theory and other forms of the same basic ideology in Virginia schools is denial that any such thing has anything to do with public schooling in Virginia. Yet here we are, the night before Election Day, and the Virginia Department of Education’s “EdEquityVA” website is still live, and it is a treasure trove of precisely this sort of thing. There’s a page on “Anti-racism in Education”:

Anti-racism requires acknowledging that racist beliefs and structures are pervasive in education and then actively doing work to tear down those beliefs and structures. Strategic planning around racial equity that does not include systemic analysis of racism helps to maintain systems of oppression…In classroom practice, anti-racist pedagogy acknowledges the importance of racial and cultural identities, honors voices and experiences of people of color, teaches through collaboration and dialogue, examines power and oppression, examines discrimination as systemic, critiques traditions of schooling, and advocates for social action…Drawing from critical race theory, the term “white supremacy” also refers to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, both at a collective and an individual level.

The page includes numerous suggested reading sources drenched in this kind of rhetoric. Then there’s the “What We Are Reading” page:

Virginia’s #EdEquityVA work is informed by literature, best practice, and research. Below are the resources the Office of Equity and Community Engagement references in the development of our work, as well as texts we recommend:

If you click the Taylor, Gilborn, and Ladson-Billings link, you get this description:

The emergence of Critical Race Theory (CRT) marked a pivotal moment in the history of racial politics within the academy and powerfully influenced the broader conversation about race and racism in the United States and beyond. Comprised of articles by some of most prominent scholars in the field of CRT, this groundbreaking anthology is the first to pull together both the foundational writings and more recent scholarship on the cultural and racial politics of schooling. The collection offers a variety of critical perspectives on race, analyzing the causes, consequences and manifestations of race, racism, and inequity in schooling. Unique to this updated edition are a variety of contributions by key CRT scholars published within the last five years, including an all-new section dedicated to the intersections of race and dis/ability within contemporary schooling. Each section concludes with a set of questions and discussion points to further engage with the issues discussed in the readings. This revised edition of a landmark publication documents the progress to date of the CRT movement and acts to further spur developments in education policy, critical pedagogy, and social justice, making it a crucial resource for students and educators alike.

“What we’re reading,” indeed. This is what the state government of Virginia, under Ralph Northam’s leadership, endorses. This is what Terry McAuliffe wants to continue, all the while denying that it exists. No wonder Virginia parents are noticing.

Politics & Policy

Pro-Life Senators: House Democrats’ Reconciliation Bill Would Fund Elective Abortions

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Senator Joe Manchin (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin has called taxpayer funding of abortion a “red line” issue in any reconciliation bill.

On Monday evening, two pro-life Republican senators, Steve Daines of Montana and James Lankford of Oklahoma, released a memo highlighting multiple provisions in the House Democrats’ $1.75 trillion bill released last week that would fund abortion.

Daines and Lankford write that the House Democrats’ reconciliation bill: 

  • Mandates abortion funding for the Medicaid coverage gap population in the twelve non-expansion States through Obamacare exchange plans in 2024 and 2025, overriding state laws
  • Provides $30 billion for subsidizing cost-sharing and reinsurance for individual market health coverage without any restrictions on funding abortions or plans that cover abortions
  • Massively expands taxpayer funding for Obamacare exchange plans that cover abortions
  • Provides more than $18 billion in health-related grants without any limits on funding abortions 

You can read the their full memo on abortion-funding provisions in the reconciliation bill here.

As I reported on Friday, the reconciliation bill released by House Democrats’ last week drops the most glaring provision that would provide taxpayer-funding of abortion — a new “Medicaid-like” program that lacks the Hyde amendment. But other abortion-funding provisions remain in the bill: 

The reconciliation bill’s section regarding “family planning services” could require these new [Medicaid gap] plans to cover abortions, unless abortion funding is prohibited. In the new 1,684-page reconciliation bill that Democrats released on Thursday, that section of the bill has been changed in a way that at least appears to attempt to exclude elective-abortion coverage — but actually fails to do so.

“We see the change that was made,” says Autumn Christensen of the Susan B. Anthony List. “However, it was not drafted in a way that prevents an abortion mandate because it references the Medicaid statute — which does allow for abortion — instead of referencing Medicaid appropriations, which do not allow for abortion funding.”

This issue is in the legislative weeds, but the point is important: The Hyde amendment, which prohibits Medicaid funding of abortion except in rare circumstances, must be attached each year to an appropriations bill that funds the program. The Hyde amendment is not permanently embedded in the underlying law that established Medicaid.*

“If we assume that this change was made with the intent of addressing the abortion problem, it falls short,” says Christensen. “But we look forward to a true solution.”

The bill that House Democrats unveiled on Thursday is not their final product, and negotiations are ongoing. But if the final bill isn’t scrubbed of its provisions that could fund abortion, Democrats will be setting themselves up for a fight over taxpayer funding of abortion on the Senate floor. There are also “public health” grants in the reconciliation bill that could fund abortion. “Clearly these funds are not covered by the Hyde amendment,” says Christensen.

The simplest way to ensure that the bill doesn’t fund abortion would be to explicitly include the text of the Hyde amendment in the bill — rather than cross-referencing legislation to which Hyde applies — but Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal has said Democrats think that including it would be a “political statement.” At the same time, Jayapal has (incorrectly) claimed that “none of the dollars” in the reconciliation bill would be spent on elective abortion. So there’s no reason to believe that a bill that actually ensures “none of the dollars” would be spent on abortion would lose the vote of Jayapal or any of her followers.

House Democrats are expected to release the next version of their reconciliation bill on Wednesday when the Rules Committee meets.

Law & the Courts

What Kind of Conservative Are You?

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Here is a test you can self-administer.

There is no doubt at all about how any of the left-wing activist justices on the Supreme Court would vote on Texas’s abortion law. It doesn’t matter what arguments are made, what the statute says, or what the Constitution says — they are going to vote the way abortion advocates want them to vote.

There is some question about how the originalists on the Court would vote.

Are you:

  1. the kind of conservative who thinks that speaks well of the originalist justices?
  2. the kind of conservative who hates that about the originalist justices?

I’m the former. I suspect I am in the minority.

Politics & Policy

Joe Biden and the Deal That Wasn’t

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks about his Build Back Better agenda and the bipartisan infrastructure deal from the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., October 28, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In an earlier post, I noted how Senator Joe Manchin had raised severe concerns about the Build Back Better framework that, were he to hold firm, could mean its death knell. But given the extent of Manchin’s reservations, it raises another question: What the heck was Joe Biden talking about last week?

Before leaving for Rome, the White House released a framework that officials tried to present as some sort of breakthrough in ongoing Congressional negotiations. While Biden did not make the explicit claim that he had secured 51 votes in the Senate, the heavy impression was that there was more or less agreement on the broad strokes and they were just ironing out a few minor details.

“After hearing input from all sides and negotiating in good faith with Senators Manchin and Sinema, Congressional Leadership, and a broad swath of Members of Congress, President Biden is announcing a framework for the Build Back Better Act,” the White House release claimed. “President Biden is confident this is a framework that can pass both houses of Congress, and he looks forward to signing it into law. He calls on Congress to take up this historic bill – in addition to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – as quickly as possible.”

Biden himself spoke as if he were taking a victory lap at the end of marathon talks.

“I want to thank my colleagues in the Congress for their leadership,” he said from the East Room. “We’ve spent hours and hours and hours over months and months working on this. No one got everything they wanted, including me, but that’s what compromise is.  That’s consensus.  And that’s what I ran on.”

He went to Capitol Hill to meet with House Democrats in what was supposed to be a speech followed by a vote passing his infrastructure bill.

Instead, Biden took off to Rome and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delayed the vote yet again. Still, Democrats gave the impression that they were just working on a few odds and ends and expected to vote Tuesday. Progressives claimed they were all in and just waiting for Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema to publicly commit to the framework.

But now that Manchin has said that the framework is full of “shell games” and “budget gimmicks” to hide the true cost of the proposal, last week’s theatrics look even more absurd.

Biden had met with Manchin and Sinema a number of times in the lead up to the framework announcement. Either Manchin has changed his tune dramatically, or what we got from Biden last week was one giant bluff to make it appear that there was some progress on the framework so that progressives would support his $550 billion infrastructure bill so he could have some accomplishment to brag about.

At this point, it’s unclear why anybody would trust any announced deal that is not simultaneously accompanied by an explicit statement of support from Manchin and Sinema.

Politics & Policy

Is Ted Cruz a National Conservative?

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx) questions former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who is President Joe Biden’s choice to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development, at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, March 23, 2021. (Jim Lo Scalzo /Pool via Reuters)

Orlando, Fla. — Out of the six keynote speakers at the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Fla., this week — Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Glenn Loury, Peter Thiel, and J. D. Vance — the junior senator from Texas seems possibly the most out of place. Hawley has been a champion of the kind of nationalist conservatism that this conference is dedicated to advancing since well before he was elected to the Senate, co-authoring a book on Teddy Roosevelt in 2008. Rubio was once a darling of the reform-conservative movement, championing a number of pro-family initiatives that broke with traditional GOP orthodoxy. Loury is a prominent critic of critical race theory and other campus ideologies that preoccupy national conservatives. Thiel is the nationalist movement’s foremost financial backer. Vance is his foremost political protégé. But it’s not entirely clear why Cruz, a Tea Party–backed candidate who never appeared particularly interested in the conference’s brand of right-wing politics, is here.

Cruz may be a recent convert. People have genuine, good-faith changes of heart all the time. My own politics have shifted significantly in recent years — that is often a normal, rational response to being exposed to new information and circumstances. But the senator’s speech, which was largely a rerun of the old conservative hits — a jab at Jimmy Carter, quotes from Ronald Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech, and a reminder that Democrats were the slave-owning party and thus “the real racists” — left me with more questions than answers. 

