Elections

Every Democrat and Their Mother Is Running for President

Stacey Abrams, running for the Democratic primary for Georgia’s 2018 governor’s race, speaks at a Young Democrats of Cobb County meeting in Cobb County, Ga., November 16, 2017. (Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Three more Democratic officials are getting ready to run for president. No, that’s not a joke. Meanwhile, Democrats in Washington continue to hope that the Mueller report includes something significant that Attorney General Barr forgot to mention, and progressives start to openly discuss why the Obama era disappointed them.

Almost Every Democrat Is Running for President

First and foremost, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, I hope you beat cancer. Next week the senator will have surgery to address a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Bennet also intends to go ahead with his plans for a presidential campaign, if the surgery goes well.

Ohio congressman Tim Ryan is reportedly ready to announce his own presidential campaign. California congressman Eric Swalwell is apparently jumping in in the near future as well.

Oh, and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams says she’s seriously thinking about it, but might not make up her mind until September. (She’s also thinking about running for U.S. Senate.)

A week ago, I wrote that Bennet, Ryan, Swalwell, and the other Democrats still contemplating a 2020 bid had missed their window and were wasting their time by trying to jump in now. There are 17 announced candidates if you include Andrew Yang (who qualified for the debates), Mike Gravel, Marianne Williamson, and Wayne Messam. That’s not counting Joe Biden. With Bennet, Ryan, and Swalwell, we’re at 21.

At some point, some of these candidates are going to complain that their campaigns are being unfairly impeded because the media isn’t paying enough attention to them. Already, it’s easy to forget some of them. (“Oh, right, Julian Castro! That was the guy everybody was talking about back in 2012! He’s in it?”) When there are 21 candidates — let’s say fifteen “serious” ones, although I think you could probably trim that category back to just Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, and maybe Elizabeth Warren — just how much air time and how many newspaper columns and magazine pages and web pages will be devoted to John Delaney, Jay Inslee, or Tulsi Gabbard?

Whatever the threshold is for “too many” candidates, the Democrats have passed it, just as Republicans passed it in 2016. I’d argue that some candidates, such as Bobby Jindal, didn’t get a fair hearing because of the crowded field and non-prime-time “kiddie-table” televised debates.

Mueller’s Investigators Talk to Associates, Who Talk To Reporters, Who Talk To . . . 

Once again, Democrats are hoping that the Mueller report contains a game-changer that Attorney General William Barr neglected to mention, getting excited about reports in the New York Times and Washington Post that “members of Mueller’s team have complained to close associates that the evidence they gathered on obstruction was alarming and significant.”

The description offered by these unnamed sources could be accurate. But Barr would be gambling with his career and reputation if he misrepresented what the Mueller report stated or concluded. And while we’re getting front-page stories about this no-names-attached grumbling, Mueller himself hasn’t said a word. Also, notice the long relationship between Mueller and Barr:

Barr and Mueller first crossed paths at the Justice Department during the George H.W. Bush administration. But the relationship goes further: Their wives are close friends who attend Bible study together, and Mueller attended the weddings of two of Barr’s daughters.

“They have a high level of respect for each other,” said Paul McNulty, a former senior DOJ official who led the department’s policy and communications shop while Barr was attorney general and Mueller served as the head of its Criminal Division. “They have maintained a good friendship ever since.”

You think Barr is going to pull something unprofessional, unethical, and indefensible now? Barr’s going to do everything by the book and leave his critics no easy avenue for criticism — and that means taking his time, to ensure no one can plausibly argue the redaction process was rushed.

Notice that after the House Judiciary Committee voted to give chairman Jerrold Nadler, authority to issue subpoenas for the Mueller report and related materials, Nadler did not immediately issue the subpoena. Nadler is walking a tightrope; Democrats want the report immediately or as soon as possible, but Nadler knows that Barr is doing what he’s supposed to do in these circumstances, even if he doesn’t want to acknowledge it.

Were Progressives Satisfied with the Obama Presidency? If Not, Why Not?

Yesterday some conservatives got excited about this days-old tweet from progressive policy analyst Matt Stoller, declaring, “Obama was a bad President. His ideas were bad. His refusal to wield power in favor of being a beloved celebrity is a significant, though not total, explanation for why the world is on fire.”

But Stoller has been making variations of this Obama-hurt-progressivism argument for a while, writing in January 2017 that Democrats wouldn’t win again until they recognized that Obama’s policies were way too friendly to concentrated financial powers and did little to protect the most vulnerable. (Stoller seems to specialize in telling Democrats that they’ve been rooting for the wrong guys all along; see his argument that the musical Hamilton whitewashes and rewrites history to make Alexander Hamilton seem much more progressive than he actually was.)

A key portion of the Democratic argument in the 2020 primary is going to be whether they see the Obama administration as a success or not, and what lessons they take from the Obama years. And month by month, year by year, more Democrats become more comfortable with discussing the way Obama’s presidency did not live up to their hopes.

Start with the economy. People were satisfied enough with the state of the economy in 2012 to re-elect Obama, but apparently sufficiently discontented with the state of economy by 2016 to roll the dice on Trump. (The unemployment rate ranged from 4.7 percent to 5 percent during the election year.) But Bernie Sanders doesn’t come within a lucky bounce of winning the Democratic nomination if people are happy with the economic status quo. Nor did Hillary Clinton promise to continue the Obama administration’s economic policies. The New York Times, June 22, 2016:

She also did not proclaim the greatness of the Obama-era economy and pledge continuity This carefully rolled-out speech suggests she seeks to run not by boasting of what has gone right in the economy under President Obama, but as a fixer who can more successfully deal with the things that are still broken.

Also note that Clinton ran against TPP.

The stimulus, the auto-industry bailout, Dodd-Frank, extended unemployment benefits, higher fuel efficiency standards — the Obama administration got a lot of what it wanted, particularly in those first two years. And after eight years, a significant number of Americans felt the prosperity of a growing economy had missed them.

Now move on to Obamacare. In 2018, Democrats were “pledging to fix the flaws in Obamacare while targeting Republican attempts to ‘sabotage’ it and take coverage away.” The only part of Obamacare that Republicans managed to undo was the individual mandate. If Obamacare is a success that fixed what ailed the American health-care system, why were Democrats running on health care in 2018?

A fairly common belief on the Right is that Obamacare was designed to sputter and fail so that when it failed, Democrats could push for some version of government-run healthcare for everyone. Of course, enacting a policy that is designed to fail — your signature policy! the biggest policy of your presidency! — does not make a lot of political sense. You’ve made members of your party take a vote that will probably cost them their seats, in order to enact a policy that you think will fail and probably make the electorate even angrier. If you think government-run health care for everyone is the right solution, propose that and fight for that; don’t waste several years enacting a half-measure that you secretly believe is unworkable. A simpler answer is that the Obama administration genuinely thought Obamacare was going to make things better and the people would be happier with the health-care system once it was enacted. Whoops.

(People keep talking about the issue of health care if it’s a massive Democratic advantage, but it only works when you’re complaining about the status quo and promising something better. The American people want the very best care, without any waiting, and for it to be paid for someone else, either their employer or the government. They want to choose their doctor, keep their doctor, have the lowest possible copays, deductibles and premiums, and for any and every procedure and prescription drug to be covered. Any real-life policy is going to require tradeoffs and is certain to leave some patients disappointed one way or another — either through out-of-pocket costs, wait times, quality of care, or all of these.)

Now let’s give Obama the credit he doesn’t want: Once he was forced to cut deals with a Republican Congress to work with, the annual deficit got smaller! From 2013 to 2017, the trillion-per-year deficits ended, and it was “only” $438 billion in 2015, the smallest since 2007! (Looking back, the deficits of the George W. Bush presidency look tiny compared to the trillion-per-year projections we have for the coming years.)

A lot of Obama’s non-legislative efforts are now kaput because the Trump administration rolled them back: the Iran nuclear deal, the Clean Power Plan, the Paris Accords on climate change, new limits on fracking, the ban on drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, protections for the Dreamers . . .  the lesson of the past presidency and this one is that anything enacted by executive order can be undone by executive order.

To enact a lasting change through legislation, you need a House majority, at least 50 senators and probably 60 unless you’re using reconciliation, and the presidency. Progressives might be in a bad mood because they realize how far they are from that height, and how rare the opportunity of 2009-2010 was.

ADDENDUM: Ed Morrissey takes a long walk through Joe Biden’s history of scandals, and concludes:

Biden helped blaze that path toward normalizing scandal, but let’s put the blame where it belongs: Both sides of the political aisle normalized scandal, and voters endorsed it by excusing the bad behavior of their allies. Biden’s only living in a post-scandal world; we’re the ones who built it.

Elections

Pete Buttigieg Is Having His Moment

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg greets voters during a campaign stop in Portsmouth, N.H., March 8, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: You can tell South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg has really arrived because he’s starting to get critical profiles after the sudden wave of glowing ones; yet another close election out in Wisconsin; a dog that didn’t bark, and an investigation that didn’t leak; and some words of appreciation for podcast listeners.

Setting the Stopwatch on Pete Buttigieg’s Moment

Whenever a candidate “has a moment” — and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg is definitely having a moment — there’s inevitably a backlash, mostly driven by primary rivals but sometimes reflecting serious scrutiny that was neglected during the candidate’s sudden rise.

This soup-to-nuts denunciation of Buttigieg in the left-of-center Current Affairs makes for interesting reading from a conservative perspective, for the ways that the criticism of the South Bend mayor aligns with that of the Right and the way it differs. A lot of Nathan Robinson’s critique is that Buttigeig is insufficiently progressive for his tastes, and he goes as far as to accuse Buttigieg of not really caring about people beyond his own ambitions, which feels a little harsh.

But I suspect a lot of people on the right would nod in at least partial agreement to this declaration from Robinson:

I don’t trust the type of people likely to appear on “40 under 40” lists, the valedictorian-to-Harvard-to-Rhodes-Scholarship types who populate the American elite. I don’t trust people who get flattering reams of newspaper profiles and are pitched as the Next Big Thing That You Must Pay Attention To, and I don’t trust wunderkinds who become successful too early. Why? Because I am somewhat cynical about the United States meritocracy. Few people amass these kind of résumés if they are the type to openly challenge authority.

Compare that assessment to mine from last month:

Buttigieg is the insufferably perfect valedictorian class president that your parents kept telling you to emulate. He’s the kid who started thinking about being elected to high office in high school and started making preparations then. His ambition was so transparent that it stood out at Harvard’s Institute for Politics, basically the Hogwarts for bright young people who want to be president someday.

I remember after a meeting with a Republican figure with a sterling resume and likely presidential ambitions, my former colleague Eliana Johnson observed something along the lines of, “Americans don’t elect straight-A students.” There is such a thing as too perfect, or at least an image that appears too perfect and thus artificial and inauthentic.

Barack Obama lost one election in his lifetime, a bid for the House of Representatives against incumbent Democrat Bobby Rush in 2000. During their debate, Rush turned to the audience and asked, “Just what’s he done? I mean, what’s he done?” The voters — many of whom had elected Obama to be their state legislator in 1996 and 1998 — concluded the 38-year-old was not accomplished enough to justify tossing out Rush.

Buttigieg’s got a shining resume — Harvard, Oxford, Naval reserves, McKinsey consulting — but it feels fair to ask what he’s actually done, particularly as mayor.

Robinson notices that Buttigeg’s account of his time as mayor makes it sound like a renaissance — but the city has a poverty rate of 26.7 percent (much higher than the state’s average), an eviction rate of 6.71 percent (three times the national average), increasing responses to reported opioid overdoses, and a persistent homeless problemIn my “Twenty Things” article, I noted that the crime and gun violence statistics hadn’t shown much improvement during Buttigieg’s terms. His reelection and high approval rating indicates that voters in South Bend believe Buttigieg is making the city better — but how much better? And how much credit did the mayor deserve?

Over at the Federalist, David Marcus argues that the sudden burst of interest in Buttigieg represents the Democratic party calling a timeout, as they sort through a long list of candidates and try to balance a corner of the party that loves overtly radical rhetoric from the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the surprisingly large section of the party base that is fine with standard-issue Democratic politics from Joe Biden.

But I see a common thread between the current moment of Buttigieg-mania, and 2018’s Beto-mania. A once-obscure political figure suddenly is the subject of one glossy profile after another, with the general gist of “You’ve never heard of this officeholder, but he’s (or less often, she’s) amazing, and about to shake up politics.” You hear about how the figure is wowing people on the stump, some quote from some audience members selected to represent the “average voter,” declaring that the figure “restores my hope” and “really cares about people like me,” followed by a recitation of their legislative or governing accomplishments. The profile hits all the familiar notes: the humble beginnings, the mischievous hijinks of youth, the happy home life, the vague but positive vision for America’s future. (It’s like this Beto profile, but less exaggerated.)

And maybe in the back of your mind, you’re thinking . . . wait, if this guy is so terrific, why have I never heard of him until now? I follow the news. I’m reasonably well-informed. If he was the driving force behind such big and consequential accomplishments, why have I not noticed them or heard other people talking about them? The accounts of the audiences left in rapturous awe ought to raise some red flags for us, too. Sure, the figure seems charismatic and likable enough, but the allegedly ordinary voters who show up to the rallies are already predisposed to like him — otherwise, they wouldn’t show up to the rally!

Almost everybody’s resume looks good — it represents putting your best foot forward. Very few figures who run for office begin by announcing, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, had a lot of proposals that never worked out, I’ve had my share of ethical lapses, and I have no idea how I would hold up under the pressure of the presidency.”

Sure, there are under-covered, little-noticed mayors, House members, and even governors and senators who are accomplishing things under the radar of the national media. But when it comes to Democrats, there are some painfully familiar templates: the “here’s the Democrat who’s leading his party to a comeback in the South” and the variation, “Texas Democrats are ready for a comeback.” And when it comes to presidential politics, maybe the easiest way to pick out the candidate who will get the early buzz is to ask which one reminds the national press corps the most of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama — young, charismatic, handsome, talking about better days ahead and unleashing all of America’s untapped potential. We can argue about whether it’s still accurate, but for a long time, the line “Republicans fall in line, Democrats want to fall in love” was a reasonable assessment of each party’s presidential-primary process.

Buttigieg is that guy right now. But history has examples of young Democrats who ultimately stumbled for one reason or another  — John Edwards, Howard Dean, Jerry Brown, Gary Hart, the 1988 edition of Al Gore.

Meanwhile, Out in Wisconsin . . . 

American politics is one nail-biter close election after another. Last night in Wisconsin, voters turned out for local offices and a state supreme-court election. And the right-leaning candidate is ahead, for now:

Appeals Judge Brian Hagedorn held a narrow lead early Wednesday in the race for Wisconsin Supreme Court, according to unofficial tallies that were so close both sides were bracing for a recount.

In an early morning tweet and statement to supporters, Hagedorn claimed victory.

“The people of Wisconsin have spoken and our margin of victory is insurmountable,” the statement read.

Hagedorn led fellow Appeals Judge Lisa Neubauer 50.2% to 49.8% with nearly all of Tuesday’s votes unofficially counted — at a margin that allows a recount.

Every time there’s a close election, people cringe at the thought of another long debate about “hanging chads.”

