Why — and How — News Outlets Capitalize on Anger

Nathan Phillips (right) confronts a student from Covington Catholic High School in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Kaya Taitano/Social Media/via Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: how the media’s treatment of Native American activist Nathan Phillips demonstrates their virtual enslavement to the system of incentives around them; whether the White House strategy on the shutdown is working; and why many of today’s political voices represent “an investment in hysteria.”

Nathan Phillips and the Media’s System of Incentives

The Native American activist at the center of the Covington Catholic story, Nathan Phillips, attempted to enter and beat his drum at Washington, D.C.’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during a mass Saturday night. The church’s security kept him out.

That anecdote reveals that Phillips seeks out public confrontation, appears to have a beef with pro-life institutions, and is willing to disrupt other people’s religious ceremonies. It’s much tougher to see him as a well-meaning victim of others’ malevolence with this information in mind. (There’s also video out this morning of Phillips discussing being “in theater” during Vietnam, which is not accurate; according to the Marine Corps, he never served overseas.)

According to Memeorandum, you heard about Phillips at the Basilica if you read NR, the Daily Wire, RedState, Legal Insurrection, the Resurgent, Mediaite, or a slew of other right-of-center web sites. You wouldn’t hear about it if you only read the New York Times, the Washington Post, or only watched CNN or MSNBC. Phillips has been at the center of a four-day media firestorm, but all of the media organizations that have covered the Covington Catholic story extensively just didn’t find Phillips’ actions at the Basilica even worth mentioning.

Becket Adams: “The culture wars have descended firmly on our leading newsrooms, and the desire to push self-serving narratives, with no concern whatsoever for the consequences or the facts, has replaced any sort of impartial pursuit of the truth.”

If you ever want to understand a particular human behavior, look at people’s incentives.

Select any tool you’d like to measure the readership or viewership of a particular media organization: the “most read” listings on the front pages of web sites, the most-linked pieces on Memeorandum, the most Tweeted and shared on Facebook. The hotter and angrier the piece, the more likely it is to get a lot of attention. Even-handed, measured assessments that are fair to both sides might do okay on the right day. Furious denunciations and scathing attacks and heated accusations do well just about every day.

My buddy Cam observed that in talk radio, the easiest emotion to stir in the audience is anger. (His program might be the least angry in the country.) That observation probably applies across all forms of media. The political world rarely lacks for politicians’ gaffes, scandals, wasteful spending, dumb arguments, and exposures of ignorance. The world never lacks anything from convenient villains to greedy CEOs to sports team owners to airheaded celebrities to perpetually-protesting college students. It’s quite easy to get the phone lines to light up by simply asking listeners, “can you believe these guys?” and letting them vent their fury on air. Of course, there are plenty of times when public anger at misbehavior and awful judgment is not only justified but needed. What’s more, anger often feels good. It creates a dopamine rush. We’re often much more comfortable feeling angry over something than sad or vulnerable.

Various news organizations — some openly ideological, some not-so-openly ideological — have cultivated two audiences, each one eager to get the latest version of “here’s why we’re right and good and they’re wrong and bad.” Readers of the New York Times and the Washington Post want to know how bad Trump is and how terribly he’s failing; viewers of Fox News and readers of the New York Post want to know how good Trump is and how wonderfully he’s succeeding. Those “tell me what I want to hear” crowds aren’t the only news audiences out there, but they’re among the biggest and easy to reach. If you offer the right kind of story to those audiences, they will read it and share it on social media and tell other people what a great story it is. And everyone likes praise and wants to get more of it.

Why do some journalists put out inaccurate, narrative-advancing versions of events? Because often there’s a bigger, or at least more-easily reached, audience for the inaccurate, narrative-advancing versions of events than the accurate, non-narrative-advancing one.

Very few liberal readers want to hear that “a bunch of kids from a Catholic high school at the March for Life encountered some obnoxious black nationalists, and then had an awkward interaction with a Native American activist who walked up to them and beat his drum in a young man’s face, and oh by the way, this guy tried to disrupt Catholic church services the same weekend. . . .” Too nuanced. They want simple stories of heroes and villains. Very few people on the right want to hear “the president’s team is incompetent” or “he’s getting blamed for the shutdown.”

You know why they call it “clickbait”? Because people click on it.

I suspect many reporters, writers, and columnists share my sense that this environment is loathsome. But we operate in it whether we like it or not. You can ignore the appetite of the biggest chunks of the news-reading audience and watch your audience wither. You can serve up what the audience wants and thrive, at the risk of becoming an outrage-monger who never creates anything more than the journalistic equivalent of junk food. Or you can do what I’ve tried to do: serve up the passion-stirring red meat when you think it’s justified and offer the wonkier, more complicated, more nuanced works alongside and hope that the balance keeps the audience happy.

But if people really want the news media to change its behavior and judgment, the incentives have to change.

You Can’t Maximize and Minimize the Pain of the Shutdown at the Same Time

We grumble when Democrats accuse Republicans of “hostage taking,” but shutting down the government as a negotiating tactic is meant to create leverage by building pressure on the other side to make concessions and reach a deal. The pain is more or less the point, to make the opposition’s position — in this case for Democrats, opposing all wall funding; in 2013, continuing to fund Obamacare — seem like it’s not worth the trouble of enduring the shutdown. The argument is basically, “X is such a priority to me that I’m willing to shut down the government over it, so dispel any notion that I’ll give up on this priority. Your only option is to make a concession to me that you can live with.”

The Obama administration understood this, which is why they tried to maximize the pain and did the silly things like putting up barriers around the WWII Memorial. They calculated, correctly, that the worse the effects of the shutdown got, the sooner Congressional Republicans would feel pressure to give in. Eventually Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell worked out a deal that threw a small bone to the GOP in the form of stricter income verification rules for citizens accessing the health insurance exchanges, and the government reopened, with Obamacare still on the path to implementation. (Then Healthcare.gov launched and everyone quickly forgot about the shutdown.)

The Trump administration is trying to use the pain of the shutdown to pressure Congressional Democrats while simultaneously trying to minimize the pain — doing things like keeping the national parks largely open, bringing in the furloughed IRS employees to process tax refunds, having the U.S. Department of Agriculture issue February’s food stamps early. But if you attempt to minimize the pain on the public, you’re also reducing the public pressure on lawmakers to reach a compromise and reach a deal.

Is the Trump administration’s approach working? There are glimmers here and there – Democrats are offering $5 billion for border security but not for a wall or fencing and the Blue Dog Democrats are grumbling about the “brinksmanship” on display.

On the other hand, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado — up for reelection in 2020 in a purple-at-best state – says he’ll vote to reopen the government without border wall/fencing funding, the current polling on the shutdown looks awful for the GOP, and even immigration restriction organizations are starting to grumble that other aspects of the issue like E-Verify are getting short shrift with all of the focus on the wall.

‘An Investment in Hysteria’

Above, I referred to those who rely on outrage over the news and political events to generate their daily dopamine. Kevin Williamson observes there’s a similar effect for those who seem to get a thrill from fear:

As some of you may recall, I wrote a little book called The Case against Trump. I didn’t think much of him in 2016. I don’t think much of him now. But we aren’t three tweets away from the Holocaust. Nobody seriously believes that we are, unless they are insane. Sane people who insist that the United States in 2019 is something like Germany in the 1930s are liars. They don’t really believe it. They have an investment in hysteria.

Those of you who play along with that — who enjoy being lied to and manipulated — are pathetic in the literal sense of that word. What the hell is wrong with you?

We justified the bombing of Dresden because of the threat and obvious evil of the Nazis; we would not have done the same for a less-threatening, less-evil geopolitical enemy. (For example, many Americans felt qualms of regret about “the highway of death” in the Persian Gulf War, as U.S. and allied forces bombed the daylights out of Iraqi forces that were retreating.)

But if your political opponents are the moral equivalent of Nazis, then every measure is morally justified – and you can bomb them like Dresden — metaphorically, at least for now.

ADDENDUM: The Koch Seminar Network — known as “the shadowy Koch brothers” in inaccurate Democratic speeches — will have their winter meeting this weekend, and I’ll be posting coverage in the Corner and elsewhere on NRO in the coming days. Stay tuned!


Another Day, Another Presidential Bid

South Bend., Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at a DNC forum in Baltimore, Md., February 11, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A note of skepticism about the latest argument that America’s young people are launching a leftist revolution in American politics, the country begins to see the full consequences of an intensely divided government, some guy you’ve probably never heard of announces he’s running for president, and a fascinating argument about the Bible and the modern role of social-media outrages.

Yes, Yes, America’s Young People Are on the Verge of a Leftist Revolution. Again.

FiveThirtyEight offers a lengthy profile of Sean McElwee and “a cadre of young left activists whose voices have grown louder in the years following Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump.” They’re described as disillusioned with traditional Democratic politics and enthusiastically embracing and promoting socialism and other ideas once considered radical and far removed from the American tradition. In the article, McElwee calls himself an “Overton Window Mover.” (The Overton Window is a term for the range of ideas considered acceptable according to public opinion.)

I don’t doubt that the article is accurately reported, but I feel like I’ve read a lot of variations of the “young impassioned idealists on the Left are about to transform American politics” think-piece before. I remember reading that “Students for Obama” had generated a small army of impassioned young activists, fluent in social media, who had changed campaigns forever. I can remember when Ned Lamont’s victory in the 2006 Connecticut Democratic Senate primary was “a watershed moment for the growing majority of Americans in red states and blue, who want change.” (Joe Lieberman chose to run as an independent and beat him in the general election.)

I remember reading that the Iraq War had generated “an explosion of youth activism” and that the orange-hatted teen and 20-something volunteers for Howard Dean in Iowa were the vanguard of a new force in American politics. And Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 “inspired hopes for a rebirth of ’60s-style political idealism led by young people.” Before that it was Gary Hart’s “politics of a new generation” and George McGovern, and John F. Kennedy.

And some years, young voters do get really enthusiastic and fired up about a Democratic candidate and come out in large numbers. And some years . . . they don’t. If the politics of the past generation have taught us anything, it’s that when you or your party are riding high, you’re probably going to come crashing down in the next cycle or two. Your base voters get disillusioned and complacent. The opposition gets angry and fired up by your actions. You stop representing the future and what could be and you start representing the present and what is. You stop being the fantasy and you become the disappointing reality.

This is not to say that the Republican party’s problems with the Millennials and Generation Z aren’t real and serious. I think Emily Ekins is probably one of the sharpest and most attuned pollsters out there, and when she warns that “people who have become of political age during Trump’s presidency, I think, will be forever more Democratic throughout their lives,” the GOP ought to sit up and listen. Nascent Generation Z doesn’t look all that different from the Millennials, and the Millennials aren’t as young as they used to be* — they’re defined as those from ages 22 to 37. At age 37, your formal education is presumably complete, you’ve been in the workforce for 15 to 19 years or so, you’ve probably been in a serious relationship or married, and if you’re going to be a parent, you’ve probably gotten started by then. If you’re remained liberal throughout those first two decades of your adult life, you’re probably not that likely to shift later.

It’s worth noting that the Overton Window doesn’t just move in the two directions of left and right. Some issues get more or less resolved. The Iraq War is not the issue it was during the Bush years, unemployment is lower than during the Great Recession, and the Supreme Court ruled on gay marriage. The public loses interest in some issues, like the Tea Party-era worries about the deficit and the debt. Some issues both disappear and linger in spirit. The bailouts of the Troubled Asset Relief Program and General Motors are resolved as a matter of policy, but they remain a strong force in our politics by fueling perception that “the game is rigged” and that powerful institutions can count on the government to save them from the consequences of bad decisions, and that the average citizen can’t. Illegal immigration had been slowly building as an issue, but President Trump has made it the central issue of his presidency.

The Overton Window is almost always moving and getting a concept into the realm of discussion isn’t really all that hard. Getting it enacted into policy is. The “Green New Deal” has caught on as a buzzword or slogan, but I’m not seeing the Democratic 2020 contenders giving any specifics about cutting military spending in half. (How many elected officials touting the Green New Deal actually know that’s part of the plan?)

*None of us are, really.

You Wanted Divided Government, America, You Got It

One can fairly argue that by voting for so many House Democratic candidates in 2018, Americans voted for divided government.

And here we are: The federal government has been shut down for 33 days, the U.S. Coast Guard is still capturing migrant smugglers and practicing ice water rescues without pay, the FBI can’t get cash to buy drugs for narcotics stings or pay confidential informants, cyber-security investigations are on hold, and the hit to national GDP is growing by the week.

And the White House and Speaker Pelosi can’t even agree on giving the State of the Union address.

Are you sure divided government was worth it, America?

Guy You’ve Never Heard of Announces He’s Running for President

I’m going to be writing these “Twenty Things” pieces for the rest of my life, apparently: “Democrat Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, says he’s forming an exploratory committee for a 2020 presidential bid.”

You’re probably asking, “Who?” And then you’re probably asking, “Wait, when did the mayoralty of South Bend become a stepping stone to the presidency? Doesn’t this guy make Julian Castro look like John Quincy Adams? What’s so special about him?”

He’s got a nice resume — magna cum laude Harvard, honors from Oxford, Naval Reservist, deployed to Afghanistan in 2013. And then you see this in the AP story: “If he were to win the Democratic nomination, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay presidential nominee from a major political party.”

Back in 2016, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni speculated that Buttigieg could be “the first gay president.” There’s your brand.