The stated purpose of the National Conservatism Conference is to forge a new way forward for the American Right. “This conference,” as Marco Rubio said during his virtual address this morning, “is about defining what it means to be a conservative in the 21st century. Because yesterday is over; it’s never going to return. Our challenge now is to take the eternal principles of the past and apply them to the challenges of the present to chart the right course for our country.” In other words, the shared goal of the event is to build a distinctly different kind of conservatism from the one that has dominated in recent decades. 

It’s not entirely clear that Cruz understands that project. Nothing about the substance of his speech pointed to anything that different from the kind of conservatism he ran on in 2012. The definition of nationalist populism he offered in his address was “unapologetically defending the United States of America” and “standing with working men and women” — both noble goals, but far too vague to actually distinguish this ostensibly new political doctrine from anything that existed in the past. Reagan saw himself as unapologetically defending the United States of America and standing with its working men and women, too; so did both Bushes. How, exactly, is Cruz’s approach different from his predecessors’? 

Cruz offered slightly more detail when it came to the question of what nationalism and populism are not, but those details did not inspire much more confidence in his grasp of the conference that he was addressing. Nationalism is not “a recipe for right-wing big government,” “protectionism,” or “isolationism,” he argued. But regardless of what one thinks of national conservatism’s policy prescriptions on the merits, the movement’s core critiques of mainstream conservatism are that the Right is too afraid of wielding government power, too dogmatically committed to free trade, and too adventurist in its foreign policy. “Big government,” “protectionism,” and “isolationism” might not always be the best descriptions of those impulses, but neither is it accurate to say that the New Right is definitively not those things.

If it is not different on trade, foreign policy, or the role of government, then what makes Cruz’s national conservatism different from, say, his 2012-era Tea Party conservatism? The conversations I’ve had with a number of conference attendees throughout the day suggest I am not the only one asking this question. Save for the specific details — references to critical race theory, the coronavirus, and so on — very little in his remarks would have been out of place in a Republican stump speech from a decade ago. There’s nothing wrong with that on its face — neither Cruz nor anyone else is obligated to agree with the nationalist policy prescriptions on much of anything. Plenty of smart conservatives are critical of the ideas being presented at this conference. The difference is that most of them aren’t simultaneously giving keynote addresses.

How Manchin’s Attack on ‘Budget Gimmicks’ Could Be Death Knell for Biden Agenda

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) talks to reporters as he departs the U.S. Capitol after a vote in the Senate, June 10, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Senator Joe Manchin just effectively blew up any hopes Democrats had of passing President Biden’s domestic agenda before a potential Glenn Younkgin victory on Tuesday. But it was a point Manchin made about the use of “budget gimmicks” by fellow Democrats that could doom the Biden agenda.

Manchin reiterated his concerns about “exploding inflation,” the debt, the potential for rising interest rates, and the creation of new social spending programs. “How can I in good conscience vote for a bill that proposes massive expansions of social programs when vital programs like Social Security and Medicare face insolvency and benefits could start

Politics & Policy

Among the National Conservatives

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A U.S. flag is seen at Omaha Beach, near the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, as France prepares to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day, in Colleville sur Mer, France, June 4, 2019. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

The National Conservatism Conference is not your father’s right-wing intellectual gathering. The three-day event’s lineup, which includes keynote lectures from three sitting U.S. senators, one Senate hopeful, and billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel, features the usual bookish lectures (“The Moral and Political Foundations of the Market Order,” “Pragmatic Empiricism and the American Founding”) and appearances by respectable professors (such as Joshua Mitchell, Carol Swain, Jason D. Hill) from conventional colleges (in their case: Georgetown, Vanderbilt, DePaul) alongside a smattering of in-group Internet references (“The Laptop from Hell and the New Censorship Regime”), obscure Twitter-speak (“Trads, Cads, and Radfems”), and unorthodox figures who would be out of place in the conservative intelligentsia’s traditional institutions. Speakers include the owner of the popular Christian comedy website The Babylon Bee, a Hollywood film director, multiple tech entrepreneurs, and even the president of a major labor union.

Who are the national conservatives? According to them, they’re the future of the conservative movement. If attendance numbers are any indication, their brand of conservatism is on the rise. Since the conference was first held in 2019 — its planned 2020 sequel was skipped because of COVID — the nationalist Right has continued to gain momentum, particularly with young, intellectually oriented conservatives. This year’s conference, held at the Hilton in Orlando, Fla., is buzzing with energy — and an unusually large number of attendees are under the age of 30. 

David Brooks, oddly enough, is here. So is National Review’s Rich Lowry, and any number of other name-brand conservative writers, activists, think-tank and foundation presidents, and public intellectuals — not to mention Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, and J.D. Vance. (Marco Rubio was supposed to speak this morning, but his flight was delayed.) But the Right isn’t alone in taking notice of this intellectual cohort: The woman at the press-pass table tells me that all of the major mainstream-media outlets — the New York Times, Bloomberg, Variety, Vanity Fair, and so on — have sent journalists to cover the conference this year. Many of these reporters, sitting in the press quarters with me, look distinctly uncomfortable — as if, on a casual trip to the zoo, they had suddenly found themselves on the animal’s side of the cage. But they are here because they need to be. The national conservatives are on the rise, and America’s elite institutions have started to notice.

There’s a reason that this year’s National Conservatism Conference is permeated by a sense of special gravity. In the wake of Donald Trump’s exit from the White House, the most consequential debate within the conservative movement is over the degree to which Trumpism — also referred to at varying intervals as nationalism, populism, the “New Right,” and any number of other political labels — is the GOP’s future. What that means, both in theory and in practice, is still somewhat nebulous. As with any fledgling political movement, Trumpism remains a vague and occasionally self-contradictory doctrine. Ironing that out is the central objective of conferences like this one.  

That’s why there is such palpable excitement here at the Hilton Orlando. There is a sense that a whole new world of possibilities has opened up. Conference-goers are united by a broad feeling that something has gone horribly wrong in America, and in the West more broadly, over the course of the last few decades — a conviction that is particularly palpable among the mass of my young peers who have flown in from around the country to hear their intellectual heroes speak. But for many of these young right-wingers, national conservatism feels like an opportunity — finally — to do something about it. 

Elections

McAuliffe Was Five Points Ahead of Youngkin When Early Voting Started in Virginia

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Republican Glenn Youngkin (left) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe (right) on the campaign trail for the Virginia governorship. (Evelyn Hockstein and Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

While all signs point to Glenn Youngkin as the one with momentum in the Virginia governor’s race, the one thing that continues to give me pause in predicting he’ll win is the wildcard of early voting.

Over 1.1 million early votes were cast — that represents nearly 44 percent of the total number of votes cast in the 2017 gubernatorial election. While overall turnout could be higher this year, it’s clear that a significant portion of the electorate has already voted.

Even though polls show the race close — some with Youngkin having the edge — when early voting began on September 17, Terry McAuliffe was up five points in the RealClearPolitics average. Back then, it was a totally different race. The infamous McAuliffe debate line, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” didn’t come until September 28. It wasn’t until last week that Youngkin started to overtake McAuliffe in some polls.

It’s impossible to know whom the early votes went to. The firm TargetSmart estimates that 53 percent of early voters were Democrats, 31 percent were Republicans, and 16 percent were unaffiliated. If the partisan voting preferences followed a recent Washington Post–Schar School poll that showed McAuliffe up one point, that would imply that McAuliffe enters Tuesday with about a 58 percent to 41 percent lead among the universe of early voters.

Even if this very back of the envelope calculation were accurate, however, it may not ultimately matter. Democrats tend to like voting early more than Republicans and it’s possible that McAuliffe’s early voting operation merely turned out his most dedicated voters and thus will cannibalize his Election Day totals.

So, while we don’t have enough information to say for sure, at a minimum, the size of the early vote should give prognosticators pause as it is weighed against the growing signals that the race has moved in Youngkin’s direction.

Immigration

Hey, Whatever Happened to That Investigation of Those Border Patrol Agents?

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A U.S. Border Patrol officer grabs the shirt of a migrant trying to return to the United States along the Rio Grande River after having crossed from the U.S. into Mexico to buy food, seen from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, September 19, 2021. (Daniel Becerril/Reuters)

President Biden, discussing a purported image of U.S. Border Patrol officials allegedly whipping Haitian migrants, September 24:

It was horrible what — to see, as you saw — to see people treated like they did: horses nearly running them over and people being strapped. It’s outrageous. I promise you, those people will pay. They will be — an investigation is underway now, and there will be consequences. There will be consequences. It’s an embarrassment. But beyond an embarrassment, it’s dangerous; it’s wrong. It sends the wrong message around the world.

On September 21, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas appeared on Joy Reid’s program on MSNBC and declared that, “We need this resolved swiftly. I anticipate that the results of the investigation will be available by the end of next week and I’ve committed to making the results public.”

The next day, Mayorkas told Congress the investigation would be completed within days.

Mayorkas told the House Homeland Security Committee that an undisclosed number of agents had been placed on administrative duty as investigators examine confrontations in which some mounted agents appeared to use their reins as whips against migrants who have been surging into Del Rio, Texas.

“I want to assure you that we are addressing this with tremendous speed and tremendous force,” Mayorkas said. “The facts will drive the action we take.”

“It will be completed in days – not weeks,” he added.

Today is November 1. In the past five weeks or so, the Department of Homeland Security has not released any results of their investigation. DHS has not resolved the investigation swiftly, nor have they made the results public, nor have they provided any updates on the status of the investigation. The lack of information from DHS makes sense if, as the photographer states, there was no whipping of the migrants, and that the entire controversy stemmed from people misinterpreting what was happening in a photograph. However, if that is the case, DHS has a responsibility to correct the record and clear the names of the Border Patrol agents who are falsely accused of cruel and criminal behavior. The president of the United States would also want to apologize for his role in spreading a false accusation.

But I would not hold my breath waiting for that apology.