Man, The Mueller Report Is Locked Up Tighter Than the Jets’ New Uniforms

Remember when people believed the Mueller investigation leaked a lot? The New York Post editorial board, a smart and non-paranoid bunch, contemplated that possibility back in November 2017. One reporter counted up 25 leaks of information related to the investigation, although it’s not clear they came from Mueller’s team or the individuals they were interviewing, other lawyers, or some other sources. At least one, a copy of a subpoena, came from former Trump campaign advisor Sam Nunberg.

Muller and his team turned in their report on March 22. Today is April 3, and beyond Attorney General William Barr’s summary, we’ve heard . . .  nothing!

So maybe the Mueller team wasn’t such a big bunch of leakers after all?

ADDENDUM: Thanks to all of the kind folks leaving good reviews for the Three Martini Lunch podcast on iTunes and the kind soul who did the same for The Jim and Mickey Show, our slightly-less-regularly-scheduled pop-culture-themed podcast. We’re heading into pop culture’s actually exciting season, late spring and early summer: Avengers: Endgame is coming, the final season ofGame of Thrones is coming, Brad Thor’s got a new novel out in JuneStranger Things comes back to Netflix on July 4, and for better or worse, it feels like Disney’s got about one big live-action remake a month . . .

Elections

Joe Biden Got Away With It for Eight Years

Joe Biden in 2015 (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: If former vice president Joe Biden’s nascent campaign is reeling, it’s because he and his team were never prepared for life without the national media acting as Biden’s reputational bodyguard; the crowd of Democratic candidates may actually leave primary voters dissatisfied; Adam Schiff demands no redactions of the Mueller report at all; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez misses the easier way to fly.

Why Democratic Candidates Can’t See Themselves Clearly

Ahem. In 2014, The Atlantic wrote a piece by Conor Friedersdorf entitled, “In Defense of Naked Joe Biden.”

Friedersdorf objected to what appeared to be leaks from the U.S. Secret Service about Biden’s behavior when he’s out of the public eye. Author Ronald Kessler wrote in his book, The First Family Detail, that “Agents say that, whether at the vice president’s residence or at his home in Delaware, Biden has a habit of swimming in his pool nude. Female Secret Service agents find the behavior offensive.”

Friedersdorf argued that what the vice president chose to do in his own pool on his own time was no one’s business but his own and he asked why skinny dipping in one’s own pool would qualify as a scandal. Then again, there are some in the political journalism realm who would insist that “the Pence Rule” is a real scandal.

Almost every human trait can be interpreted as a positive one or a negative one, depending upon the circumstances and who’s doing the interpretation. A guy I like is smart; a guy I don’t like is an insufferable know-it-all. Our mutual friend is experienced and seasoned; our mutual foe is old and past his prime. The guy we like is thoughtful and reserved; their guy is a quiet bore who has no personality.

For a long time, Democrats benefited from a media mentality that almost always interpreted their traits through the most positive lens. Rahm Emanuel’s stabbing a table with a steak knife or sending a dead fish to some pollster wasn’t seen as a sign of psychological instability or rage issues; that behavior demonstrated he was a passionate, fiery competitor with a relentless drive. Bill Clinton was a passionate extrovert who wanted to connect with people, not a shameless womanizer. Al Gore was a brilliant, detail-oriented technocrat, not a mildly dysfunctional robot failing to fool people that he’s a human being.

This media perspective that almost all Democratic candidates’ traits can only be positive strengths, and almost never glaring weaknesses, makes a lot of Democrats fairly oblivious to the flaws of their candidates. A lot of the time, friendly media institutions and voices can paper over most of their worst traits. (Certain traits are easier to hide than others.) Where many Democrats saw Hillary Clinton as a feisty, driven, often-unfairly-criticized fighter, many on the Right saw an arrogant, power-hungry liar — and for the first time in a while, in 2016 a lot of non-aligned Americans saw the same negative traits we did.

A lot of us have been making fun of Joe Biden for decades. He’s got a goofy charm, but half of what comes out of his mouth makes no sense. In the 2008 debate with Sarah Palin, he declared, “Along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon,” and everyone just acted like he hadn’t hallucinated a major foreign-policy event. His gaffes are particularly tone-deaf, he’s a blustery blowhard, he’s been wrong about a heck of a lot in his long history, and he’s often an egomaniacal BS artist.

For eight years, Biden got away with a lot because the media chose to perceive him as that “wacky, lovable Uncle Joe” and if the media paid too much attention to his flaws outside of comic relief from the usually serious Obama, it would call into question Obama’s judgment in picking him.

Biden didn’t just start touching women in public this way recently. In BuzzFeedKatherine Miller writes, “Everybody already knows what they think about Joe Biden putting his hands on people, because we’ve all seen this happen in public. We’ve seen Biden kiss people at public events! We’ve all had years to think about it!” And not many people were upset about it while Biden was vice president — at least not many people on the Left; our John Fund mentioned this in 2015, as did Victor Davis Hanson. I wrote that year that “Biden’s style is a bit ‘hands-on.’”

A few voices on the Left noticed and objected, like this Talking Points Memo article in 2015 — complete with the author wondering whether she’s a “bad liberal” for calling Biden out. But because it rarely got the “It’s time for a national conversation about powerful men invading the personal spaces of younger women” treatment from the national media, most Democrats probably just shrugged it off and assumed the women were thrilled to get the surprise vice-presidential shoulder massage, ear nuzzle, etc.

Miller concludes, “Flores basically kicked the door in on a deferred debate.” This dances around the question of why that debate was deferred.

One can’t help but notice that certain voices are still insisting that this is not worthy of public discussion. This morning, Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s Morning Joe was adamant:

He’s a nice guy, he’s not a predator, and this is ridiculous. Let me just say it, this is ridiculous. It’s completely . . . the conversation has gotten out of control. And Democrats and those on the left who want to tweet me today and go nuts and get all woke, you’re eating your young. You’re eating those who can beat Trump, you’re killing the very people who have been pushing women ahead, who’ve been fighting for equal pay, who have been doing everything they can to respect women in their lives.

Mike Allen’s morning newsletter reports:

Joe Biden advisers believe coverage of allegations of inappropriate behavior is being stoked by rival Democrats — a dynamic that could actually fire up the vice president at a time when others see success as increasingly improbable. Several around Biden think advisers to Bernie Sanders are at least partly behind the anti-Biden campaign. One prominent backer thinks Biden will run, and ‘is ready to kill Bernie.’

Welcome to Thunderdome!

Yes, There Is Such a Thing as Too Many Candidates

Last week I scoffed that the clown car of 2020 candidates was full. Apparently behavioral science agrees:

Behavioral science predicts that too many options will, counterintuitively, result in lower satisfaction among Democratic voters—and possibly lead to lower enthusiasm and lower turnout. We saw a demonstration of this so-called “cereal aisle effect” in the Chicago mayoral race, where a crowded, diverse, and qualified field of 14 candidates without prohibitive frontrunners coincided with almost the lowest turnout in city history at 33.4 percent.

An abundance of marginal candidates will make it harder for Democratic primary voters to comfortably evaluate the candidates with realistic chances of winning — and paradoxically that will reduce enthusiasm for the party’s eventual nominee. Picture a dinner party with too many people sitting around the table: The fact that each guest is a valued friend doesn’t make the experience any less uncomfortable.

Most Democrats are too nice or too scared to say it out loud: A lot of these folks are running for cabinet posts, building name ID for another campaign in the future, looking for TV gigs or other goals, and have no business up on that stage.

Allow me to offer criteria for the presidency that is completely out of touch with the popular mood of the moment and deeply dissatisfying to the media that loves a circus: If you haven’t worked in government before in any capacity, try that first before you decide to run for president. Running the executive branch is different from running a company or even a senate office. If you haven’t been elected statewide, you had better have a sterling resume in some other capacity. If you haven’t faced a serious crisis in your job, wait until you have, because the presidency is certain to throw a crisis at you. Have you worked with a legislature before? Have you convinced a legislature to pass a consequential piece of legislation by building a consensus that wouldn’t have formed without your efforts? Have you experienced some major setback or disappointment, and how did you respond to that? How wide-ranging is your life experience? Have you served in the military? Have you had to hold people you personally like accountable for bad decisions? How well do you delegate and how well can you select people to carry out tasks that are important priorities to you?

Or we could just pick the candidate who has the best YouTube moments from the debates . . .

‘Redactions Are Unacceptable.’

Eli Lake notices that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is publicly declaring that when it comes to the Mueller report, “redactions are unacceptable.” As I wrote yesterday, leaving everything in, including grand-jury testimony without review, violates federal law. What, does Schiff just not care about jeopardizing prosecutions by other law-enforcement offices?

Lake speculates, “maybe Democrats are thinking they can find their collusion pony in the pile of documents that informed Mueller’s investigation” and remembers when Democrats believed in “protecting the reputations of individuals not charged with a crime.” Then again, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler made it clear yesterday when he declared, “if President Trump’s behavior wasn’t criminal, then perhaps it should have been.”

In short, Nadler is contending that even if Mueller didn’t find a crime, whatever behavior he did find should be considered a crime anyway.

ADDENDUM: As Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez complains about the costs of croissants at LaGuardia International Airport — welcome to a marketplace with limited choice and competition, congresswoman —  Jeryl Bier notices AOC traveled by chartered jet while on the campaign trail last autumn. Way to fight those carbon emissions!

Elections

The Media, Democrats, and the Sexual-Misconduct Allegations against Joe Biden

Then-Vice President Joe Biden talks to Stephanie Carter as her husband Ash Carter delivers his acceptance speech as the new Secretary of Defense at the White House in 2015. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

It’s April Fool’s Day, but the world has been so weird lately, the holiday almost seems superfluous. Just think of all of the recent headlines and sights that would make more sense as April Fool’s Day jokes: Beto O’Rourke standing on diner counters, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declaring that she’s never seen American prosperity, Congressional Democrats suddenly putting great faith in the testimony of Michael Cohen.

Making the click-through worthwhile: Joe Biden’s accuser, Lucy Flores, is pointing to the media and many Democrats’ reticence to explore allegations of inappropriate behavior when the stakes are highest; a big and important debate about nationalism; and the Associated Press steps in it, again.

We Need to Have a Talk about Crazy Uncle Joe

When I first heard about Lucy Flores’s account of her encounter with Joe Biden, I reacted with great cynicism. Here we have a Bernie Sanders supporter who is making an issue out of Joe Biden’s characteristically buffoonish behavior, five years after the fact, in a fairly transparent effort to scare him out of the 2020 presidential race. As Kyle Smith observed, after eight years of the media painting Biden as America’s wacky, lovable uncle and perfectly qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, it is now socially acceptable to declare, “Joe Biden is a creepy old goat. Everyone knows this.”

But if you read Flores’s essay, you’ll notice that she’s diagnosing the same phenomenon about the national media and Democratic party that many of us on the Right have been complaining about for a long time: The degree to which allegations of inappropriate behavior or sexual misconduct are taken seriously — particularly whether they rise to the level of columns declaring “It’s time for a national conversation” — is heavily shaped by how important the accused is to the cause of progressivism at that given moment. In 1998, almost the entire Democratic party rushed to save Bill Clinton; now it’s okay to declare his behavior appalling and worthy of a forced resignation. We could only see Chappaquiddick portrayed on the silver screen after Ted Kennedy’s death.

Many might argue that Biden’s behavior never quite rose to the level where resignation was the appropriate consequence. On the other hand, most people don’t go around coming up behind strangers, rubbing their shoulders, and kissing them on the back of the head.  This is clearly part of a pattern of behavior with Biden, and yesterday on CNN, Flores raised the question of whether anyone had ever told Biden that he should stop touching strangers that way:

 . . . part of the reason why I decided to finally say something is because those behaviors were not being taken very seriously. They were not being considered from the perspective of the woman on the other side of that power dynamic, on the side of — on the receiving end.  And I just can’t imagine that there was never a situation where someone said to him: “Vice President, Mr. Vice President, your — you probably should stop doing that.  You should probably stop touching women in that way.  You should probably keep your hands to yourself.”

Over the weekend, Biden said he had no idea that his actions were perceived that way, that he had no ill intentions, and that he didn’t necessarily remember their encounter the same way. While he hasn’t yet been asked directly, it seems likely that if asked if he was ever discouraged from touching women he didn’t know that way, Biden would say he had not.

Flores’s description of Biden’s behavior is not all that surprising to those of us who were paying attention during the Obama years:

Time passed and pictures started to surface of Vice-President Biden getting uncomfortably close with women and young girls. Biden nuzzling the neckof the Defense secretary’s wife; Biden kissing a senator’s wife on the lips; Biden whispering in women’s ears; Biden snuggling female constituents. I saw obvious discomfort in the women’s faces, and Biden, I’m sure, never thought twice about how it made them feel. I knew I couldn’t say anything publicly about what those pictures surfaced for me; my anger and my resentment grew.

Had I never seen those pictures, I may have been able to give Biden the benefit of the doubt. Had there not been multiple articles written over the years about the exact same thing — calling his creepy behavior an “open secret” — perhaps it would feel less offensive. And yet despite the steady stream of pictures and the occasional article, Biden retained his title of America’s Favorite Uncle. On occasion that title was downgraded to America’s Creepy Uncle but that in and of itself implied a certain level of acceptance.

(It is worth noting that Stephanie Carter, the wife of Ash Carter, has an essay out this morning declaring that the image of Biden putting his hands on her shoulders was not inappropriate or uninvited at all but purely a gesture of reassurance that was taken out of context by a still photo.)

There’s one other comment from Flores in her CNN interview that should raise eyebrows:

Part of the reason why I felt a little bit less pressure in terms of speaking out is that we’re often pressured to keep our mouths shut about anything.  We, as party loyalists, as party stalwarts, as — are foot soldiers for the party.

We are expected to — quote, unquote – “keep our dirty laundry” to ourselves.  And it’s always in service to the party.  And, in this case, there are so many more incredible candidates that are just as likely and, I believe, are competent and amazing and can beat Donald Trump.

“We’re often pressured to keep our mouths shut about anything.” Who’s pressuring who? About what? That comment suggests that there’s a lot of inappropriate behavior going on that is covered up in the name of party loyalty.

Some on the Right argue that “They never take sexual harassment seriously if a Democrat is accused!” which is not quite right. Minnesota Senator Al Franken was forced to resign, but Democrats could afford to lose him, as a Democratic governor would appoint a like-minded replacement — and a similar ideological trade was at work in the cases of Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, Eric Schneiderman. But when a Democrat’s resignation might lead to a Republican taking his place, then a lot of people start looking at their feet or otherwise averting their eyes.

In Virginia, Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, the two accusers of lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax are telling their story on camera with CBS News this morning. The first accusation came out in early February. Many Democrats called for Fairfax’s resignation, and when it became clear that Fairfax would not resign . . .  they pretty much moved on. (One big question is how and where the accusation should be adjudicated.)

In February, David Leonhardt lamented that replacing Ralph Northam, Mark Herring, and Fairfax would amount to a “partisan coup.” Today marks two months since Northam’s yearbook came to light. We never got an explanation about who was in the picture. We never got an explanation about how this ended up on Northam’s yearbook page. We never got an explanation about his nickname “Coonman.” And Northam is still governor, still going around the state, doing events about how terrible it is that drivers use their cellphones while behind the wheel, as if nothing had ever happened.