ADDENDA: A spectacular piece by Michael Brendan Dougherty:

Our culture has lost its faith in Christ. It has lost a Bible. But it still does a deep exegesis. Our clerical class does its daily devotional reading, it chants its moralizing passages, it experiences incredible transfigurations. The newsfeed makes up the liturgical calendar. The stories are all deeper iterations of stories we know before. The culture writers can mark their middle-aged years by the appearance of the prep-school villain, the one with whom they are so intimately familiar.

Thanks to Rush Limbaugh for the kind words, once again.


Beto Goes On the Road

Beto O’Rourke speaks to supporters at a rally in Austin, Texas, November 4, 2018. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Beto O’Rourke’s journey and mind are wandering, the editors of USA Today offer a qualified endorsement of border-security fencing, and Joe Biden apologizes for his past legislation on crime and drugs.

Beto O’Kerouac

Kamala Harris is announcing her presidential campaign on Good Morning America, Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders are speaking in rallies in South Carolina, Kirsten Gillibrand is visiting coffee shops in Iowa and meanwhile . . . Beto O’Rourke is driving through Kansas and Colorado alone.

He’s on a solo road trip through the Western states — although someone’s taking pictures of him for him at his various stops — laying out his thoughts big and small, including which songs are getting stuck in his head:

Drove through Johnson City west out of Kansas and into Colorado. Up to Animas and over to Pueblo. Beautiful. Big open skies, no traffic, no fog. I listened to the radio until the station would start to fade, try to find another one, or just turn it off and sing to myself, think, or zone out. Then Rich Girl by Hall and Oates would pop in my head – a consequence of the jukebox at the Bar and Grill in Bucklin – and I’d turn the radio on again to see if I could find another song to take its place.

Imagine being a free-agent Democratic campaign staffer and hoping to work for this guy. Everybody else is lining up at the starting line, and your dream candidate picked the worst possible time to go on an Australian Aboriginal Walkabout.

In 2018, O’Rourke enjoyed wildly laudatory national-media coverage, driven in large part by the fact that so many folks in the media loathed his opponent, Senator Ted Cruz. In a Democratic presidential primary, O’Rourke wouldn’t enjoy that advantage, and as I wrote last year, there was plenty of material for a completely different portrait of O’Rourke . . .

a boarding-school-attending son of a judge who escaped serious consequence for a DUI and burglary charges, used gentrification to jump-start his career in El Paso city politics, supported the use of eminent domain to drive out poor residents, and married into the family of his region’s most influential businessmen. In Congress, O’Rourke was largely ignored until his Senate bid; he’s been the primary sponsor for just three bills that became law. One of them renamed a federal building in El Paso.

You think Harris or Sanders or any other top rival would let that slide? Fat chance. Right before the end of 2018, the Sanders team began their first shots across the bow of O’Rourke. Take away the media love from O’Rourke and he’s just another tall former congressman from Texas. Sometimes the next fresh-faced up-and-coming star in the Democratic party decides to run for president and you get Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. But sometimes those stars jump in and you get Howard Dean, John Edwards, Gary Hart, or the 1988 edition of Al Gore.

Maybe O’Rourke wants to amend his previous Lone Star Jesus image to incorporate the themes of the American frontier and the man who wanders the countryside to experience the real life of ordinary people. This is a hugely influential archetype in modern American culture, represented by all kinds of heroes from the old Westerns, Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name,” Easy Rider, Route 66 — or, if your tastes lean towards 1980s television, Michael Landon in Highway to Heaven, Knight Rider and The A-Team. Worst case scenario, you’re constantly on the move like Richard Kimble.

But if O’Rourke really means what he’s saying in these public diary entries, it’s possible that the man has grown to hate the hype and frenzy and pressure of high-stakes campaigning and is quietly wrestling with the fact that he doesn’t really want to run for president. In his most recent entry, he describes a meeting at Pueblo Community College:

At first politely raising hands and asking questions. And then, just speaking, having a conversation and not asking polite questions but sharing experience, suggesting solutions.

This kind of conversation wasn’t really possible by the end of the Senate campaign this past fall. The schedule had become too intense, too much in a day to spend enough time to hear someone’s story all the way through. Too may stops, so many people. I was really glad that we could take the time and hear each other out in Pueblo.

It was cathartic, even somewhat emotional for many of us, for me.

CNN’s senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson wrote a surprisingly tough piece about O’Rourke’s travels, calling it “navel-gazing, self-involved, rollout of a possible rollout of a possible presidential campaign. Oprah Winfrey’s couch is next. This could never, ever be a woman.” She’s got a point — although it’s far from clear that this is such a great way for a man to launch a campaign either. (Mrs. O’Rourke is taking care of their three pre-teen children while Beto, 46, is out trying to get out of his “funk” and “have some adventure.”)

If the knock on O’Rourke in a Democratic presidential primary is that he hasn’t paid his dues — literally, in the case of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — and that he’s more focused on selling himself than the party’s agenda, this is not the way to dispel or refute those accusations. This stream-of-consciousness travel diary is too unflattering to be a contrived campaign stunt. Also notice O’Rourke’s small admissions against interest, like when he relates this anecdote which amounts to an argument against government-run health care systems: “A man who’d immigrated here with his wife from Canada talked about how much better their healthcare was in the U.S. She had serious health issues, and they found a lack of urgency in treating her conditions in Canada and a much better experience here.”

The Editors of USA Today Endorse Border-Security Fencing in ‘Certain Areas’

The editorial board of USA Today offers plenty of “ pox on both your houses” this morning, but that’s actually progress for the Trump administration. The key part of their editorial is their call for a “deal [that] should include more money for immigration enforcement, including physical barriers in certain areas, as well as a path to lasting legal status for approximately 700,000 “Dreamers” who were brought to the USA illegally as children.”

Someday, it is possible that a comprehensive immigration package will be enacted that will combine improved border enforcement, employer verification, guest workers and an arduous path to legality for many of the 11 million people thought to be here illegally. But for now, a deal covering more enforcement money and deportation relief for Dreamers is the deal that is politically plausible.

As early as Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Senate is expected to vote on Trump’s plan to increase spending for personnel, drug detection and immigration courts, plus $5.7 billion for an additional 230 miles of fencing.

While Trump’s plan is a non-starter in the Democratic-controlled House, particularly because it includes permanent barriers but only temporary protection for Dreamers, some creative difference-splitting could bridge the divide.

Temporary protection for Dreamers and non-fence border security now; permanent protection and barrier funding next when the government’s reopen. It could happen — but it would require Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats to move from their position that border fencing is, ispo facto, “an immorality.”

Joe Biden: Hey, Sorry About All that Legislation I Helped Pass in the 1980s

Last week I spotlighted Biden’s past statements boasting of expanding the death penalty and his pride in helping pass the 1984 Crime Control Act, which abolished federal parole, reestablished the death penalty, expanded civil-asset forfeiture, and increased federal penalties for cultivation, possession, or transfer of marijuana. Today’s Democratic party feels quite different about issues of crime and punishment than the one of the 1980s and 1990s.

Yesterday, Biden expressed regret for what had been one of his biggest accomplishments in the Senate.

Biden said he regretted supporting the tough-on-crime drug legislation of the 1980s and 1990s, expressing remorse in particular over a bill that created different legal standards for powdered cocaine and street crack cocaine.

“It was a big mistake that was made,” Mr. Biden said of the measure, which has been criticized as disproportionately affecting black Americans. “We were told by the experts that ‘crack, you never go back,’ that the two were somehow fundamentally different. It’s not. But it’s trapped an entire generation.”

The former senator, who helped write the 1994 crime bill now cited as having led to an era of mass incarceration, went even further, allowing that he “may not have always gotten things right” in regards to criminal justice.

Democratic primary voters might forgive him, but his Democratic rivals might ask whether Biden did enough as vice president to undo the policies he helped enact.

ADDENDUM: The Oscar nominations are out. I’d love to see Black Panther win Best Picture, just to blow up Hollywood’s belief that overwrought, heavy-handed historical dramas are the best possible movies of the year.

It’s a pleasant, odd day when the Kamala Harris article is positively cited by . . . a New York Times columnist — and it’s not Ross Douthat or David Brooks!


Upholding a Narrative Backfires on the Mainstream Media

Nathan Phillips (right) confronts a student from Covington Catholic High School in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Kaya Taitano/Social Media/via Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Two hours of video show that the media narrative about Native American Nathan Phillips and the students at Covington Catholic High School was wrong, and that the media enthusiastically rushed to judgment; BuzzFeed tells readers and CNN viewers to trust them, and ignore what the special counsel’s office said; President Trump puts an offer on the table to end the government shutdown, but Nancy Pelosi feels no pressure for a deal.

A quote from Martin Luther King Jr. for the day, and perhaps a lifetime, considering all that goes on around us each day: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

What Really Happened at the Lincoln Memorial at the March For Life

Will wonders never cease? The New York Times writes a follow-up article about the exchange between Native American Nathan Phillips and the students at Covington Catholic High School that acknowledges the preceding day’s coverage was . . . misleading.

A fuller and more complicated picture emerged on Sunday of the videotaped encounter between a Native American man and a throng of high school boys wearing “Make America Great Again” gear outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

Interviews and additional video footage suggest that an explosive convergence of race, religion and ideological beliefs — against a national backdrop of political tension — set the stage for the viral moment. Early video excerpts from the encounter obscured the larger context, inflaming outrage.

Over at Reason, Robby Soave goes through a two-hour video of the event, revealing that the snippets that went viral completely ignored the presence of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a religious sect that often gathers in public places in Washington and offers “preaching” that includes hurling racially incendiary slurs at people passing by. (Most D.C.-area residents right now: “Oh, those guys.”)


Phillips put himself between the teens and the black nationalists, chanting and drumming as he marched straight into the middle of the group of young people. What followed was several minutes of confusion: The teens couldn’t quite decide whether Phillips was on their side or not, but tentatively joined in his chanting. It’s not at all clear this was intended as an act of mockery rather than solidarity.

Soave notes that the interaction between Phillips and the students captured on the initial footage comes after “an hour of the Black Hebrew Israelites hurling obscenities at the students. They call them crackers, [a slur for gays], and pedophiles.”

At the 1:20 mark (which comes after the Phillips incident) they call one of the few black students the n-word and tell him that his friends are going to murder him and steal his organs. At the 1:25 mark, they complain that “you give [a slur for gays], rights,” which prompted booing from the students. Throughout the video they threaten the kids with violence, and attempt to goad them into attacking first. The students resisted these taunts admirably: They laughed at the hecklers, and they perform a few of their school’s sports cheers.

He would later tell The Detroit Free Press that the teenagers “were in the process of attacking these four black individuals” and he decided to attempt to de-escalate the situation. He seems profoundly mistaken: The video footage taken by the black nationalists shows no evidence the white teenagers had any intention of attacking. Nevertheless, Phillips characterized the kids as “beasts” and the hate-group members as “their prey”.

Could the Covington Catholic High School students have handled it better? Perhaps — at least one student makes a tomahawk chop gesture in there, which is disrespectful to Phillips. We can also ask why the chaperones didn’t move the teens away from the Black Hebrew Israelites. But Phillips approached them, not the other way around, and despite his subsequent claim that he wanted to calm things down, he went up to the teens and made things worse by going nose-to-nose.

He’s simply not being honest in his characterization when he told media afterwards, “a group of Catholic students from Kentucky were observing the Black Israelites talk, and started to get upset at their speeches.”

We can expect better from teenagers, but we must demand better from grown men. Kyle Smith:

I’d say their reaction was if anything more restrained than you would expect from teenagers. I’d advise them to do better next time. I certainly wouldn’t consider expulsion.

Notice that if we didn’t have the full video, most people would still believe the original narrative of malevolent Catholic high-school teenagers taunting a Native American veteran. Some people are so wedded to their worldview of all virtue residing on one side of the aisle that they’ll still choose to believe it, even in the face of contrary video evidence.

Michael Brendan Dougherty:

Like so many stories that supposedly conveyed the reality of Trump’s America, that so perfectly displayed white Christian menace, it turned out to be fake. Fake, like the Ohio University student who sent herself anti-gay hate mail; manufactured, like the racist harassment on a bus that Hilary Clinton tweeted about; an attempted frame-up, with liberal credulity made into the co-conspirator, like the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery done by a progressive reporter.

Ah, like the reporting about hate crimes that picked up in November and December 2016?

History has taught us to be wary of “you won’t believe the offensive message written on this restaurant receipt” stories. The one in New Jersey was a hoax, the one in California was a hoax, and the one in Tennessee is sketchy, with a handwriting expert saying the writing on the receipt doesn’t match the customer’s. The gay slur on the cake from Whole Foods was a hoax.

A Jewish family is not fleeing Lancaster County after a backlash to their complaint about their school’s Christmas play. A drunken man did not threaten to set a Michigan woman’s hijab on fire. The November burning of an African-American church and spray-painting of “Vote Trump” was committed by an African-American parishioner. That Manhattan Muslim teen who claimed she was attacked by three drunks who called her a “terrorist” on the subway while lots of New Yorkers stood and watched? Hoax. (The hoaxer’s sister later went on Facebook and criticized the police for being excessively skeptical: “It became super clear to me these past two weeks that the police’s first instinct is to doubt your story and try to disprove it.”)

Or that racist, Nazi and pro-Trump graffiti spray-painted on Philadelphia homes and cars the morning after the election. The perpetrator was a 58-year-old African-American man.

And as I wrote a few years ago — sheesh, has it really been four years? — the mainstream media’s “narrative journalism” tends to undermine the causes it intends to promote, because eventually enough of the audience realizes the gap between what they’re being told and what they know to be true. Speaking of which . . .