NR Webathon

‘Now More Than Ever’

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National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. (National Review)

With just hours to go in National Review’s fall webathon, readers like you pushed us past $150,000. Thank you, friends, thank you.

These funds will go towards supporting the most essential, fearless conservative journalism in America. For 66 years, NR has pointed the way towards a better culture, a better society, and a better politics.

If you haven’t yet contributed, I invite you to join the hundreds of other readers just like you who have helped us continue the long fight towards advancing conservatism in America.

  • One anonymous reader sent in $500, adding, “This contribution is given to honor Jim Geraghty. My life has been enriched for over forty years by learning from the pages of National Review. Jim Geraghty’s daily updates on the coronavirus have been beyond valuable: this political writer, writing for a political audience, has done the entire world a service in his relentless pursuit and synthesis of the science and other facts about the pandemic.”

We couldn’t agree more about Jim’s groundbreaking work covering the pandemic these last 18 months. As our friend Peter Travers has said, Jim deserves a Pulitzer Prize for his analysis of the  “lab leak” theory, among his many other reports on the virus.

  • Joanne writes. “Now more than ever, we need National Review for facts and sane commentary.”

Thank you, Joanne. We appreciate your support and encouragement.

  • Michael puts a 50 dollar note into the hat and writes, “ATHWART, MY FRIENDS! ATHWART!”

Michael, we are very grateful for the generosity of our readers. It’s not an exaggeration to say that without the readers, subscribers, and contributors just like you, we couldn’t have kept this ship afloat for 66 years.

Will you help us push forward? Put wind in our sails by subscribing to NRPlus and contributing to the final hours of National Review’s fall webathon.

Politics & Policy

Correct — Edexit Is a ‘Crisis’ We Must Not Let Go to Waste

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Writing for Law & Liberty, Harvard history professor James Hankins provides much hopeful news about the weakening grip of the K-12 education establishment on American families.

Here’s a slice: “Not only have parents discovered that getting a high-quality private education for their children is much less expensive than they had imagined. They are also discovering schools that teach a traditional curriculum much more in harmony with their own values. Some parents who themselves began in high school to love great art, literature and music don’t want their own children to miss out on these experiences. Yet now they have learned that the public schools no longer teach such things, or are banning classics once seen as vital to a liberal curriculum and a tolerant society.”

We have a tremendous opportunity here to turn the modest “edexit” into a stampede. Let’s do it.

Economy & Business

Now More Than 100 Container Ships Are Waiting outside the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

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Shipping containers sit on the dock at a container terminal at the Port of Long Beach-Port in Los Angeles, Calif., April 7, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Reuters, October 7: “More than 60 container ships carrying clothing, furniture and electronics worth billions of dollars are stuck outside Los Angeles and Long Beach terminals, waiting to unload, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California. Pre-pandemic, it was unusual for more than one ship to be in the waiting lane at the No. 1 U.S. port complex, which handles more than half of all American imports.”

President Biden, October 13:

I know you’re hearing a lot about something called “supply chains” and how hard it is to get a range of things from a toaster to sneakers to a bicycle to bedroom furniture. . . .

After weeks of negotiation and working with my team and with the major union and retailers and freight movers, the Ports of Los Angeles — the Port of Los Angeles announced today that it’s going to be — begin operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This follows the Port of Long Beach’s commitment to 24/7 that it announced just weeks ago. . . .

By increasing the number of late-night hours of operation and opening up for less-crowded hours when the goods can move faster, today’s announcement has the potential to be a gamechanger. . . . The commitments being made today are a sign of major progress in moving goods from manufacturers to a store or to your front door.

The Associated Press: “As of Friday, there were 153 ships at anchor, berthed or “loitering” — cruising while awaiting dock space — and more than 100 of those were container ships, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which monitors port vessel traffic. Ships anchored at the complex have well over a half-million containers on board, officials said. They hold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of toys, electronics, clothing and furniture.”

From “more than 60” container ships waiting offshore to “more than 100” in a three-week span? So much for 24/7 operations being a “gamechanger.”

In other news, this morning the Secretary of Transportation urged his Twitter followers to think about how “free preschool for all 3 and 4 year olds would change things for your family.”

Politics & Policy

Did Southwest Pilot Say ‘Let’s Go Braves’?

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Grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft at Victorville Airport in Victorville, Calif., March 26, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Did the Southwest pilot who has inspired this week’s firestorm actually say “Let’s go Brandon”? Probably. But . . . maybe not. Have a listen here. It’s not at all clear.

It’s hard to tell because, for some reason, the recording cuts off at the key moment. But it certainly seems possible that the pilot actually said “Let’s go Braves” (a reference to the Atlanta Braves baseball team, which is currently playing the Houston Astros in the World Series); that the ridiculous AP reporter on the plane who just happened to be writing about the phrase “Let’s go Brandon” heard what she expected to hear; and that the passengers who apparently “gasped” did so because, being from Houston, from which city the plane was leaving, they’re Astros fans.

UPDATE: It seems that the New York Post story I linked to is conflating two “Let’s go Brandon” sightings — both on Southwest. The story the Post is referring to is from October 29, but the audio the Post features to support it is actually from October 12, well before the story it’s referring to actually happened. As such, while the pilot in the Post‘s audio could well be saying “Let’s go Braves,” the sequence of events I suggested above couldn’t have happened.

Politics & Policy

Can Either Party Set Priorities?

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President Joe Biden meets virtually with governors, mayors, and other state and local elected officials, in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 11, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Both the process and the substance of the legislative effort the Democrats are now pursuing suggest they have lost the capacity to rank their aims and set priorities. What particular goal could be attributed to the Build Back Better framework they are advancing? If they were to describe what it offers the American public, where would they start? If to govern is to choose, they are failing to govern.

But that failure doesn’t mean their legislative efforts won’t bear fruit. I actually think that last week’s embarrassing fiasco brought the Democrats significantly closer to passing their reconciliation bill, even if their inability to prioritize will mean that bill won’t amount to much.

It was still an embarrassing fiasco: Speaker Pelosi’s failed attempt to manufacture urgency left her looking weak. President Biden’s insistence that his presidency was on the line, only to have senators Manchin and Sinema decline to endorse his reconciliation framework and House progressives decline to vote for the infrastructure bill left him looking foolish. The whole exercise left everybody frustrated.

So why do I think it brought the Democrats closer to enacting their agenda? Because the response of House progressives to the dramatically pared down reconciliation framework that the White House proposed suggests they now have no particular policy objectives, but only procedural objectives. The bill would spend about half of what they have insisted they want, removes (on the basis of guesses about what two senators want) many of the policies progressives had championed, and amounts to a patchwork of mostly temporary, strikingly under-developed, and largely unworkable schemes. It’s full of the sort of stuff that the writers of The West Wing always tried to end sentences with, but devoid of the sort of stuff that the writers of legislation normally try to do. It spends enough to let Republicans attack it next year without yielding enough concrete benefits that voters might appreciate, and it wouldn’t be easy to say what question it’s trying to answer.

But House progressives generally took this framework as a win. There was some carping about the absence of ambitious immigration provisions, which were never a realistic possibility in the Senate. But otherwise their main complaint was that it wasn’t clear if senators Sinema and Manchin supported this new framework.

That suggests that what House progressives now want is the same as what senators Sinema and Manchin want: namely, a version of the Build Back Better bill that senators Sinema and Manchin can support, almost regardless of what it contains. The progressives have declared their willingness to surrender, and are now devoting their energies to getting Sinema and Manchin to define the terms of that surrender. That seems like an achievable project even for the narrowest congressional majority in American history. It could still fail. But passage of something they can call Build Back Better, alongside the infrastructure bill that already got through the Senate, seems more likely, not less, in the wake of what last week revealed.

The trouble for Democrats, though, is that the failure to prioritize substantive policy ambitions has characterized not only the process but also the substance of putting the reconciliation bill together. The more ambitious, more progressive earlier versions of Build Back Better were always a case study in indecision. Rather than outline one or two serious national problems that they proposed to take on, the Democrats projected an amount of money to spend, and then stuffed everything that every Democratic interest group desired into one package until they reached that number. They never gave the public any sense of what mattered to them. And the internal debates about the scope and contents of the package almost all involved arguments about its overall size — about how much to spend and tax rather than what to do or how to do it.

This is just one example of a broader failure to prioritize that is endemic to our politics now. Neither party can quite explain what it wants, except to keep the other party from power. That problem is vastly overdetermined, but three reasons for it do stand out among the rest.

One reason is the peculiar inability of the administration to articulate domestic priorities. What matters most to the president? What does he hope to achieve? What are his cabinet secretaries working on? Which way does he want his divided party and this divided country to move?

Throughout his career, Joe Biden has tried to position himself near the center of the Democratic coalition and be a kind of generic Democrat. This is not a bad strategy for a senator with a safe seat, and it obviously worked for him. But it’s not as good a strategy for a president with an internally divided party. A president’s strength as an executive can often be measured by whether his mid-level political appointees know what he would do in their place — whether an assistant secretary in one department or another can say “If the president had my job, I know how he would make the decision I’m now facing.” This was obviously impossible on most issues in the Trump era, since President Trump’s implacable ignorance, pathological amorality, and blinding narcissism made him reactive and unpredictable. This was part of why he was such a weak president and achieved so little that will endure. But it is also practically impossible in the Biden era, because President Biden has generally refused to identify himself with any side of any dispute within the Democratic coalition. Given his history, he would seem to represent the more moderate wing of the party, but that’s not really evident in anything his administration has done, or any role he has played in any legislative process. It’s hard to say what he wants, so he isn’t helping his party tell the public what it wants either. This was painfully evident last week when Speaker Pelosi told her members that Biden’s presidency depended on their voting for the reconciliation bill immediately and then Biden himself declined to embrace that approach and tried to put himself between the moderates and progressives.