Northam is hanging on because if he goes, Herring probably has to go too, and if both of them go, and another shoe drops with Fairfax, Virginia could end up with a Republican governor –and to a lot of Virginia Democrats, that scenario is much worse than anything Northam, Fairfax, or Herring did.

The Great Nationalism Debate — er, Conversation

The whole National Review Institute Ideas Summit was terrific; you can watch a lot of the interviews, recorded and broadcast by C-SPAN, here. The nationalism discussion — not a debate! — that I moderated can be viewed here, starting at about 48:16.

It’s worth setting aside a half-hour or so to watch and digest; you’ll probably also want to read Kevin Williamson’s thoughts on nationalism, inspired by the conversation.

You’ll notice that one of the big points in the discussion is figuring out exactly what qualifies as nationalism and what does not; how you feel about nationalism is going to be heavily shaped by what you think falls under its label. The crowd’s cheers during a military parade can be inspired by and be a demonstration of nationalism, but so can the actions of an angry mob. Rich and Jonah separately cited Joseph Stalin and Franklin Roosevelt as nationalist leaders.

If nationalism aligns a great deal with sovereignty, then there’s always been a deep vein of nationalism in the modern Republican party. The GOP has always been wary about the effectiveness of the United Nations, and sometimes wary about its intentions as well. Republicans have rarely had much affection for big international institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, or International Criminal Court. In some right-of-center national-security circles, there’s a recognition that international coalitions can gradually become more trouble than they’re worth, if the United States has to spend as much effort keeping allies on board as focusing on the military objective.

One of the complications of the debate about nationalism is that Donald Trump identifies himself as one, while also being populist, while also being protectionist, while also being something of an isolationist, while also often being defended by self-identified conservatives, and also enacting a certain amount of libertarian-policy priorities. On paper, those are all different concepts. Trump is also often a particularly contradictory figure — he wants to bring the troops home but “take the oil” in the Middle East, talks about shrinking the size of the government by eliminating waste but is spending more, and he often talks tough but takes it easy on some unsavory regimes and leaders. If you cite Trump as an example of a nationalist leader, you have to clarify, which decision?

Today the image of nationalism is getting heavily shaped by a lot of things that are not, technically, nationalism. “White nationalism” is, on paper, a contradiction in terms. There is no “white nation.” (No, Huffington Post editors’ meetings don’t count.) As I argued late last year (apparently triggering a lot of sensitive folks), America was always diverse. The concept of America as a “white nation” requires a lot of airbrushing of history, erasing Crispus Attucks, Haym Salomon, David Glasgow Farragut, Maximiliano Luna, Ah Yee Way, Hadji Ali, Jesse Owens, Jonas Salk, Wen Tsing Chow, and so on.

If the impulse towards nationalism — the desire for connection to others and feeling like a part of a larger group or institution — is more or less baked into the human condition, then we had probably best steer it into positive and healthy directions instead of negative or dangerous ones.

As luck would have it, Rich is writing a book about nationalism! And nationalism is a big part of Jonah’s book Suicide of the West.

ADDENDUM: Oh, come on, Associated Press: “O’Rourke also spoke at length in his native Spanish, eliciting loud and sustained cheers.”

Elections

The Democrats and Identity Politics in 2020

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg waves after delivering remarks at the United States Conference of Mayors winter meeting in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

If you weren’t able to make it to the National Review Institute Ideas Summit — boy, are you missing out. But you can catch Rich Lowry’s interview with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo here.

Making the click-through worthwhile: The appeal of identity politics threatens to turn the 2020 Democratic presidential primary into a demolition derby of grievances; Illinois prosecutors declare to the public that the Jussie Smollett deal is nothing like standard operating procedure and they find it fishy, too; and a new edition of the pop-culture podcast.

The 2020 Democratic Presidential Party Will Be a Demolition Derby of Identity Politics

Over at Slate, Christina Cauterucci writes a column with the headline, “Is Pete Buttigieg Just Another White Male Candidate, or Does His Gayness Count as Diversity?

Identity politics, as demonstrated by the need to shoehorn Buttigieg into one of those two boxes, hooks people in by catering to two psychological temptations. The first is laziness. Up until a little while ago, I didn’t know much about Pete Buttigieg. To put together the ‘Twenty Things’ piece, I had to go out and buy and read his autobiography, read the profile pieces of him and interviews and coverage of his decisions as mayor, watch his television appearances, and so on. Getting to know a political figure, particularly a relatively new one, takes time and effort. When you digest it all, you may come up with a complicated or conflicting impression — on the plus side, Buttigeig’s bright, chose to serve his country in uniform, and after he had built a resume that could have gotten him a job just about anywhere, he set out to help revive his hometown. On the negative side, he’s wildly ambitious even by the standards of politicians, it’s fair to wonder just how much he’s actually improved life in his hometown, and he’s considerably more liberal in his stances than most coverage would suggest.

But if you embrace identity politics, you can draw a quick conclusion about a candidate just by looking at him or learning the name of his spouse. You can dismiss him as “a run-of-the-mill white-male candidate,” or you can be cheered by his status as a gay man, even if you lament Buttigieg’s “assimilationist perspective” and that he’s “less exciting as the supposed gay trailblazer some on the left desperately want him to be,” as the Slate piece does.

Who cares about what Buttigeig actually thinks about policy — like his belief that Mike Bloomberg’s large-soda-ban “came from this pragmatist, business-oriented mayor who was following the facts and realized there is a pretty high social cost to obesity” — when you can instantly declare he’s either a trailblazer or “not enough of a trailblazer”?

The other psychological temptation that identity politics caters to is grievance. Cauterucci notes that writer Jill Filipovic was irritated that a correspondent gushed about Buttigieg’s intelligence but didn’t do the same for Elizabeth Warren or Cory Booker. Mark Harris fumed that Buttigieg was being characterized as a “typical white guy the media always falls for,” which didn’t recognize him being gay.

Gripe, gripe, gripe. Complain, complain, complain. Everybody’s on high alert for anything that could be construed as a snub or some subtle indicator of less respect than someone else. Everybody’s on a hair trigger to call someone out for how their compliment to one person demonstrated their unconscious bias against another person. Every off-the-cuff statement suddenly becomes a symbol of historical injustice. Filipovic didn’t merely say, “Hey, Warren is smart too”; she said, “We recognize and applaud brilliance and intelligence in white men, and are less likely to identify it in women and people of color.” With merely a tweet calling Buttigieg smart, some tax-policy wonk had allegedly perpetuated systemic sexism and racism.

Who in their right mind wants to have a conversation in a hypersensitive and accusatory environment like this? And if you can’t have a conversation, how do you have a debate?

How in the world do you manage a presidential primary — where the whole point is for a candidate to draw distinctions with the rest of the field, to emphasize that whatever good qualities their rivals may have, he is the best choice — in an environment where every statement must be scanned with a mass spectrometer to detect any residual trace of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, unconscious bias, microaggression, or other cause for offense?

The irony is that in a party obsessed with identity politics, identity-based criticism is likely to be the most effective. Sure, the first debate will be mostly polite. But at some point, push is going to come to shove, and candidates will feel the need to draw distinctions and attack the frontrunners. Warren’s claim to Native American heritage and past status as a “woman of color” at Harvard will be too tempting a target to resist. (Cultural appropriation! ) A candidate who wanted to eat away at Harris’s support might raise the nepotism charge and her early career help from Willie Brown. (Sexism!) Someone will reasonably ask whether Democrats are comfortable with Bernie Sanders being 79 years old on Inauguration Day 2021. (Ageism!) Beto O’Rourke is already trying to navigate these waters, and he’s already faced the criticism that his road trip “drips with white male privilege.”

And in an environment like this, how long until Joe Biden’s mouth gets him in trouble? One of Stacey Abrams’s advisors is already calling Biden “exploitative” and “entitled” because he didn’t back her in the 2018 primary.

(More than a few have noticed that despite all the focus on identity politics, the three leading candidates in the early polling are Biden, Sanders, and in some polls, O’Rourke, and they’re collectively getting about 60 percent of the vote. The arguments of identity politics may be more potent in the Democratic party’s chattering class and media circles than with primary voters as a whole. Or maybe Biden and Sanders are just well ahead because they’re the best-known right now.)

You think the 2016 Democratic primary fight between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders got rough? The 2020 primary is going to look like Mad Max’s “Fury Road.” The great irony is that this long process may eventually undermine the power of identity politics, as the surviving Democratic nominee will probably have been accused of racism, sexism, etcetera in the process of winning the primary.

Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association: Hey, We Don’t Make Deals Like the One with Smollett

Thank you, Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association. It’s refreshing to see a professional association that, when confronted with highly unusual, controversial, and possibly unethical behavior by one of its members, didn’t choose to close ranks and protect “one of their own.” Instead, the IPBA laid down a clear marker of what behavior is normal and standard.

The Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association serves as the voice for nearly 1,000 front-line prosecutors across the state who work tirelessly towards the pursuit of justice. The events of the past few days regarding the Cook County State’s Attorney’s handling of the Jussie Smollett case is not condoned by the IPBA, nor is it representative of the honest, ethical work prosecutors provide to the citizens of the state of Illinois on a daily basis.

The manner in which this case was dismissed was abnormal and unfamiliar to those who practice law in criminal courthouses across the State. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges alike do not recognize the arrangement Mr. Smollett received. Even more problematic, the state’s attorney and her representatives have fundamentally misled the public on the law and circumstances surrounding the dismissal.

There’s something delightful about the way they methodically and systematically refute the claims of State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx and her office:

When an elected State’s Attorney recuses herself from a prosecution, Illinois law provides that the court shall appoint a special prosecutor.  See 55 ILCS 5/3-9008(a-15).  Typically, the special prosecutor is a neighboring State’s Attorney, the Attorney General, or the State Appellate Prosecutor.  Here, the State’s Attorney kept the case within her office and thus never actually recused herself as a matter of law.

Additionally, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office falsely informed the public that the uncontested sealing of the criminal court case was “mandatory” under Illinois law.  This statement is not accurate.  To the extent the case was even eligible for an immediate seal, that action was discretionary, not mandatory, and only upon the proper filing of a petition to seal.  See 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(g)(2).  For seals not subject to Section 5.2(g)(2), the process employed in this case by the State’s Attorney effectively denied law enforcement agencies of legally required Notice (See 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(d)(4)) and the legal opportunity to object to the sealing of the file (See 20 ILCS 2630/5.2(d)(5)).  The State’s Attorney not only declined to fight the sealing of this case in court, but then provided false information to the public regarding it.

The appearance of impropriety here is compounded by the fact that this case was not on the regularly scheduled court call, the public had no reasonable notice or opportunity to view these proceedings, and the dismissal was done abruptly at what has been called an “emergency” hearing.  To date, the nature of the purported emergency has not been publicly disclosed. The sealing of a court case immediately following a hearing where there was no reasonable notice or opportunity for the public to attend is a matter of grave public concern and undermines the very foundation of our public court system.

Whatever motivated Foxx to make this deal, I hope it was worth it to her, because this controversy isn’t going away anytime soon.

ADDENDUM: Another edition of the pop-culture podcast has dropped, starting with a little bit of current events with Smollett, the Mueller report, and Michael Avenatti’s woes, and moving on to Netflix’s bad habit of taking a good idea for a six-episode series and turning it into a ten-episode series, “true crime” conventions, and healing power of Chick-fil-A. As Mickey and I put it, “Pace yourself, 2019. Don’t use up all your craziness in the first three months.”

White House

How Many Pages Is the Mueller Report?

FBI Director Robert Mueller gestures at the Senate Judiciary Committee at an oversight hearing about the FBI on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 19, 2013. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the cold, hard facts about the Mueller report and the review and redaction process; Pete Buttigieg’s moment and the country’s not-always-healthy yearning for a “fresh face” in presidential politics; and a full-throated defense of our Andy McCarthy, not that he asked for it.

Just Share the Page Count with Us, Mr. Attorney General!

Attorney General William Barr could do himself, the administration, and the country a favor by immediately releasing one small piece of information about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

How many pages is it?

People who are familiar with these kinds of investigation feel comfortable saying that it’s long, with speculation that it could be “thousands” of pages.

The first factor holding up the release of the Mueller report is the sections that deal with grand-jury testimony. The people on Capitol Hill screaming “Release the whole report now with absolutely no redactions whatsoever!” are demanding that Barr break the law.

Earlier this year, the Congressional Research Service published a detailed summary of the grand-jury process, and why it operates the way it does:

Traditionally, the grand jury has conducted its work in secret. Secrecy prevents those under scrutiny from fleeing or importuning the grand jurors, encourages full disclosure by witnesses, and protects the innocent from unwarranted prosecution, among other things. The long-established rule of grand jury secrecy is enshrined in Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), which provides that government attorneys and the jurors themselves, among others, “must not disclose a matter occurring before the grand jury.” Accordingly, as a general matter, persons and entities external to the grand jury process are precluded from obtaining transcripts of grand jury testimony or other documents or information that would reveal what took place in the proceedings, even if the grand jury has concluded its work and even if the information is sought pursuant to otherwise-valid legal processes.

As the report notes, a grand jury works differently than the juries that the public is familiar with from Twelve Angry Men or Law and Order: “The grand jury meets behind closed doors, with only the jurors, attorney for the government, witnesses, someone to record testimony, and possibly an interpreter present.” Because there is no defense attorney, no one speaks for the accused, cross-examines witnesses, or presents exculpatory evidence. The aim of the grand jury is not to determine guilt or innocence; the aim is to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to charge someone with a crime. It is not considered particularly difficult to persuade a grand jury to indict someone; you may have heard the legal joke that grand juries can be persuaded to “indict a ham sandwich.” This is not because of the notorious criminality of ham sandwiches but because when a grand jury only hears one side of a story (the prosecutor’s), they’re likely to agree with that version of events.

Very few of the currently furious Democrats want to talk about this, and it’s not hard to figure out why. They bet heavily on Mueller finding something nefarious and worthy of impeachment. When Barr’s letter quoted the Muller report declaring, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” it hit Congressional Democrats like a ton of bricks.

They’re left insisting that Mueller declaring that his investigation “did not establish” conspiracy doesn’t mean that the conspiracy didn’t happen. Or hoping that the section on obstructing justice will make Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s conclusion that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense” look unjustifiable.

With Mueller’s report sounding about as good for President Trump and his administration as they could hope for, Democrats are desperate to create a new narrative that Barr didn’t summarize the report accurately, or that he’s now going through the report and redacting all the portions that paint the president in a bad light. The Democrats are making this argument, as if Robert Muller had somehow disappeared, and as if Mueller and his team wouldn’t come out and correct Barr if his lied, misled, or otherwise obscured key findings.

Barr’s office has said that the review and redaction process will take “weeks, not months.” That sounds reasonable, but that deadline would make even more sense if we had a general sense of the length of the report. Two-to-three weeks sounds like plenty of time for a 200-page report; it sounds like a tight deadline for a 2,000-page report.

But wait, there’s more. Democrats say they want “all of the underlying evidence” in Mueller’s investigation.

Mueller’s team issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants and interviewed more than 500 witnesses. That means the special counsel likely compiled thousands, if not millions, of documents and pieces of evidence . . .

In one Mueller case, that of longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone , the government said it had turned over 9 terabytes of discovery — an amount so large that Stone’s lawyers said if it were on paper, it would pile as high as the Washington Monument, twice.