BuzzFeed: We Know What Mueller Said, but Trust Us Anyway

BuzzFeed’s reporters and editors say they stand by their story.

“We’re being told to stand our ground. Our reporting is going to be borne out to be accurate, and we’re 100% behind it,” investigative reporter Anthony Cormier told CNN’s Brian Stelter on “Reliable Sources” Sunday.

Cormier was joined by BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith on “Reliable.”

Anybody else think that Brian Stelter should rename his show? If the central question of the program on a regular basis is going to be, “is this reporting accurate or not?” then the sources being discussed aren’t all that reliable, are they? If institutions of journalism really had mechanisms to deal with reporting that gets it wrong and damages the reputation of the profession . . . you wouldn’t see Dan Rather appearing as a guest on a program called Reliable Sources.

We know that special counsel Robert Mueller and his team are tight-lipped, at least when it comes to on-the-record statements. No doubt they’ve seen a lot of reporting that was not quite right and a lot of speculation that was flat-out nonsense. But something about BuzzFeed’s article was so bad, so wrong, so misleading, that they felt the need to issue the statement, “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate.”

Ask yourself a simple question: If the story was accurate, or accurate in general and only wrong in minor details, would the special counsel’s office release a statement like this?

Some of us have long enough memories to remember when Ben Smith was the young guy telling the rest of us that John Edwards was quitting his presidential campaign because of Elizabeth’s cancer diagnosis.

Government Shutdown Deal . . . or No Deal?

You know it’s a wild weekend when the president makes an offer with a few concessions to end the government shutdown, and it’s not even the biggest story of the news cycle. James Davis with the Koch network speculates, “If the White House makes the solution for Dreamers permanent, I think people will jump on board. That’s an un-refusable deal. It’s where folks can and should come together.”

I’d like to think that sort of compromise is possible, but I notice Pelosi rejected it immediately, and didn’t make any counter-offer. Once she declared “a wall is an immorality,” it became much harder for Pelosi to tell her party, “I just worked out a deal that gives $5 billion (or whatever) to an immorality.”

Have you seen a lot of Pelosi allies beginning to pressure her to accept the offer or make a counter-offer? I haven’t seen it. Sorry, government workers. Situations like this only get resolved when both sides feel pressure to reach an agreement, and Pelosi’s convinced that the longer this goes on, the more leverage she has.

ADDENDA: Kamala Harris says she’s running for president. If you haven’t already, read and share the 20 things about her you probably didn’t know. The coverage she gets in the coming weeks and months will have a great deal of influence on whether she becomes the next Democratic presidential nominee.

Sigh. Another Super Bowl with the New England Patriots in it. The NFL is in reruns.

White House

BuzzFeed’s Bombshell-or-Bust Story

Michael Cohen exits the United States Court house in Manhattan after his sentencing December 12, 2018. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: BuzzFeed has either a presidency-defining bombshell story or they’ve stepped in it again; Beto O’Rourke starts to wander the earth like Caine or David Banner, raising some serious questions about how serious the Democrats’ 2020 primary is going to be; a surprising voice speaks out against the Women’s March leaders; and hurrahs for a new edition of the pop-culture podcast.

Suborning Perjury Is Serious, Right? Or Did We All Change Our Minds on That?

If the big report in BuzzFeed is true, then President Trump suborned — persuaded someone to commit — perjury . . .  and there was widespread belief in the Republican party that suborning perjury was an impeachable offense back in 1998.

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen . . .

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.

Let me guess: Pro-Trump Republicans will now argue that the Clinton impeachment in 1999 proved that suborning perjury is not sufficient to remove a president from office, while Democrats will scream that Republicans are hypocrites, or that suborning perjury about affairs is defensible but suborning perjury about real-estate deals is not.

We all have to live by one set of rules; we can’t have one set of lenient laws that apply to one group of people and another stricter set of laws that apply to another group of people. We’ve amended the Constitution to make that explicit.

There is always the possibility that BuzzFeed got the story wrong. Erick Erickson notes that John Santucci of ABC News responded to the BuzzFeed revelations, “in all our reporting, I haven’t found any in the Trump Org that have met with or been interviewed by Mueller.” Could something like that have been kept quiet? Theoretically. But that’s an extremely big deal to keep under wraps for a long time.

And of course, this is BuzzFeed, who ran the Fusion GPS dossier making unsavory claims about Trump. Our David French — the opposite of a cheerleader for Trump — called publishing the dossier without any verification of its claims “perhaps the worst example of journalistic malpractice I’ve ever seen.”

Then there’s the not-quite-reassuring statement from Anthony Cormier, one of the BuzzFeed reporters, telling CNN that he had not personally seen the evidence that he describes in his report. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but . . . that report would be a lot stronger if Cormier had seen those emails, text messages, and documents himself. Cormier’s co-author, Jason Leopold, has his own botched stories from a decade or so ago.

As French concluded last night:

The alleged order to lie was about the immensely important matter of a presidential candidate’s reported desire to secure an extremely lucrative business deal from arguably our nation’s chief geopolitical foe — a foe that was even then attempting to interfere with an American presidential election. This is a serious matter. It’s vital that we learn promptly whether this report is supported by meaningful evidence. If Robert Mueller has the goods, we need to see them. Soon.

You’re Evaluating Candidates All Wrong, America

Beto O’Rourke recently shared his visit to the dentist’s office on Instagram and is writing travel-journal entries on Medium:

Have been stuck lately. In and out of a funk. My last day of work was January 2nd. It’s been more than twenty years since I was last not working. Maybe if I get moving, on the road, meet people, learn about what’s going on where they live, have some adventure, go where I don’t know and I’m not known, it’ll clear my head, reset, I’ll think new thoughts, break out of the loops I’ve been stuck in.

I realize I’m pushing on a rope (or insert your preferred metaphor for futility here), but America, you’re evaluating your potential presidents the wrong way.

O’Rourke’s dental hygiene, or choice to spend some time wandering the earth like Caine or David Banner,* is not going to tell us anything useful about what kind of a president he would be. Nor do we learn all that much from how they joke around on Stephen Colbert’s show, drink a beer in their kitchen live on social media, or dance with Ellen DeGeneres. They’re not promoting a new show on Netflix. They’re asking for the opportunity to be commander-in-chief and head of state.

A president can shape the country and our laws in a lot of ways, but as President Obama is painfully learning, executive orders and unratified treaties can be easily undone by a successor. If you want a change to be permanent, you have to change the law through legislation. This means you need a like-minded majority in the House of Representatives and, as long as the filibuster exists, 60 votes in the Senate. (Although there are a few opportunities to work around a filibuster, most notably budget reconciliation and trade-deal approval.)

Senate Republicans are extremely unlikely to get rid of the filibuster. It requires at least 50 votes to do that, and at this point only half the Republicans support this idea. If the Democrats win control of the Senate, they could nuke the filibuster for legislation, but it’s far from clear that 50 or more would agree to do that. Some of them are actually talking about restoring it for Supreme Court nominees. The fact that the Senate is closely divided, and is likely to remain closely divided for at least the next few cycles, means whichever party is in the majority could find themselves in the minority next cycle. (Party control of the Senate has changed in 1994, 2001, 2002, 2006, and 2014.)

This means a president needs to be able to persuade at least a small portion of the other party’s senators to vote for legislation that he supports. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump all think of themselves as extremely persuasive leaders. All of them found persuading the other party much harder than they expected.

On paper, Trump could have built his own aisle-crossing majority of 60 senators. He’s far from a traditional Republican, and aligns with Democratic-leaning unions on trade and infrastructure spending. He doesn’t care about deficits and doesn’t want to touch entitlements. But the Democratic party’s base believed from day one that Trump was Beelzebub, and Trump relishes fighting with the opposition party. Trump had the option of either working with red-state Senate Democrats or trying to beat them in the midterms, and he chose the latter. With the exception of Joe Manchin in West Virginia, it worked out for Trump.

Maybe this is just the silly part of the Democratic presidential primary, the political equivalent of preseason football — a lot of attention on and analysis of people you’ve never heard of before, and will probably never think about again. But if O’Rourke and the other Democrats want to be taken more seriously, they need to start behaving more seriously.

*Yes, I know he’s Bruce Banner in the comics. The character played by Bill Bixby was named David Banner on the television series.

You’re Not Going to Believe Who Just Denounced the Leaders of the Women’s March

Raise your hand if you expected a blisteringly tough op-ed about the leaders of the Women’s March from . . . Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

While I still firmly believe in its values and mission, I cannot associate with the national march’s leaders and principles, which refuse to completely repudiate anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. I cannot walk shoulder to shoulder with leaders who lock arms with outspoken peddlers of hate.

Faced with two choices, staying silent while refusing to join the national march, or speaking out, I choose to speak out. Women have been forced to stay silent for too long, and we must demand the same principles from our movement as we do from our society. We must fight oppression and bigotry in all its forms. Otherwise, what — or who — are we marching for?

Sentences I did not expect to ever write: Bravo, Debbie Wasserman Schultz; this took courage and you’re probably going to get grief over this from allies (or maybe they’re in the process of becoming former allies). Most Democrats are averting their eyes and ducking the questions of the Women’s March leaders praise for the Nation of Islam. Bill Clinton didn’t mind sharing the stage with Louis Farrakhan in September at the funeral service for Aretha Franklin.

ADDENDUM: Will wonders never cease! Mickey and I found time to tape another episode of the pop-culture podcast, the second in two weeks. We go deep into that horrific tale of the kidnapping of Jayme Closs; I vent a bit about the Jets hiring Adam Gase and Gregg Williams; Mickey vents about the endless drama surrounding Antonio Brown; we discuss what’s on Netflix and the joys of belatedly discovering shows like AMC’s Turn: Washington’s Spies and some of those infamous Cardi B. videos.

You know how every podcast host says, “Don’t forget to subscribe, and don’t forget to leave a review for us on iTunes”? Look, I’m not going to nag you. If you can do it, great. If not, you’re busy, we understand.

White House

Don’t End the State of the Union out of Spite

President Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, January 30, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi inches closer to ending the State of the Union address as part of her fight with President Trump, the sea of change in American attitudes about bullying, and some advice from Kamala Harris that probably won’t work well for a certain congressman.

If You’re Going to End the State of the Union, Do It for a Better Reason than Partisan Animosity

Some Democrats will openly proclaim that Donald Trump is not legitimately elected president of the United States. Some are quieter about that belief but clearly it drives their actions, and a minority disagree with it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in that middle category. By requesting that the president either delay the State of the Union address or submit it in writing — effectively rescinding the earlier invitation to deliver it January 29 — she’s pushing for an end to an American political tradition. Whether you love the State of the Union or hate it — I wrote last year how most responses in the newspapers the morning after were prewritten to make the printer deadlines — the event is, next to inaugurations and funerals, our most formal ritual in American government. It’s been televised since 1947 and in prime-time evening hours since 1968. If we’re going to end this tradition, we ought to do it for a better reason than the speaker detests the administration and there’s a government shutdown going on.

The security explanation is nonsense, and everyone knows it. If the building would not be secure during the State of the Union address because of the shutdown, is it secure today?

Pelosi’s team is quite open about the fact that their actions are meant to demonstrate they have no respect for the president:

Surprised Democratic lawmakers cheered their leader’s rationale: If the government stays shut down, Pelosi would deprive Trump of the spotlight he craves. To a president especially sensitive to acts of disrespect — and one with a hearty appetite for pomp and circumstance — the so-called unvitation was not merely a ­power play. It was a calculated personal slight.

The advice “Respect the office, not the man,” and its variant, “Salute the rank, not the man” is good, honorable, and often difficult. Americans of various stripes have found this advice difficult during just about every presidency, and certainly every modern one. (Maybe William Henry Harrison wasn’t around long enough to really irk anyone.) Once one faction of a party ceases offering traditional demonstrations of respect, then others will — unless, like in the case of Joe Wilson’s shout during a joint address to Congress, there is broad bipartisan rebuke.

The State of the Union has gone on during times of war, deep recession, under threat of terrorism and with Congress contemplating the impeachment of the president. This is the speech that announced Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms,” Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, Bill Clinton’s “The era of big government is over,” and George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil.” The only time it was postponed was in 1986, after the Challenger disaster. Just because lots of addresses have been laundry lists of proposals that will never been enacted and saccharine applause lines doesn’t mean that these speeches have to be like this. We just need presidents and White House speechwriters to aim a little higher.

Now we’re going to toss the whole thing out because of the government-shutdown fight?

If a Democratic speaker finds reasons to indefinitely delay a Republican president’s address, then a future Republican speaker will find reasons to indefinitely delay a Republican president’s address. And one more aspect of our modern government will succumb to toxic partisanship.

A Few More Thoughts on that Gillette Commercial . . .

Caitlin Flanagan offers the most intriguing analysis of the Gillette ad: The commercial is a preemptive strike to head off criticism that women’s razors cost more, and with beards coming back in style for men, they’re trying to advertise to women without explicitly advertising to women.

Mona Charen argues that conservatives fell into a trap by criticizing the ad, calling it “a critique of bullying, boorishness, and sexual misconduct.” Yeah, but does bullying exist in America because suburban dads shrug at it from their backyard grills? (One can’t help but notice that the actual bullies in the commercial look barely old enough to shave.)