A second reason, related to the first, has more to do with Congress. The habits of polarization, which have evolved over the past generation in Washington, involve party leaders in Congress asserting themselves rather than party factions negotiating. This helps the parties confront one another more starkly, but it doesn’t help the parties negotiate internal differences. Leaders in this polarized era want to mask and submerge internal divisions, rather than to work them out, and that makes bargaining within each party pretty difficult, as both parties have learned when they have held power. The Democrats tend to respond to this problem by proposing to do everything at once — stuffing every idea they’ve ever had into one big bill. Republicans tend to respond to the same problem by proposing to do nothing — just simply nothing whatsoever. That is basically what Republicans ran on in 2020, for instance. Voters tend not to be impressed by either strategy. And this problem will only become more serious as the internal differences within the parties grow.

A third and deeper source of the bipartisan failure to prioritize in our time suggests just why those divisions will grow. It has to do with the gradual transformation of the electoral coalitions of the two parties, which has left both increasingly baffled by the nature of the internal debates they confront. Both parties are changing as the American elite is changing, and a lot of their internal fractures look like tensions between their past and their future. The Democrats are gradually taking the shape of something like a fun-house mirror version of the Eisenhower coalition — upscale whites plus many black voters. (Obviously the black vote was much more divided at mid-century than now, and it was also much more suppressed by Southern racism, but those were key elements of the self-understanding of Eisenhower’s coalition.) Republicans are gradually taking the shape of a fun-house mirror version of the FDR coalition — blue-collar whites and some blue-collar ethnic minorities who will eventually be considered white. (The latter described some ethnic European Catholic minorities for FDR, it describes some Hispanic voters for today’s GOP). Both analogies are lacking, to be sure, but they suggest something about the general course of things. This marks a significant change for both parties, and they are gradually going to have to change what they offer voters, particularly on economic issues, in order to make this work.

This is not to suggest that the Democrats will become a right-wing party or that Republicans will become progressives. History doesn’t repeat, it just rhymes. Republicans, if they can figure their way through this quandary, will remain a socially conservative party and a broadly market-friendly party, but one that tries to offer working-class voters greater economic stability alongside material help in meaningfully entering markets as consumers. The reform-conservative agenda offered a first stab at this in the 2010s, and it also focused on what I would expect will be the most potent economic message of the next few years: reducing the cost of living for working families. For all the huffing and puffing that has filled the years since, I do think that still remains the obvious framework for the future of the GOP.

The Democrats’ emerging electoral coalition, meanwhile, gives them a lot of room to remain socially liberal but it argues for a less populist economic framework (except for those forms of pseudo-populism that actually appeal to elite white voters, like forgiving student loans and the like), a more pro-business stance on taxes and regulation, and more emphasis on the elements of progressivism that speak to upscale voters — especially the technocratic managerialism.

Neither of these is really a revolutionary transformation of either party. The Democrats would remain the party of the Left and the GOP the party of the Right. But the changes involved would require a re-prioritization, and that’s what we’re seeing lots of trouble with now.

One fascinating illustration of this on the Left involves the differences between senators Manchin and Sinema themselves. In essence Joe Manchin is what moderate Democrats used to be, and Kyrsten Sinema is what moderate Democrats are going to be. In a recent profile of Sinema, the Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim and Ashley Parker gestured toward this dynamic when they noted with perplexity that, “While Sinema embraces the party’s platform on climate, she — to most Democrats — remains stubbornly conservative on corporate and individual tax rates, while Manchin has effectively been the reverse.” The same could be said about a lot of issues. Although they are both uncomfortable with the BBB agenda, Manchin and Sinema are very different sorts of moderates, and the difference is one important reason why prioritizing has been difficult for the Democrats.

These changing party coalitions have left both parties a little perplexed, and as a result also a little resistant to normal electoral pressures. Both refuse to learn from election losses, and so to find ways to adjust to changing voter demands. The Democrats narrowly lost a winnable election in 2016 and rushed to attribute the loss to Russian intelligence operations, misinformation on Facebook, and the like — forces that ranged from imaginary to marginal. Republicans just as narrowly lost a winnable election in 2020 and rushed to attribute that loss to some kind of massive conspiracy of fraud — essentially a paranoid delusion. There is obviously a lot more at work in both cases, but both parties are just not sufficiently curious about the reasons for the public’s intense distaste for them.

Republicans are on the whole in worse shape in this respect — their escapism is more deranged and more dangerous. But the more energetic portion of their coalition is nonetheless pushing Republicans in the direction of the middle of the electorate, while the Democrats’ activists are pushing the party away from the middle. Republicans therefore seem better situated to win elections and govern over the coming decade. But to make the most of the opportunity they will need to not just leave behind the psychoses of the cult of Trump (which will be hard enough) but also to prioritize internally in ways that can enable the party to offer something to its voters and to winnable voters in the middle.

The Democrats don’t have the same kind of mass psychological breakdown to overcome, but their political challenge is more daunting. They have no functional mechanisms for distinguishing good from bad ideas, and their elites are in the grip of a cultural reign of terror the forces them into saying and doing some really strange and damaging things. A party of “birthing persons” and apple pie isn’t going to win the middle of the country.

But their greatest challenge may be more mundane than that. The key economic-policy battleground of the immediate future is likely to be the challenge of rising living costs, and if the BBB legislation is any sign, Democrats are not well equipped to fight on that front. They remain committed to addressing high costs through a combination of subsidizing demand and restricting supply. This is essentially the left’s approach to health care, higher education, housing, and now (in this new bill) child-care. Increased demand and reduced supply is, broadly speaking, a recipe for higher prices and therefore higher costs. If the new swing voters are suburban parents, a program that risks drastic increases in child-care costs is a way to lose the future. If Republicans are prepared to respond, they may find themselves with an extraordinary opportunity.

But it’s far from clear if Republicans can be prepared. The failure to prioritize is a thoroughly bipartisan problem now. The first party to recognize it and find a way to overcome it — the first party to recover its ability to engage in traditional politics — could own the next few years.

Why Are We Shutting Down Firehouses over the Vaccine Mandate?

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Firefighters from the Woodbridge Fire Department rest in front of a fire truck as the Caldor Fire burns near Strawberry, Calif., September 1, 2021. (Fred Greaves/Reuters)

Does it make sense to put firefighters on unpaid leave if they refuse to get vaccinated? Does it make sense to fire them?

Does it make sense to put firefighters on unpaid leave or fire them if they refuse to get vaccinated, if they have had COVID-19 in the past year and have natural immunity?

Does it make sense to shut down firehouses if an insufficient number of firefighters are willing to get vaccinated?

The FDNY shuttered 26 fire companies citywide on Saturday due to staff shortages caused by the COVID-19 vaccination mandate, according to furious elected officials, who ripped the move as

World

Profiles and Pronouns

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Masih Alinejad (Courtesy of Ms. Alinejad)

That woman up there is Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist and activist. She came to worldwide attention last summer for an unwelcome reason, to put it mildly: The FBI foiled a kidnapping plot against her — a plot by the Iranian government. Apparently, this was the first attempt by that government to kidnap a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. This is beyond brazen. And Masih Alinejad, obviously, has gotten deeply under the skin of the rulers back in her native country.

Not long ago, I sat down with Masih for an interview, and you can read the resulting piece on the homepage today: here. I would like to tell you something in addition, here on the Corner.

Before writing, I got Masih’s book, her autobiography: The Wind in My Hair (2018). I didn’t intend to read it. She and I had already talked. I wanted the book for reasons of reference, mainly — to look up spellings, dates, etc. I thought I might read the book later on, when I had the time. This particular week, I had no time.

I made the mistake of starting on page 1. Ladies and gentlemen, I couldn’t put the book down. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. I didn’t have time to read the book — but I couldn’t help it, so I did.

As usual, I’m going to publish some reader mail here, but, before I do, I’d like to link to a podcast — my latest Q&A, which is with Bernard-Henri Lévy, the French philosopher and writer. We discuss his new book, The Will to See. And various problems around the world. And “life its ownself,” as Dan Jenkins taught us (many of us) to say. BHL is ever interesting.

Okay, some mail. Recently, I interviewed and wrote about Leopoldo López, the Venezuelan democracy leader and former political prisoner. Here is a paragraph toward the end of that piece:

Venezuela, [López] points out, is not only under dictatorship, it is also wracked with hunger. Outright starving. Venezuela is the poorest nation in the Americas — even poorer than Haiti, which has suffered cruelly for generations.

A reader writes,

I had a project in Valencia — about a hundred miles west of Caracas — that had me traveling to Venezuela between 1997 and 2000. I can confirm that Venezuela was a happy and thriving place, certainly by South American standards. To hear that Venezuela is the poorest nation in the Americas, even poorer than Haiti — I can hardly get that to compute.

Talking to me, López said, “The United States continues to be, whether you like it or not, the beacon of light and hope for freedom and democracy in all the world.” Our reader writes,

Whether you like it or not?! I can’t even fathom not liking it — though I recognize that there are many Americans who, in fact, don’t like it. This is another thing I have trouble computing.

I have a lot more mail, on a range of subjects, but you need to get on with your day. Maybe I can publish one note relating to language. In an Impromptus last week, I spoke of the modern habit of saying “they” instead of “he” or “she.” A reader writes,

I work for a technology company which, like most tech companies, is absolutely steeped in wokeness. One of the more irritating manifestations of that attitude is that, in their reports on job-applicant interviews, many of my colleagues will insist on using the pronoun “they” throughout. Oftentimes I will have interviewed the same applicant — an obvious man or woman — yet the reports say “they.” All of these “they”s look ridiculous, referring as they do to a single person. Nails on a chalkboard, to me!

Oh, to me too, baby. Anyway, you will want to meet Masih Alinejad. Today’s piece, again, is here. And the podcast with BHL is here.

Education

Free Speech on Campus Keeps Eroding

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The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has released a new report on the state of free speech on American college campuses. They’ve done that before, and, this year, the number of schools included was significantly increased. What it showed is hardly surprising — further erosion of support for free speech.