If all of that was delivered to Congress, the House Judiciary Committee might need to invest in a larger office space. But lawmakers say that what they really want is documentation of everything — and an idea of how that evidence guided Mueller’s conclusions.

Because this is a public investigation, Congress has every right to see it, but let’s be honest about what’s going on here.

The Pete Buttigieg Moment

Pete Buttigieg — it’s pronounced “boot-edge-edge,” not “booty judge” — certainly seems to be “having a moment.”

Buttigieg just scored his highest Democratic primary national poll number to date at 4 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaning registered voters, according to Quinnipiac University. That easily beats his old high of 1 percent in a live-interview national poll. A jump of 3 points may not seem like a lot, but, because the margin of error shrinks significantly the closer you get to 0, the move from 1 percent to 4 percent is likely statistically significant.

What’s going on here? For starters, Buttigieg is young — really young, at 37 — and Democrats like young candidates — John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. Buttigieg sounds like a normal human being, a trait that many politicians never manage to pull off. People know almost nothing about him, which makes him a bit of a blank slate — they can project onto him what they’d like to see. He’s got some genuinely admirable traits, like enlisting in the U.S. Navy and serving in Afghanistan, as well as returning to his old hometown and trying to rejuvenate it, when his resume == Harvard, Oxford, McKinsey consulting — could have taken him anywhere.

I’ve even heard from conservatives who look at Buttigieg and think that by the standards of the Democratic party, he doesn’t seem that bad.

That’s the good news for him. The bad news for the rest of us is that Buttigieg is one of those ambitious young men who’s been envisioning his rise to the top since his teen years. He’s been mayor of South Bend — roughly the 300th largest city in America — for five years; while his constituents love him, it’s fair to ask just how much better life in the city is compared to before Buttigieg arrived. By virtue of being from Indiana, Buttigieg is one of those Democrats who the media describes as being “centrist,” “moderate,” or even “conservative’ without ever finding evidence that he deviates from his party’s orthodoxy. (He joins Tulsi Gabbard, Sherrod Brown, and John Hickenlooper in this category.)

A popular joke on Twitter lately is that Buttigeg is what Beto O’Rourke is supposed to be. It’s satisfying to see the O’Rourke bubble bursting at least somewhat, and a belated recognition among some Democrats and the media that for a guy who’s supposed to be the Next Big Thing in Democratic politics, O’Rourke is . . . just some guy.

I realize the era of Donald Trump allegedly blew up all expectations of what kind of experience is needed for a president, but I wonder if some voters will look at Buttigieg, who looks so young that he probably still gets carded at the liquor store, and five years of working out sewer management with the South Bend City Council and wonders if he’s really ready to handle whatever problems come America’s way starting in January 2021. The mood in many corners of the American electorate now seems to be that experience is a liability — it accumulates setbacks and defeats and times you’ve disappointed people by voting the way they didn’t like on a tough issue or introduced an initiative that went nowhere. But experience is, generally, how we learn and get better at things.

Would Buttigieg be a stronger or weaker candidate, 12 years from now, with a term or two of being a governor or senator under his belt? And if Democrats (and America as a whole) is more enamored with the “fresh face” of an obscure 37-year-old mayor than a familiar 49-year-old two-term governor or senator . . . what does that say about our criteria for selecting a president?

Anyway, if you want to know more, here’s twenty things about Pete Buttigieg.

ADDENDUM: USA Today’s editorial page wouldn’t accept opinion pieces that cited the analysis of our Andy McCarthy? As they say on ESPN, “Come on, man!”  You don’t have to agree with everything he says to recognize that he’s a smart, experienced prosecutor who kept up with every twist and turn in the Mueller investigation and whose analysis was always worth considering. He started as a deputy marshal in the witness protection program, worked as a paralegal in the U.S. attorney’s office, became a federal prosecutor in 1986, successfully convicted the Blind Sheik behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, won the Attorney General’s Exceptional Service Award and the Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award, wrapped up 18 years as an assistant U.S. attorney, worked as an adjunct professor at both New York Law School and Fordham University’s School of Law. He knows how investigations progress and proceed, how prosecutors think, and what kinds of arguments are likely to sway a grand jury.

Come on. Come on. If Andy McCarthy can be dismissed as having no value on this topic . . . who does USA Today think is worth listening to about this topic?

I see earlier this week they ran a piece by . . .  Tomi Lahren.

Come on, man!

U.S.

The Connection Between Jussie Smollett and the Obama Administration

Jussie Smollett poses on the red carpet before the 47th Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony in New York, June 9, 2016. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

It’s a shocking Wednesday: a shocking decision by prosecutors in Chicago in the Jussie Smollett case; former vice president Joe Biden makes a shocking self-own in an attempt to sell himself to progressives; an in-depth investigation offers a shocking indictment of the Southern Poverty Law Center; and Adam Schiff shocks the world by insisting that Robert Mueller wasn’t thorough enough.

The Obama Administration’s Awkward Reunion around Jussie Smollett

Every step of Jussie Smollett’s plot always included an element of the absurd. Out of all of the possible locations for a sudden, unprovoked hate crime targeting a gay black man, he picked downtown Chicago. Out of all the possible nights to fake a hateful attack, he picked the coldest evening in Chicago in three decades. Then his assailants couldn’t have merely picked him as a target because he was black or because he was gay; these alleged racist homophobes had to be Empire fans who recognized him from the show. It wasn’t enough for him to be beaten; the assailants had to spray a bleach-like liquid on him and put a noose around his neck. Once Smollett had established himself as a victim, he changed his story and emphasized that he had fought back. Finally, it’s not like there’s a good motive to fake a hate crime, but doing so as part of a salary negotiation has to rank among the worst.

Perhaps it fits, then, that Smollett would get off the hook in what appears to be one of the most transparent cases of prosecutorial misconduct in recent memory. The prosecutor declared afterwards that he believed Smollett fabricated the incident, and that “people lying to police is certainly important and deserves accountability.”

But all charges were dropped, Smollett pled guilty to nothing, his record was expunged, no written records of the deal were filed with the court, and all existing records of the crime were sealed. Judging from Smollett’s public statements, he’s not even willing to admit he fabricated the attack, telling reporters, “I have been truthful and consistent from day one.”

In exchange for forfeiting his $10,000 bond, the prosecutors gave up everything. The prosecutors seemed to indicate that Smollett had somehow completed any community-service requirements in advance, citing Smollett’s completing 18 hours volunteer work at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, which included “critiquing its broadcast.”

(I had no idea that critiquing someone else’s broadcast counts qualifies as volunteer work. Apparently, you have been doing “volunteer work” every time you yell at your radio or television.) The Rainbow PUSH Coalition said they had no idea that Smollett’s work there was in connection to his criminal charges.

This is despite the police and prosecution having the check that Smollett used to pay one of them, footage of the men involved buying ski masks and red hats, and presumably the testimony of the two brothers, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo. (The fact that Smollett hired two brothers of Nigerian descent to play white supremacists is just one more absurdity.)

Then there’s this detail:

[State’s Attorney Kim] Foxx recused herself from the case last month after revealing she had contact with Smollett’s representatives early on in the investigation. She declined to provide details at the time. Communications later released to the Tribune, however, showed Foxx had asked Superintendent Johnson to turn over the investigation to the FBI after she was approached by a politically connected lawyer about the case.

Foxx reached out to Johnson after Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, emailed Foxx saying the actor’s family had unspecified “concerns about the investigation.” Tchen, a close friend of Mayor Emanuel’s wife, said she was acting on behalf of the “Empire” actor and his family. A relative later exchanged texts with Foxx.

Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff calls up the state’s attorney, the state’s attorney hands off the case to her assistant, and the assistant gives Smollett the deal of the century. And all of this is so egregiously, transparently corrupt that mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is spitting hot fire over this, as is Obama’s former chief strategist David Axelrod.

The editors of National Review point out that the prosecutors are creating greater incentives to more hate-crime hoaxes in the future.

A guilty plea from Smollett and robust punishment would have provided the closure America needed. Yet the colossal error in judgment by the Cook County prosecutors has foreclosed both opportunities. The rancor and ill-will connected with this sordid case will continue, and we will all be forced to breathe the toxic atmosphere. Meanwhile prospective hate-crime grifters will smile.

Is it any wonder that angry populism isn’t going away?

The Biden Trap

Nominating Joe Biden is a trap for Democrats. Let’s see if they fall for it.

Last night Biden again rhetorically flagellated himself for the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, declaring, “To this day I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to give her the kind of hearing she deserved. I wish I could have done something.”

He was chairman of the committee! If he couldn’t give her the hearing she deserved, who could?

Biden and his team know that his appeal to the party’s impassioned progressive grassroots is limited. You see it in comments like that, and the recent rumor that Biden is considering an early announcement that unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams would be his running mate.

Biden and Hillary Clinton may have personal disagreements, but from the perspective of a young socialist who follows Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Facebook, Biden is not all that different from another Hillary bid. He’s a longtime part of the Democratic Party Establishment, on cordial terms with big business, and a continuation of the Obama-era status quo. There’s nothing revolutionary about Biden and no cultural barrier would be broken by nominating him the way it would with Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg or Julian Castro. At a time when Democrats are most excited by new faces like AOC and Beto O’Rourke, Biden is the same old, same old.

Last night, Biden lamented, “this is a white man’s culture — it’s got to change. It’s got to change.” Biden will be asking Democrats to change a white-man’s culture by electing another white man. The message he’s test-driving right now is the counterargument against his own candidacy.

Oh, and Biden is three and a half years older than President Trump.

Would Biden be more competitive among blue-collar whites than Hillary Clinton was? Probably. But on Election Day 2016, Hillary Clinton was surprisingly weak among a whole slew of key voter demographics. By one estimate, 12 percent of Bernie Sanders primary voters voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 general election. Do those voters stay with the Democrats if Biden is atop the ticket? Maybe, maybe not. (In a Biden-Trump race, Biden is the free-trader!) How nasty would a Biden-Sanders primary fight get? How motivated would Sanders fans feel if their man came close but fell short two cycles in a row?

Black and Hispanic voters didn’t come out in big numbers for Hillary Clinton the way they did for Barack Obama. Do those voters come out in bigger numbers for Joe Biden? That’s another gamble.

By nominating Biden, Democrats would bet that they could run on the party’s currently fashionable agenda of a sweeping overhaul of American life — the Green New Deal, eliminating private insurance, reparations for slavery, adding additional Supreme Court justices to the court, eliminating the Electoral College, breaking up the big-tech companies, a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants — with a nominee who is a johnny-come-lately to almost all of those ideas. It would be a controversial, divisive message with an undisciplined messenger who only recently adopted the agenda. Maybe Biden’s goofy charm could make it work, or maybe Democrats get the worst of both worlds: a hard-Left agenda that repels independents and centrists with a nominee who doesn’t stir the passions of progressives.

The Hard Truth About the Southern Poverty Law Center

This article from Current Affairs should be cited to anyone who continues to use the Southern Poverty Law Center’s research as evidence that somebody is a hatemonger, racist, or some other menace:

The biggest problem with the hate map, though, is that it’s an outright fraud. I don’t use that term casually. I mean, the whole thing is a willful deception designed to scare older liberals into writing checks to the SPLC. The SPLC reported this year that the number of hate groups in the country is at a “record high,” that it is the “fourth straight year” of hate group growth, and that this growth coincides with Donald Trump’s rise to power. There are now a whopping 1,020 hate groups around the country. America is teeming with hate.

Let’s dig into this number a bit. The first thing you should note is that it’s meaningless. The SPLC consistently declines to identify how many members these hate groups have. It just notes the number of groups. Without knowing how large they are, what does it mean that they exist? Are they one person? 1000? Hypothetically, the number of hate groups could be dropping while the number of people in hate groups was actually rising — say, for instance, small organizations were consolidating into a large, powerful, national organization. Or it could be the other way around: The number of hate groups could be increasing because the neo-Nazis were becoming weak and fragmented and splitting into tinier and tinier units.

In fact, when you actually look at the hate map, you find something interesting: Many of these “groups” barely seem to exist at all. A “Holocaust denial” group in Kerrville, Texas called “carolynyeager.net” appears to just be a woman called Carolyn Yeager. A “male supremacy” group called Return of Kings is apparently just a blog published by pick-up artist Roosh V and a couple of his friends, and the most-recent post is an announcement from six months ago that the project was on indefinite hiatus. Tony Alamo, the abusive cult leader of “Tony Alamo Christian Ministries,” died in prison in 2017. (Though his ministry’s website still promotes “Tony Alamo’s Unreleased Beatles Album.”) A “black nationalist” group in Atlanta called “Luxor Couture” appears to be an African fashion boutique. “Sharkhunters International” is one guy who really likes U-boats and takes small groups of sad Nazis on tours to see ruins and relics. And good luck finding out much about the “Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology,” which — if it is currently operative at all — is a tiny anti-Catholic cult based in Shawano, Wisconsin.

The SPLC doesn’t actually link to or provide details about many of the groups it profiles, perhaps because this would reveal what a joke many of them are.

There is danger in underestimating hate groups. But there is danger in overestimating them, too. As a country, we’re more diverse than ever, with more Americans of multiple ethnic heritages than ever. Overt racism has been a fringe belief for two generations and is getting fringier with each passing year. The majority of Americans of all races, colors, and creeds recoiled at the sight of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, but it’s worth noting that about two dozen people showed up for the second one in 2018.

The Current Affairs article comes to a scathing conclusion:

They’re perpetrating a deception, because they don’t want you to know that groups like the “Asatru Folk Assembly” are no political threat. The SPLC has continuously sent out terrifying lies to make old people part with their money. They’ve become fantastically wealthy from telling people that individual kooks in Kennesaw are “hate groups” on the march. And they’ve done far less with the money they receive than any other comparable civil rights group will do. To me, this is a scam bordering on criminal mail fraud.

ADDENDUM: Adam Schiff is now publicly arguing that in a two-year, fully-staffed, fully-funded, investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller somehow missed evidence of collusion:

“Undoubtedly there is collusion,” Schiff said in an interview this week, after Attorney General William P. Barr submitted a four-page letter to Congress summarizing key aspects of Mueller’s report. “We will continue to investigate the counterintelligence issues. That is, is the president or people around him compromised in any way by a hostile foreign power? . . . It doesn’t appear that was any part of Mueller’s report.”

Last year, I noted that Adam Schiff was a hardline partisan with mild manners. He now may be revealing that he’s something of a kook.

White House

Are You Tired of All of the Winning Yet?

President Donald Trump gestures during a campaign rally in El Paso, Texas, February 11, 2019. (Leah Millis/REUTERS)

Making the click-through worthwhile: It’s all good news, all the way down. Just get a cup of coffee and enjoy everything falling into place.

Good Heavens, We Might Really Be Getting Tired of All the Winning

You thought Sunday was good for this administration? Check out this morning’s headlines. It’s like Christmas for the president and his allies.

The Washington Post: “Democrats largely give up on impeachment in wake of Mueller report.”

An effort to impeach President Trump was never likely to each 67 votes in the Senate, but there was always a good chance that House Democrats would more or less uniformly vote to impeach the president just to satisfy the furiously anti-Trump grassroots of the party — a symbolic rejection of the results of the 2016 election. Clearly, that’s not happening now. You’ll hear a lot about emoluments and foreign governments staying at the Trump hotel, and how failing to report the payments to Stormy Daniels constitutes a violation of campaign-finance law. But we’ve already established in 1998 that perjury and suborning perjury are not sufficient reason to remove a president from office. Some of us argued differently at the time, but we lost that argument, and the precedent is set.