If you grew up in the 1980s and have kids now, you undoubtedly noticed that schools have undergone a phenomenal change in their attitudes towards bullying, and I suspect that the majority of parents reaffirm that zero-tolerance attitude. This is an indisputably good thing. In my school years, it always struck me as ludicrously counterproductive that if one teen punched another in school, he usually was punished with detention — which took him out of a classroom that he didn’t want to be in anyway. It was the opposite of a deterrent; you might as well give him free ice cream while he’s in the detention hall. But if an 18-year-old punched another 18-year-old on the street outside of school, he could be facing assault charges. For a long time, the attitude seemed to be that any act of violence committed inside a school should bring less severe consequences.

I keep coming back to the question of authority. The issues of #MeToo and men behaving badly are indeed critically important. I think if there’s been a male backlash, it’s driven by the perception of a blanket indictment of men driven by the actions of some extraordinarily powerful men, who held all of the “right” attitudes and were showered with praise in elite circles: Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Garrison Keillor, Les Moonves, and all the rest. Their ability to escape consequence was driven in large part by their wealth, power, and fame. They had no fear of a corporate human-resources department because in many cases the corporate human-resources department answered to them. As many observed, the fact that some gay Hollywood executive felt secure enough to go up and grope Terry Crews — the textbook definition of a big tough guy you wouldn’t want to mess with — demonstrated that the entertainment industry had a code of omerta that would make the mafia envious.

That’s light years away from the environment and lives of the average dads at the backyard barbecues or the average man. “Don’t be like Harvey Weinstein” is pretty condescending advice to men who have never been like Harvey Weinstein and will never have the opportunity to be like Harvey Weinstein.

Speaking of advice . . .

Uh, Congressman, I’m Not Sure She Meant You

Kamala Harris’ advice: “Don’t let anybody tell you who you are, you tell them who you are.”

Congressman Ed Case, Democrat of Hawaii: “I’m an Asian trapped in a white body.”

ADDENDUM: The New York Post uses a briefer version of my list of things to know about Kamala Harris. Today, I unveil 20 things you ought to know about Joe Biden.

White House

How Responsible Is Trump for the Bad Advice He’s Getting?

President Donald Trump talks to reporters in Washington, D.C., January 9, 2019. (Jim Young/REUTERS)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Chris Christie rips the White House staff advising Trump, but leaves open the question of where the buck stops; Senator Kirsten Gillibrand throws her hat into the ring and gets thunderous applause for slogans worthy of a Hallmark card; Beto O’Rourke hints he’s not sure the U.S. Constitution still works; and a few quick notes about writing profiles of presidential candidates.

Christie: Trump’s Surrounded by Amateurs, Grifters, Weaklings, and Felons

Over at Axios, they have a preview of Chris Christie’s new book, where the former governor of New Jersey declares that President Trump is surrounded by a “revolving door of deeply flawed individuals — amateurs, grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons — who were hustled into jobs they were never suited for, sometimes seemingly without so much as a background check via Google or Wikipedia.”

Assume this is true. (How many would dispute it?) At what point is it fair to hold President Trump accountable for this continued set of circumstances? How many times can White House problems be blamed on bad advice from bad staffers with terrible judgement and negligible competence? When does it become safe to conclude that this is a reflection of the guy at the top who hired all of those bad staffers with terrible judgement and negligible competence? When Trump makes a decision that his usual supporters can’t defend, the reflexive conclusion is, “He’s getting bad advice.”

  • Tom Massie lamented that Trump was getting bad advice on how to replace Obamacare.
  • Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana said Trump was “getting some very, very bad advice,” on some lesser-known judicial nominations.
  • Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump was getting bad advice on immigration policy.
  • Anthony Scaramucci said Trump was getting bad advice on the policy separating families at the border.
  • Corey Lewandowski insists Trump is getting bad advice from his political advisors.
  • The Washington Examiner contends that Trump is getting bad advice about trade policy from Peter Navarro.

It’s this endless series of “If only the czar knew.”

We know the score. All of the above folks want to stay in Trump’s good graces, so this is a safe way of criticizing a presidential decision without really criticizing the president. Trump would have made the right decision, if it wasn’t for that darned Iago whispering in his ear.

If a leader consistently has trouble sorting out good advice from bad advice, he’s not that good of a leader!

Oh, Hey, Look, Another Democratic Presidential Candidate

New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced that she’s running for president on Stephen Colbert’s late-night program. I may not get around to writing a “Things You Didn’t Know” piece on Gillibrand, because in late 2017 I dissected a glowing profile of Gillibrand in Vogue that contended that she was an economic centrist, an iconoclast, and a campaigning powerhouse with cross-party appeal. You will probably not be surprised to learn that there’s little evidence that she’s any of those things.

That article, among others, gushes about Gillibrand’s retail-campaigning skills and charisma. Your mileage may vary; you can watch her appearance on Colbert here. The audience gives her wild applause for some really anodyne pledges: “As a young mom, I will fight for other people’s kids as hard as I fight for my own.” “Health care can be a right, not a privilege.” “I believe we should have better public schools for our kids, because it shouldn’t matter what block you grew up on.” (She sent her children to the private Capitol Hill Day School, where the 2018 tuition for a sixth-grader was $32,100.)

Beto O’Rourke’s Second Thoughts about the Constitution

Our Kyle Smith notices a rather stunning comment from Beto O’Rourke in the last two paragraphs of an otherwise long and uninteresting interview/profile in the Washington Post:

Johnson doesn’t record her question but it was something about how O’Rourke is torn between a “bright-eyed hope that the United States will soon dramatically change its approach to a whole host of issues” — not a partial host! — “and a dismal suspicion that the country is now incapable of implementing sweeping change.” Sounds like a totally neutral framing of where matters stand.

O’Rourke blathers on. It takes a moment for it to sink in that he isn’t sure the Constitution still works. “I’m hesitant to answer it because I really feel like it deserves its due, and I don’t want to give you a — actually, just selfishly, I don’t want a sound bite of it reported, but, yeah, I think that’s the question of the moment: Does this still work? Can an empire like ours with military presence in over 170 countries around the globe, with trading relationships…and security arrangements in every continent, can it still be managed by the same principles that were set down 230-plus years ago?” (Emphasis mine.)

The Constitution was ratified 231 years ago. There’s not much doubt what he’s referring to. Beto O’Rourke’s take on the Constitution is, “Does this still work?”

What principles in the Constitution does O’Rourke think no longer work? There’s popular sovereignty, a limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, judicial review, republicanism — meaning the use of elected representatives, not the party — federalism, as well as unenumerated rights (the notion that if a right isn’t mentioned in the Constitution, the government doesn’t automatically have the power to restrict it, like the right to privacy) . . .

My suspicion is that O’Rourke is feeling a variety of Thomas Friedman’s “China for a day” fantasy, where for the greater good, his preferred policies could be rammed through and enacted into law without concern for popular support, the level of opposition, the rule of law, or the consent of the governed. “What if we could just be China for a day? I mean, just, just, just one day. You know, I mean, where we could actually, you know, authorize the right solutions, and I do think there is a sense of that, on, on everything from the economy to environment.” What Friedman and other adherents hand-wave away is that no ruler ever adopts that approach for just one day.

A Quick Note about Campaign Profiles

If you’re wondering why I’m using the “[Insert Number here] Things You Didn’t Know About [Insert Candidate Here]” format these days, it’s because I contemplated writing traditional long-form profiles of these candidates and decided I didn’t want to re-hash all the stuff that usually has to be in pieces like those. You already know about Bernie Sanders and the 2016 campaign and how the DNC was trying to help Hillary Clinton the whole time. You already know about Elizabeth Warren and her claims to Native American heritage. The best part of these long-form profiles of a political figure is all of the “Hey, I didn’t know that” details. (See here, here and here.)

These lists are a way to cut straight to the good stuff.

When you’re right-of-center and you write about Democratic presidential candidates, a lot of cynics think you must be getting “opposition research” from rival campaigns or committees. So far, I haven’t talked to a single official of either party or any campaign consultant for these pieces; everything I’ve written about was found by going through old books, interviews, newspaper archives, and other sources, almost all of which I link to in the pieces. None of these are “oppo dumps” arranged by any sinister cabals. The claim that a list of a candidate’s past statements, positions, decisions, votes and scandals is a smear is, itself, a smear.

I’m a right-of-center guy and these are left-of-center candidates, so to me, they’re all pretty bad. But I can still find aspects of them intriguing or appealing. Bernie Sanders is sort of hilariously authentic; we can tell there’s no artifice to the man because no one would try to look that disheveled and always speak a little too loud, with Howard Beale bulging-eyes intensity. I think it’s fascinating how Elizabeth Warren was, for a short time, a much-less partisan figure dabbling in household financial advice on the Dr. Phil program. As for Kamala Harris, I’m much less interested in Willie Brown’s marital problems and much more interested in his appointment of Harris to well-paying jobs on state boards during their relationship.

ADDENDUM:My donor is not walking away.” Billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, discussing the possibility of a self-funded presidential campaign.

Law & the Courts

Did Robert Mueller Find Evidence of Collusion Yet?

Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill, June 20, 2017 (Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Do we want the FBI launching counterintelligence investigations of presidents and other elected officials on its own authority? Who asked the Gillette corporation to lecture America’s men about good behavior? And what do you know about the real record of Kamala Harris?

Who Watches the FBI Watchmen?

The New York Times reported this weekend:

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

Today the boss writes:

The Times story is another sign that we have forgotten the role of our respective branches of government. It is Congress that exists to check and investigate the president, not the FBI. Congress can inveigh against his foreign policy and constrain his options. It can build a case for not reelecting him and perhaps impeach him. These are all actions to be undertaken out in the open by politically accountable players, so the public can make informed judgments about them.

The Times went to note that special counsel Robert Mueller “took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and some former law enforcement officials outside the investigation have questioned whether agents overstepped in opening it.”

(This is the 609th day of the Mueller investigation. Remember when we were hearing that Mueller “is expected to issue findings on core aspects of his Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections”? Good times, good times.)

If Mueller did find evidence that Trump was working on behalf of Russia, I’d hope he would tell the public sooner rather than later. This doesn’t seem like the kind of conclusion that you can leave sitting on your desk during a long weekend.

If he and his team didn’t find any evidence that Trump was working on behalf of Russia . . . this means that the FBI just launched an investigation into the personal matters of the president of the United States in a fit of baseless paranoia. Trump might have a ludicrously optimistic and naive perspective on Russia, but that’s not a crime. A lot of us thought the previous president had a ludicrously optimistic and naive perspective on Iran. That wasn’t sufficient evidence to launch an investigation of whether Barack Obama was an agent of Tehran.

Back during the 2016 campaign, more than a few Democrats argued that the FBI had a slew of agents with an axe to grind against Hillary Clinton. The Guardian quoted an unnamed agent who described the bureau as “Trumpland.” The Washington Monthly contended that “very senior FBI agents in the New York field office went rogue with their ‘deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton’ by leaking information to congressional Republicans and being insubordinate when told to ‘stand down’ on investigations that had no merit.”

In The Atlantic, Adam Serwer argued:

Elements of the nation’s premier law-enforcement agency, acting out of a variety of motives, injured not Trump’s candidacy, but that of his opponent. For all Trump’s complaints about the FBI, without the intervention of members of both the FBI rank-and-file and Bureau leadership, he might still be living in Trump Tower.

Maybe some people believe that there’s only one form of political bias within the walls of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and they think FBI agent Peter Strzok was just being fair, even-handed and objective when he texted Lisa Page that “we’ll stop” Trump in August 2016. It’s worth noting that the FBI inspector general did not see it that way.

Because of the possibility of conscious or subtle political bias affecting FBI officials’ judgment regarding decisions about investigations of political figures, in these circumstances, every “i” needs to be dotted, every “t” crossed. If you’re going to make a giant accusation like the president being a foreign agent, you had better have a significant amount of really compelling evidence.

Of course, Trump is his own worst enemy in this area. For example, if your political opposition keeps accusing you of being a Russian stooge, you would want to emphasize your opposition to Russia’s aggression — and from time to time, the president has done this. But he also keeps gravitating towards proposals that align with Russian strategic goals: “Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

You can’t save a guy who keeps choosing to put a fork in the electrical socket, over and over again.

Hey, Fellas, Maybe It’s Not Such a Good Idea to Lecture Your Customer Base

Dear God, this new Gillette ad looks like a hideous mash-up of every bad idea that could possibly come from a group of ad executives who asked, “Hey, how can we monetize the #MeToo movement?”

It begins with images from old Gillette commercials – which, let’s face it, were about as “old school masculinity” as you could get: the old “The Best a Man Can Get” commercials celebrated success, fitness, sports triumphs, the adoration of a beautiful woman, and fatherhood – all of those good things in life that just wouldn’t feel complete without their brand of razor. More recently they’ve used celebrities. Their commercial from last year with inspiring Seattle Seahawks rookie Shaquem Griffin – “Your Best Never Comes Easy” is really good.

The new ad features what looks like bad sketch comedy of unscrupulous male behavior and cliché villains: bullies chasing a boy; social-media hate; a condescending CEO; and in an image that really bugged me, an endless line of suburban dads at a barbeque, watching one boy pummel another, and shrugging, “Boys will be boys.” (Suburban dads make such convenient villains, don’t they? They have no formal rights associations that object to negative portrayals or threaten boycotts. You can portray them as hapless dopes or closeted monsters and no one’s ever going to protest your movie, television show, or commercial.)

The commercial throws in what appears to be a hip-hop video and a generic sitcom scene of a man pinching a maid’s behind. Hey, Gillette, 99.99 percent of the men watching this commercial didn’t create those videos or sitcoms. But I do know a big razor company that advertised on those shows!