In today’s Martin Center article, Grace Hall writes about the findings.

Here’s a most-disturbing paragraph: “Sixty-six percent of students report some level of acceptance of shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus. This is up 4 percentage points from last year. Twenty-three percent of students say it is acceptable to resort to violence in order to stop a speech on campus, up from 18 percent last year. These numbers are concerning. If students are not able to hear opinions that vary greatly from their own, how will they ever grow or learn to defend their own opinions? Disagreements are a part of everyday life, yet some college students today seem to expect to be treated with kid gloves, to never have to use reason to discuss difficult topics.”

Evidently, the idea that students hear so often from teachers and professors, that “bad” speech should be suppressed, continues to spread.

She correctly concludes, “While some schools do better than others, there is room for improvement at all of them. Colleges and universities in the US are responsible for developing the future Americans of tomorrow.”

World

Canada Pioneers One-Stop Euthanasia/Mortuary Centers

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(kzenon/iStock/Getty Images)

Talk about efficiency. Some enterprising Canadian funeral homes are offering their, er, customers, the option of one-stop death and mortuary services, renting out a room in which to be killed and then quickly prepared for final disposition. From the CBC story (first brought to my attention by Bioedge):

Wanting to meet a growing need, Needham began to offer rooms for rent at his funeral home where MAID procedures could take place.

Since early 2020, Needham has provided rooms for 23 medically assisted deaths. “Family members can be right there with their loved ones,” he said. “I suggest they can make it how they want it, bring some of your favourite music, bring flowers, bring some food or if you like, bring a bottle of wine. This is this person’s last day on Earth. You want to take everything into account and consider as many things as possible.”

Yes, watching grandma get killed, over a glass of Cabernet and some fine cheese. Perfect image for a culture of death:

Darcy Harris is a professor of thanatology —  the study of death and dying — at King’s University College in London, Ont. She also worked as a hospice nurse earlier in her career. She says the trend makes sense.

“Funeral homes are usually very nicely appointed and the staff are service-orientated and are comfortable talking about death,” she said.

Euthanasia changes society at fundamental levels — and not for the better.

Politics & Policy

The ABC/Ipsos Poll Shows That the Democrats’ Spending Bills Are Duds

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(mj0007/Getty Images)

A new ABC News/Ipsos poll shows that, far from being “wildly popular,” as their apologists keep insisting, the two gargantuan bills that the Democrats are trying to pass through Congress are duds:

The ABC News/Ipsos poll, which was conducted using Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel, found that a plurality (32%) of Americans think the bills would hurt people like them if they became law, while fewer (25%) think it would help them. Nearly 2 in 10 (18%) think the bills would make no difference, and 24% said they didn’t know.

Even among Democrats alone, fewer than half (47%) think the two bills would help people like them. A quarter of Democrats think the bills would make no difference for people like them and about 2 in 10 (22%) don’t know how they would impact their lives. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Republicans think the bills would hurt people like them, and so do about 3 in 10 (29%) independents.

There’s more:

The American public is evenly divided — 34% to 34% — over whether they believe these bills would help or hurt the U.S. economy if they become law. Very few (6%) think the bills would have no effect on the economy, and a quarter don’t know. Democrats are much more likely to think the legislation would help the economy if enacted than Republicans and independents, 68% compared with 7% and 29%, respectively.

This is what Joe Manchin is violating his own standards for? This is what Democratic moderates in the House and the Senate are choosing to commit suicide over? This is the cause of our months-long Washington drama?

Senator Manchin has confirmed that he is against “additional handouts,” “transfer payments,” and programs that “never go away.” He described America’s fiscal situation as “brutal.” He has stated his opposition to “spending trillions more on new and expanded government programs, when we can’t even pay for the essential social programs, like Social Security and Medicare.” He has contended that inflation is crippling people’s budgets. He has explained that we are reaching the point at which we’ll have no leeway if we face another crisis. And he has insisted that, “at some point, all of us, regardless of party, must ask the simple question — how much is enough?” One would imagine that it would take something pretty remarkable to budge him from this position. But this bill isn’t remarkable. It’s a dud. One has to wonder when — and if — Manchin and his saner colleagues will realize that.

White House

Biden’s Big Illegal-Immigrant Payday

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My latest New York Post column looks at the rich payments that the Biden administration is considering giving to families separated at the border by the Trump administration:

This is a scandalous giveaway that would reward lawbreakers and enrich activist lawyers. There’s nothing wrong with settling these cases, but the size of the payoffs is wildly excessive. $900,000 is more than twice the $400,000 payment made to the families of American servicemen killed in war. It is more than what some families of 9/11 victims received. This, for people who knowingly broke the law…In a lawsuit, if you think you were in the wrong, you should be willing to settle. But a settlement is a compromise. Both sides look at their chances of losing at trial, and they look at what the size of a verdict might be. A good settlement discounts the likely verdict by the odds of losing and the money each side saves by not going to trial…The lawyers who brought the suits, including the ACLU, know full well that there would be challenges proving their case and more challenges proving that their clients suffered nearly a million dollars’ worth of emotional distress resulting from family separations.

Would McAuliffe Require Kids to Get the COVID Shot in Order to Attend Elementary School in Virginia?

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Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe speaks in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe has put the issue of COVID mandates front and center during the homestretch of the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election. As the Washington Post Fact Checker reported earlier this week, McAuliffe has been exaggerating the threat that COVID poses to children.

But even as McAuliffe hits his Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin for opposing statewide mask and vaccine mandates, the Democratic candidate’s campaign won’t say if McAuliffe would require children between the ages of 5 and 11 to get the COVID vaccine in order to attend school in Virginia. 

During the first Virginia gubernatorial debate, McAuliffe said he would “absolutely” require children ages 12 and up to be vaccinated in order to attend school, and he suggested the only reason he wouldn’t support the mandate for kids under 12 is that the FDA hadn’t yet “done the analysis.” 

SUSAN PAGE: So, yes or no, would you add COVID to the list of required vaccines for students in Virginia?

MCAULIFFE: Well, above the age of 12. We don’t know—the FDA has not done the analysis for under 12—so we couldn’t do that. But I want everybody to be vaccinated.

SUSAN PAGE: So for students above the age of 12, would you support adding to COVID vaccine as a requirement—as a state requirement?

MCAULIFFE: Absolutely. You bet I would. I want everybody vaccinated. This COVID is not going away. 

In August, the FDA fully approved the vaccine for individuals 16 years of age and older, while continuing to make the vaccine available for children between the ages of 12 and 15 under its “emergency use authorization.” On Friday, the FDA expanded its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine to kids between the ages of 5 and 11, but McAuliffe campaign spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment from National Review on Friday or Saturday about whether McAuliffe would expand a COVID vaccination mandate to include children under 12 in Virginia. 

Youngkin opposes all statewide mask and vaccine mandates, leaving decisions about such requirements up to private businesses and local authorities. 

At an event with President Biden on Wednesday, McAuliffe said: “Last week, two 11-year-olds died of COVID. We cannot let Glenn Youngkin be in charge of our children’s education or their health.” 

For children under the age of 12, the fatality rate for COVID is no greater than the fatality rate for the flu. “In Kids, The Risk Of COVID-19 And The Flu Are Similar — But The Risk Perception Isn’t,” NPR reported in May.

The Lincoln Project Sees Charlottesville as Just Another Political Button to Press

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The Lincoln Project’s demonstrators stand with tiki torches on a sidewalk as Republican candidate for governor of Virginia Glenn Youngkin arrives on his bus for a campaign event in Charlottesville, Va., October 29, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Just adding an observation to Phil’s point about the Lincoln Project’s asinine, offensive stunt in Virginia yesterday: If you genuinely believe that the violence in Charlottesville was a dark day in recent American history, a stain on the American character, and a hideously ugly and abominable ritual openly celebrating intolerance and hatred . . . you don’t then turn around and adopt that imagery to prove a political point. If you’re willing to dress up as tiki-torch-bearing white nationalists as part of a stunt in the final days of a gubernatorial campaign, then you clearly don’t think that what happened in Charlottesville is so bad that it’s beyond ordinary partisan politics.

You don’t see people dressing up as Nazis on Holocaust Remembrance Day. You don’t see people dressing up like Japanese pilots on Pearl Harbor Day. If something is genuinely important to you, you treat it with respect. You cannot effectively fight white nationalism and hatred by choosing to dress up and pretend to be hateful white nationalists. You’re almost literally becoming that which you profess to oppose.

Something as horrible as what happened in Charlottesville isn’t supposed to be just another convenient political cudgel to use against an opponent you want to defeat. That’s what’s most disturbing about the Lincoln Project’s effort — that out of a raw hunger to ensure Terry McAuliffe’s victory, the Lincoln Project folks wanted people to believe that torch-bearing white nationalists were stomping around Virginia again. They saw fear and division as just another political button to push to get out the vote.

As Michael Wear, head of  faith outreach for President Obama’s 2012 election campaign  put it yesterday, “some professional progressives just don’t take their own rhetoric seriously. Charlottesville, January 6…these were dark days in our history. They’re not fodder for your campaigns. If you really believe these things threaten vulnerable people/nation, don’t play games with them.”

Energy & Environment

The Big Climate Summit Welcomed Up to 30,000 Officials Flying in on Planes

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U.S. climate envoy John Kerry speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 27, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Do you know why lots of people think the climate change movement is all about posing and politics, and not really about concern about long-term damage to the environment?

The British and Scottish governments, serving as hosts, are expecting up to 30,000 official attendees — who will be meeting indoors, huddling in tense talks, for hours and hours a day, from Sunday to Nov. 12 and potentially longer. It will be the largest summit ever hosted in Britain. Organizers are scrambling to make sure the conference does not morph into a superspreader event.

Up to 30,000 official attendees, in person?