A lot of progressive activists are always furious; what are they like this week, when they’ve actually got something to be angry about?

The New York Times: “Disappointed Fans of Mueller Rethink the Pedestal They Built for Him”

Ahem. This newsletter, July 30, 2018: “Does anyone want to argue that Mueller is rushing the job, or leaving stones unturned? De Niro is playing Mueller as U.S. Marshall Samuel Gerard right now; I don’t want to see arguments that Mueller is really Inspector Clouseau or Mister Magoo if he disappoints liberals.”

The Washington Times: “Ex-CIA chief offers mea culpa on Trump: ‘I don’t know if I received bad information’”

For a long time, former CIA directors were like former FBI directors — they would retire, and then generally not be heard from too frequently again. They would form a consulting firm, or go teach somewhere, or write their memoirs. When they gave speeches or appeared on television, they would generally stay away from partisan politics. While there were a few exceptions here and there, most retired directors grasped that they came from institutions that needed to be respected and trusted by as many Americans as possible in order to function, and as a result, they couldn’t be seen as having a political axe to grind.

And then there’s John Brennan, who ran around tweeting things to the president like, “Your cabal of unprincipled, unethical, dishonest, and sycophantic cronies is being methodically brought to justice. We all know where this trail leads. If your utter incompetence is not enough to run you out of office, your increasingly obvious political corruption surely will.” A lot of folks believed Brennan knew something about Trump and Russia that the rest of us didn’t because of his position. Sure, Trump behaves in a way that is unpresidential, undignified, and beneath the office. But a lot of folks interpreted Trump’s behavior as a green light to indulge their own worst impulses.

Speaking of which . . . former FBI director Jim Comey is getting widely mocked for his oh-so-pensive dramatic photographs and terse, cryptic statements on social media.

Bit by bit, the evidence accumulated that during Obama’s second term, the FBI and CIA were led by two men with strong political views and deep-rooted animus against Donald Trump, an animus that skewed their judgment. American history is full of directors who disagreed with presidents, but we’ve rarely seen former directors of these institutions sign up to become the face of #TheResistance.

Wait, we haven’t even gotten to the delicious news!

CNBC: “Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti was arrested Monday in New York City on charges of trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening to publicize claims that company employees authorized payments to the families of top high school basketball players.”

Remember when Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic groups invited Avenatti to speak to their members and set up all of that 2020 presidential buzz?

Dear media: We don’t have to treat every schmo who’s on cable news as a serious presidential candidate. In October, Vogue sent Annie Leibovitz to photograph Avenatti, seated, leaning forward, staring at the camera in grim determination. Time magazine ran a mostly positive profileNew York magazine wrote “The Case for Michael Avenatti 2020.”

The argument for Avenatti was the familiar self-flattering one Democrats tell themselves whenever they lose, that their defeats are because they’re too nice and too respectful of their foes and decorum and tradition, and that the best way to bring about progressive utopia is to really get nasty and rough with their opponents. No one ever wants to hear that politics is nasty and rough enough, and that the nastiness and roughness that is always allegedly to serve the greater good keeps a lot of smart, accomplished, competent, decent, and ethical people with good judgment far away from the process of governing.

Could the day get any better? Yes, the day can get even better!

Former president Barack Obama gently warned a group of freshman House Democrats Monday evening about the costs associated with some liberal ideas popular in their ranks, encouraging members to look at price tags, according to people in the room . . .

“He said we [as Democrats] shouldn’t be afraid of big, bold ideas — but also need to think in the nitty-gritty about how those big, bold ideas will work and how you pay for them,” said one person summarizing the former president’s remarks.

When Barack Obama is warning you about spending too much, it’s time to sit up and take notice.

Wait, we haven’t even gotten to the really good news!

CNN:

A Pentagon budget reprogramming notification sent to Capitol Hill on Monday and obtained by CNN indicates that up to $1 billion will go toward building 57 miles of fencing, improving roads and other measures on the southern border. The Department of Defense authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and construction for the project Monday night. The department will direct the funds toward 18-foot-high fencing along the Yuma and El Paso sections of the border, according to a letter acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan sent to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

That’s separate from the wall funding in the last appropriations deal, and separate from the replacement fencing that’s been put up already. While it may not be the “big beautiful wall” Trump touted on the campaign trail in 2016, the president will be able to say “The border is being secured, and the fencing is being built” on the stump in 2020, and his boast will be accurate.

Captain Marvel and the Difficulties of a Stoic Protagonist

Jonah assesses Captain Marvel, with spoilers.

Regarding Brie Larson’s mid-level charisma, some of that may reflect the actress — although she certainly seemed to have plenty of charisma in those mid-2000s music videos — some of that may reflect the script, but I suspect a lot of it reflects how the character of Carol Danvers is different than most of the other Marvel heroes.

Imagine you’ve got all of the heroes from the Marvel movies gathered together for a group photo. Which one is the funny one? Tony Stark is the master of snarky sarcasm. But we also saw from three movies that Thor can be pretty funny and goofy. Spider-Man is always offering quick-witted quips during his fights. Doctor Strange often shows a dry sense of humor. And almost all of the Guardians of the Galaxy are hilarious in some offbeat way at one point or another. Bruce Banner’s difficulties with living with the Hulk are often played for laughs. Even Hawkeye and Black Widow have this sardonic tone when they refer to their unseen past adventures.

In other words, most of Marvel’s heroes have larger-than-life, quick-quipping personalities, and usually go on some sort of hero’s journey that requires growth from being reckless and irresponsible to noble and responsible. (The Marvel heroes who have more “serious” personalities are probably Captain America, Black Panther, Vision, and the Scarlet Witch.)

In Captain Marvel, the creative team attempted to have a protagonist who was a little less quippy, with a personality that was little less larger-than-life and a bit more laconic or that illustrates the saying, “Still waters run deep.” Carol Danvers is supposed to have had a not-so-great family life growing up and have faced a lot of adversity in the U.S. Air Force; it makes sense she would have a more stoic personality than a playboy billionaire or a Norse god.

This is a tougher type of personality to make into a hero; it’s easier to make audiences root for a character like Teddy Roosevelt than one like Calvin Coolidge. We can argue about how well Carol Danvers’s almost-aloof personality worked, but I don’t begrudge Marvel for attempting to tell one of their stories with a heroine who had a different persona than usual.

Regarding the Skrull aliens, I think Marvel left the door open for other groups of Skrulls being more villainous than the crew depicted in the movie. Just because this group of Skrulls turned out to be a fairly sympathetic group of refugees, it doesn’t mean that other groups of the shapeshifting aliens aren’t up to no good. (For those not familiar with the comics, the Kree and Skrulls were two distant alien empires at war, and the Marvel heroes usually were fighting to keep Earth out of the line of fire. Neither side is supposed to be particularly sympathetic to humanity.)

ADDENDUM: Whew! With all of this good news, I expect the mood at this week’s National Review Institute Ideas Summit will be downright giddy. Registration for that has closed, but if you’re itching to hang out with the National Review crew and distinguished guests, there’s always the cruise in August, sailing around New England . . .

White House

A Very Merry Mueller Monday

Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill, June 21, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Dig in, Trump fans. The release of the Mueller report — or at least Attorney General William Barr’s summary — means it’s gloating time. In retrospect, the $25 million or so spent on the probe may turn out to be some of the best money spent by this administration. Also, it appears a prominent liberal celebrity can’t read.

President Trump’s Best Weekend Ever!

No matter how well your weekend went — whether you enjoyed the good weather, whether you’re still at the top of your NCAA bracket pool, whether you’re an AFC East defense that won’t have to cover New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski anymore — you still didn’t have as good of a weekend as President Trump did.

  • “The report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the special counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be public.”

  • “The special counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.”

  • “The Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”

  • “After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

This newsletter could be just an endless series of gifs of people laughing.

As I noted last night and way back in May 2017, there was always a glaring hole in the “Russia and Trump worked together on the 2016 election, offering friendly relations in exchange for hacking computers and releasing damaging information” theory. That plot would require Russia to engage in an unprecedented conspiracy with several Americans, both prominent and obscure, and leave absolutely no trace that U.S. intelligence agencies could detect. The FBI watches Russians on U.S. soil closely, the NSA’s surveillance and interception abilities are unmatched, and you would like to think that the CIA watches what Vladimir Putin is doing really closely.

Didn’t it seem a little weird from the start that Christopher Steele would manage to uncover a vast Russian effort to blackmail one of America’s biggest celebrities and the Republican nominee for president — and the CIA, NSA, and every other U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agency completely missed it?

Every once in a while, I would count the days of the Mueller investigation and observe that if Mueller had found evidence that Trump was a Russian spy or asset, or that the president had been blackmailed or compromised in some way, the special counsel would not dilly dally about informing Congress and the public about this. That’s not the sort of thing you leave sitting on your desk during a long weekend. Just about every time, some snotty liberal would argue that the length of the investigation did not disprove the worst accusations against Trump, and that I should just wait and see. Now we see, and now we know!

Now we know the BuzzFeed bombshell — the claim that Mueller found evidence that Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie under oath to Congress — was wrong and not based upon reliable sources. It’s time for editor Ben Smith to stop hiding behind the standard “we stand by our reporting” mantra and explain  how his publication reported that false claim.

Speaking of which, doesn’t the decision to publish the Steele dossier look even less responsible, now that we know its central accusations cannot be verified by the work of 19 lawyers, approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other professional staff, more than 2,800 subpoenas, nearly 500 search warrants, more than 230 orders for communication records, almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewing approximately 500 witnesses?

(The sad thing is you know some vehement Trump foe somewhere is going to argue that Mueller’s investigation wasn’t complete enough, or didn’t take enough time, left some avenue of investigation unexplored, or didn’t have enough resources.)

Remember back on February 11, when Schiff started complaining that Mueller hadn’t spent enough time looking at Trump’s finances? Did high-level Democrats get some signal that Mueller’s report was not going to offer the smoking gun they were looking for? Or could they just read the handwriting on the wall that a lot of folks on the Right were, that if Mueller was still working on his report after 600 days, he probably didn’t find a smoking gun?

One of the joys of getting older is the recurring realization that you’ve seen all of this happen before. If you paid attention to politics in 2005, you saw “Fitzmas” — the time when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald completed a two-year investigation into the leaking of Valerie Plame’s name with a five-count indictment of Scooter Libby. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but Democrats had convinced themselves then that Fitzgerald was going to set up Bush’s impeachment. (Whole books were written about how this was coming down the pike.) Plame’s husband Joe Wilson declared, “At the end of the day, it’s of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. And trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words.” A little-known left-wing web site  the Rove had been indicted and had been given 24 hours to get his affairs in order.

The Mueller Investigation: Money Well Spent!

There’s a flip side to this, which is that this wasn’t much of a “witch hunt” after all. Knowing how quickly President Trump can change his mind, it would not be surprising if, in the coming days, Trump started praising Mueller’s professionalism and fair-mindedness, and declared that he always liked and trusted him.

Trump fans complained the Mueller investigation was a waste of money. It now looks like the opposite. From Trump’s perspective, the $25 million or so spent on the probe are some of the best money the government has spent during his presidency because it’s now going to function as an inoculation against all of the other accusations made against him.

Hardly a day goes by without Democrats and Trump foes making some new accusation against the president, some credible, some extremely outlandish. But the whole “Russia-gate” accusation has now crashed and burned, and it wasn’t just a bunch of random kooks who made these assertions: Jonathan Chait, Morton Kondrake, Bill Maher, Brett Arends, Paul Krugman, VICE, Sky News, MacLean’s, the Daily Mail, the Huffington Post, Reuters, Salon . . . 

Now every accusation against Trump — including allegations of misbehavior supported by material evidence, such as the check in the Stormy Daniels scandal — will be dismissed as more “fake news, just like the Russia collusion accusation.” Millions of Americans, having watched the furious speculation about Trump’s Russia connections turn into Al Capone’s vault, will conclude that future accusations are more of the same.

Can Celebrities Read? If So, Why Do They Choose Not To?

One other key lesson of this: Many of the loudest voices in the public square simply don’t read. I don’t mean that they can’t read, but they simply choose not to do so. Last night actress and liberal activist Alyssa Milano asked, “If there was nothing in the report why won’t they just release it? If the report fully exonerated him or his family, he’d have it all out in seconds. Wouldn’t he?”

The explanation for the delay is right there in Attorney General Robert Barr’s letter. It’s not hidden. It’s not obscure. It’s not mysterious, inexplicable, or shadowy.

Some portions of Mueller’s report deal with testimony before a grand jury. Grand juries are not like criminal trials; the aim of a grand-jury proceeding is not to prove innocence or guilt but to prove sufficient evidence to charge someone with a crime. There is no defense attorney present or cross-examination of testifying witnesses. Because of this lower threshold, the government cannot publicly release information about what is discussed before a grand jury without meeting certain legal requirements. (Those who testify before grand juries are generally free to discuss the proceedings, although there are exceptions.) Barr has to go through the report with the special counsel’s lawyers and determine what parts discuss or cite grand-jury testimony. Barr also wrote that he must identify any information that “could impact other ongoing matters, including those that the Special Counsel has referred to other offices.” During the course of his investigation, Mueller handed off the prosecution of Michael Cohen, Marina Butina, and 12 Russian citizens to other federal prosecutors. Barr doesn’t want the released version of Mueller’s report to louse up the prosecution of any other ongoing case.

The celebrity-activist types don’t know how any of this works, and they don’t care to do the two minutes of Googling to understand how these processes work. They encounter something that surprises them and they conclude it must be something unusual and sinister. This is why you’re not supposed to get your guidance and analysis of political events from people who are best known and beloved for playing a housekeeper’s daughter or a charming witch. They don’t know how anything works, and you’re left knowing less than if you hadn’t heard from them at all.

ADDENDA: Our Teddy Kupfer makes a fair point about rents, mortgages, and perceptions of prosperity. Ramesh notices that Jim Comey’s argument about impeachment doesn’t make much sense. Maybe Comey is lost in the woods — metaphorically, or perhaps literally.

Hey, can I get those Robert Mueller prayer candles at a discount now?

Politics & Policy

Millennials Are Experiencing American Prosperity

(Dreamstime image: Ian Allenden)

Making the click-through worthwhile: an amazingly solipsistic and inaccurate assessment of the American economy, coming from a Millennial with a big platform; a report that Robert Mueller might be finished with all of his indictments; and a look at one of the youngest Democratic presidential candidate.

Wait, Who’s ‘Never Experienced American Prosperity’?

This is as easy dunk, but sometimes you have to take it, just to dispel bad arguments from the public sphere. Charlotte Alter of Time magazine, who just wrote a lengthy and positive profile of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, declares, “AOC and I were born the same year. She was a Dunkaroos kid—I liked fruit roll-ups. People our age have never experienced American prosperity in our adult lives— which is why so many millennials are embracing Democratic socialism.”

Charlotte Alter’s father is Jonathan Alter, the longtime columnist and former senior editor of Newsweek, producer of television series and documentaries and author of several books. Her mother is Emily Jane Lazar, who was the executive producer of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. Charlotte Alter graduated from Harvard University in 2012 and before coming to Time in 2013 she worked for HBO’s TV show Girls. Her brother is a producer for HBO sports, and her other sister is a venture capitalist.