Then we get another heavy-handed sketch-comedy level series of scenes of good men chastising others for bad behavior, particularly catcalling. One dad finally intervenes in the backyard barbeque wrestling match. One dad with a young son chases down a gang bullying another teen. Everything feels ham-fisted, just beating the viewer over the head with the message with all of the subtlety and authenticity of the old afterschool specials. The whole thing sounds like a hectoring, nagging lecture to all men for the sins of Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and R. Kelly.

The commercial concludes, “The boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.” I agree completely — and I think that fact is so darn important that I don’t like seeing the sentiment used to sell razors.

Ben Shapiro looks at the statistics on parenting and teachers and observes, “More and more young boys lack male influence altogether. This isn’t to suggest that toxic male influence doesn’t exist — of course it does. But that toxic male influence has always been generated by peers rather than parents.”

This is a big, complicated, emotionally charged topic, where it’s proving all too easy to slide from denouncing bad behavior to denouncing “traditional masculinity” and masculine traits in toto, as the American Psychological Association recently demonstrated. At least the psychologists have a professional duty to contemplate what attitudes and behaviors are healthiest for men. Gillette is a $17 billion razor company that’s losing market share. Who asked them?

Meet the Real Kamala Harris

It’s another 20 things you should know about a Democratic presidential contender, this time Kamala Harris. She’s the tough-on-crime prosecutor with a not-so-great felony conviction rate in cases that go to trial and who refuses to pursue the death penalty for cop killers. She’s tough on some targets, though — parents of truant children. She insists that illegal immigrants are not criminals and in fact are eligible to become lawyers. She loves civil asset forfeiture and familial DNA searching, where the cops compare crime scene DNA to samples collected on geneology web sites and DNA testing companies. She wants to “reduce funding for beds in the federal immigration system,” rejects calls to hire more border-patrol personnel, and wants to “reduce funding for the administration’s reckless immigration enforcement operations.” She’s defended a ban on gun advertising that a judge ruled was “unconstitutional on its face.”

Her record is a much more target-rich environment than those glossy profile pieces would suggest. Can’t wait for these Democratic primary debates to begin.

ADDENDUM: A sharp observation from John Hayward: “A good deal of pathological online behavior is driven by sedentary people looking for a jolt of adrenaline. Outrage gets their hearts beating a little bit faster and gives them a fleeting taste of triumph.”

Would Americans be nicer to each other if we got out more?

White House

Tulsi Gabbard’s Discomforting Dictator Alliance

Representative Tulsi Gabbard speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa., July 26, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: An ABC News reporter warns that people closest to the Mueller investigation say the final report is almost certain to be “anti-climactic”; Democrats contemplate their string of difficult defeats in Florida while President Trump considers a policy choice that would be political suicide in the Sunshine State; Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard throws her hat into the ring, a decision that should spur serious debates about when and why this country is willing to have alliances with dictators.

ABC News Reporter on Mueller: ‘This Report Is Almost Certain to be Anti-Climactic’

An easily overlooked comment from ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl, during the Sunday morning roundtable:

 . . . what I am getting is that this is all building up to the Mueller report and raising expectations of a bombshell report. And there have been expectations that have been building, of course, for over a year on this. But people who are closest to what Mueller has been doing, interacting with the special counsel, caution me that this report is almost certain to be anti-climactic.

And if you look at what the FBI was investigating in that New York Times report, you look at what they were investigating, Mueller did not go anywhere with that investigation. He has been writing his report in real time through these indictments and we have seen nothing from Mueller on the central question of, was there any coordination, collusion, with the Russians in the effort to meddle in the elections? Or was there even any knowledge on the part of the president or anybody in his campaign with what the Russians were doing, there’s been no indication of that . . .

A lot of folks won’t want to hear this, of course. And if Mueller’s report really does turn out to be not so dramatic, and concludes that there’s no collusion or evidence that Trump knew what his campaign staff was doing . . . how quickly will the Democrats’ opinion of Robert Mueller change? Will Robert DeNiro stop playing him as the ultimate tough guy on Saturday Night Live, and will he start playing him as Inspector Clousteau or Mister Magoo?

Will Democrats Ever Win in Florida Again?

The sun still shines on Republicans in the Sunshine State. In a year when Republicans had trouble up and down the ballot and from coast to coast, where Republicans governors who had survived tough challenges before fell (like Scott Walker in Wisconsin) and some winnable senate races slipped through their fingers (Nevada and Arizona), Republicans held on in Florida’s big races. Democrats flipped only one of the state’s Congressional races. Republicans kept their majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Democrats did win one statewide race, for state agriculture commissioner.

And Democrats are starting to ask if the state is just slipping away into “permanent red” territory.

Democrats started organizing Latino voters too late, didn’t tailor their message for an increasingly diverse community and ultimately took Latino support for granted, a Florida pollster told about 50 members of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Broward County.

Democrats will lose again in 2020 if they don’t move swiftly to win over Hispanics, the pollster, Eduardo Gamarra, told the group. “You just need to start now,” he said . . .

“We just live in a red state here,” said Alex Sink, a former Democratic state official who once narrowly lost a bid for governor. “I think it’s just tilted toward the Republicans now, and I hate to say that.”

It is worth noting that this year’s state referendum to restore voting rights to felons after they’ve served their time could add 1.4 million new voters. Trump’s margin of victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 was about 113,000 votes.

But for Trump to really lose support in Florida, he would have to do something amazingly self-destructive and stupid, something like, I don’t know, take money designated for recovery from a terrible hurricane in the Panhandle and shift it towards the border wall or something.

Ron DeSantis hasn’t even finished his first week as Florida governor and he already appears to be on a collision course with the man who helped him get the job: President Donald Trump.

On Friday, DeSantis said that it would not be acceptable for Trump to take funds from hurricane relief to be used toward the border wall.

“We have people counting on that,” he told reporters. “If they backfill it immediately after the government opens, that’s fine but I don’t want that to be where that money is not available for us.”

But Trump would never do something like that, right?

Tulsi Gabbard’s Presidential Bid Will Inspire a Major Fight about Alliances with Dictators

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard threw her hat into the ring in the ever-growing 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Longtime listeners to the Three Martini Lunch podcast will note that she’s simultaneously our favorite and least favorite House Democrat in recent memory — surprisingly unorthodox in criticism of the Obama administration’s defense policies (particularly on ISIS) and standing up for the Knights of Columbus, but also capable of mind-boggling decisions like a surprise visit with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus and questioning whether his regime actually used chemical weapons.

If Gabbard gets any traction in this primary, you’re going to hear a lot about that meeting with Assad in Damascus. On Friday night, Tanner Greer laid out probably the most well thought-out defense of her philosophy and decision-making you’re going to read.

The secular Arab dictatorships that have managed, through tyrannous means, to keep the fractious tribal, ethnic, or religious groups they rule over from fighting each other. Take away a Hussein, a Gaddafi, or an Assad and what do you get?

Civil wars that kill hundreds of thousands and chaos that provides a haven for terrorists.

All of those decrying contact with Assad need to ask themselves this question: would the world be a worse place right now if Assad had crushed the rebels in, say, 2013? That would be a Europe without a refugee crisis, a ME without an ISIS, and a Syria 100,000 dead still living.

It’s a fascinating question, but arguably a pretty moot one. Assad didn’t crush the rebellion in 2013. And while military and Middle East experts can debate why, it seems clear that Assad didn’t fail in that objective because of a lack of ruthlessness or brutality. The first allegations of using chemical weapons stemmed in December 2012, and by mid-2013, the White House said that the U.S. intelligence community has “high confidence” that the Assad regime attacked opposition forces by using chemical weapons multiple times over the past year.

Sometimes brutal dictators can keep fractious factions from fighting each other through tyrannous means; sometimes their brutal methods inspire more people to take up arms in opposition.

American history is full of alliances of convenience and less-than-savory allies: Stalin’s Soviet Union during World War Two, the Shah of Iran and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines during the Cold War, and supporting Saddam Hussein’s regime because he was fighting the Iranians. Today we still have the Saudis, and we’re still technically allies with Pakistan, despite doubts about how much we can trust their government. Heck, Bashar al-Assad’s father was on our side in the Persian Gulf War.

But if we’re going to have an alliance with a brutal dictator and turn a blind eye to massacres and brutality, we had better make sure that the benefits of the moral compromise are worth the cost — and those unsavory dictators had better always know that they’re on a short leash. The patience of the United States is not infinite.

Separately, Greer summarizes Gabbard’s view regarding the entire Middle East, “We cut deals with the dictators SO THAT we can get out. The United States has no interests in this region, our presence is unwelcome there, and (by and large) only makes things worse. We need to cut ourselves our of this mess altogether.”

Undeniably tempting, and not too different from Trump’s vision on the trail in 2016, minus the “take the oil” and “bomb the s*** out of them” flourishes.

But it’s not difficult to picture scenarios where we get out and things get worse for us. We didn’t intervene in Syria, and then we got waves of refugees flooding Europe. America leaving the Middle East isn’t likely to force everyone to get along; it’s likely to generate a thousand little Sunni-Shia proxy fights like Yemen in our wake. With America no longer enforcing any consequence for the use of chemical weapons, there’s reason to think it would be used more frequently instead of less frequently. If the Saudi regime were to ever collapse, you could see Mecca and Medina controlled by forces even friendlier to jihadist extremists. We were much less involved in the Middle East in the 1980s and that era saw bombings at American embassies, European airports and Pan Am Flight 103, West Berlin discos, airline hijackings, the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship . . . there’s no reason to think that the terrorism driven by Middle East conflicts would remain contained in the Middle East. No one wants to invest or start businesses when bombs are detonating and poison gas is flying, so we can expect an economic collapse across the Middle East. Poverty, disease, and even further abuse would follow. And in a scenario like that, just how stable do the regions adjacent to the Middle East look? How steady do North Africa, the Balkans, Central Asia, or India and Pakistan look?

And we haven’t even gotten to Israel and its fate.

ADDENDUM: Perhaps my funniest typo in a while: writing about the development of human civilization and how Western Civilization stands upon the accomplishments of preceding cultures, I wrote, “The first civilization in Europe was the Minoans on the island of Crete, starting around 2,700 A.D.” Hey, the Minoans are due for a comeback.

Film & TV

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: The Celebrity Conservatives Need

5-Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: $124 million (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson makes a full-throated defense of freedom of speech and jabs at “generation snowflake,” (SEE UPDATE BELOW) all the ways an emergency declaration to build a border wall would violate the U.S. Constitution; and a harder look at the easily overlooked Julian Castro.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Argues ‘Generation Snowflake’ Is ‘Putting Us Backwards’

(Update: Monday, January 14: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson declared on Instagram that the entire interview was fabricated and that he never said anything quoted in the article.)

In May 2017, National Review put Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on the cover, with a piece by David French arguing Johnson was “The Celebrity We Need.” More than a few folks chortled that we were turning into People or Us Weekly.

But think about how much courage it takes for a guy as active in Hollywood as Johnson — currently with a reality competition show on NBC, a drama series on HBO, and possibly as many as ten future movies in the pipeline — to come out and make a full-throated defense of freedom of speech, declare that people are too easily offended, and use the term “Generation Snowflake.”

I don’t have to agree with what somebody thinks, who they vote for, what they voted for, what they think, but I will back their right to say or believe it. That’s democracy. So many good people fought for freedom and equality – but this generation are looking for a reason to be offended. If you are not agreeing with them then they are offended – and that is not what so many great men and women fought for.

He continues in his brief interview with the Daily Star over in the United Kingdom:

We thankfully now live in a world that has progressed over the last thirty or forty years. People can be who they want, be with who they want, and live how they want. That can only be a good thing – but generation snowflake or, whatever you want to call them, are actually putting us backwards.

Before you think, “Big deal, The Rock offers a bit of criticism of the PC outrage brigade,” notice that he’s willing to do what a lot of seemingly big and powerful institutions won’t do. Condé Nast won’t stand up for their writers, Netflix censors content when foreign governments complain, and a member of Congress professed that he “would love to be able to regulate the content of speech.”

You Can’t Ignore the Constitutional Separation of Powers in Pursuit of a Policy Goal

It was explained to me years ago by a wise man that the difference between a conservative and a right-wing radical is that a conservative cares about how he achieves a goal as much achieving the goal; a right-wing radical wants what he wants and doesn’t care what has to be done to get it.

As many have observed, if President Trump declares an emergency, and just transfers funds appropriated to the military or disaster relief to building the wall, a future Democrat will make similar moves to take away funding from congressional priorities and enact policies that Congress did not support.

The editors:

It’s an offense against the spirit of our system for a president to fail to get he wants from Congress — in a dispute involving a core congressional power, spending — and then turn around and exploit a tenuous reading of the law to try to get it anyway. We know this seems increasingly quaint, especially after President Obama’s pen-and-phone governance in his second term, but we believe presidents have an obligation to honor the role of the respective branches of government, even when it’s not in their political interest, even when there seems to be a clever workaround.

Yuval Levin, taking aim at Lindsey Graham:

For members of Congress in particular to fail to do so, let alone to encourage the president to go around Congress and spend money that has not been appropriated, is a dereliction of Congress’s duty. It is unfortunately the latest of many.

Remember Illinois Democratic Congressman Phil Hare saying during the debate about Obamacare, “I don’t care about the Constitution”? Remember how we seethed about that? Remember how we argued, correctly, that his statement was virtually a violation of his oath of office? (Members of Congress swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”) This is not that different!

As Charlie Cooke lays out in a new video, this is separate from the argument about merits of the wall. The emergency provisions are in there for genuine emergencies, like nuclear war or a 9/11 style attack, where Congress cannot be consulted. Cooke points out that this should spur Congress to start removing these emergency provisions from the law — because otherwise this amounts to tearing up the Constitution and ignoring the entire concept of checks and balances.

Separately, if President Trump takes away federal funding for recovery from Hurricane Michael and uses it to start building a border wall in the southwest, he makes it way less likely that he will win the state of Florida in 2020. Cotton farmers, timber farmers and the oyster industry were wiped out, with projected losses adding up to $4.9 billion.

But in the end, how many Americans — and how many erroneously self-described “conservatives,” “Republicans,” and “patriots” — are happy to live under a dictator, as long as the dictator shares the goals they do?

Castro, Convertible

My NR magazine profile of Julian Castro — the former San Antonio mayor and HUD Secretary now likely to run for president — is now available on NRPlus. At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Castro as an also-ran or never-was in a crowded field. But he’s probably going to be the only Latino on that crowded Democratic debate stage, and one of the painful surprise lessons for Democrats from 2016 is that Latinos are not guaranteed to come out in huge numbers to vote against Donald Trump. But considering the enormous hype that surrounded Castro when he made his national debut at the Democrats’ 2012 convention, he feels like the candidate of tomorrow who became the candidate of yesterday without ever really being the candidate of today.

The article only briefly delves into a topic that will likely come up in Castro discussions — his plan at HUD to double the value of Section 8 housing vouchers, aiming to bring those living in public housing in cities into the suburbs. The New York Post’s Paul Sperry noted that a similar program was tried in 1994. In 2011, 15 years after the program started, HUD studied the program’s effectiveness and saw surprisingly grim results: no detectable effect on the employment or welfare dependency, no detectable impacts for either male or female youth in academic achievement, and “male youth were slightly more likely to report using marijuana, scored higher on an index of behavioral problems (which includes acting out and aggressive behaviors), and were more likely to be arrested for property crime.”

ADDENDUM: Thanks to the hundreds of people who’ve listened to this week’s pop-culture podcast — with Antonio Brown apparently on the way out in Pittsburgh, football fans may particularly appreciate our discussion about how to live with a super-talented but consistently discontented wide receiver.

White House

Democrats May Crack under the Pressure to Build the Wall

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D, N.Y.) following a meeting with President Donald Trump on the ongoing partial government shutdown at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 4, 2019. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Freshmen House of Representatives Democrats start to feel some pressure over the shutdown, Trump walks away from the table, a question of how accurate the populist portrait of America feels with a booming economy, and a bit of ranting about the new coach of the New York Jets.

The First Cracks in the Democratic Wall about the Wall

This is the best sign for the White House in the government shutdown so far:

Now, as the shutdown drags into Day 19, the frustration is starting to reach a tipping point for some who fear the prolonged stalemate could do real political damage in vulnerable Democratic districts.

“If I am getting comments and contact from my constituents expressing concern that the Democrats are not prioritizing security, then I think we can do better,” said freshman Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).

Spanberger, who represents a district won by President Donald Trump in 2016, spoke up at a closed-door caucus meeting Wednesday morning to warn Democrats were losing the messaging war in her district and needed to be more clear about the kind of border security measures they support.

The freshmen arranged an impromptu 90-minute meeting over the weekend at a retreat in Virginia because several new members were “freaking out” about the ongoing shutdown and the party’s strategy, according to a Democratic source who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

This is where the messaging has to be focused: “We want to make a deal, but the congressional Democrats aren’t willing to make any concessions and they’re not serious about border security.”

Of course, if you want to appear conciliatory and eager to reach a compromise, you should probably avoid being the first to walk away from the table.

Trump to Democrats: Bye-Bye!

Does President Trump strike you as a man who’s deeply worried about being blamed for the shutdown? Yesterday he tweeted:

Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time. I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!

Polling indicates about half the country blames the president; about the third blames the Democrats. Neither the president nor Republicans should be surprised by this turn of events, as Trump declared in the Oval Office with the television cameras running, “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.” Trump seemed to think that surprising statement was a show of strength that would intimidate Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. It didn’t work. He’s now insisting this is the “Pelosi shutdown.”

Do congressional Democrats strike you as lawmakers afraid of getting blamed for the shutdown?

If congressional Republicans had their way, either the government would be open and funding for the wall would be passed, or the government would be open as funding for the wall (or fence, or a barrier, or slats, or whatever we’re calling it this week) was debated. But congressional Republicans don’t have any real leverage here — they can’t make Trump reopen the government without wall funding, and they can’t make Democrats abandon the filibuster for a funding bill that includes money for a wall.

And Trump has insisted he won’t sign a funding bill without some money for the wall; Schumer and Pelosi have publicly pledged that they will not vote for any money for the wall at all. The “middle ground” of giving Trump, say, half of what he wanted would strike them and their base as a wholesale surrender on the “morality” of the wall.

Nobody who has the power to work out a deal — the president or congressional Democrats — feels enough pain yet; both sides fear the consequences of conceding on the issue of the wall more than they fear the consequences of the government shutdown continuing.

Senate Republicans are trying to put together the bigger DACA-and-H1B-visas-for-the-wall deal that many have speculated would be the natural compromise.

Back on December 21, I wrote:

I guess the plan is to have a long shutdown, put the squeeze on as many federal workers as possible, and hope that the federal workers pressure Democrats to throw Trump a bone and approve a few billion in funding for the wall. But if you’re a Democratic lawmaker, the consequences of the government shutdown have to get really bad before they get worse than the consequences of surrendering to the president on funding for the border wall.

This situation was not difficult to see coming.

How Much Does the Populist Portrait of Dystopia Match What You See in Your Life?

More arguments about Tucker Carlson’s monologue on National Review!

This isn’t a direct response to Michael Brendan Dougherty, but a broader question: Are there any economic conditions where the populist argument starts to feel outdated and irrelevant? Populists paint a portrait of greedy corporations making mass layoffs, factories shutting down, opportunities drying up and disappearing, and men sitting on couches, playing video games and dropping out of society. And no doubt in a country as big and diverse are ours, you can find communities that match that dire portrait.

But . . . we’ve had unemployment below 4 percent for the past eight months. The country created 2.6 million new jobs last year, including 281,000 new jobs in manufacturing. That is the most manufacturing jobs the economy has added in a year since 1997. Blue-collar jobs are increasing at the fastest rate in 30 years. In July, the unemployment rate for those without a college degree hit 5 percent, the lowest ever. In that allegedly forgotten and neglected “flyover country” of the Midwest, there are 463,000 more job openings than jobless workers. The work-force-participation rate is moving in the right direction. Yes, the numbers on wages, once adjusted for inflation, aren’t where we want them to be. But by a lot of measures, this is pretty close to the economy we would want. At what point does the argument, “We’re willing to work hard and want to get ahead, but those selfish and exploitative elites won’t let us” start to sound like an implausible excuse?

Actually, I will address one point from MBD, where he and other NR writers appear close to agreement:

Once that’s done, we can get on to more ambitious proposals. [Kevin] Williamson wants to see these marginal men matched up to the many unfilled, well-paying, industrial jobs that do exist in America. So do I — but I have an odd intuition that falling fertility rates over the last two generations have destroyed the primary means through which men find these type of jobs: their extended kin networks. Be that as it may, we might consider Oren Cass’s suggestion of labor reform that would allow German-style worker co-ops that have the ability to train men and match them to opportunities. Doing this would involve another status game, as it might mean thinking about this issue more and serving the interests of our bloated university system less. So be it.

I don’t think you would find many conservatives who would object to this, and earlier this year Congress passed and Trump signed legislation directing the Small Business Administration to make its loan-guarantee programs more readily available to employee stock-ownership plans and worker-owned cooperatives. A small step, but movement in the right direction.

MBD concludes, “We need to work for the creation of a free market that contributes to rather than hinders the formation of strong families and communities.” Absolutely right. This probably will require flexibility in workers’ hours (particularly parents or those taking care of an elderly relative), more maternity and paternity leave, more charitable giving, and companies seeing themselves as stakeholders in their communities. Matt Shapiro has an eye-opening and depressing portrait about how Amazon ended up unintentionally greatly worsening Seattle’s homelessness problem by driving a sudden increase in housing prices. As he notes, this isn’t a simple issue of malevolent corporations; it’s an unforeseen side effect of suddenly creating a lot of high-paying jobs in a city: “It’s foolishness to say that Amazon is responsible for homelessness. But it is similarly naive to say that they play no part in this dynamic.”

ADDENDUM: Since a lot of you are likely to ask, no, I don’t feel that much different about the New York Jets hiring former Dolphins head coach Adam Gase this morning. Could this work out? Sure. Plenty of coaches have found more success the second time around, learning from their mistakes the first time: Bill Belichick, Dick Vermeil, Pete Carroll, Tony Dungy, Tom Coughlin, Marv Levy. (Bill Parcells got slightly less successful which each successive team.) Andy Reid is working out quite well for the Chiefs. But this requires Gase to be a significantly better coach than he was in Miami. If you’re an NFL fan, did the Dolphins strike you as a particularly well-coached team for the past few years? Innovative? Dynamic? Groundbreaking? Did they even seem like they were headed in the right direction? For a long time, the Dolphins struck me as overhyped and underperforming. There was always preseason talk that they were ready to “turn the corner,” and they never quite did. Maybe that’s not all Gase’s fault, but it’s hard to believe he’s blameless.

Yes, he’s been around a lot of good quarterbacks over the years, and Peyton Manning gushes about him. I would absolutely love to be wrong, and if the Jets thrive under Gase, I will sing from the rooftops that I was a fool for doubting him.

Energy & Environment

The Not-So-Pretty Fine Print of the ‘Green New Deal’

Installing solar panels on a home in San Diego, Calif. (Reuters photo: Mike Blake)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why you need to read the fine print in that “Green New Deal” everyone’s talking about, what worked and what didn’t in President Trump’s Oval Office prime-time address, Paul Manafort’s curious conversations with a Russian agent, and a big start to 2019 for the pop-culture podcast.

A ‘Green New Deal’ Would Cut the Military in Half, End 87 Percent of U.S. Energy, and Ban Cars

Take some time to peruse the “Green New Deal” in writing.

The deal includes a plan to “cut military spending by at least half” and withdraw U.S. troops from overseas.

The United States military currently has 1.3 million active-duty troops, with another 865,000 in reserve, and 680,000 civilian employees. Green New Deal advocates haven’t laid out exactly how many fewer personnel the U.S. military would have if spending was cut in half, but a military that was half the size of the current one would leave about 1.4 million personnel out of work. And remember, advocates of the Green New Deal pledged to cut military spending in “at least half.”

When there are no U.S. forces stationed in Europe, South Korea, Japan, or the Middle East, how much safer do you think those places get? Do you think conflict is more likely or less likely once all U.S. military personnel leave? Do you think China, North Korea, Iran, and Russia become more aggressive or less aggressive? I thought warfare and explosions and firebombing generated a lot of carbon emissions, but maybe Green New Deal advocates think people being killed in a war on a massive scale would balance it out in the long run.

Under the Green New Deal, within eleven years, the United States would be required to eliminate not merely nuclear power — which does not directly produce any carbon dioxide or air pollution — but all natural gas. Natural gas currently provides about 32 percent of America’s energy, and nuclear power produces another 10 percent. The “Green New Deal” would also eliminate coal, which provides almost 18 percent of America’s energy, and liquid natural gas and oil, which generates another 28 percent.

In other words, within eleven years, the United States would need to replace about 88 percent of its current energy sources. This is not possible short of a societal collapse to agrarian subsistence. (At least the Renaissance fairs will remain the same.)

It would effectively nationalize the entire energy industry and shut down non-renewable energy companies, with workers given a vague promise to “provide resources to workers displaced from the fossil fuel industry.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, roughly 1.1 million work in coal, oil, and gas production; 2.3 million jobs in transmission, distribution, and storage; and 2.4 million workers in motor vehicles and component parts (not counting dealerships). The vast majority of these 5.8 million jobs would be eliminated under the Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal calls for “replacing non-essential individual means of transport with high-quality and modern mass transit.” This is a wonky way of calling for a ban on cars. Who decides whether your car is a “non-essential individual means of transport”?

The Green New Deal also declares, “along with these steps, it will be necessary to electrify everything else, including transport.”

Your gasoline-powered car would be banned. You would only be allowed an electric one, if you were allowed a car at all.

The Green New Deal calls for the federal government would become the “employer of last resort,” contending:

Other economists also estimate the cost of a program for the federal government as employer of last resort (ELR) would be relatively small, around 1-2% of GDP, because it corresponds with huge savings in unemployment insurance in a way that pays people to work rather than paying them to not work.

One percent of our $19.4 trillion GDP would be $194 billion; 2 percent would be $388 billion.

Let’s split that in half and say having the federal government hire everyone without a job would cost $291 billion. For perspective, all U.S. corporate taxes in one year generate $225 billion. (Remember we’re running close to trillion-dollar deficits now, in economic good times.)

Did you notice, by the way, that the Green New Deal would eliminate unemployment benefits? If you lost your job, your alternative would be to go to work for the government.

The Clean New Deal declares, “a British think tank recently put out a study saying that all fossil fuels could be eliminated in 10 years.”

But if you actually go and read that study, you’ll find near the end some glaring caveats:

The experience of tiny, affluent countries such as Denmark and Kuwait may be relevant for countries in a similar class (such as Belgium, Brunei, or Qatar), but less so for an India or Nigeria. Moreover, the sociocultural or political conditions behind transitions in Brazil and China, at the time military dictatorships and communist regimes (respectively), are incompatible with the governance norms espoused in modern democracies across Europe and North America. Furthermore, history seems to suggest that past transitions—including many of the case studies presented here—are based on discoveries of new, significant, and affordable forms of energy (usually carbon-intensive) or technology, leading to abundance. Yet in the future, it may be scarcity and “stranded assets,” rather than abundance, which influences decisions.

The fact that enacting these changes would probably require a dictatorship or other authoritarian regime to suppress resistance seems like a pretty important detail, don’t you think?

Trump Makes His Case for a Border Fence

The best line from the president’s speech: “Some have suggested a barrier is immoral.  Then why do wealthy politicians build walls, fences, and gates around their homes?  They don’t build walls because they hate the people on the outside, but because they love the people on the inside.”

The worst line from the president’s speech: “Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border.”

This is technically true, but this is unrelated to the security fence or wall at the heart of the dispute. The most recent Drug Enforcement Agency report concluded, “The majority of the flow is through [privately-owned vehicles] entering the United States at legal ports of entry, followed by tractor-trailers, where the heroin is co-mingled with legal goods.”

As I laid out yesterday, there’s a strong case for the wall, based upon the facts and accounts of those who work on the border and who volunteered for the duties of protecting Americans. Hyperbole and exaggeration aren’t just unnecessary; they’re counterproductive.

Everyone and their brother has already compared the stiff, awkward, side-by-side appearance of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to the painting “American Gothic.”

What Was Manafort Doing in those Conversations with the Russians?

Why would then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort share polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian political consultant and former colleague going back to their years working together in Ukraine?

A court filing from Manafort’s lawyers included this curious statement:

Issues and communications related to Ukrainian political events simply were not at the forefront of Mr. Manafort’s mind during the period at issue and it is not surprising at all that Mr. Manafort was unable to recall specific details prior to having his recollection refreshed,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote. “The same is true with regard to the Government’s allegation that Mr. Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign.

The FBI has assessed that Kilimnik “has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.”

CNN writes, “It’s possible Manafort innocuously gave the polls to Kilimnik because he is a political junkie and wanted to dig into the crosstabs. But there’s also a possibility that Kilimnik, with his active ties to Russian intelligence, funneled the information to Russian agents to influence the election.”

The thing is, what were those polls going to tell the Russians that they couldn’t see for themselves?

ADDENDUM: As a few hundred regular listeners already noticed, Mickey and I found time to tape another edition of the pop-culture podcast, a jam-packed kickoff to the new year, including Mickey irking some “Goose” from “The Bachelor”; Netflix’s Birdbox and Darwinism; how my recent family day trip showcased the joys and horrors of New York City; some football talk including how to live with a discontented-malcontent wide receiver; the Golden Globes and women’s attire; the American Psychological Association’s war on modern masculinity; and how former Hollywood train wreck Lindsey Lohan may have pulled herself out of the depths.

Politics & Policy

Not Broadcasting Trump’s Oval Office Address Would Be Partisan Bias

(Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Making the click through worthwhile: Why the networks would be partisan fools to reject broadcasting President Trump’s prime-time address, the American Psychological Association declares war on “traditional masculinity” and what besets modern men of all classes and races, what you didn’t know about Elizabeth Warren, and a point about those young men choosing to spend their lives playing Fortnite.

The Networks Must Broadcast Trump’s Prime-Time Oval Office Address!

You probably saw the analysis that the cable-news networks airing Donald Trump’s rallies during the 2016 presidential primaries amounted to about $2 billion in free advertising. By the end of the general election, the estimate was up to $5 billion. If Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC didn’t broadcast every Trump rally in its entirety, they certainly aired a lot of them, and way more than any other Republican candidate. We can speculate that in the cases of CNN and MSNBC, they saw Trump rallies as hideous freakshows that would repel voters and drive them into the arms of the Democrats. (Whoops.)

Then-CBS Chairman Les Moonves said in February 2016 that Trump was terrific for ratings, and he was enjoying every minute of it.

“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” he said of the presidential race.

Moonves called the campaign for president a “circus” full of “bomb throwing,” and he hopes it continues.

“Most of the ads are not about issues. They’re sort of like the debates,” he said.

“Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? … The money’s rolling in and this is fun,” he said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going,” said Moonves.

(Moonves must count as one of Tucker Carlson’s “mercenaries” who “has no skin in the game”, right?)

CNN President Jeff Zucker later said he regretted giving so much airtime to Trump rallies.

But now the networks are debating whether they should broadcast a live Oval Office address? Come on, guys. This is a long bipartisan tradition for American presidents, and this is the first time Trump has done this. We’re almost two years into his presidency. Refusing air time to Trump would be straight-up partisan bias. You hear a lot of accusations that President Trump destroys civic norms. Denying a president air time for an Oval Office address because you don’t like him, his policies, or what he’s likely to say destroys civic norms, too.

Matt Yglesias is pointing to a time in 2014 when the networks refused to interrupt prime-time programming to air an address about immigration from President Obama.

But by that time, Obama had already addressed the nation in prime-time with three press briefings in 2009; addressed a joint session of Congress (separate from the State of the Union Address) in September 2009; announced the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011; announced plans to end the Afghanistan War in May 2012; addressed the nation after the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013; argued for a targeted military strike against Syria (that he eventually rejected) in September 2013; announced an end to the government shutdown in October 2013; and announced airstrikes in Iraq in August 2014.

It’s just not plausible to argue that the broadcast networks were stingy with Obama, or that Trump’s demands are excessive. The strongest argument is that the State of the Union address is three weeks away, on January 29, and that the statements from the president tonight are likely to overlap with what he says in a few weeks. But the good news for the networks is that tonight’s remarks will fit in a half-hour window. (If they include a Democratic response, that might take an hour.)

The good news is that cooler heads have prevailed; as of this writing, CBS, ABC, Fox, and NBC are planning to air Trump’s address as well as PBS, Telemundo, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News.

What We Owe Our Boys

David French writes a great column, lambasting the American Psychological Association for their declaration that “traditional masculinity — marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression — is, on the whole, harmful.”

Yet as we survey a culture that is rapidly attempting to enforce norms hostile to traditional masculinity, are men flourishing? And if men are struggling more the farther we move from those traditional norms, is the answer to continue denying and suppressing a boy’s essential nature? Male children are falling behind in school not because schools indulge their risk-taking and adventurousness but often because they relentlessly suppress boys and sometimes punish boys’ essential nature, from the opening bell to the close of the day. Especially in fatherless homes, female-dominated elementary-school experiences often mean that boys are exposed to few — if any — male role models, and male restlessness is therefore viewed almost entirely as a problem to be solved rather than a potential asset to be shaped.

What stories get men excited? Ones with adventure, celebrating valor and bravery, making tough decisions under pressure. No one would be thrilled by the stories of American Sniper or Master and Commander or Die Hard or Indiana Jones if things came easy to the heroes. For tens of thousands of years, humanity survived because small groups of men went out into the wild and hunted and brought back food. That was inherently risky and dangerous; we evolved to find risk and danger exciting — or at least appealing and frightening at the same time. The risk of injury makes it exciting; as Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own, “the hard is what makes it great.” As Jordan Peterson says, do not bother kids when they’re skateboarding. They are experimenting with risk and developing their own ability to live with a certain amount of danger.

And this often-but-not-always masculine impulse manifests itself in a million ways in modern life: driving fast, playing sports of every kind, diving off the high dive, rock climbing, lifting heavy weights, eating super-hot peppers, martial arts, competitive shooting, mosh pits, roller coasters, bungee jumping, skydiving, hiking and camping in the woods, spelunking, and sometimes going back to the actions of our ancestors through hunting. Even when guys do something that seems sedentary — video games, chess, board games — they’re often bringing a competitive spirit to it, an eagerness to demonstrate that they stand out at a particular activity. You could even argue that arguing on the Internet is a form of competition. That’s hard-wired into us.

We yearn to be important. Tony Robbins argues that significance is one of the six core human needs. But modern society — and some would argue, a lot of modern schools — are often about emphasizing our insignificance, how we are part of a collective whole, and how we must subjugate our individual desires and impulses to the collective good: sitting in classrooms in neat rows of desks, standing in line, only speaking when we’re called upon. We are graded on performance, yes, but also on our obedience — how well do we do what someone else wants us to do?

We grow older and get jobs. We live in a box, get into another box-like car, sit in traffic among lots of other boxes, head into another big-box office building where we sit in another box-like cubicle, typing into another box. The good life in white-collar America can give you plenty of comfort and pleasure, and it can keep you away from adversity. But on some level, we crave at least a little adversity — without it, there are no triumphs. There is no growth. Comfort is wonderful, but we learn very little from it. We want a little bit of pain, or at least to be able to tell the tale of encountering great adversity and surviving to tell the tale. As David writes:

All of this is hard. Very hard. Especially when combined with the fact I mentioned at the start of the piece — the creation of a “grown man” involves short-term pain. As with so many things, we want the result, but we hate the process. Effective role models understand this reality, and they preach relentlessly about the worth of sacrifice.

Take, for example, one of the world’s most popular celebrities, Dwayne Johnson (better known as “The Rock”). He shares a mantra for life improvement that particularly resonates with young men — “blood, sweat, and respect.” You sweat and bleed and in return you earn respect. It’s a more vivid version of “no pain, no gain.” Virtuous traditional masculinity is inherently incompatible with a pain-avoidance culture.

Is it any wonder when modern society offers men a “reward” that can begin to feel like an endless series of boxes, that they sometimes turn into self-destructive risks? Alcoholism, drug use and addiction, fighting, philandering, God knows what else. This is why people, and in particular men, have mid-life crises. They’ve done all the right things, checked all the right boxes, done what they’re supposed to do . . . and find the results strangely unsatisfying. They’ve worked hard, only to find that they lead lives that have no adventure, no discovery, no exploration.

David writes, “When it comes to the crisis besetting our young men, traditional masculinity isn’t the problem; it can be part of the cure.” It’s not just for young men!

The Sides of Elizabeth Warren You Probably Didn’t Know About

She’s a lot more than just implausible claims to Native American ancestry. Over on the home page today, I offer 15 things you probably didn’t know about Elizabeth Warren.

ADDENDUM: Our David Bahnsen with an important point about the current debate over populism:

No one who cares deeply for American families, blue-collar workers, and those who are on the outside looking in in today’s globalized and changing economy can plausibly claim that it is NAFTA’s fault that those young men playing Fortnite for eleven hours a day do not have shining neighborhoods. If we say that NAFTA hurt their desire to spend time more productively, we must discuss labor dynamism, not accept basement-dwelling and video-game addiction as the logical outcomes to changing economic circumstances.

Politics & Policy

What Happens When the Government Shuts Down

A U.S. Border Patrol agent at the U.S.-Mexican border near Calexico, Calif., in 2017. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The federal government has been running for about three weeks on unpaid labor, and why that shouldn’t be mistaken for a government that’s functioning quite well; why the 2020 Democratic presidential primary will be better with Joe Biden in it; and Freedom Partners offers what it sees as a better way to get fairer trade conditions than tariffs.

The Federal Government Is ‘Functioning’ Because People Are Working Without Pay

You’re seeing some conservatives argue that the American government is functioning fine during the shutdown, demonstrating that the “nonessential” workers are genuinely unneeded and that this proves that there’s no real need to bring the shutdown to an end.

This is a pretty poorly informed reaction. Some of the most important duties of the federal government are continuing to function because hundreds of thousands of federal employees are working without pay and hoping that they get paid for their labor once the shutdown ends.

In a perfect irony for a government-shutdown fight about border security, right now almost 55,000 employees of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are not being paid. They’re still out there, doing their duties, patrolling in dangerous situations. The president and Congress will probably pay them once this is over, although that’s not guaranteed. But how are they supposed to react when President Trump says the shutdown could last “months, even years”?

How long could you work without pay? How long would you work in a dangerous job without pay?

More than 16,000 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees are working without pay. Some far-left Democrats wanted to “abolish ICE”; the government shutdown has, at least for now, abolished the agents’ paychecks.

More than 17,000 Citizenship and Immigration Services employees are working without pay. Nearly 6,000 employees of the U.S. Secret Service are working without pay. About 2,000 DHS employees who focus on cyber security are working without pay.

More than 15,000 employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency are working without pay. Hope you’re not among the 40,000 Louisianans who need to renew their flood insurance but who can’t while the government is shut down.

Due to a last-minute deal, about 42,000 employees of the U.S. Coast Guard got one extra paycheck, but they will not get their next paycheck if the shutdown does not end soon.

About 55,000 Transportation and Security Administration employees, including the staff that work the security lines at airports, are not getting paid. More employees are “calling out sick,” but so far there have been no significant increases in delays.

Throughout the Department of Homeland Security, training of new employees is halted.

That’s just in the Department of Homeland Security. Over at the Department of Justice, right now, about 36,000 FBI employees, including about 13,000 special agents, are not being paid.

About 35,000 guards and employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons are not getting paid.

Over at the Drug Enforcement Agency, about 7,600 employees working without pay; 4,600 in the U.S. Marshals Service, and about 4,200 at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Without Congressional appropriations, U.S. federal courts are operating on money generated by court fees — and they run out of money on Friday. After that, the courts have to sort out what operations are necessary for the protection of life and property and which ones aren’t, and cease any work that doesn’t make the cut.

All of the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are closed. Zookeepers are still taking care of the animals . . . without pay.

About 95 percent of NASA’s employees aren’t going to work — just the folks who have to show up and keep NASA people and property safe.