Sure, the representatives from the United Kingdom could go by car or train, and certain European representatives could take the train by going through the Chunnel. But the overwhelming number of government officials in attendance will fly to Scotland. Most of those flights will generate more carbon emissions for each passenger in one flight than the average American generates in two weeks: “Flying from London to New York and back generates about 986kg of CO2 per passenger. There are 56 countries where the average person emits less carbon dioxide in a whole year.” That’s roughly one ton per passenger; the average American generates 20 metric tons of carbon per year.

And of course, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate change, John Kerry, travels by private jet. The average private jet emits as much carbon in one hour as the average American generates in six weeks.

For most of the past two years, almost everyone in the world had to forego in-person meetings and family gatherings to connect via Zoom and Skype and other Internet-based meeting tools. And yet those who proclaim to care the most about the environment just had to all fly to Scotland and back for their big summit? Can none of these people see the contradiction between their words and their actions?

Government officials want citizens to make sacrifices in the name of saving the planet, but they refuse to lead by example.

Politics & Policy

Twitter’s Stunning Silence about Its Suspension of a Canadian Publisher

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(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Canadian media are picking up the story of Twitter’s weeklong suspension of six accounts that are critical of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence, as Twitter maintains an assiduous silence about the episode.

In a column yesterday, the National Post’s Sabrina Maddeaux cited my reporting on the suspensions, which targeted accounts operated by Optimum Publishing International, a Canadian publishing house. Optimum’s main account, and profiles it uses to promote five of its books, were suspended starting in early October but later restored.

I initially reached out to a Twitter spokesperson ahead of an October 13 article I wrote about the situation but didn’t receive a response. After reading Maddeaux’s article, I sent an additional email yesterday requesting more information about the suspensions, but that, too, as of Friday afternoon, has gone unanswered.

Although the accounts have been restored for about two weeks now, Twitter still hasn’t explained whether the suspensions had anything to do with Optimum’s work on Chinese political influence or why it took over a week to restore the accounts.

In its communications with Optimum president Dean Baxendale, Twitter accused him of “operating multiple accounts with overlapping use cases, such as identical or similar personas or substantially similar content” in violation of the platform’s rules. But, as Baxendale replied, that is precisely what foreign authoritarian governments such as Russia and China do, conduct that has gone unaddressed by the social-media company.

In a study this past May, Oxford University’s Programme on Democracy and Technology catalogued “a large network of Twitter accounts that demonstrate multiple forms of coordinated inauthentic activity” intended to increase engagement with official Chinese-government accounts. The Oxford researchers noted that Twitter took down accounts they had identified as inauthentic, but the official accounts for Chinese officials and state media at the center of the scheme have still not been suspended.

By contrast, Baxendale’s accounts aren’t inauthentic; they’re clearly marked as accounts promoting specific books. After he told Twitter as much, the company restored the accounts. After all, Twitter itself operates more than one account on its platform, each of which plays a different role in its engagement with the public.

Twitter still hasn’t publicly accounted for the suspensions, its rationale for this flimsy excuse about overlapping accounts, and why it initially said that only a single account could be restored.

It’s hard not to see a double standard at play, where Chinese diplomats promoting disinformation about the origins of COVID and the Uyghur genocide are treated with kid gloves, as Twitter’s content police go after a truly egregious offender: a Canadian publisher trying to get the word out about the Chinese Communist Party’s dangerous conduct.

Elections

McAuliffe Should Be Held Responsible for Tiki Torch Stunt, Because His Campaign Thinks Candidates Are Responsible for Supporters

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Candidate for Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe speaks during his campaign rally in Dumfries, Va., October 21, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Lincoln Project has taken credit for an absurd stunt on Friday in which a group of people showed up at a Glenn Youngkin rally holding tiki torches and posing as supporters of the Republican. Given the track record of the Lincoln Project, we can’t quite take their word for it — it’s quite feasible that they are taking the heat off of somebody else given the stunt epically backfired. But even if it turns out that the hoax was perpetrated by overzealous Terry McAuliffe backers run amok, he should still be held responsible by the standards set by his own campaign earlier in the day.

After the initial photos of the fake tiki torch brigade emerged, the McAuliffe campaign pounced.

One McAuliffe spokesperson, Christina Freundlich, referenced the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, and said, “this is who Glenn Youngkin’s supporters are.”

Another McAuliffe spokesperson, Jen Goodman, claimed the image of the fake Youngkin supporters was “disgusting and disqualifying.”

Given that the Lincoln Project has publicly claimed credit, the McAuliffe campaign will attempt to distance themselves from it. But, to follow the standard set by the McAuliffe campaign, it shouldn’t matter. This is who Terry McAuliffe’s supporters are. It is disgusting and should be disqualifying.

Elections

The Political Stakes in Virginia

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Everything Rich Lowry says here about the consequences for Democrats if Youngkin wins will go double if Republicans also gain back the House of Delegates. It would be quite a comeback: No state Republican Party saw bigger legislative losses under President Trump than Virginia’s.

National Security & Defense

An Administration Comfortable with Multilateral Diplomacy and Little Else

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U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands during the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

The White House ordered the Department of Defense to punt on a hypersonic-missile test in the lead-up to President Biden’s summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin in June, Politico reported yesterday. According to the outlet’s conversations with administration officials, the administration “worried that launching such a provocative weapon right before it could send the wrong signal or sabotage the meeting altogether.”

That’s a strange explanation. In the weeks ahead of the summit, U.S. officials were clear that Biden’s travels throughout Europe to attend the G-7 and NATO summits were orchestrated to project strength ahead of his sit down with the Russian president in Geneva. As National-Security Adviser Jake Sullivan put it on June 7, Biden would attend the meeting “after having had nearly a week of intensive consultations with allies and democratic partners from both Europe and the Indo-Pacific. So he will go into this meeting with the wind at his back.”

Sending top U.S. officials to meet with their Chinese and Russian counterparts only on the tail of meetings with Washington’s allies is a good approach. But the hypersonic episode reveals that while the White House is very comfortable with attempting to project strength through multilateral engagement, it is loath to do so in other ways.

Worse, the previously scheduled test wasn’t even intended as a show of strength. The White House went out of its way to reschedule the event out of deference to Moscow, which spent the spring amassing troops — at one point topping 100,000 — on its border with Ukraine. The lion’s share of that buildup remains in place.

Politics & Policy

Why Biden’s Social Agenda May Prove Less Resilient Than Obamacare

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President Joe Biden departs after delivering remarks on the response to Hurricane Ida from the White House in Washington, D.C., September 2, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

To pare down the cost of President Biden’s social spending bill, Democrats were forced to make a number of their new programs temporary. Their hope — and conservatives’ fear — is that once the programs are put in place and develop dependents, that even a future Republican Congress would feel compelled to extend them. While there is ample precedent to support this theory — most recently, with Obamacare — there is reason to believe that Biden’s social transformations could prove more short-lived than past liberal expansions of the welfare state.

To review, among the most significant expansions of social programs in Biden’s proposal are:

— An extension of payments to families of up to $3,600 per year per child (one year)

— An expansion of Obamacare’s health insurance subsidies (four years)

— Universal pre-K and subsidized child care (six years)

It’s quite possible that Democrats will be in charge when it comes time to renew these programs and they will have the power to make them permanent. But if Republicans are in charge, I think the programs are less likely to be sustained than Obamacare.

The reason why Obamacare was different was that it was a permanent piece of legislation. This meant that when Republicans got in control, they had to actively pass a bill to repeal it, which also put pressure on them to come up with some sort of replacement. Getting Republicans on the same page on health care policy, especially with narrow majorities, was not a simple task. So, while it came as a grave disappointment that Republicans broke their pledge on repeal, it should not have come as a massive surprise.

Imagine, however, an alternate reality in which Obamacare would have expired at the end of 2017 had Republicans not passed legislation to extend or replace it. Suddenly, Republican disagreement and dysfunction would have worked in favor of conservatives, because if nothing passed, it would have effectively repealed the law. Not only that, but it would have completely flipped the leverage enjoyed by the various Republican factions. In 2017, Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and John McCain could ultimately live with Obamacare remaining intact if nothing got passed. So they had no reason to compromise with Sens. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and the Freedom Caucus types in the House. But if Obamacare were set to expire, suddenly the leverage would have shifted to conservatives. If they refused to vote for anything, it would have led to the full repeal of Obamacare. So suddenly the Republican centrists would have had to rally around some sort of free market replacement that would have been acceptable to conservatives were they to get anything.

If Republicans are in control in the future, it won’t ultimately matter whether some Republicans, or even leadership, believes it would be better politics to extend childcare and universal pre-K subsidies. As long as a critical mass of Republicans won’t vote for such extensions, they won’t happen.

While Republicans have given conservatives good reason for skepticism due to their reluctance to shrink the welfare state, I am more bullish about Republicans when shrinking government programs involves simply doing nothing.

World

Intel’s Latest Chinese Government Meeting

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The Intel logo at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, Calif., June 12, 2018. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Intel participated in talks regarding “cross-border semiconductor investment” with China’s ministry of commerce, according to the South China Morning Post.

The Post’s report states that the meeting was “focused on communicating with stakeholders,” not decision-making. Intel’s attendance, however, is startling, for the simple fact that it plays an important role in shoring up U.S. semiconductor production. That’s a role that Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger has readily embraced, telling a Yahoo conference that U.S. reliance on foreign chip production “is an unquestioned issue.” Gelsinger in recent months has received plaudits from former Trump national-security adviser Robert O’Brien and others for working to shore up this supply-chain vulnerability. Meeting with Chinese officials, however, sends the wrong message.

The SCMP’s report cites a Chinese government statement on the gathering:

The meeting at the commerce ministry on Friday mainly covered topics such as boosting cross-border collaborative capabilities in electronic design automation, intellectual property core development, chip testing and packaging, and production capacity, as well as promoting semiconductor cross-border cooperation in the form of “technology transfers [and] incubation of joint projects”, according to the ministry’s statement.