Not a lot of journalism students are working for Time magazine within two years of graduation. Not many folks get to work on a critically-acclaimed premium cable series as their stepping-stone job. Maybe Alter was paid poorly on those jobs; if she lives in the New York City area, she’s undoubtedly coping with a high cost of living. But to claim she’s “never experienced American prosperity” is, no pun intended, rich. (UPDATE: This morning, Alter tweeted that she was “not talking about my personal experience.” Whether her original tweet can be read as excluding herself is… debatable.)

But let’s move beyond Alter. The two women were born in 1989; let’s assume 2009 as the starting date for their adulthood. No doubt, the depths of the Great Recession were the hardest time in two generations.

But the U.S. economy has added jobs for 100 consecutive months, and there are seven million unfilled jobs in the country. The housing market either quickly or gradually recovered depending upon your region, and auto production recovered, both at companies that received government bailouts and those that did not. There’s not too much inflation or deflation. Energy prices declined as U.S. domestic production boomed. Wage growth has been slow, but some research indicates this reflects companies hiring more young workers, who generally earn less than older, more experienced workers. Scott Lincicome lays out how more Americans households can afford more products. The stock market hit new highs last year. In late 2018, the World Economic Forum ranked the United States the world’s most competitive economy for the first time in a decade. Even the more pessimistic economists concede that the U.S. economy’s problems are smaller and less severe than anyone else’s.

Maybe you think “prosperity” returned around Obama’s reelection, or in his second term, or upon Trump taking office. But it’s asinine to argue that this doesn’t qualify as a time of prosperity, and it’s a little frightening to see someone who’s writing cover pieces for Time magazine making an assessment so wide of the mark. This isn’t to say America doesn’t have problems, but the general state of the economy and rate of job creation are not among those problems. If the current state of the economy – unemployment at 3.8 percent, 3.1 percent annual GDP growth, high business confidence, high consumer confidence — does not meet your definition of “prosperity,” what does?

The Time profile also refers to Ocasio-Cortez as “a freshman legislator trying to get the hang of her first big full-time job.”

One possibility is that this Alter is exaggerating; Ocasio-Cortez’s resume lists jobs like “lead educational strategist at GAGEis, Inc.,” “founder of Brook Avenue Press” and “educational director for the 2017 Northeast Collegiate World Series.” Or perhaps all of those were part-time jobs — or, as is often found at start-ups and nonprofits, full-time jobs that paid like part-time ones.

But if Alter’s assessment of Ocasio-Cortez’s working history is correct . . . should “member of Congress” be your first full-time job?

No More Indictments Coming from Mueller?

Buried deep in an ABC News story about the state of special counsel Robert Mueller:

In the letter, [Deputy Attorney General] Rosenstein makes it clear he believes the Department of Justice will not – and cannot without violating long-standing Department of Justice policy – include disparaging or incriminating information about anybody who has not been charged with a crime.

“Punishing wrongdoers through judicial proceedings is only one part of the Department’s mission,” Rosenstein wrote. “We also have a duty to prevent the disclosure of information that would unfairly tarnish people who are not charged with crimes.”

 Sources familiar with the investigation believe there are no more indictments coming from the special counsel. If Mueller follows the guidance of the man who appointed him and supervised his investigation, he cannot publicly disparage those who have not been charged with a crime.

How many vehement foes of the administration hoped that Mueller would indict Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Steve Bannon, or other prominent figures from the 2016 campaign?

What You Need to Know About Pete Buttigieg, That Young Mayor Guy Running in 2020

The nicest things I can say about Pete Buttigieg, the latest subject in the “Twenty Things” series: Starting at a very early age — and some might argue that at 37, he’s still at a very early age — he set out to do everything the right way and steadily and methodically did so — Harvard, Oxford, consulting at McKinsey. He chose to wear his country’s uniform when he had plenty of other options. With his accomplishments and glowing resume, he could have gone anywhere and worked just about any place, but he chose to return to his hometown, determined he could bring better days for his community. His constituents seem to adore him.

The least-nice things I can say about Buttigieg: He is the insufferably perfect valedictorian class president that your parents kept telling you to emulate. He’s the kid who started thinking about being elected to high office in high school and started making preparations then. His ambition was so transparent that it stood out at Harvard’s Institute for Politics, basically the Hogwarts for bright young people who want to be president someday. South Bend is the 299th-largest city in America and based upon five years of running that, Buttigieg thinks he’s ready to be president of the United States. Some presidential candidates falter because they don’t have “the fire in the belly.” Buttigieg’s got the Hindenberg in his intestines.

He’s indisputably bright, but not quite bright enough to understand why Americans don’t usually elect state treasurers in their late 20s, mayors in their early 30s, and presidents in their late 30s. In his autobiography, Shortest Way Home, Buttigieg describes how he kept running into people who thought he was too young to run for office, too young to be a mayor; no doubt today he’s running into a lot of people who think he’s too young to be the next president. Maybe it’s straight-up age discrimination. Or maybe Americans in their forties, fifties, sixties and beyond remember how they were at those younger ages — how they thought they had it all figured out, and how life taught them otherwise. Maybe they’ve encountered someone with a glowing resume who turned out to be lousy in a job, or whose sterling academic record didn’t translate into good judgment.

ADDENDUM: The great Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina marks World Down Syndrome Day and showcases socks sent to him by two of his constituents. I concur, senator, they are indeed the best.

Elections

Republicans: Don’t Underestimate Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke campaigns during the recording of the “Political Party Live” podcast in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, March 15, 2019. (Ben Brewer/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the familiar tale of a Texas man overcoming youthful indiscretions to rise to the top of national politics, Joe Biden is already thinking about a running mate, and a well-known congresswoman tells a tale about her test scores that just doesn’t add up.

A Familiar Story of a Rising Political Star in the Lone Star State

He’s a Texan, the son of a man prominent in state politics and an all-around success in life. The Texan grew up with alternating affection for and intermittent tension with his well-known, accomplished father, with the heavy question of how he would ever emerge from his father’s shadow. He went off to boarding and prep school on the East Coast, then on to the Ivy Leagues. Young adulthood was a surprisingly difficult time for a young man who grew up with so many advantages: too much partying, a sense of prolonged adolescence, hitting rock bottom with run-ins with the law after drinking too much and getting behind the wheel. Years later, people would ask if the family connections spared him the worst possible legal consequences of his reckless behavior in his younger years. But he met a woman from a good family, who works in education, and marriage and parenthood brought maturity and stability to his life — the bottle stopped becoming such an issue in his life.

He eventually tried his hand at entrepreneurship, swearing he never wanted to be a politician like his father. But when an opportunity in Texas politics appeared, he took it, out-hustling a Democratic incumbent who had been far too confident about the voters’ mood on Election Day. Rivals and critics in both parties saw him as a servant of his donors, mixing business and government, capable of making a backroom real-estate deal sound like a public service aimed to help everyone. He talked a good game about controlling spending and reducing the size of government, but his instinct that government had a duty to help people usually won out in budget fights.

He believed immigration brought great benefits to America, and that illegal immigrants should be treated with dignity and respect — and an opportunity to become a citizen if they had avoided serious legal trouble. His rivals saw a lightweight, coasting on charm and charisma and good humor, with limited serious thought about difficult issues. His wife was a great asset, although she had never been a huge fan of his political ambitions. She worried about how her husband’s political life would affect their children. The Texan was elected in a good year for his party and managed to get reelected in a year when the national winds were against his party. The national media descended upon Texas, writing about him and asking whether he was the future of the party.

Then, surprisingly early in his political career, he chose to run for president. Despite having only been in a major office for six years, the Texan’s party saw great potential in him, and responded with a wave of donations. They were hungry for a winner. His party had experienced a shocking defeat to a president they deemed a national embarrassment and even illegitimate — a shameless, scandal-ridden womanizer up to his neck in crooked land deals and who lied as easily as he breathed. His boring vice president was regularly trotted out to tout the president’s virtues, and most members of the president’s party echoed his claims that the work of the special counsel was a partisan witch hunt.

The Texan pledged he could restore America’s sense of pride. On the stump, he rarely went deep into policy specifics. He preferred to emphasize that America was better than the flaws of its current president, and that honor and dignity could return to the Oval Office. He wasn’t always the most eloquent, and sometimes he mangled his message. But a lot of the people who came to hear him speak came away convinced his heart was in the right place and he could restore their optimism in America’s future.

That’s Beto O’Rourke. But that’s also George W. Bush.

Fans of both men will probably scoff at the comparison and insist they’re nothing alike. But it’s a sign that Republicans probably shouldn’t underestimate the appeal of a laid-back, easygoing guy who can generate a mood of optimism in his stump speech.

Biden-Abrams, Coming Soon?

Mike Allen says Joe Biden’s team is thinking of “packaging his presidential campaign announcement with a pledge to choose Stacey Abrams as his vice president.” Biden and Abrams held a private meeting a week ago.

Wouldn’t that be a shock from the bizarre writer’s room that’s imagining the twists and turns of our political life, if the polling frontrunner picked the woman who’s most popular among the Democratic grassroots, and more or less locked up the nomination from the very start? What if the 2020 Democratic presidential primary — which was starting to look like a combination of Thunderdome, the Hundred Years’ War, and The Hunger Games – turns out to be a slow-motion coronation, a forced marriage of the Party Establishment and the progressive grassroots?

The top tier candidates — Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren (maybe), and Beto O’Rourke probably wouldn’t go away quietly and acquiesce to a coronation. In fact, they might have to pull out all the stops to derail it. The election of a Biden-Abrams ticket next year would lead to either a reelection bid in 2024 or Biden serving one term and Vice President Abrams running in 2024 . . .  and then possibly reelection in 2028. Every other Democrat might have to put their political ambitions on hold until 2032, and/or hope to be selected as Abrams’s running mate. By that far-off date, O’Rourke will be old news, Harris and Warren would be the elder stateswomen of the party, and Sanders would be 91 years old.

There was a time when Americans might think twice about taking a state assemblywoman and putting her a heartbeat away from the presidency — the heartbeat of a president who would turn 78 shortly after his election! But that was before we gave the Oval Office keys to a reality television star who had never served in government.

Those Hated, But Relatively Objective, Standardized Tests

Over at RedState, Joe Cunningham notices this detail in a recent story from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about how her teachers underestimated her abilities, and how it couldn’t possibly have occurred the way the congresswoman described:

It was a bit jarring to hear AOC say that she was treated in the Yorktown schools as in need of remedial education because she was Hispanic, not mainstream, but, she said, “a-high-stakes standardized Test” revealed she was in the 99th percentile. No one stopped to point out that she could not be referring to any high-stakes test used for accountability purposes because they don’t rank by percentile. They classify students as 1, 2, 3, or 4. Her teacher must have given her a no-stakes individual test that produces a percentile ranking for diagnostic purposes. Well, she can’t know everything about everything. None of us do.

We all have our little personal mythologies about how we succeeded, overcame obstacles, proved the doubters wrong, and were underestimated and undervalued every step of the way. When you’re a politician, any foggy memories or exaggerations will get fact-checked by your audience.

One last note on this: Lots of people dislike standardized tests; I griped about them earlier this month. But it is worth noting that in the recent college-admissions scandal, the rich not-so-smart kids had to hire someone to take the test for them, have the proctor change their answers, read the test ahead of time, or cheat in other ways. In other words, while people administering the test could be bought off, the actual test itself was an objective measure that couldn’t be charmed or influenced. You can’t really B.S. your way through the SAT or ACT. The test doesn’t care if your dad is the mayor or your mom is the principal. You can make lucky guesses (I remember being encouraged to pick one if you could eliminate two of the four answers) but your luck will run out eventually.

Almost everything else in education is at least somewhat subjective and variable. School and teacher quality can vary a lot, some teachers are tougher graders than others, some teachers can play favorites, and schools’ reputations can be overinflated or underestimated. But everybody takes the same SAT or ACT.

ADDENDUM: Polling finds support for impeachment dropping. Democrats probably thought they would have the Mueller report by now. The closer we get to Election Day, the sillier it seems to impeach a president who’s about to be evaluated by the country at the ballot box within two years/a year/months.

And if Trump gets reelected, some Democrats will find their enthusiasm for impeachment rekindled — but how much sense does it make to pursue impeachment against a president who just got reelected? By that point, the American people have already decided about the seriousness of the accusations.

Elections

Andrew Yang, We’ll See You on the Debate Stage

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang speaks in Iowa City, Iowa, March 10, 2019. (Scott Morgan/REUTERS)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The Democratic party made it easier than ever for a presidential candidate to qualify for the televised debates, and that’s going to put a lot of unfamiliar faces on that stage; a trio of federal judges aren’t impressed with one of the arguments in favor of Trump’s impeachment; and a presidential candidate decides to come between doctors and their patients.

Get Ready for Andrew Yang — and Any Other Democrat Who Can Find 65,000 Donors

When the Democratic National Committee laid out its threshold for participating in televised presidential debates, they decided to set the bar as low as possible, lest any lesser-known candidate claim the party was trying to exclude candidates or show favoritism. This is the sort of bending-over-backwards gesture that’s necessary in the aftermath of the party committee more or less becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of the frontrunner’s campaign, as the DNC did in 2016.

Under the DNC’s rules for 2020, if you have 65,000 individual donors, you’re automatically up on that debate stage. That’s easy for big-time candidates, and the lesser-known candidates are figuring out how to meet that goal. If you donate a dollar to John Delaney’s campaign, he’ll donate two dollars to a charity of your choice. You may scoff at Delaney losing money on the deal, but think about it, for $130,000 or so, he can essentially buy a place on that debate stage with a national television audience. That’s probably going to be the most effective expenditure of his whole campaign.

Andrew Yang hit that threshold.

Who’s Andrew Yang? A New York businessman who’s worried about automation and artificial intelligence. To cope, he proposes sending “a monthly check for $1,000 that would be sent to every American from age 18 to 64, regardless of income or employment status” — a variation of the universal basic-income proposal. Yang is the son of Taiwanese immigrants, attended Brown and Columbia, spent a year in corporate law, started up a short-lived celebrity-charity web site, moved to a health care-software company, headed up a test-preparation company, and then founded the nonprofit Venture for America.

Yang has a mountain of ideas, and chances are you’ll find some you like and some you don’t like. His proposals for the field of journalism alone are, depending upon your point of view, visionary, out-of-the-box, nuts, or wildly beyond the proper role of government in a Constitutional republic:

  • “I will initiate the American Journalism Fellows, through which reporters from each state nominated by a body of industry professionals and selected by a nonpartisan commission will be given a 4-year grant of $400,000 ($100,000 per year) and stationed at a local news organization with the condition that they report on issues relevant to the district during the period of their Fellowship.”

  • “I will appoint a new News and Information Ombudsman with the power to fine egregious corporate offenders.  One of the main purposes of the Ombudsman will be to identify sources of spurious information that are associated with foreign nationals.  The Ombudsman will work with social media companies to identify fraudulent accounts and disable and punish responsible parties.  The Ombudsman will be part of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).”

  • “I will initiate the Local Journalism Fund, a dedicated $1 billion Fund operated out of the FCC that will make grants to companies, non-profits and local governments and libraries to help local newspapers, periodicals and websites transition to sustainability in a new era.”

  • “The government should not meddle with the free press. But the government should support the major media and technology companies in finding solutions to the issues. After the Russian influence campaign affected the 2016 election, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies have started to investigate ways to mitigate these issues. The government should be supporting them in any way they deem appropriate.”

A little credit where due, Yang identifies real problems in the news business. But it’s not the job of the government to finance news organizations, and I’m trying to picture a more-effective way to ensure journalists are never too tough on the federal government than to make them dependent upon that government for their salaries. Also, as bad as “spurious information” is, is it really all that hard to imagine why it’s a bad idea to have the FCC define what is and what is not fake news — er, “spurious information,” and to give that agency the power to fine companies and disable web sites that post it?

Matthew Walther writes that Yang is “H. Ross Perot for Millennials” and it feels like an apt comparison. Since George W. Bush’s first term, Yang’s job titles have been “vice president” “CEO” and “founder.” He’s never worked with a legislature before. He’s undoubtedly bright and has been successful in business, and he’s brimming with confidence that the same approach will succeed in politics and governing. (As Harry Truman observed of Dwight Eisenhower, “He’ll sit here and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike — it won’t be a bit like the Army.”)

What’s fascinating is that former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is thinking about running as an independent, and he turned into the Democrats’ Public Enemy Number One overnight. Yang is another wealthy businessman with no political experience but a big list of ideas and good intentions, but because he’s choosing to run within the Democratic party, no one has bothered to denounce him very much yet. (This also reflects the fact that so far, Yang’s not a threat to anyone else yet.)

But put Yang up on that nationally televised debate stage, with that confident-entrepreneur-pitching-a-room-full-of-venture-capitalists style, full of pithy declarations such as “technology is the oil of the 21st century; what they do in Alaska with oil money, we’re gonna do in America with technology money,” and who knows? He’s probably not going to rocket to the top of the pack, but he’d probably stand out and be more interesting than the other half-dozen automatons who have spent a decade or so in a legislature and whose answers all sound like “I believe that children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way.”

You’re Going to Need Better Emoluments Than This, Fellas

One of the problems with the effort to impeach President Trump is the advocates will reach for any tool available.

The Constitution defines “high crimes and misdemeanors” as the criteria for impeachment. The clearer and more indisputable the crime, the more specific and irrefutable the evidence, the more compelling the case for impeachment will be.

Obnoxiousness, lack of impulse control, obliviousness, narcissism, egomania, ravenous appetite for flattery — these are not crimes. Being so sensitive to criticism that you choose to go on furious Twitter tirades in response to the husband of your advisors is a character flaw, but it’s not a high crime or misdemeanor.

And the argument that foreign governments booking hotel rooms in Trump’s hotels constitutes a form of bribery was always a stretch. It appears a trio of federal judges are unconvinced:

A three-judge U.S. appeals court panel signaled sympathy toward President Donald Trump on Tuesday in his appeal in a Democratic-backed lawsuit that accuses him of violating anti-corruption provisions of the U.S. Constitution with his Washington hotel.

The judges on the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals indicated they may dismiss the lawsuit filed against the Republican president in June 2017 by the Democratic attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Is Over-Prescription Really Driving the Opioid Addiction Crisis?

Everybody wants to fight the opioid-abuse crisis. Some people end up addicted because of an experience with prescription painkillers; some obtain opioids through other illicit means. Last year Dr. Sally Satel, a practicing psychiatrist at a Washington methadone clinic, argued that the public perception of what’s driving the addiction wasn’t all that accurate:

I have studied multiple surveys and reviews of the data, which show that only a minority of people who are prescribed opioids for pain become addicted to them, and those who do become addicted and who die from painkiller overdoses tend to obtain these medications from sources other than their own physicians. Within the past several years, overdose deaths are overwhelmingly attributable not to prescription opioids but to illicit fentanyl and heroin. These “street opioids” have become the engine of the opioid crisis in its current, most lethal form.

This isn’t stopping Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Republican Senator Cory Gardner from proposing a sweeping change to how opioids are prescribed: “The John S. McCain Opioid Addiction and Prevention Act would limit the supply of initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain to seven days. This bill is named after late-Senator John McCain, who was the Republican lead of this legislation last Congress.”

But . . .  doctors are now much more aware and cautious about prescribing opioids. The rate of prescribing opioids is dropping rapidly; a recent survey found that “the highest doses of prescription opioids declined by over 33 percent during the past two years.” No doubt, some doctors prescribe opioids too easily and prescribe too much; others are much more cautious. Some patients will need more painkillers than others.

Should Congress be deciding, through legislation, how many days patients should have access to prescription painkillers? Who the heck is Kirsten Gillibrand to make that decision? For that matter, who the heck is Gardner? This seems like the sort of matter better handled by state medical boards, evaluating particular doctors, patient records, and patterns of prescriptions rather than a new rule handed down from Congress.

I suppose one would say that it’s just good to see Gillibrand focused on Americans becoming addicted to harmful substances after spending years as a lawyer for Big Tobacco.

ADDENDA: Hey, remember that big Andrew Gillum announcement? He’s launching a voter registration group. Yawn . . .

Ben Shapiro has a new book out, and apparently it’s for sale everywhere.

Elections

Joe Biden’s Potential Bid for President Would Come with Baggage

Joe Biden speaks during his debate with Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan in Danville, Ky., October 11, 2012. (John Gress/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The 2020 Democratic primary is quickly shaping up to be a battle of realists vs. revolutionaries; one presidential candidate is apparently hoping voters will “shape him” into the candidate they prefer; Yuval Levin offers some sharp thoughts about who is considered “elite” and what is expected of those with the label; and one of 2018’s also-rans is planning some mysterious big announcement.

Will Joe Biden Fight ‘The New Left’?

CNN notices that former vice president Joe Biden, who’s expected to announce his candidacy in the coming weeks, is already acknowledging his likely primary rival:

After a likely announcement in April, Biden is hoping to seize command of the highly-fluid contest through major endorsements and possibly selecting a running mate early to highlight the argument that the party’s most urgent task should be defeating President Donald Trump, Democrats familiar with his plans tell CNN.

“It can’t go on like this, folks. I know I get criticized and told I get criticized by the new left,” Biden said in a weekend speech to Delaware Democrats, before almost announcing he was running for president. “I have the most progressive record of anybody running for the United States — anybody who would run!”

Phil Klein predicts Biden’s “popularity is about to nosedive.” Right now, he’s a beloved elder statesman remembered for goofy statements and making faces behind President Obama at the State of the Union; the day after he’s announces that he’s running for president, everyone else in the field will want to see him taken out. Suddenly the gaffes won’t seem so lovable, he’ll go from experienced to simply old (76 years!) and he’ll face tougher questions about how self-proclaimed “Middle Class Joe” became a multimillionaire after spending his whole career in government.

I don’t think Biden’s views on busing the 1970s are really going to hurt him that much, but I do think he will force the Democratic party to contemplate whether the Obama presidency really achieved what they hoped that it would.

If Barack Obama had picked some other longtime senator from the Northeast to be his running mate in 2008 — say, Connecticut’s Chris Dodd — and Biden had remained in the Senate during the Obama years, would anyone be clamoring for Joe Biden to run for president? The connection to Obama and the Obama administration’s record is the centerpiece of Biden’s appeal to Democrats, along with the perception that he can beat Trump, or at least be competitive, among blue-collar whites. Nobody in today’s Democratic party is searching for a 2020 candidate who really knows how to sing the praises of Amtrak.

Nominating Biden atop the Democratic ticket is like giving the wacky neighbor supporting character on a beloved show his own spinoff. It’s easy to forget but back in 2008, Biden was seen as a risky selection by Obama. Both Biden’s 1988 campaign and 2008 campaign crashed on the rocks. On the campaign trail, Biden had contradicted Obama constantly and kept either lying, misremembering, or hallucinating. Everyone forgets that in 2011, some members of the Obama team briefly discussed dropping him from the ticket for the 2012 election, testing the idea in focus groups and polls.

We’re already seeing a Democratic party split into factions, and Biden’s the guy who’s always been a little too honest about what he thinks about people. Hillary Clinton’s crowd never liked him, and the feeling was mutual. At a time when progressives are hyper about language and sensitivity, Biden speaks with no filter or forethought.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge for a Biden bid is the fact that the candidate is “the Establishment,” whether he and his campaign wants to acknowledge it or not. He was a heartbeat away from the presidency for eight years, and he had an enormous say in policy from 2009 to 2016.

Judging from how the Democratic candidates are courting their party’s grassroots today, primary voters want to tear down most of American society’s existing structures, rules, laws and traditions. Eliminate the Electoral College. Add more justices to the Supreme Court. Enact reparations for African-Americans. Have the government take over large swaths of the economy through the Green New Deal. Ban private health insurance and enact Medicare for All. Raise taxes, including a 77 percent tax on estates, a 70 percent tax on income over $10 million per year, and set up a 90 percent marginal tax rate.

It is unlikely that Joe Biden supports those kinds of radical changes. Even if Biden did embrace them on the campaign trail in the coming months, that would represent an admission that the Obama presidency had largely failed to meet the country’s challenges, as the Obama administration, as liberal as it was, never proposed many ideas like that.

The 2020 Democratic primary could quickly boil down to Biden (or Beto O’Rourke, or some other candidate) as the voice of political reality, and a top rival who embodies a political revolution — likely Bernie Sanders, but perhaps Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren or one of the others.

It’s better for the country if Democrats pick reality; it’s better for Trump’s reelection chances if the Democrats pick revolution.

Guess Who ‘Asked Voters to Shape Him into the Presidential Candidate They Want Him to Be’?

The Washington Postthis morning: “In the first five days of his campaign, [Beto] O’Rourke asked voters to shape him into the presidential candidate they want him to be, to help him draft a vision for America.”

He is the empty vessel your hopes and dreams have been waiting for.

“Shape him into the presidential candidate they want him to be”? What is he, Gumby?

After a while, all of the Beto O’Rourke profile pieces in the glossy general interest magazines start to sound like this.

It’s Not About Who’s Considered Elite, It’s About What Those Elites Are Empowered to Do

Lots of folks have weighed in on the college-admissions scandal, but one of my favorite observations comes in the form of this really sharp Corner post by Yuval Levin.

Although the scandal revealed by last week’s arrests involves college admissions, it has touched a nerve not because of a widespread desire to get into Yale but because of a widespread perception that the people who go there think they can get away with anything. It isn’t aggravating because it’s a betrayal of the principles of meritocracy but because it is an example of the practice of it. That’s not a problem that can be addressed through more fair and open college admissions. It is a problem that would need to be addressed through more constraints on the behavior of American elites—constraints built into formative institutions with a lower opinion of the inherent merits of those elites.

Our society is going to inevitably have elites; the question is once, you’re in that role of elite, and have accumulated significant economic, political, or cultural power, what is your responsibility? A couple years back, I wrote a series of articles about “the progressive aristocracy,” a group that regularly demonstrated that minor law-breaking, conspicuous consumption, nepotism, and wild hypocrisy were acceptable as long as you publicly pledged loyalty to the right set of beliefs. Far too many people seemed to think that donating to the right parties and fashionable causes gave them carte blanche to treat anyone they encounter however they wished, and to ignore any rules, standards, or laws they deem inconvenient. Since I wrote those articles, we’ve seen many more vivid examples of this — the self-proclaimed feminists caught up in #MeToo, the consequence-free racism of Virginia governor Ralph Northam and Maryland state delegate Mary Ann Lisanti, the wildly easy plea deal with Jeffrey Epstein, the ever-milder consequences for the anti-Semitism of Rep. Ilhan Omar, the appalling second round of abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.

As our David Bahnsen would say, it’s almost like we’re living through a . . .  crisis of responsibility.

ADDENDUM: Remember Andrew Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee who ran for Florida governor and finished close but no cigar? The one who’s now claiming the election was stolen? He’s got some big announcement tomorrow . . .  but no one seems to know what it is. If it’s a presidential campaign, he’s managed to keep it really quiet.

Politics & Policy

Democrats Aren’t Rushing to Defend Chelsea Clinton

(Reuters photo: Andrew Kelly)

Making the click-through worthwhile: some tough questions for Democrats and whether they’re ever willing to tell the progressive grassroots something that they don’t want to hear, Beto O’Rourke’s fundraising mojo doesn’t skip a beat from 2018, some horrific news from Facebook, and Amy Klobuchar tells us it’s time to move on from a particular scandal.

Democrats Avert Their Eyes from an Unhinged Denunciation of Chelsea Clinton

Are we too hard on the Left? Do we engage in “nutpicking” — picking out the nuttiest members of a particular group and citing them as representative?

Chelsea Clinton attended a vigil for the victims of the New Zealand mosque massacre on Friday night, and New York University students Rose Asaf and Leen Dweik confronted her: “This right here is the result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you put out into the world,” one of the students told Clinton.“I want you to know that and I want you to feel that deep down inside. Forty-nine people died because of the rhetoric you put out there.”

The argument is that because back on February 10, after Representative Ilhan Omar contended that AIPAC money controlled the views of members of Congress, Chelsea Clinton tweeted, “Co-signed as an American. We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism” — and because of that, the New Zealand massacre occurred. This is the Manhattan Project of guilt-by-association.

Chelsea Clinton, of course, had nothing to do with the awful events in New Zealand; her across-the-board denunciation of anti-Semitism is right, proper, and needed. There is not even a hint of “Islamophobia” or “anti-Islam” sentiment in her Tweet; to contend so is to argue that any criticism of Omar is automatically “Islamophobic.” The event was supposed to be a vigil for victims, and Clinton is pregnant.

The pair are entirely unrepentant; they wrote in a subsequent BuzzFeed op-ed:

Many have said it was unfair to connect Chelsea’s words to the massacre in Christchurch. To them, we say that anti-Muslim bigotry must be addressed wherever it exists . . .  Spurred on by professional bigots, anti-Muslim hate now permeates our culture and politics, and everyone, as a matter of urgency, should consider the role they play in enabling it. That includes Chelsea Clinton.

The response to the NYU students on Twitter was mostly critical, but not entirely critical. The responses in the comment section to the article on BuzzFeed are mostly critical of the students. The comments sections over at the Salon and Jezebel about the confrontation are similar — arguments that the vigil wasn’t the time and place for that confrontation, frustration that the students “lashed out at a scapegoat,” laments that there are “idiots on our side,” and remarks in the vein of, “I have no love for the Clintons, but these students are 100 percent wrong on every level.”

(When a comments section believes you’ve been rude, you’ve gone way too far.)

But despite dramatic video of students yelling at the famous daughter of a president, this story has (so far) attracted more attention from conservative media than from mainstream media.

CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Representative Rashida Tlaib about it, and Tlaib offered no criticism of the students nor any sympathy for Clinton:

When we disagree publicly, when we disagree publicly on various policy agreements, we have to be very careful in the language that we use. And I can tell you, look, I have seen the letters and have seen the various posts from not only Democrats — from Republicans, but also Democrats, that, when we target or disagree, we need to be very careful, in that it’s not feeding into the Islamophobia that is growing in our country.

Tapper pressed further:

TAPPER: But are you suggesting — just help me understand here. Are you suggesting that Democrats who took issue with Congresswoman Omar’s comments did so because of anti-Muslim bias?

TLAIB: I mean, I think that’s part of it. But let me tell you why.  have been there only for a short period of time. And there are members on the other side of the aisle that have been very, very — using various tropes regarding — against my Jewish brothers and sisters, using different kinds of — they have — so-called tweets and different kinds of rhetoric that they support. And many of those are the same people that support this president, who doesn’t want to condemn white supremacy in our country and white nationalism that’s growing. And I want to say, you know, this is what I saw, is this double standard.

By and large, the confrontation with Chelsea Clinton is something prominent Democrats don’t want to talk about, tweet about, or write about. Who stood up for Chelsea Clinton among prominent Democrats? New York City mayor Bill De Blasio. If there were others, I’ve missed them. More people raised eyebrows that Donald Trump Jr. was defending her.

Perhaps other Democrats will join De Blasio as the week goes on, but so far it appears that when two Leftists angrily and publicly confront a prominent Democrat in public in a spectacularly inappropriate way, most of the leaders of the Democratic party prefer to avert their eyes, pretend they didn’t see it, and hope that the news cycle moves on quickly. The irony is that if social media and the comments sections are accurate, a significant chunk of grassroots progressives disagreed with what the students did and how they did it. There’s no political risk in saying, “The students were wrong, Chelsea Clinton’s never done anything to spread Islamophobia, that’s not the way you’re supposed to behave at a vigil, and we as Americans need to stop perceiving every encounter with a famous face as a chance to create a viral video moment.”

This is a rare situation where the progressive grassroots appear to be responding more appropriately and rationally than Democratic lawmakers. Perhaps the small army of Democratic presidential candidates thinks that this will turn into a Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders surrogate fight, and they’re afraid of ending up on the wrong side. But just how big is that risk? If Donald Trump Jr. is willing to stand up for Chelsea Clinton, what excuse does anyone else have?

I’m a longtime critic of the effort to groom Chelsea Clinton for a future in politics, but she still deserves to be treated with respect. The students’ treatment of her at the vigil was appalling and the assertion that she’s somehow even tangentially responsible for the New Zealand attack is nonsense.

Still, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen egregious and demagogic guilt-by-association in American politics. Once another prominent politician suggested that “loud and angry voices” in the United States were spreading hate and paranoia, and denounced the general public’s silence in response to those hate-spreading voices:

We hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable. You ought to see. I’m sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today. Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences, and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility . . .  When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them, When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it. The exercise of their freedom of speech makes our silence all the more unforgivable.

That was what Bill Clinton said after the Oklahoma City bombing, appearing to blame conservative talk radio for the attacks.

Looks Like We Will Have Beto O’Rourke to Kick around for a While Longer

Over the weekend, some Democratic primary-watchers thought it was significant that Beto O’Rourke hadn’t announced his fundraising from the first day of the campaign. While it’s only one day, for some campaigns it’s their best day and the day they get the most (and most positive) media coverage. When O’Rourke didn’t announce immediately, some thought the silence was an early indicator he was flopping.

Never mind.

O’Rourke brought in $6,136,736 after declaring his long-anticipated bid with a web video and trip to Iowa on Thursday morning, raising the sum entirely online and from all 50 states, the campaign said.

He narrowly beat the first-day haul of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who raised $5.9 million after announcing his bid last month and who would go on to raise $10 million before his first week was over.

O’Rourke’s going to be around a while, and if he’s not in the top tier already, he’s close.

Should We Witness Massacres? And Where’s the Online Audience for This?

Back when that awful shooting was caught on video in Roanoke in 2015, I wondered whether there was value in showing the video, because as awful as the sequence was . . .  it was the truth of what happened. I can certainly understand not wanting to watch the video, and no one should be required to see it; any organization airing the video should give ample warning. But how do you walk that line between avoiding some of the most horrific sights imaginable and seeing the world clearly, as it is, with no illusions? Understanding the world means seeing some of its worst parts and moments — the 9/11 attacks, the liberated concentration camps, the Zapruder film . . .

But then there’s this jaw-dropping development:

Facebook said that it removed 1.5 million videos of footage from the shooting rampage at two mosques in Christchurch within 24 hours of the attack, underscoring the massive game of whack-a-mole social media giants have to play with even the most high-profile problematic content on their platforms.

In a statement, Mia Garlick, spokeswoman for Facebook New Zealand, said that the company continues to “work around the clock to remove violating content from our site, using a combination of technology and people.” Of the 1.5 million videos of the massacre, filmed by a body-worn camera on the perpetrator almost in the style of a video game, 1.2 million were blocked at upload.

Just how many people were trying to upload the shooter’s video?

ADDENDUM: This just handed to me: Ralph Northam is still governor of Virginia.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar says it’s time to move on from the Northam controversy. Man, life is easy when you’re a Democrat.

Elections

Beto O’Rourke Is More of a Slacker than a Saint

Beto O’Rourke delivers a campaign speech atop a counter at The Beancounter Coffeehouse & Drinkery in Burlington, Iowa, March 14, 2019. (Daniel Acker/Reuters)

Before I go any further, this is it — your last chance to register for the National Review Institute Ideas Summit, like a spring concert festival for conservatives, libertarians, populists, Republicans, Trump fans, Trump critics from the Right. And what a lineup: Pompeo, DeVos, Pai, Hassett, Rollins, Rubio, Crenshaw, Bruce, Buckley, Carlson, Carolla, Continetti, Leo, Yoo — and that’s beyond the whole NR gang.

Extra-big Morning Jolt today, just too much to cover: a horrific terrorist attack overseas, some big questions about why we see intense cults of personality springing up in our politics more often, what you ought to know about John Hickenlooper, and a once-revered institution faces ironic allegations of scandal.

A Self-Described ‘Fascist’ Terrorist Attack in Christchurch, New Zealand

Remember a few years ago, when you heard about a terrible terrorist attack overseas, and you figured it was Islamists?  The world’s not so simple anymore. Muslim-haters have pulled off their own atrocity, killing at least 49 at a pair of mosques in New Zealand. Mass shootings, explosives strapped to bodies, multiple attackers, video clips posted to social media, a manifesto demanding sweeping changes to society — it’s the same jihadist playbook, directed at innocent Muslim families by perpetrators with an agenda that they themselves described as fascist.

It’s as bad as it gets.

Are We Being Gaslit About the Endless Charm and Appeal of Beto O’Rourke?

Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times, writing in October:

Like Obama, O’Rourke is running on hope over fear; he exudes compassion and speaks about “power and joy.” Christine Allison, a Republican-turned-independent, is president of the company that publishes D Magazine, a city magazine for Dallas, and one of O’Rourke’s ardent supporters. “He listens,” she told me, saying that he has what Christians sometimes call a “servant-leader approach to politics.”

Quartz magazine, mid-October:

He’s transformed Democratic regulars into fervent volunteers, and the politically neutral into committed voters. “He gave me hope,” said Lauren Thompson, a 22-year-old recent college graduate who sat out the 2016 presidential election and is determined to show up for the midterms. O’Rourke is even turning some Republicans. Dianne Martin, a 70-year-old retired high-school Latin teacher who said she once felt conflicted about Barack Obama because of his race, told me now she wants to be “on the right side of history.”

typical Facebook comment: “Beto’s speeches are so inspirational & gives us hope!”

Around the same time, Britt Daniel, the lead singer of the venerable indie band Spoon, describing the  stickers and t-shirts for Beto O’Rourke he was seeing around New York City: “Maybe they just see him as someone who has a future for the party, a future in politics, or maybe they’re just genuinely inspired by him.”

Last year and this year we’re witnessing Beto-mania, just a few years after different groups of America embraced Trump-mania, eight years after another group of Americans embraced Obama-mania . . . (Let’s face it, there never was much Romney-mania.)

Are our politics more driven by cults of personality than in the past?

I’m not just talking about enthusiasm for the candidate; that’s always existed. I mean the weirdly over-the-top reverence exhibited by the O’Rourke devotees, seemingly inspired by the most mundane things — he plays guitar! He skateboards! He swears! — and the repeated references that he “brings people hope,” and personal testimonials from fans that he restored their hope for the country.

He’s . . .  just some guy. He was in Congress for six years and nobody noticed. He hasn’t done much in his life — no wartime heroics, no remarkable entrepreneurship, no inspiring tale of overcoming adversity or discrimination or long odds to success. For his first 30 years, he’s something of a slacker screwup. In these profiles, he keeps driving around with a reporter, using the F-bomb, getting fast food, talking wistfully of Ciudad Juarez and the correspondents freak out like they’ve hanging out with the Rolling Stones.

What’s so exciting and inspiring about him?

It’s easy to see what got people excited about Barack Obama. He’s a classic American success story. Biracial, absent father, often absent mother, a name that marks him as an outsider from day one. Whatever you think of Obama, you can see that it would not have taken many wrong turns for him to end up on a much worse path in life. He pulled himself together from his “choom gang” days and made his way up a difficult path; he figured out what it took to climb the ladder all the way to the top and he did it. A lot of people saw themselves in Obama because he was the guy who wasn’t born with all the advantages, the guy who was ignored, dismissed, counted out, underestimated — “slept on and stepped on,” as Pitbull says. If Obama can make it to the top with all of his challenges and disadvantages, so can you. Plus, it’s easy to understand the excitement and hopes surrounding the election of the first black president. You can’t begrudge people for believing that event would make some sort of turning point for the better in American history.

Just because I’m inoculated against the appeal of Trump doesn’t mean I don’t see its roots. Trump’s the millionaire who became a billionaire, the guy who has “to hell with you” money and isn’t afraid to say “to hell with you” to anybody. He refuses to play by anyone else’s rules, and people feel a sense of vicarious liberation in that. He’s famous for saying, “You’re fired,” not out of cruelty but out of a need to enforce accountability. Critics charge he’s a fearmonger, but he sometimes articulates genuine, valid fears that a lot of other figures ignored or downplayed. “If you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country.” “I think Islam hates us.” “Washington flourished but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.”

But with Beto O’Rourke? I don’t see it with this guy. I don’t see much of anything with this guy, and it feels like the emperor’s new clothes. I can’t tell if I’ve become too cynical to relate to “normal Americans” or whether someone is gaslighting the rest of us.

There’s a little bit of evidence that it might be the latter.  Last night Marc Ambinder, who’s moved on from his old political reporting, tweeted:

So here’s an observation from having spent a week in DC with students and reconnecting with lots of political, [national security] folks, and old friends.  The Dems know they have to pretend to like Beto O’Rourke…. Those who’ve met her and him separately tend to love her and realize they have to pretend to find him cool.

No doubt, some people genuinely love O’Rourke and find him a breath of fresh air, fun, relatable, authentic, and unpretentious. Where I see an Owen Wilson character waiting to happen — the guy trying too hard to be cool — they see a Matthew McConaughey role, the earnest, plainspoken former congressman with his eyes on the horizon and a dream to revive the American spirit.

But watching this trend — Obamamania, Trumpmania, Betomania — one can’t help but wonder if the modern world has left Americans with a hunger for heroes that is so unmet that we’re shoehorning politicians into this role in our lives. We used to know the names of brave soldiers, astronauts, inventors.

Or is it that as we become a less religious society, we need to find another inspirational figure who promises deliverance to believe in?

What You Need to Know About John Hickenlooper

If you absolutely had to vote for a Democrat, you could do a lot worse than former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper.

Which is not really an endorsement; he signed a lot of bills into law that conservatives vehemently opposed. But he’s a let’s-build-infrastructure kind of Democrat, not a turn-to-page-138-of-Pedagogy-of-the-Oppressed-to-understand-the-Marxist-analysis-of-the-legacy-of-colonialism-in-our-society kind of Democrat.

Hickenlooper is one of the most unusual figures in the 2020 Democratic field, but he would probably stand out as one of the most unusual figures in any group. His life story is full of unexpected twists and turns — geologist-turned-restauranteur-turned-stadium-renaming-activist-turned-mayor. He’s got a goofy sense of humor, enjoys silly stunts to get attention (the running of the pigs, skydiving in commercials) and makes fun of himself constantly. When you’ve written “Twenty Things” profiles about a bunch of Democratic senators running for president, the unpredictable, amiable, weirdo Hickenlooper is a hoot.

Not too long ago — say, the 1990s or 2000s — Hickenlooper’s resume would be the sort of thing that catapulted him to frontrunner status — two-term mayor of Denver, two-term governor of Colorado. He signed a lot of bills into law and the city and state largely thrived while he was in office. A lot of Colorado Republicans kind of like him, even if they disagree with him. Now Colorado looks pretty blue, his preference for building bipartisan consensus looks soft to the progressive grassroots, and his corny optimism is far from the mood of the perpetually outraged Democratic activists.

Hickenlooper’s lone shot at the Democratic nomination is if everyone else is chasing the progressive mantle and turns into a ten-car pileup, and he more or less alone consolidates Democratic primary voters who still like the idea of a sort-of-centrist, non-combative, cheerful nominee.

Gentlemen, You Can’t Discriminate in Here, We’re an Anti-Discrimination Group!

Few organizations have seen their reputation change as quickly as that of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Once a reliable monitor of indisputable hate groups, the SPLC kept expanding its definition of “hate groups” to include organizations like the Family Research Center, a Christian-conservative policy research and advocacy group.

Even the Washington Post was stirred to write a long article about claims the SPLC painted with too broad a brush and unfairly tarred organizations with the “hate group” label, asking whether advocates like the FRC, or proponents of less immigration like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or conservative legal stalwarts like the Alliance Defending Freedom, really have so much in common with neo-Nazis and the Klan that they belong in the same bucket of shame.” The SPLC listed Ben Carson as an extremist. It labeled anti-Islamism groups “anti-Islam.” Organizations on the SPLC’s hate group list said that members’ decades-old quotes were taken out of context to portray them as extremist and dangerous. Despite all of these complaints and sketchy accusations, a lot of other institutions and media organizations treated labels from the SPLC with as much authority as if they were handed down on stone tablets by Moses.

And now, it turns out that the SPLC might have some discrimination problems of its own:

The Southern Poverty Law Center has fired its famed co-founder, Morris Dees, over unspecified misconduct, the nonprofit announced Thursday, a stunning development at an organization that became a bedrock of anti-extremism research and activism under nearly half a century of Dees’ leadership.

The Times has also learned that the organization, whose leadership is predominantly white, has been wrestling with complaints of workplace mistreatment of women and people of color. It was not immediately clear whether those issues were connected to the firing of Dees, who is 82.

Also Thursday, employees sent correspondence to management demanding reforms, expressing concerns about the resignation last week of a highly respected black attorney at the organization and criticizing the organization’s work culture.

A letter signed by about two dozen employees — and sent to management and the board of directors before news broke of Dees’ firing — said they were concerned that internal “allegations of mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism threaten the moral authority of this organization and our integrity along with it.”

In light of this controversy, does anyone at the Southern Poverty Leadership Center now think that maybe some accusations of racism or discrimination might be a little more complicated than they first appeared? Does anybody over there now grasp why you might want to be wary about accusations without proof?

ADDENDUM: If you’re not listening to The Editors podcast, you’re missing a lot. Where else are you going to hear Charlie Cooke and Michael Brendan Dougherty arguing about breaking up Big Tech? (National Review editors disagree a lot and debate each other a lot; the assertion that conservatives march in lockstep like drones is a sure sign that the speaker doesn’t know what he’s talking about.)

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