When government shutdowns occur, you usually see a lot of coverage of the National Park Service — because it’s an impact that’s easy to see, and just about everybody likes national parks and no one likes to see them closed. You’ve probably heard about the volunteers who are stepping in and picking up trash and cleaning the facilities, but the scale of the task is surpassing the abilities of the volunteers. The National Park Service now plans to use the entrance fees to pay for operations, which may technically be illegal.

Whether or not you like the Department of Housing and Urban Development, if we’re going to have public housing, we probably should have safety inspections. Those are suspended until further notice.

Some contract workers in federal buildings such as custodians and security officers are effectively laid off until the government reopens. Good luck with all of those bills left over from Christmas, everyone!

You hear the common joke: “If these workers are nonessential, why are they working in those jobs at all?” Besides all of the folks working without pay, like those FBI agents, border patrol officers, prison guards, etc. — what we’re witnessing right now is the federal government operating with a skeleton crew. Just about any institution can temporarily get by with the minimal staff, but after a while the duties pile up and become unmanageable — whether it’s a waitress trying to serve too many tables, supermarkets with one cash register open, or public bathrooms with only one stall working.

I suspect some people will interpret the above information as a demand that President Trump make concessions in negotiations, because I often find myself receiving criticism for arguments thatI never made. The grief and aggravation listed above seems like a high price to pay to prevent $5 billion in funding for “the wall,” or bollard fencing, or slats, or whatever we’re calling it this week. Because the federal government usually pays both those working without pay and those staying home, government shutdowns cost the taxpayers more than remaining open. Shutting down museums and national parks slows down the economy; nobody’s buying anything in the gift shops. Unpaid contractors don’t pay income taxes on wages they don’t receive.

Yesterday on Meet the Press, Steny Hoyer made a comment that hinted at some wiggle room.

CHUCK TODD: If it’s a steel fence and he doesn’t call it a wall, can you accept that?

REP. STENY HOYER: Chuck, let me say: We’ve done fencing in the past, as you know.

CHUCK TODD: So you’ll do it in the future, what you’re saying?

REP. STENY HOYER: We’ve done fencing in the past. However, what is happening today, and hopefully the administration will come — the administration has not come up with any specific plan as to how they’re going to spend this money.

All Hoyer wants to see is a specific spending plan? That’s pretty far from Nancy Pelosi’s current argument that “A wall is an immorality between countries.”

Please Run, Joe Biden

The New York Times:

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is in the final stages of deciding whether to run for president and has told allies he is skeptical the other Democrats eyeing the White House can defeat President Trump, an assessment that foreshadows a clash between the veteran Washington insider and the more liberal and fresh-faced contenders for the party’s 2020 nomination.

A Democratic primary with Joe Biden in it is better for the country (and for the values of conservatives) than one without him — and not just for entertainment value. The current mood among the Democratic grassroots is that Obama and his administration were too nice, too conciliatory, too respectful, too compromising, and too centrist, and that’s the main reason the previous administration failed to deliver nirvana.

As a candidate, Joe Biden would be the guy on stage explaining to all of these upstarts who have been in Washington for about 20 minutes that the Obama administration was more than sufficiently progressive and aggressive. (Everyone’s forgotten that “I won,” “I have a pen and a phone,” executive orders raising the minimum wage for federal workers and contractors, expanding DACA, and enormous amounts of regulations enacted by cabinet agencies, in an attempt to enact changes that the GOP Congress would not support.)

He would be a needed corrective, reminding the progressive activists most tuned in to the early debates that the Democratic party and the country as a whole are much more ideologically diverse than they wish, and that politics is the art of the possible. A lot of activists would hate him for telling them that, but they need to hear it anyway.

Hey, Why Would We Trash a Court that Agrees with Us Nine Times Out of Ten?

If you think enacting tariffs on foreign imports hurts American consumers, but that some other countries aren’t playing fair with the United States and are supporting their own industries, what’s the right solution? The gang at Freedom Partners unveils a video this morning that addresses that exact question, and begins, “The president has a point about other

nations imposing tariffs on American exports. You can see we are one of the most pro trade nations in the world. Meanwhile, a lot of countries impose more tariffs on us than we do on them.”

What do they recommend? Take our fights to the World Trade Organization, which is designed to fairly adjudicate these disputes.

“The United States wins about 90 percent of the complaints we file,” says Dan Mitchell, co-founder and chairman of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. “The bottom line is the WTO largely serves U.S. interests. We should use it to our advantage, not attack it.”

ADDENDUM: Thanks to Karl Rove and Mona Charen, among others, for kind words about Friday’s edition of the Morning Jolt.

Politics & Policy

Tucker Carlson’s Populist Cri de Cœur

(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Fox News host Tucker Carlson unleashes a monologue about America’s troubles that stirs intense reaction among conservatives, a hard look at whether Americans are properly prepared for the challenges of life, China’s economy stumbles, and beware the “super blood moon wolf eclipse!”

Tucker Carlson’s Diagnosis of America’s Ills

On any given weeknight, Tucker Carlson will sit down in front of the cameras at Fox News and say some bizarre or silly things (Beware the Gypsies!) or downright repugnant things, like that poor immigrants “make our own country poorer, and dirtier, and more divided.” But a lot of people are buzzing about Carlson’s opening monologue from Thursday night, a long and winding journey through what troubles the United States of America as 2019 dawns. Our Kyle Smith calls it “galvanizing” and a “populist cry of dissatisfaction that is underlain by certain grave truths.”

Carlson’s monologue begins:

At some point, Donald Trump will be gone. The rest of us will be gone, too. The country will remain. What kind of country will be it be then? How do we want our grandchildren to live? These are the only questions that matter.

The answer used to be obvious. The overriding goal for America is more prosperity, meaning cheaper consumer goods. But is that still true? Does anyone still believe that cheaper iPhones, or more Amazon deliveries of plastic garbage from China are going to make us happy? They haven’t so far. A lot of Americans are drowning in stuff. And yet drug addiction and suicide are depopulating large parts of the country. Anyone who thinks the health of a nation can be summed up in GDP is an idiot.

Eh, GDP isn’t completely disconnected from the health of the nation, either. But the broader point stands — the United States had a GDP of $19.3 trillion in 2017, twice the GDP of 2000. And yet . . . how many people would argue our overall condition is twice as good as it was then? (Although as I argued last year, we’re in better shape, and have a better record of solving problems, than the daily media coverage would lead you to believe.)

Back to Carlson:

The goal for America is both simpler and more elusive than mere prosperity. It’s happiness. There are a lot of ingredients in being happy: Dignity. Purpose. Self-control. Independence. Above all, deep relationships with other people. Those are the things that you want for your children. They’re what our leaders should want for us and would want if they cared.

Leaders may want those things for us, but we should have no illusion that they can provide those things for us. Dignity, purpose, self-control, independence, and deep relationships have to come from within, and get cultivated and developed by our own actions. Good parents and relatives, teachers and communities can all help cultivate that, but it all starts with the individual — and if the individual isn’t willing to try to cultivate that, no one else can cultivate it for him.

But our leaders don’t care. We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule. They’re day traders. Substitute teachers. They’re just passing through. They have no skin in this game, and it shows. They can’t solve our problems. They don’t even bother to understand our problems.

Which “leaders” does Carlson have in mind? Surely not the president he praises almost every night.

NBA superstar LeBron James opened up a school for at-risk students in his old hometown of Akron that includes STEM summer courses as well as GED courses and job placement for parents. (Around this time, President Trump mocked LeBron James as stupid.) Carlson’s last book, Ship of Fools, depicted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon chairman Jeff Bezos as some of the fools on the cover. Zuckerberg has pledged to give away 99 percent of his fortune during his lifetime, and his personal foundation has built a massive medical research facility. Jeff Bezos just committed $2 billion to a “split between the Day 1 Families Fund — helping homeless families — and the Day 1 Academies Fund — creating a “network of new, non-profit, tier-one preschools in low-income communities.”

Aren’t these folks who have skin in the game and who are demonstrating a long-term obligation to their communities?

Carlson’s monologue veers in some unexpected directions.

Manufacturing, a male-dominated industry, all but disappeared over the course of a generation. All that remained in many places were the schools and the hospitals, both traditional employers of women. In many places, women suddenly made more than men.

Now, before you applaud this as a victory for feminism, consider the effects. Study after study has shown that when men make less than women, women generally don’t want to marry them. Maybe they should want to marry them, but they don’t. Over big populations, this causes a drop in marriage, a spike in out-of-wedlock births, and all the familiar disasters that inevitably follow — more drug and alcohol abuse, higher incarceration rates, fewer families formed in the next generation.

Carlson is right on a lot of this, but he starts with a wildly inaccurate exaggeration that manufacturing “all but disappeared.” There are currently a half-million unfilled manufacturing jobs in the United States. Manufacturers are desperate for workers, calculating there could be 2 million unfilled openings, and a separate 2.8 million new openings spurred by retiring workers in the next decade. Manufacturing wages have steadily increased at varying paces, even during the Great Recession. In this environment, why would men still have a hard time out-earning women and attracting spouses? If modern men are collapsing in the face of these challenges, how much of this is the responsibility of Washington policies or business owners, and how much is the responsibility of the men?

Carlson laments the legalization of marijuana, and I happen to agree with him. But it’s hard to believe that the current legalization of marijuana is dramatically different than drug use in past eras — and we certainly had higher rates of drug-related crime and violence a generation ago. In Colorado, teen use of marijuana actually declined significantly after legalization, and the same thing happened in California. (Maybe legalization makes marijuana less taboo and thus less tempting to teenagers.)

Carlson concludes, “If you want to put America first, you’ve got to put its families first.” The good news is, the vast majority of Americans would agree with him. But we’ve all got very different ideas of what “putting families first” means.

How Do We Get Americans to Become More Successful?

Let’s go back to Carlson’s point about the GDP being a subpar measurement of a healthy country, and whether as a country we’re overall wealthier but less happy than a generation ago.

Americans have dreams. I think as a culture and as a country, we do a better job of encouraging those dreams than teaching people how to achieve those dreams. Everyone gets to gaze at the shop window, but only some figure out how to get the money to buy what’s inside the store.

My belief in freedom means I don’t carry around grudges about conspicuous consumption. But American culture no doubt celebrates ostentatious displays of wealth, which no doubt fuels envy and resentment. It always has — George Washington was one of the first Americans wealthy enough to display a sofa — but the rise of mass media, from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, to MTV’s Cribs, to today’s reality television (all of the Real Housewives series, all of the various Kardashian series), celebrity weddings, HGTV’s millionaire homes . . . we’re constantly bombarded with images of what the good life could be, advertisements and commercials and billboards for luxury cars, perfumes and colognes. Then throw in social media showcasing friends’ vacations on Facebook and glamorous models on Instagram. You’re relentlessly reminded of the life that you don’t have.

Americans fantasize about the good life — a big house, a fancy car, stylish clothes, vacations in far-flung exotic locales — and they often envision this luxurious life paid for by a wildly lucrative career, most often in entertainment, athletics, or music. Of course, those are some of the toughest industries to just make a living in, never mind making a fortune.

But research in books such as The Millionaire Next Door demonstrated that a lot of those who ended up wealthy did so by living the opposite of that ostentatious champagne and caviar* lifestyle. About 80 percent are first-generation rich, meaning they didn’t inherit their wealth. And they often did so by working hard, in jobs that required a great deal of education and dedication: medicine, accounting, law, finance. Some formed a small business and steadily built it over a lifetime. Most start-up founders work 18 hours a day, at least at the beginning. The good life rarely “just happens” to people. It’s a combination of hard work and avoiding the most dangerous mistakes in life — drug abuse, alcoholism, early and unplanned pregnancy, and of course, the temptation to quit when life gets difficult.

I’ve written in the past about “effort shock” and David Wong’s essay contending that movies that featured montages leave many people in the audience with a collective misunderstanding of how much time and effort is needed to learn something or improve ourselves. You can chase the American dream, but no one’s going to just give it to you.

I’d prefer a country where before America’s kids and teens stepped into the adult world, they got a heavy dose of Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman discussing the management of personal finances and Mike Rowe discussing professions and career paths. (Think of all the student loan debt that could be avoided.) Throw in some long-married couples talking about relationships and what to look for in a partner for the long haul. Unsurprisingly, financial literacy is often connected to education and income level. We’re only sending a portion of our kids into the world with the lessons and skills they need to succeed.

Step one is getting young people into the world prepared to make the right choices; step two is setting up systems to help them overcome the wrong choices. Crisis pregnancy centers, drug treatment programs, free or low-cost job training programs, anti-recidivism programs to help ensure that a felon’s first run-in with the law is his last . . . there’s a lot of this going on in this country, but it’s not the sort of thing you hear much about in cable-news prime time.

*Ironically, for a symbol of luxury, caviar and champagne aren’t all that expensive. World Market has caviar for $5.99, and Korbel Brut champagne can be found at Total Wine for $9.97.

Chinese Rulers, Using a Ruler

Apple’s bad financial news, and discussion of slower sales in China, is spurring a reexamination of whether that country’s runaway growth is coming to an end — or how much China’s growth has been exaggerated all along.

Although Chinese officials report that GDP have been growing at more than 6 per cent a year for a few years, ‘it looks truly like some sixth grader got out their ruler and drew a straight line with a slight downward slant,’ said Christopher Balding, an expert on the Chinese economy at Fulbright University in Vietnam. ‘It’s totally unrealistic.’

ADDENDUM: Be careful out there today, everybody. The “super blood wolf moon eclipse” is coming.

Do you ever get the feeling that astronomers sometimes get bored, and they come up with really dramatic names for things to cope?

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