Participating firms welcomed the Chinese government proposals, including the setting up of a special working group to serve the cross-border semiconductor value chain.

This meeting with China’s commerce ministry raises uncomfortable questions, and it comes on the heels of my report last month that an appointee to a new Intel government-affairs advisory panel — Lenovo CEO Yuanqing Yang — has extensive ties to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front influence network and a major state-backed science academy that works extensively with the People’s Liberation Army. Representative Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) was incensed by Yang’s appointment, warning Intel that it’s only time before the party “steals its intellectual property, seizes its assets, and kicks it to the curb.”

Gelsinger should take care to avoid these missteps. Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) tweeted about the SCMP piece, writing that companies “doubling down on investments in China” shouldn’t receive funding from a congressional proposal to boost U.S. semiconductor manufacturing. That legislation still awaits approval by Congress, and there’s still time to stipulate such a funding prohibition.

World

Watchdog Demands Accountability for UNRWA Anti-Semitism

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President Joe Biden arrives to speak during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, September 21, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool via Reuters)

A watchdog group is raising new concerns about the conduct of the U.N. agency tasked with providing aid to Palestinians ahead of a major donors conference that will take place next month.

In a letter to the head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency this week, the group U.N. Watch panned UNRWA’s refusal to address evidence that its employees have, among other things, endorsed terrorism and engaged in anti-Semitic rhetoric, including by “glorifying Hitler.” “It would seem that your agency is refusing to engage with the extensive research and documentation of United Nations Watch which demonstrates UNRWA’s failure to apply its purported ‘zero tolerance’ policy toward teachers who incite racism and violence,” wrote U.N. Watch director Hillel Neuer.

Neuer referenced an August report in which his group found that UNRWA teachers had engaged in over 100 instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric or glorified terrorism since 2015. The report noted that UNRWA’s fundraising appeals have focused on education in recent months. The report came months after UNRWA commissioner general Philippe Lazzarini admitted that his agency had provided West Bank and Gaza schools with textbooks that promoted jihadism as “one of the doors to Paradise,” among other things.

At the November conference, UNRWA commissioner general Philippe Lazzarini said his organization is seeking $800 million per year for education, health, and social services, according to the Times of Israel. UNRWA says that it provides aid to some 5 million Palestinian refugees across Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine, but the number of people who genuinely qualify as refugees per the U.N.’s criteria is likely much lower. An internal U.S. government estimate apparently puts the number at fewer than 200,000 people.

Citing that discrepancy, the U.S., led by former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and other Trump-administration officials, cut all of Washington’s funding to the agency in 2018. The statement announcing the move also pointed to the “disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs that we had assumed for many years.”

In April, the Biden administration announced that it would resume funding UNRWA, as part of a broader push to “restart U.S. economic, development, and humanitarian assistance for the Palestianian people.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement about the resumption of U.S. support for UNRWA, which is tasked with administering aid to Palestinian refugees, that the U.S. is “deeply committed to ensuring that our partnership with UNRWA promotes neutrality, accountability, and transparency.”

Blinken’s argument for reengaging with UNRWA is straightforward and not unreasonable by itself: “As with all of our engagements with UN institutions, the United States needs to be at the table to ensure that the reforms advance efficiencies and are in accord with our interests and values.” Although it can be compelling to argue that Washington needs to remain involved in certain organizations in order to shape developments, taking that position as a default just doesn’t work in many cases — UNRWA seems to be one of those. The U.N. Human Rights Council, to which the U.S. recently won election, is another.

Neuer pointed out that UNRWA had suspended some of the employees named in the U.N. Watch report and promised penalties for those whose allegations against them are proved. “We are confused, however, as to why no statement was published on the UNRWA website,” he wrote. In the letter to Lazzarini he also asked which of the employees have been suspended, and why teachers who have engaged in this conduct haven’t been removed from the classroom. Puzzlingly, as Neuer wrote, UNRWA had initially called the U.N. Watch report a validation of “sensationalist and politically-motivated attacks.”

UNRWA isn’t just immune to reform; its leadership is openly hostile to outside scrutiny. Having a seat at the table is unlikely to change that.

Elections

‘His Claims Are Bananas’

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Outgoing President Donald Trump looks on at the end of his speech during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 presidential election results by Congress in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

The Wall Street Journal recently printed a letter to the editor from Donald Trump, and good for them; while it is in the best partisan interests of Republicans to give Trump as little attention as possible, the former president and potential future presidential candidate’s views are, by any standard, newsworthy.

Thursday, in an unusual step, the Journal editorial board responded formally to Trump’s extensive list of reasons to claim that the election in Pennsylvania was stolen, and the Journal‘s response is brutal. A sample:

We think it’s news when an ex-President who may run in 2024 wrote what he did, even if (or perhaps especially if) his claims are bananas. Mr. Trump’s letter is his familiar barrage, with 20 bullet points about alleged irregularities that he says prove “the election was rigged.” It’s difficult to respond to everything, and the asymmetry is part of the former President’s strategy. He tosses off enough unsourced numbers in 30 seconds to keep a fact-checker busy for 30 days. When one claim is refuted, Mr. Trump is back with two more . . .

Mr. Trump says that “25,000 ballots were requested from nursing homes at the exact same time.” His citation for this—no kidding—is a Nov. 9 cable-TV hit by Sen. Lindsey Graham. Mr. Trump is alleging 25,000 fake votes in Pennsylvania, based on a stray remark by someone from South Carolina. Breaking news: A politician on TV repeated a rumor. We emailed to follow up, and Mr. Graham’s office tells us this was “an allegation, one of many others,” but it now “can be laid to rest.” Some of Mr. Trump’s figures appear to come from amateur spelunking into voter data. Caveat emptor when this is done by motivated partisans unfamiliar with election systems. The “audit” team in Arizona asserted that Maricopa County received 74,000 more mail votes than were sent out. This was debunked as a misunderstanding of the files.

Religion

Biden Says Pope Francis Told Him He Should Continue Receiving Communion

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Former vice president Joe Biden and his sister Valerie Biden Owens are greeted by Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Basilica, 2013. (Osservatore Romano/Reuters)

According to Washington Post reporter Seung Min Kim, when President Biden was asked by reporters about his meeting with Pope Francis, Biden said the topic of abortion did not come up during their conversation.

“We just talked about the fact that he was happy I was a good Catholic,” Biden told reporters. Biden also reported that Pope Francis told him he should continue receiving the Eucharist.

Asked by a reporter yesterday whether Biden planned to discuss the “human dignity of the unborn” with Pope Francis, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said they expected “a warm and constructive dialogue” and reiterated that Biden “stands up for and believes that a woman’s right to choose is important.”

If Biden’s account of his conversation with the pope is accurate, it is sure to cause turmoil among Catholic bishops in the U.S., who will meet next month for their fall General Assembly and who are preparing a statement on the Eucharist in the life of the Church. The bishops voted to craft such a statement following internal debate over whether Catholic politicians who publicly promote abortion, such as Biden, should be permitted to receive communion.

Adam Kinzinger Bows Out of Congress

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Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) questions witnesses during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing in Washington D.C., September 16, 2020. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Reuters)

Adam Kinzinger announced this morning his retirement from Congress in a five-minute video statement which clearly hinted that he is looking ahead to another run for office:

The conventional wisdom will be that Kinzinger was run out of the Republican Party for standing up to Donald Trump, having become one of the two most prominent critics of Trump (along with Liz Cheney) in the congressional GOP. While that certainly has made his position dicier within the party, the reality is that gerrymandering Democrats are eliminating Kinzinger’s district, so he would be stripped of the benefits of incumbency and forced to run

Elections

Washington Post Poll: McAuliffe 49, Youngkin 48

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A new Washington Post poll, conducted October 20 to October 26, shows a dead heat in the Virginia gubernatorial race, with “49 percent of likely voters favoring Democrat Terry McAuliffe and 48 percent favoring Republican Glenn Youngkin.” The last time the same pollster surveyed the state in mid September, McAuliffe led Youngkin 50 percent to 47 percent among likely voters.

Of the five most recent polls included in the RealClearPolitics average before the Washington Post poll was released, four showed the race either tied or with McAuliffe ahead by one point. A Fox News poll released Thursday night showed Youngkin leading McAuliffe by eight points.

Education

Universities and Meritocracy — Less Related Than You’d Think

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The campus of Colgate University, March 31, 2019 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

What do universities have to do with the rise of meritocracy? Something to be sure, but less than you might think.

British writer Adrian Wooldridge has a new book out entitled The Aristocracy of Talent, which is about the great social change over the last 500 years or so, from society built around rigid status distinctions and into one where everyone was free to succeed in accordance with his abilities to create and produce. The book has much to do with universities and I offer my thoughts about it in today’s Martin Center article.

Was university education crucial to the economic development in Britain and the U.S.? Wooldridge observes that it was not. Most of the builders and innovators who sparked economic development were people who relied on their native intelligence. Mass education (including college) was more a consequence of meritocratic enrichment than the cause of it.

What has Wooldridge worried is that influential university professors are leading an attack on meritocracy. They think it’s unfair that some people are born with talents that get rewarded in the free market and want government to step in. Their egalitarian/communitarian notions have found fertile soil in the Democratic Party.

He’s also worried that today’s meritocrats will manage to become like the feudal lords of old, protecting themselves against competition by “investing” in higher education for their children. I don’t think that’s much to worry about, since people are still rewarded not on the basis of their educational pedigrees but on what they accomplish.

It’s a very interesting book, but the author’s proposals would make things worse, not better.

Politics & Policy

Ron Klain Is Making a Fool of Joe Manchin

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Sen. Joe Manchin speaks to news reporters following the announcement of a bipartisan deal on infrastructure, on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., June 24, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

I wrote earlier in the week about the yawning chasm between what Joe Manchin says he is doing, and what Joe Manchin is actually doing. Yesterday on Twitter, Joe Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, highlighted that chasm, by tweeting that:

There is simply no way of squaring this description of the bill with what Joe Manchin has said he’s prepared to accept. As the Washington Post‘s Paul Kane has noted, one of Manchin’s red lines is “additional handouts or transfer payments” and new programs that “will never go away” — by which, Kane explains, Manchin means “the biggest liberal goals in the legislation, such as universal pre-K.” Manchin has gone on the record that he is opposed to “spending trillions more on new and expanded government programs, when we can’t even pay for the essential social programs, like Social Security and Medicare.” Indeed, he has described doing so as “the definition of fiscal insanity.” If he is serious about this, then he absolutely has to be opposed to a bill that is, per Klain, “twice as big, in real dollars, as the New Deal was,” that “goes from 12 years of universal education to 14 years,” that “cuts what families pay for child care in half,” and that blows past Manchin’s own (absurd) “topline” of $1.5 trillion.

Talking to reporters recently, Manchin said, defiantly, “I’ve never been a liberal in any way, shape or form.” This is a nice soundbite, and it presumably plays well in West Virginia, but if it is to mean anything concrete, then Manchin will have to show it by cutting the “additional handouts,” “transfer payments,” and programs that “never go away” that he insists he opposes. As I write, Ron Klain is running around Washington insisting that the president’s framework represents permanent transformational change that is larger in scale than what FDR achieved during the Great Depression. If, after all he has said, Joe Manchin happily signs onto it, he will have shown himself to be a fraud.

Impromptus

Queens, Colas, and More

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Queen Elizabeth sits next to Vogue editor Anna Wintour at a runway show in London, February 20, 2018. (Yui Mok / Pool via Reuters)

In Britain, a magazine called “The Oldie” wanted to make Queen Elizabeth “Oldie of the Year.” She said, No, thanks — I don’t feel old. The older she gets (sorry), the more I like this lady. And she leads my Impromptus today, here. I also write about the Saudis and their money; Russia and the Soviet Union; the mask-and-vax wars; the waning of sportsmanship; and other issues (not all of them gloomy, I promise you).

I think we should have a little mail. I had a column on Monday titled “Fatal accidents, &c.” Alec Baldwin was involved in such an accident. He pulled the trigger — which has caused great guffawing in some quarters. Donald Trump Jr., for example, is selling T-shirts mocking Baldwin. Yet it is a terrible burden to bear — being responsible for someone’s death, accidentally. In my column, I spoke of King Juan Carlos, who, when 18, apparently shot and killed his younger brother, Prince Alfonso (accidentally, of course).

A reader writes,

George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury and one of the translators of the King James Bible, accidentally killed a gamekeeper with an errant crossbow bolt. It appears to have haunted him all of his remaining days.

Yes. If you would like to read a little more about this, consult the Wikipedia entry for Abbot.

In my column on Wednesday — “Snapshots of America” — I had a picture of a beautiful old stone church in Peoria, Ill. Former church, I should say. It is now a microbrewery and restaurant. I wrote, “I don’t know about you, but I would rather churches be ground to dust than that they be converted to secular uses.”

This remark occasioned several responses, including this:

The Talmud agrees with you. In Megillah 27a, it goes through the very few circumstances under which a synagogue, or other holy objects, may be sold.

In that “snapshots” column, I had a picture of a sign on a church door — a real church, a continuing church, I mean — indicating that no guns were allowed. A reader writes,

I had to laugh at that sign. I visited my daughter’s church in eastern Colorado recently. I couldn’t believe the number of people carrying guns, and that wasn’t even counting security. I jokingly asked her if it might be a membership requirement.

It’s a very interesting topic: guns and churches.

Back to my Monday column — in which I quoted the sheriff of Polk County, Fla., which has seen a surge of homicides. Sheriff Grady Judd commented, “Just chill out. Drink a 7-Up. Eat a Moon Pie. Quit murdering people.”

My friend Tim writes,

I’m sure Sheriff Judd is an outstanding law-enforcement professional and a fine man, but I am shocked and appalled by his advice to the good people of Polk County to “drink a 7-Up. Eat a Moon Pie.” Having spent a fair amount of time as a young man in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, where I consumed my share of Moon Pies, I learned that RC Cola is the only beverage that one should ever have with a Moon Pie. This combination has even been celebrated in a song.

Yes, it has: here.

Thanks to all readers and correspondents. If you have signed up to receive Impromptus by e-mail, but have not been receiving the column, bear with us: A glitch in the system has been worked out. Un-glitched. If you would like to sign up, write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com. And today’s Impromptus, once more, is here.

U.S.

On Cuomo Sex-Crime Charge, Expect Defense Complaints about Albany Police

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A farewell speech by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is broadcast live on a screen in Times Square on his final day in office in Manhattan, New York City, August 23, 2021. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

As our Isaac Schorr reports, New York’s disgraced former governor Andrew Cuomo has apparently been charged with a sex crime — forcible touching — which is a misdemeanor under state law. As yet, no criminal complaint has been filed publicly, and because of the nature of the case, it may be that the version eventually released by the court will be redacted. It is obvious, though, that the charge is based on a report to Albany police by Brittany Commisso, a state executive chamber staffer.

After initial reluctance, Ms. Commisso came forward to investigators and went public with the allegation that the then-governor groped one of her breasts, without consent, at the governor’s mansion. She was referred to only as “Executive Assistant #1” in state attorney general Letitia James’s explosive sexual-harassment report, which ultimately doomed Cuomo, forcing his resignation.

Back in early August, I wrote about the wayward press conference given on a Saturday morning by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office about Ms. Commisso’s report. To be clear, Cuomo may be as guilty as the day is long in the court of public opinion — I’m inclined to believe that he is. In the court of law, however, he is presumed innocent. Although it is prosecuting him, the state’s job also entails protecting his fair-trial rights. He may well be convicted, particularly if Ms. Commisso is a compelling witness. But if Cuomo decides to fight the case, the police commentary will give him some cards to play in arguing that he has been denied a fair proceeding.

I’ll repeat what I said on the subject at the time:

On Saturday, Albany’s sheriff, Craig Apple, gave a press conference. This was impeachment politics masquerading as a law-enforcement exercise. There is no reason for a law-enforcement office to hold a press conference to announce that a complainant has filed an official report. That would be true even in the case of a serious felony; as Sheriff Apple conceded, the police are evaluating Commisso’s groping complaint as a misdemeanor under New York law.

More to the point, while it’s perfectly fine for analysts and the public at large to make the political and moral judgment that Cuomo is a scoundrel, he is presumed innocent in the justice system. State law-enforcement officers have an obligation not to undermine that presumption, which is why they customarily refrain from confirming even that a criminal investigation exists, unless and until charges are filed — and even then, they must confine their comments to what is written in the publicly filed pleadings.

In Albany, however, sheriff is an elected position, so the law-enforcement function is politicized. The press conference was a pretext for Apple to refer to the then-unidentified Commisso as a “victim” numerous times — and then, absurdly, to accuse a reporter who called him on it as being “presumptuous”; of course, it was Apple himself who was positing an improper presumption of Cuomo’s guilt. In fact, Apple noted in passing that his office had not even interviewed Commisso yet (they’d only met to take her complaint). The sheriff has done no real investigation and does not even have access to the relevant evidence summarized in the AG’s report — he is hoping to get that by the end of this week.

At this point then [i.e., as of August 9], Commisso has made an allegation and Cuomo has publicly denied it. As far as the criminal-justice system is concerned, that makes her a complainant, not a victim. The fact that we may believe her does not mean the case has been proved in court — there hasn’t even been a charge, much less a conviction.

While there was no valid law-enforcement purpose for Sheriff Apple’s gratuitous performance (which included the provocative observation that his deputies could potentially place Cuomo under arrest), the political purpose was blatant. Unlike the other allegations against the governor, Commisso’s accusation involves a clear, actionable crime. That has a catalyzing effect on the impeachment push.

We’ll see what happens. But if Cuomo decides to fight rather than plead guilty, expect to hear a lot — at least in the pretrial phase — about Sheriff Apple’s press conference.

Elections

Fox Poll: Youngkin Takes the Lead in Virginia

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Kevin Hulbert puts pro-Youngkin signs up as people gather to protest different issues during a Loudoun County School Board meeting in Ashburn, Va., October 26, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

While most pollsters find the Virginia gubernatorial race to be tied (or Democrat Terry McAuliffe slightly ahead), a new Fox News poll shows Republican Glenn Youngkin jumping out to an eight-point lead:

McAuliffe receives 45 percent to Youngkin’s 53 percent in a new Fox News survey of Virginia likely voters.  Youngkin’s eight-point advantage is outside the poll’s margin of sampling error.

That’s a big shift from two weeks ago, when McAuliffe was ahead by five, 51-46 percent.

While the Fox poll could be an outlier (or a leading indicator), even the polls showing a tied race are good news for Youngkin. McAuliffe, as a former governor who served from 2014 to 2018, should effectively be viewed as an incumbent, and there’s a good chance that undecided voters will break in favor of the lesser-known challenger at the end of the race.

Biden’s national job approval rating is almost exactly where Obama’s was in 2013 when McAuliffe won with 47.8 percent of the vote. The Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli lost to McAuliffe in 2013 by 2.3 points, while a libertarian candidate siphoned off 6.5 percent of the vote statewide. In 2021, there isn’t a libertarian candidate running in Virginia.

 

Politics & Policy

No Vote on Infrastructure Tonight

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President Joe Biden talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as they depart after the president met with Democratic lawmakers to promote his infrastructure bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C, October 1, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Biden and Speaker Pelosi made a hard push, but House Democrats don’t have the votes to pass the $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill tonight:

Democrats appear to be heading toward a deal over the next week, but Pelosi herself said that it would be an embarrassment to Biden if Democrats didn’t pass the infrastructure bill tonight: