U.S.

Preparing for the Mueller Report

Attorney General William Barr, flanked by Edward O’Callaghan (left) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, at a news conference to discuss Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, in Washington, D.C., April 18, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Bill Barr delivers a press conference this morning in anticipation of the release of Robert Mueller’s report on the Russian investigation, the campus-speech wars rage on as Middlebury College cancels a conservative philosopher’s lecture, and this year’s Time 100 list of influential people is full of the usual suspects.

Still Waiting on the Mueller Report

For just another hour or two, anyway. But this morning, Attorney General William Barr held a preliminary press conference before Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report is released to Congress and published online. Perhaps most newsworthy, Barr stated that the investigation uncovered no evidence that President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to alter the outcome of the 2016 election:

There was relentless speculation in the news media about the president’s personal culpability. Yet as he said from the beginning, there was, in fact, no collusion. And as the special counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks.

The attorney general added that the White House “fully cooperated” with the investigation, providing “unfettered access to campaign and White House documents.”

On obstruction of justice, Barr noted that Mueller “did not make a traditional prosecutorial judgment regarding this allegation” but instead “recounts ten episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.”

Barr and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein disagreed with some of those theories and “concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” He also said the evidence of Trump’s “non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.”

Barr noted that the president didn’t assert executive privilege to redact portions of Mueller’s report, although he would’ve been within his rights to do so. He said the report has “limited redactions” based on four categories: classified information, grand-jury information, information related to ongoing investigations, and details about “peripheral third parties.”

Who’s Really Allowed to Talk, Anyway?

Middlebury College has cancelled an upcoming speech on campus by Ryszard Legutko, a Polish Catholic and a conservative professor, after progressive activists planned to demonstrate against the event. Legutko is a professor of philosophy at Jagiellonian University in Poland, as well as a member of the European Parliament.

His lecture, entitled “The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies,” was scheduled to take place next Wednesday. Here’s what the Washington Free Beacon reported about the lecture’s cancellation:

In the days leading up to the speech, some Middlebury students and professors wrote an open letter demanding the university rescind its sponsorship. The liberal activists took issue with Legutko’s pointed critiques of multiculturalism, feminism, and homosexuality, calling them “homophobic, racist, xenophobic, [and] misogynistic.” . . .

The chairmen of both departments denied the activists requests, defending the event on grounds of academic freedom. But hours before the event was scheduled, Middlebury Provost Jeff Cason and Vice President for Student Affairs Baishakhi Taylor sent a campus-wide email indicating the lecture was canceled.

“In the interest of ensuring the safety of students, faculty, staff, and community members, the lecture by Ryszard Legutko scheduled for later today will not take place,” the email read. “This decision was not taken lightly. It was based on an assessment of our ability to respond effectively to potential security and safety risks for both the lecture and the event students had planned in response.”

Once again, a university administration has responded to threats from disgruntled, left-wing activists by siding with the activists rather than upholding free-speech rights and affirming their dedication to academic freedom.

Meanwhile, earlier this week Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about having been disinvited from giving a commencement address at Concordia University, a small liberal-arts school in Montreal. From his op-ed:

My speech was to be on the study of great books, to which that college is devoted. The invitation was a surprise, and the rejection less of one, because I am a white male conservative professor. Though I teach at Harvard and lecture elsewhere fairly often, I don’t get invitations for occasions when universities put their principles on display. . . .

Each of my classes is a commencement address. Thus the fear about my appearance at Concordia was not that I would speak badly. But what was the reason behind it?

It could not be found explicitly in the letter I received from Principal Mark A. Russell of the college. This was a performance too obviously clever to be clever. The principal regretted to inform me of a change of plan. His invitation committee had “acted in good faith but rather precipitously.” When it spoke with the entire faculty and some alumni, “we were unable to reach consensus as to what we wanted to achieve with this event.”

Mansfield later learned that twelve alumni had written the school in protest, claiming that his “scholarly and public corpus . . . heavily traffics in damaging and discredited philosophies of gender and culture.” This prompted a faculty meeting that resulted in his disinvitation.

Cancellations and disinvitations such as these aren’t terribly novel, but they’re much more frightening specifically because they’re now so commonplace. And they only ever go one way. It’s always those with a left-wing point of view silencing conservatives for being insufficiently in line with the reigning dogma of the day.

But more important, these decisions to silence certain individuals contradict the aim of academic life and the purpose of institutions of higher learning. Colleges and universities exist — or ought to exist — in service of the pursuit of truth. Here’s what Phillip Muñoz, a former professor of mine at the University of Notre Dame, wrote on Facebook yesterday evening about Middlebury’s decision to cancel Legutko’s lecture:

It’s not that complicated. The purpose of a university is reasoned discussion in the pursuit of truth. That purpose demands the exchange of ideas. If you are an administrator, your first and most fundamental task is to facilitate that exchange. If you can’t do that — if you can’t provide security to host a simple lecture by a relatively obscure (though profound) visitor — you shouldn’t be in the business of college administration. You should be fired.

Shutting down speech because some members of the community have decided they won’t tolerate it isn’t just cowardly. It undermines the fundamental goal of higher education.

The 2019 Time 100 List Is about What You’d Expect

Taylor Swift, Lebron James, Mark Zuckerberg, and Tiger Woods. These are the icons that Time magazine has declared worthy of our adulation and acclaim in 2019. As usual, a huge portion of the Top 100 is occupied by individuals that I, and I suspect many others, have never heard of.

The collection of political figures is as predictable as ever. President Trump, of course, is on the list, as is Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. Bill Barr and Bob Mueller show up as well. For the Democrats, both Nancy Pelosi and freshman socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez get a mention. Planned Parenthood’s new president Leana Wen is on the list, too, of course.

But among the “icons” Time offers us? Michelle Obama and Christine Blasey Ford. The inclusion of the latter is hardly a surprise, though it is a helpful indication that elite society has decided she’ll retain her favorable reputation, despite the fact that, by all available evidence, her sexual-assault accusation against Brett Kavanaugh was entirely unfounded. Kavanaugh himself made the list, too, much to the chagrin of left-wing feminists and progressive activists on Twitter.

The 100 list is more predictable than frustrating, but I’d prefer to see it filled with more firefighters and doctors and missionaries than tech moguls and rappers and fashionistas. Sometimes I wonder whether Time would’ve let Jesus make the cut.

ADDENDUM: There will be no Morning Jolt tomorrow in observance of Good Friday.

Politics & Policy

The Left’s Response to Criticism: Vulgarity and Double Standards

Representative Ilhan Omar (D, Minn.) during the introduction of the Equality Act at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., March 13, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The Washington Post prints an unjustifiable smear of Ben Shapiro, the Left continues to insist that any criticism of progressives is tantamount to inciting dangerous harassment, and an update on the future of the Cathedral of Notre Dame after Monday’s fire.

Democracy Dies in Darkness, or Something

Before the embers had even cooled at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, and in fact while we were all still watching the church burn, far too many people decided to use the tragedy as an opportunity to score political points against their ideological opponents. One such malcontent was a woman named Talia Lavin, who published a piece in the Washington Post yesterday afternoon entitled “How the far right spread politically convenient lies about the Notre Dame fire,” in which she included an obviously intentional mischaracterization of comments Ben Shapiro made about the cathedral as the fire raged.

From Lavin’s piece:

Many figures on the right took the opportunity to turn Notre Dame into a metonym for Western civilization as a whole, intimating that far more than a cathedral was in peril. Just as the fire hit social media, conspiracy theorist and brain-supplements salesman Mike Cernovich dramatically tweeted that “The West has fallen.” Shortly thereafter, fast-talking far-right pundit Ben Shapiro called Notre Dame a “monument to Western civilization” and “Judeo-Christian heritage.” Given the already-raging rumors about potential Muslim involvement, these tweets evoked the specter of a war between Islam and the West that is already part of numerous far-right narratives; it was also a central thread in the manifesto of Brenton Tarrant, the alleged Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter. Richard Spencer, professional racist and coiner of the term “alt-right,” openly advocated for such warfare, stating (and misspelling) his hopes that the fire would “spur the White man into action — to sieze power in his countries, in Europe, in the world,” and declaring such an insurgence a “glorious purpose.”

Of course, nothing Shapiro wrote was remotely relevant to Lavin’s supposed point about far-right extremists, but that didn’t stop her from trying to smear him, much like how The Economist recently published a piece labeling Shapiro “alt-right,” in spite of the fact that he is one of the public figures who attracts the most hatred from the alt-right for being a Jewish conservative. (The Economist later retracted the label and changed it to “radical conservative,” which hardly makes more sense but is at least a remotely defensible characterization.)

Here’s more on Lavin’s sideswipe of a piece, from David French on the Corner last night:

To any sensible reader, Ben is paying tribute to the apparent loss of one of the most magnificent buildings on the face of the earth. He’s lamenting the loss of a house of worship of a faith not his own. He is not casting blame. He is not trafficking in conspiracy theories. Moreover, he’s right — Western civilization is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. . . .

Lavin glories in her status as a troll. But the Washington Post should know better. Instead, it printed an opinion that has no connection to fact, and in doing so they reproduced the gutter reasoning of a low-rent comment board in the pages of one America’s great papers. Its mistake is only magnified by the fact that Lavin connects Ben’s rhetoric to the likes of Richard Spencer and the New Zealand shooter. Does she not know (or care) that Ben happened to be one of the principal targets of the alt-right during the 2016 election?

Later, and without adding an editor’s note, the Post (or Lavin) inserted a parenthetical into her piece noting that Shapiro had called her op-ed “simply gross.” We probably should know better than to expect any kind of clear thinking from Lavin, who had to resign in disgrace from the New Yorker last year after she smeared a Marine combat veteran by falsely claiming he had a tattoo of a Nazi symbol. But the Post and its editors should hold themselves to higher standards.

Media Matters Takes Up the Mantle

When Shapiro tweeted at the Washington Post account yesterday afternoon, asking them to correct Lavin’s evident error, noted liberal troll group Media Matters for America had some choice words for the conservative pundit:

Media Matters next insisted that this nonsensical rejoinder was intended as a defense of Lavin, whom they said “has been on the receiving end of right-wing harassment for the better part of a year now, often spurred on by spurious attacks on her work.”

This is just the latest example of the Left’s new tactic: insisting that any criticism of progressives amounts to “harassment” and is therefore out-of-bounds. But the needle only ever moves in one direction. We are meant to believe that tweeting vulgarities at conservative commentators is the mark of successful watchdog journalism, but well-founded critiques of progressives are always and everywhere an unacceptable form of persecution.

And their scuffle with Shapiro wasn’t the only example of this double standard from Media Matters, yesterday afternoon alone. They also published an article lying about me, claiming that I “invited harassment” against an abortion-clinic director merely by quoting her own words. In a tweet last week, NARAL board member and abortion-rights activist Calla Hayes attacked a pro-life bill that gave legal rights to newborn infants, suggesting the legislation wasn’t consistent with laws stating that infants younger than 30 days old can’t be added to wills. “How is that a legal person?” Hayes wrote of newborns.

The fact that I called attention to Hayes’s comment led pro-life people to criticize her for it, which, under the new rules of the game, constitutes harassment — so I must be villainized. Media Matters helpfully informed their readers that Hayes “had to lock her [Twitter] account because of harassment she was receiving” (read: chose to lock her Twitter account to avoid criticism) and said my direct quoting of her was “inviting harassment.” My venomous quoting, they say, “demonstrate[ed] the dangerous consequences of incendiary anti-abortion rhetoric.”

The irony of printing a multiple-thousand-word piece blaming me for the criticism Hayes received while decrying the risks of targeting an individual for harassment was apparently lost on them.

These are the Left’s new terms of engagement. They can hurl vulgarities at you. They can misquote you, twist your words, and label you “alt-right.” They can pen lengthy articles weaving false narratives about you and your work. But if you so much as quote a progressive, resulting in well-deserved criticism, you’re responsible for bringing dangerous harassment down on their heads.

This is the exact rhetoric we saw from the Left over the weekend, when Democrats spent several days insisting that any criticism of freshman congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) was akin to inciting violence against her, and even put her life in danger. This needs to be exposed for what it is: a tactic to chill free speech, wielded by those who will use any means necessary to silence their political opponents.

An Update on Notre-Dame de Paris

Following the tragic fire on Monday, more of the Cathedral of Notre Dame was left standing than many expected while we were watching the fire burn. Much needs to be done to restore the church, of course, but the fact that so much remained intact — including most of the stone foundation, the two bell towers and front façade, and the rose windows — has already spurred an outpouring of financial support for the effort to rebuild.

Yesterday, French president Emmanuel Macron said the country will restore the cathedral within five years. “We will rebuild the cathedral and make it even more beautiful,” he said, and multiple companies and individuals have pledged large sums to make it possible.

But now some suggest that rebuilding Notre Dame exactly as it was might not be a good idea. Patricio del Real, an architecture historian at Harvard University, told Rolling Stone in an interview, “The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation.” No, it really doesn’t.

Del Real is unfortunately not alone in that thinking. Others say the fire might in fact have created the perfect opportunity to update and modernize the glorious cathedral, bringing it more in line with secular France. More from Rolling Stone:

Although Macron and donors like Pinault have emphasized that the cathedral should be rebuilt as close to the original as possible, some architectural historians like Brigniani believe that would be complicated, given the many stages of the cathedral’s evolution. “The question becomes, which Notre Dame are you actually rebuilding?,” he says. [John Harwood, an architectural historian and associate professor at the University of Toronto], too, believes that it would be a mistake to try to recreate the edifice as it once stood, as LeDuc did more than 150 years ago. Any rebuilding should be a reflection not of an old France, or the France that never was — a non-secular, white European France — but a reflection of the France of today, a France that is currently in the making. “The idea that you can recreate the building is naive. It is to repeat past errors, category errors of thought, and one has to imagine that if anything is done to the building it has to be an expression of what we want — the Catholics of France, the French people — want. What is an expression of who we are now? What does it represent, who is it for?,” he says.

The central problem with this argument — aside from the fairly obvious reality that modern architectural design pales in comparison to the beauty of the older style on display in Notre Dame —  is that it ignores what the Cathedral of Notre Dame was, and still is: a cathedral. It’s not, first and foremost, a testament to French history or architecture. It’s not a French monument. It’s not an expression of French culture or taste, or a reflection of French preferences. It’s a Catholic church.

If the people responsible for rebuilding the cathedral have any respect for the Catholic Church and for its history, they’ll restore Notre Dame as close as possible to the way it was before the fire. If they don’t, there will almost surely be a backlash, and it’ll be deserved.

ADDENDUM: Yesterday evening, while watching the Yankees trounce the Red Sox, I discovered that the MLB Network now plays 15-second commercials during the game, in a side-by-side with the ongoing game, between plays. As usual, my reaction to yet another change made by MLB is a resounding, “Thanks but no thanks.”

World

There Is Hope for Notre-Dame de Paris

Sparks fill the air as Paris Fire brigade members spray water to extinguish flames as the Notre Dame Cathedral burns in Paris, France, April 15, 2019. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The world suffers a historic loss with the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, Bernie Sanders leads the Democratic pack as he takes on tough questions at a Fox News town hall, and libertarian Bill Weld thinks he has a shot to run for president as a Republican.

A Tragedy Strikes the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris

Yesterday, the world suffered a catastrophic loss, as a fire ravaged one of the oldest, most historic cathedrals in the world. More of Notre-Dame still stands this morning than many expected as the fire was burning — the famous façade on the front of the building seems to have survived intact, and much of the lower structure of the church appears to be largely untouched by the blaze, including the remarkable rose window.

But it’s a loss nonetheless. We all stared, eyes glued to the video stream as the historic spire of the Cathedral plummeted and slid into flames. We watched as centuries of history burned to ash, never to be seen the same way again.

As I wrote yesterday while Notre-Dame still burned, this is a loss for art, for architecture, and for the history of Western civilization. But it is a particular loss for Catholics around the world, who knew this cathedral not only as a place of particular beauty, but as a place of transcendence, a house dedicated to God and built to glorify Him, not its creators. Its beauty told a story of something greater, something not of this world. The fire was a painful reminder that everything in the earthly city is, in the end, only dust.

Already, French president Emmanuel Macron has said the cathedral will be rebuilt, as it should be. “It’s part of the fate, the destiny of France, and our common project over the coming years,” he announced Monday evening. But it can never again be what it was. Those stones, that wood, those centuries of history cannot be recovered.

Here’s some of what art historian Elizabeth Lev wrote about the tragedy this morning in the New York Post:

In the early days the cathedral was dubbed “the forest” since it took 50 acres of forest to build the enormous roof. Timbers and beams hidden under the high ribbed vaults continued the effect of loftiness in the church. Hidden, until today. The forest fire that ravaged the cathedral of Notre Dame burnt away dense layers of history, good, bad, ugly and beautiful piled up as ashes on the ground.

It took 200 years to build Notre Dame, but its story continued through the centuries. The stone carvers who had defied gravity with their vertical designs, then tamed the stone into myriad shapes and sizes; the portals, densely carved with stories of the Blessed Virgin leading to the Last Judgment, set a new standard in decoration.

Some reports indicate that heroic firefighters, priests, and locals were able to rescue the relic of the Crown of Thorns and other precious art and relics from the church even as it burned, which is a mercy to celebrate, even as we weep for what has been lost.

Bernie Sanders Meets Capitalism

A new national poll released yesterday by Emerson indicates that support for Vermont senator Bernie Sanders continues to rise as the Democratic primary heats up. The poll showed Sanders leading with 29 percent support, followed closely by Joe Biden at 24 percent. Both are trailed by South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, who comes in third at 9 percent.

The way the numbers have shifted over the last couple of months is telling. In a February Emerson poll, Biden led the pack with 27 percent to Sanders’s 17, while in March they were tied at 26 percent. And though he’s far from a frontrunner, Buttigieg is gaining ground. In mid February, Emerson found he had almost no support whatsoever among respondents, he rose a bit to 3 percent in March, and now ranks third at 9 percent.

Yesterday’s Emerson numbers show, too, that if Biden decided not to enter the race, Sanders would pick up most of his support (31 percent), while Buttigieg would take 17 percent and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke would nab 13.

Sanders took the stage yesterday evening for a Fox News town-hall event, moderated by Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier, where one of the highlights was the socialist senator’s eagerness to defend the money he earned writing a best-selling book. Sanders disclosed ten years of his tax returns yesterday, which indicated that he has the third-highest adjusted gross income among the Democratic candidates.

“If anybody thinks I should apologize for writing a best-selling book, I’m not going to do it,” Sanders said in response to an audience question. But he ignored the heart of the question, which addressed whether he should pay higher taxes now that he is a member of the “1 percent.”

But Baier pressed the point, asking Sanders, “When you wrote the book and you made the money, isn’t that the definition of capitalism and the American dream?” Here’s what the senator had to say in response:

No. I mean, you know, what we want is a country where everybody has opportunity. You know, I have a college degree. I’m a United States senator. But a lot of people don’t have a college degree. A lot of people are not United States senators. I want everybody in this country to be able to have health care, to have education, to, when they turn on the water, have drinkable water, not toxic water.

Sanders shouldn’t have to apologize for his best-seller, and his unwillingness to do so is a refreshing change from the general self-flagellating urge this year’s Democrats have displayed. But he has no explanation for why his story isn’t an example of the American dream and, more important, why it isn’t a success story for the free-market system he and his supporters denigrate.

Bill Weld to the Rescue

Amid the chaos of Notre-Dame’s crumbling, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld announced his intention to challenge President Trump for the Republican nomination and said he doesn’t intend to run as an Independent if he doesn’t win.

“It is time to return to the principles of Lincoln — equality, dignity, and opportunity for all,” Weld said in a statement. “There is no greater cause on earth than to preserve what truly makes America great. I am ready to lead that fight.”

The last time Weld ran for office, it was as a libertarian, not a Republican; he was the vice-presidential nominee on the Libertarian Party ticket with former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson.

Given the fact that President Trump retains a nearly 90 percent job-approval rating among Republicans, Weld’s candidacy feels highly unnecessary. And he’s perhaps uniquely unsuited for the task. To take just one issue, what social conservative disenchanted with the president will be attracted to a pro-choice candidate like Weld? If you talk to some on the right, there could be a tiny window for a GOP primary challenge, but Weld isn’t the man for the job.

ADDENDUM: I’ve got a piece on the NRO homepage today outlining the four arguments Republican politicians should start making more effectively if they’re serious about defunding Planned Parenthood. For too long, the GOP hasn’t prioritized this issue because they fear it’ll be unpopular, but there’s a laundry list of reasons why removing federal funding from the abortion provider would be better for American women, not to mention the unborn. Republicans need to learn how to articulate those reasons.

Politics & Policy

Criticism of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar Is Not ‘Incitement’

Rep. Ilhan Omar, (D., Minn.) walks in Washington, D.C., January 16, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/REUTERS)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Rising star Pete Buttigieg formally announces his 2020 presidential campaign, Democrats spend the weekend insisting that criticism is the same thing as inciting violence, and another conservative speaker is assaulted on a college campus.

The Mayor Is Having More than a Moment

On Sunday afternoon in South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg formally announced his intention to run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Standing on a stage in front of thousands, packed inside a former Studebaker assembly plant, the mayor claimed that he’s the best alternative to what’s going on in the nation’s capital.

“The horror show in Washington is mesmerizing. It’s all-consuming,” Buttigieg said in remarks he wrote himself. “But starting today, we’re going to change the channel.”

The pundit class has been chattering for weeks about the 37-year-old South Bend mayor who is “having a moment.” But how long does a moment have to last before it becomes something more? The Buttigieg rise answers our question. Over the last few months, he’s been the subject of profiles in New York magazine, the Washington Post, and The Cut, among many others (along with some less favorable coverage such as this lengthy, scathing critique in Current Affairs, which arguably indicates he’s a real threat to those who would prefer to see the nomination go to Bernie Sanders).

For now, he’s occupying the lane that supporters of Beto O’Rourke hoped the failed Senate candidate would have all to himself. The former Texas congressman outraised Buttigieg in the first quarter, but not by much: He’s raked in about $9.4 million, while the mayor boasted $7 million. Their average donation sizes were comparable, though Buttigieg’s was a bit lower at $36.35 compared to O’Rourke’s $43.

The Buttigieg campaign’s choice of the former Studebaker plant for his announcement says a lot about their strategy. The plant has been closed for decades, and it stands as a symbol of the economic downturn from which South Bend has never recovered. But today the plant is also the site of new data and education initiatives that Buttigieg has pushed as mayor in an effort to revitalize the city.

Unfortunately for citizens of South Bend, his revitalization efforts haven’t really worked. But the mayor clearly intends to continue portraying himself as a young, competent technocrat who can appeal to many of the same working-class voters — devastated by the loss of Studebaker equivalents across the Midwest — who turned to Donald Trump for hope in 2016.

Judging from his policy proposals, Buttigieg is just one more flavor of progressive among several already on offer from this election cycle’s Democratic party. But he seems to understand that Trump had real appeal to real people for reasons other than racism, and in this Democratic field, that makes him something of a stand-out.

Ilhan Omar vs. Donald Trump

The freshman Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota is once again under the microscope, this time after remarks she delivered at a Council on American-Islamic Relations event last month. Omar said that after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, she had faced anti-Muslim attacks and “lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen.”

“Frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it,” Omar said. “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” Leaving aside the fact that CAIR was in fact founded in 1994, not in response to the 9/11 attacks, some have criticized Omar for her use of the flippant phrase “some people did something” to refer to an act of terrorism that took the lives of thousands of Americans.

This wasn’t the first time Omar has faced conservative ire; she has repeatedly trafficked in anti-Semitic slurs for which she has refused to apologize, and for which the Democratic party has yet to hold her accountable. Clearly sensing an opportunity to renew his rivalry with the young progressive congresswoman, President Trump tweeted a video featuring Omar’s remarks interspersed with footage of the burning World Trade Center towers and other images from 9/11.

Now, Omar claims the president’s tweet has put her in danger. “Since the president’s tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life—many directly referencing or replying to the president’s video,” she wrote in a statement late Sunday night. More from Omar:

Violent crimes and other acts of hate by right-wing extremists and white nationalists are on the rise in this country and around the world. We can no longer ignore that they are being encouraged by the occupant of the highest office in the land. Counties that hosted a 2016 Trump rally saw a 226 percent increase in hate crimes in the months following the rally. And assaults increase when cities host Trump rallies. . . . This is endangering lives. It has to stop.

Many on the left, including several Democratic politicians and 2020 candidates spent the weekend insisting that right-wing criticism of Omar was directly putting her life in danger and “inciting violence” against her. “Inciting violence” is a highly specific legal category, and hardly any speech qualifies under that definition, so invoking it as a means of silencing Omar’s critics is nothing more than a hackneyed talking point.

These same commentators and elected officials had no qualms about Omar repeatedly spreading false accusations against the boys from Covington Catholic high school, and they rightly refrained from blaming Bernie Sanders for the Alexandria shooting in 2017, conducted by a former Sanders-campaign volunteer who targeted members of the congressional GOP citing his political beliefs.

The reaction to Omar’s comment at CAIR may have been a bit over the top, but the Democratic reaction to the criticism has been downright histrionic.

Violence on Campus

Unlike Congresswoman Omar, one conservative speaker has actually been subjected to assault in the last few days. Michael Knowles, a columnist for the Daily Wire, was assaulted late last week on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Knowles was scheduled to give a talk entitled “Men Are Not Women,” hosted by the campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom.

Protestors attended the talk and attempted to shout over Knowles’s remarks, holding signs that read “Trans rights are human rights,” “Respect my existence,” and “Trans men are men.” Finally, one protestor used a water gun to spray a “glitter-filled liquid” on Knowles, who tweeted immediately afterward that he initially thought it was bleach. Tests revealed it was “lavender oil and some other non-toxic household liquids.”

In response to the controversy, UMKC chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal released a statement affirming the First Amendment right to free speech, but not before he described Knowles as “a speaker whose professed opinions do not align with our commitment to diversity and inclusion and our goal of providing a welcoming environment to all people, particularly to our LGBT community.”

I’m sure Democrats who spent the weekend accusing the president of bringing down violence on Omar’s head will be offering Knowles their support any day now . . .

ADDENDUM: During a hearing on Capitol Hill last week, one of the directors of the new film Unplanned told lawmakers that nearly 100 abortion-clinic workers have sought to leave their jobs after watching the movie. It tells the real story of Abby Johnson, who used to work as one of the youngest clinic directors in the history of Planned Parenthood, before she witnessed an abortion procedure on an ultrasound machine and realized that she was helping to end human lives. She left her job, and today she runs a group called And Then There Were None, which helps abortion-clinic workers leave their jobs as well. These days, it sounds like they have even more clients than usual. Let’s hope for many more.

Happy to be filling in for Jim Geraghty this week! And happy Tax Day, everyone . . .

Politics & Policy

Our Political Fights Are Bad Because We Don’t Agree on the Rules

Anti-Brett Kavanaugh demonstrators chant before being arrested on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 24, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt for a week. Enjoy the week leading up to Easter Sunday, and if you’re going to be driving on I-95 South in Virginia, North Carolina, or South Carolina this afternoon, please stay out of the left lane.

Our Political Fights Are Intense Because We No Longer Agree on the Rules

Matthew Walther, writing about Julian Assange in The Week, lists how many Democrats and Republicans changed their minds about Assange depending upon whose secrets he was exposing and concludes:

[if Assange exposes Trump’s secrets], we can expect to see both sides revert once more to their circa 2010 defaults. Once more Assange would be the bugbear of the national security right and a liberal icon. It’s almost as if his own utter lawlessness were a mirror of the nihilism at the heart of the modern Western democratic imagination, a danger far greater than any given leak.

That’s a hard truth. One of the reasons our politics is so contentious and angry is that we can’t agree on what the rules are. Some of us want to argue that certain policies are good and certain policies are bad. But a vocal chunk of Americans don’t really care about what the policies are; they would much rather argue that their side is right. They don’t care if these are the same policies or comparable to those they denounced earlier. The system is clogged with bad-faith arguments, hypocrisy, and flip-flopping.

What do most Americans and most American policymakers think of running trillion-a-year deficits? It depends upon whether their party’s president is the one running up the debts. When the other guys are in power, it’s reckless endangerment of our children’s future. When their own guys are in power, it’s a necessary step to ensure economic growth.

When someone prominent is accused of a crime, is the bigger concern the rights of the accused and the burden of proof, or the rights of the victim to have her account heard and for the crime to be punished? For many people, it depends upon the partisan status of the person accused. Some people believed the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh instantly and adamantly insisted his confirmation to the Supreme Court was a great injustice; some of those same people take little interest in the women accusing Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax — and some people reversed their responses in the other direction.

The antiwar movement around Iraq and Afghanistan proved to be an anti-Bush movement; once Obama was in office, the protests grew more sparse and less covered. When one side’s leaders take military action, it’s protecting Americans in a dangerous world; when the other side’s leaders take military action, it’s irresponsible warmongering.

For many Americans, when the side they like uses heated rhetoric, it’s speaking truth to power. When the side they don’t like uses heated rhetoric, it’s hate speech and dangerous incitement.

There’s a funny video going around, contrasting House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler’s views on disclosure of reports investigating the president. He adamantly opposed the release of the Starr report to the public and cited the need to protect the privacy of the individuals mentioned in it; now “the entire Mueller report, with no redactions whatsoever” must be released immediately.

Is the desire to make more money inherently greedy? Or only conditionally greedy? For years, the mantra of Bernie Sanders was that the wealthy were driven by an intensely selfish desire: “How many yachts do billionaires need? How many cars do they need? Give us a break. You can’t have it all.” Sanders has three homes and is now a millionaire. He achieved this through selling books. Apparently selling books is a legitimate path to wealth, but other paths are somehow inherently exploitative.

If you’re partisan enough, you can convince yourself that Ralph Northam’s blackface is forgivable, that Michael Avenatti is a crusader for justice, that Jussie Smollett is exposing dark bigotry manifesting in the late-night streets of Chicago, that the Southern Poverty Law Center is reliable and careful, and that the reporting about allegations of Trump colluding with Russians to hack the 2016 election were well-sourced and even-handed.

If you’re partisan enough, you can convince yourself that Donald Trump is here to restore Christian values, clean up Washington, and provide a better role model for our political leaders; that Steve King is simply a misunderstood patriot; that the presidential summits with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un represented wise and cautious diplomacy; and that Paul Manafort and Roger Stone are well-meaning operatives that any good campaign would hire or choose as partners.

Lot of Interest in 1970s Busing Fights Lately, Huh?

Boy, Joe Biden’s efforts in the fight about forced busing and desegregation sure are getting a lot of attention these days, aren’t they?

I like going back over a politician’s career as much as the next guy, but doesn’t anyone in the media feel awkward that this issue received no attention during the eight years Biden was vice president? If this is worthy of public discussion and debate, why wasn’t this an issue in 2008?

There’s a simple explanation for this: The mainstream media’s level of interest in stories that could make Biden look bad is inversely proportional to how closely he’s standing to Barack Obama.

 It’s a lot like Biden’s wandering hands — fodder for jokes in the past, a topic for a serious national conversation now.

Can We Now Stop Using Kids as Political Spokesmen?

Ryan Petty, who lost his daughter Alaina in the Parkland shooting, wrote an op-ed for USA Today that echoes what a lot of us were saying last spring — that whatever you think of gun control, it’s probably not a good idea to take teenagers who have just been through a national event and put them in the spotlight as spokesman for a highly charged legislative proposal.

While the sense of political urgency from students was understandable and in some ways admirable, it came at the cost of a focus on the health and healing — for the families of the victims, students, teachers, and the community at large . .

The politicization and media-frenzied response to the murders overwhelmed and eclipsed the real, personal needs of the survivors and their loved ones. To be blunt, the cacophony of voices on gun control drowned out and suppressed a needed conversation on the mental-health needs at the school and in the community. For that failure, our community is paying a heavy price.

At the time, the motivation for spotlighting the teens was clear: to disagree with their often-heated and sometimes factually wrong assertions about gun violence amounted to “attacking children” in the eyes of their pro-gun control allies. It wasn’t about bringing new voices to the debate, it was about shutting down the debate.

ADDENDA: Hillary Clinton, with a sort-of funny line about Assange last night: “I do think it’s a little ironic that he may be the only foreigner that this administration would welcome to the United States.”

Ha-ha-ha. Say, who’s the president married to again? How many xenophobes marry immigrants?

In case you missed it yesterday, Tulsi Gabbard seems to think the Assange arrest was meant to intimidate journalists and Americans; it’s possible that no Democratic candidate wins enough delegates to clinch the nomination before the convention in 2020; and I, for one, am getting tired of hearing Terry McAuliffe tell the alligator-wrestling story.

World

Julian Assange’s Asylum Stint Comes to an End

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen as he leaves a police station in London, England, April 11, 2019. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The face of WikiLeaks — now oddly resembling Randy Quaid — is taken into police custody in London; the reign of a notorious dictator appears to be coming to an end; television viewers may already be tuning out the lesser-known Democratic candidates.

Julian Assange, the House Guest from Hell, Gets Evicted

If you think you’re having a rough morning . . .  at least you’re not Julian Assange.

“Police entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London Thursday morning, arresting Assange and bringing the Wikileaks founder’s seven-year stint there to a dramatic close,” reports CNN.

“Metropolitan Police said in a statement that he was further arrested on his arrival at a London police station on behalf of United States authorities, who have issued an extradition warrant.

“Officers made the move after Ecuador withdrew Assange’s asylum and invited authorities into the embassy, citing the Australian’s bad behavior.”

Seven years! And you thought your houseguests hung around for too long. Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, said in a video statement Thursday that his country withdrew Assange’s asylum due to his discourteous and aggressive behavior, the hostile and threatening declarations of his allied organization against Ecuador and the transgression of international treaties.

Sometimes karma takes the wrong bus and gets delayed, but it almost always eventually arrives at its destination.

Supporters of Assange and Wikileaks would often assert, “Information wants to be free.” Have you ever heard a more nonsensical statement? Information is inanimate; it has no will or desire. What the speaker means is, “I want all information to be free.” When someone says this, ask them for their credit-card numbers.

More important in that statement is that the philosophy requires the obliteration of privacy. Do you want your current account balances at your bank want to be “free”? Do you want people knowing what medication you take? Your medical records? Your relationship and marital ups and downs?

We all operate under some variation of the Japanese concept of honne and tatemae — the private self and the public self. Hopefully, our public selves are polite, appropriate, respectful, dignified, and striking the right note in our interactions with colleagues, neighbors, and strangers. Our private selves may be irreverent, vulnerable, bawdy, ashamed, insecure, angry, envious — intimate aspects of ourselves that we only share under particular circumstances with particular people.

It is erroneous to classify this as hypocrisy; it is more accurate to argue that a functioning society requires us to not always express the first thought that pops into our head. In life, we are certain to encounter people who irk us in one way or another, but our lives run more smoothly if we smile, nod, and act polite, and then quietly grumble about the person who struck us as an idiot. (“What time is the three o’clock meeting?”)

Even after millennia of human existence, we’re still managing the divide between public expectations and private truths. The Internet, in particular, is roiling this issue. Everyone who was a teenager before the dawn of the Internet has cringed as we watch teenagers post all kinds of material that they would later regret. Teenagers have not changed; the ability to create a permanent record of the usual dumb things that teenagers do has.

“Information wants to be free” was a bad idea even before we developed social-media mobs who are eager to go through your online history to find thoughtcrimes and embarrassing or controversial statements and moments, trying to make you unemployable and a social pariah. “Doxing” would not exist if a loose affiliation of malcontents didn’t know what to do with that information. Very few people find the home address of someone they’ve only interacted with online and choose to send flowers.

Governments need to keep secrets, too. We can argue about just how many secrets it should keep, and there’s a strong argument that the U.S. government over-classifies a lot of information that could be released to the public without harm. But besides all the aspects of national security that need to be kept secret — where our forces are, what they’re vulnerable to, what we know about hostile states and terrorist groups, what we don’t know, the identities of agents, case officers, and covert operators, and so on — our government needs to be able to assess and evaluate these issues in secrecy. The public also needs to be informed of at least the general contours of the national-security issues that concern the government, which is why the House and Senate intelligence committees usually hold both public and private hearings.

Countries also need to be able to communicate with each other discreetly. Sometimes a foreign government will privately agree with a U.S. policy and be willing to cooperate but cannot acknowledge their stance publicly because of preexisting public attitudes. For example, in 2010, the United States wanted to launch drone strikes against operatives of al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula. Because allowing U.S. airstrikes on Yemeni soil would irritate the Yemeni people, president Ali Abdullah Saleh told General David Petraeus, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” This was one of the secrets revealed in the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. The choice to reveal that conversation indicates that WikiLeaks finds the secrecy about the American bombing efforts more troubling that what those al-Qaeda members were doing.

Assange also believed:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive ‘secrecy tax’) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaptation.

On paper or in theory, that might make sense, but the world is full of secretive, unjust organizations that have managed to function with that “consequent system-wide cognitive decline” just fine. The regimes in North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria come to mind, as the various terrorist groups around the world. Then again, we shouldn’t be too surprised; the first guest on Assange’s talk show on Kremlin-funded Russia Today was Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Those of us who paid attention figured out early on that Julian Assange always seemed particularly angry with the American and western European governments, and never all that bothered by the world’s indisputably brutal and despotic regimes. Some of us never discovered a newfound appreciation for Assange once he started leaking information from the DNC and John Podesta, and saw the same guy we always did.

One More Dictator May Be Headed to the Exits

We haven’t seen an old-fashioned military coup in a while.

Sudan’s military ousted President Omar al-Bashir on Thursday, the defense minister announced, ending a 30-year authoritarian rule in the face of mass street protests that have swept the country.

Defense Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf said that Mr. al-Bashir had been taken into custody and that the government had been dissolved and the Constitution suspended. He said there would be a two-year transition period, with the military in charge, and announced a 10 p.m. curfew.

For a long time, former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren argued that Omar al-Bashir was a brutal dictator who had somehow escaped the worst of the West’s attention, scrutiny, and consequences. The International Criminal Court indicted him on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide back in 2009. You would think that the name “Omar al-Bashir” would be more widely-known and infamous in light of that.

Are Democrats Hitting ‘Campaign Fatigue’ Already?

Hey, Democrats? With more candidates than ever before, starting earlier than ever before (arguably, 2007 saw a lot of candidates getting an early start), and more intense coverage than ever before, your voters and the electorate at large might hit campaign fatigue surprisingly soon. Kirsten Gillibrand did one of those town hall events on CNN and . . .  viewers just weren’t interested.

Gillibrand’s town hall bagged a paltry 491,000 in total viewers and 115,000 in the advertiser-coveted age 25-54 demographic.

For some context: In the first quarter of 2019, CNN’s 10 p.m. host Don Lemon doubled those numbers; on average, he bagged 1.16 million total viewers and 361,000 in the demo.

Kamala Harris’s town hall in January drew record ratings for CNN: 1.95 million total viewers and 712,000 in the demo. But that was the first one in the series; Gillibrand’s is already the tenth.

ADDENDA: Over in the Corner yesterday: Tulsi Gabbard seems to think that your doctor wants to keep you sick; Virginia’s Democratic state legislators apologize . . .  to Ralph Northam; and Elizabeth Warren is creating new jobs, sort of.

World

Bibi’s Big Win

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, July 15, 2018. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Benjamin Netanyahu gets a big win in Israel, leaving some egg on the face of a famous bass guitarist and skateboarder who insisted that he didn’t represent “the true will of the Israeli people”; the Pentagon awards about $1 billion in contracts for additional border fencing; and some notes about a comedian eager to stand up to Vladimir Putin and the less-dramatic forms of modern espionage.

A Big Win for Bibi

In Israel, the multiparty parliamentary elections were close, but it appears that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set for a record fifth term. Likud and its allied right-of-center parties will have 65 seats in the new parliament, and the left-of-center parties are projected to have 55 seats. The good news for Likud’s top rival, the new Blue and White party of former general Benny Gantz, is that they won as many seats as Likud did; the bad news is their allied parties won fewer seats than Likud’s allies.

Netanyahu’s big win occurred in the face of corruption charges.

Netanyahu gained four seats compared to his outgoing coalition government, according to a spreadsheet published by the Central Elections Committee of parties that won enough votes to enter the next parliament.

“It is a night of colossal victory,” the 69-year-old Netanyahu told cheering supporters in a late-night speech at Likud headquarters after Tuesday’s vote.

“He’s a magician,” the crowd chanted as fireworks flared and Netanyahu kissed his wife Sara.

Presuming Netanyahu stays in office, he will become his country’s longest-serving prime minister in July — in office longer than the country’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion.

You may recall a famous skateboarder and bass guitarist declaring earlier this week, “I don’t think that Benjamin Netanyahu represents the true will of the Israeli people.”

Back on March 2, Natan Sachs, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, wrote, “Just a year or two ago, it seemed difficult to imagine how Netanyahu’s grip on power would end. Now the question seems to be less whether he’ll be forced from office, and more when.” (For what it’s worth, Netanyahu is not out of the woods on the corruption charges.)

You hear quite a few left-of-center Jewish commentators lamenting how closely Netanyahu has tied himself to Trump, and the perception — or perhaps reality — that support for Israel is now a partisan issue. But the American GOP and Likud have always been a little closer, and the Democratic party and the old Israeli Labor party used to use the same messaging and political consultants, as this 1999 article in the Baltimore Sun shows:

“In the last 10 years, Israel is going through a very speedy process of Americanization,” said Yoram Peri, a Hebrew University communications professor who tracks the changing nature of Israeli politics. “It began in 1992. It increased dramatically in 1996 when Netanyahu introduced new methods.”

In the past, Labor didn’t grasp the influence of “media-centered or television-centered politics,” said Peri. “Now they understand it.” The ads of Netanyahu’s chief opponent, Labor leader Barak, focus on the 57-year-old retired general’s vast experience in the military, including his days in an elite commando unit. Barak has hired two American political consultants, the wily James Carville and pollster Stanley Greenberg, both of whom worked for President Clinton.

It is not surprising that right-of-center parties in allied countries would see the world in a similar way.

Even by the standards of campaign rhetoric, that famous skateboarder and bass guitarist named Beto O’Rourke went pretty far earlier this week when he called Netanyahu “racist” and declared that he didn’t represent the will of the Israeli people. Inherent in O’Rourke’s statement was a gamble that Netanyahu wouldn’t be reelected, or that he will end up stepping down because of the corruption accusations. Netanyahu’s a pretty unpopular figure in U.S. Democratic circles, and always has been. A better, more rational Democratic party would ask why a man they detest keeps getting reelected and could become the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history, and maybe reevaluate their policies and worldview regarding Israel. If Netanyahu really is such a bully, provocateur, and an obstinate obstacle to peace . . .  why don’t Israeli voters see him that way? But my suspicion is that, as Newsweek’s recent cover and ludicrously sympathetic article make clear, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar really is changing the debate around Israel, and many American Democrats will conclude that a country that keeps reelecting Netanyahu isn’t worth supporting.

You can vastly overstate the parallels between American politics and Israeli politics. But there is clearly a disconnect in vision that separates the editorial board of the New York Times, the foreign-policy thinkers in Washington think tanks, former Obama administration officials and the rest of the left-of-center intelligentsia on one side and Israeli voters on the other side. To the former, Netanyahu is self-evidently the problem; to the latter, he’s the solution, or at least part of the problem — which is more or less how those groups see Donald Trump.

Fifty-Seven Miles of New Border Fencing, on Its Way

The wall is being built . . .  partially.

A $789 million contract was awarded to the Texas-based company SLSCO Ltd. for the construction of border wall in Santa Teresa, N.M., which is located in the El Paso sector of the border.

A second $187 million contract was awarded to the Montana-based Barnard Construction Company for work in Yuma, Ariz.

Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, told CNN that the El Paso sector contract would include the construction of “30-foot bollard fencing and a five-foot anti-climb plate,” and that the Yuma Sector project will feature “18-foot bollard fencing and a five-foot anti-climb plate.”

A spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers told CNN last month that the plan was to install 46 miles at El Paso and eleven miles of fencing at Yuma. CNN has reported that DHS had asked the Pentagon for assistance replacing existing vehicle barriers with pedestrian fencing, as well as light installation in El Paso and Yuma.

I think the argument for building about 300 additional miles of higher border fencing is clear and extremely compelling. I also think it’s insufficient as an immigration policy; we need some version of a more widely used and more regularly enforced E-verify system, and we need a way to track people who enter the country legally on temporary visas and then never return.

I also believe that there are some people in this country who are outright xenophobic and who are attracted to this issue because they simply hate people who come from cultures different from theirs. I think illegal immigration is a serious problem, but it has also turned into a universal scapegoat in the minds of some Americans. We generate plenty of violent criminals, gang members, drug dealers, and drunk drivers among native-born U.S. citizens.

Sometimes Americans have a hard time finding work because illegal immigrants are working in the jobs they used to do. But sometimes Americans have a hard time finding work because they’re lousy workers, have no valuable skills, poor work habits, or other problems that interfere with their performance. Sure, illegal immigrants have entered America’s poorer communities and exacerbated social problems like homelessness, poverty, crime, and strained community services such as schools and hospitals. But those poorer communities had plenty of serious social problems before the illegal immigrants arrived. If you snapped your fingers and all of the illegal immigrants magically returned to their countries of origin, a lot of those problems would still be there.

The national debate about what to do about illegal immigration is full of anger, accusations and counter-accusations, and furious demonization of the opposing side. I believe that if you make the border more secure in a way that Americans can see, you will let a little air out of the anger balloon. Immigration restrictionists will see that one of their demands has been met. The country will be able to distinguish between the well-meaning busboy with no criminal record beyond entering the country illegally and the MS-13 member and conclude that different circumstances warrant different responses.

The national discussion about crime and criminal-justice reform is a good example of how the conversation changes once the facts on the ground change. I think it’s good that many states and now the federal government are enacting anti-recidivism programs, job training, addiction-treatment programs, lighter drug sentencing, and other proposals designed to ensure that a lawbreaker’s first encounter with the criminal-justice system is his last. Many states are seeing seriously encouraging results so far. But you wouldn’t see those kinds of ideas enacted if crime rates were still as high as they were in the 1980s. Back then, voters wanted lawmakers to crack down hard on crime, abolish parole, mandatory minimum sentencing, building additional prisons, “three strikes and you’re out,” and so on. You couldn’t have the discussion about whether society would be better served with rehabilitation programs until people felt safe.

Those who want a path to legalization need to understand that Americans will always be wary, if not vehemently opposed, until the border is secure and they do not feel inundated by mass migration that is out of control. As a noted immigration restrictionist said, “If you open the borders, my God, there’s a lot of poverty in this world, and you’re going to have people from all over the world. And I don’t think that’s something that we can do at this point. Can’t do it.”

That noted immigration restrictionist was . . .  Bernie Sanders.

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it yesterday, if your country had Russian military forces on its front door, I wouldn’t want to entrust the government to a comedian. This is like contemplating electing Pat Paulsen in the late 1930s.

Secondly, if even I know to be wary about somebody else’s thumb drive, the Secret Service ought to know it, too.

Politics & Policy

We Have Bigger Problems to Tackle than Culture-War Politics

Making the click-through worthwhile: From the nation’s airports to Congress to the 2020 campaign trail, headline-grabbing culture-war spats arise, squeezing out discussion of more substantive and difficult issues; two New York Times reporters warn the political-journalism world that the debates that occur on Twitter do not reflect real life in America; and an unveiling of a new batch of data about the gun industry in each U.S. state.

The More Time You Spend on Culture-War Politics, The Less You Focus on Other Problems

The editors observe that “Chick-fil-A faces explicit, official retaliation [by government agencies] not for any incidents of discrimination in its stores, but rather for the constitutionally protected freedom of expression of its associated foundation” and declare it intolerable.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal is demanding that the IRS hand over six years of Donald Trump’s tax returns, ostensibly to prove that the Internal Revenue Service is properly auditing Trump’s returns. Many of us suspect the real aim of demanding the returns is to overcome Trump’s refusal to disclose them and sniff through them, looking for embarrassing details.

Pete Buttigieg challenges Vice President Pence, “If you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”(Never mind that it’s far from clear that Pence has a problem with who Buttigieg is.)

The country has real problems: opioid addiction, economic anxiety and insecurity, a long-term debt and unstable entitlement programs, a rising suicide rate, ensuring that every child and young person gets an education that prepares them for a changing economy. But at this moment, the single most popular thing that political leaders of either party can do is “go after” figures and institutions associated with the other side.

The biggest menace that Chick-fil-A presents to gay Americans is through the long-term threat of higher cholesterol, but Democratic lawmakers behave as if it must be driven from the nation’s airports. Think about the ideological blinders you must have on if you’re on the management board of a mid-sized airport, and you look upon the long lines, frustrated travelers, delayed flights, fraying infrastructure, spotty wireless, spotty signage, infrequent shuttles, and over in the corner, two businessmen desperate to recharge their phones and battling like gladiators over access to the last power outlet, and conclude that the Chick-fil-A sandwiches are the biggest problem that you need to address.

The notion that the IRS is somehow negligent in its duties regarding Trump is implausible; even if we didn’t have the existing evidence of the partisan passions within that government agency, Trump would still be a big and juicy target for any ambitious tax investigator. It is reasonable to believe that if any of the methods Donald Trump used to minimize his tax bill over the past decades were provably and indisputably illegal, the IRS and prosecutors would be all over him. It is easy to believe that Trump and his accountants used every legal method to minimize his tax bill to the fullest extent and got into gray areas, but again, if at any point in the past decades the IRS thought it had a winnable case, why would it hesitate?

In his autobiography Shortest Way Home, Buttigieg describes his relationship with Mike Pence as governor as “long and complicated” but the tension appears to lie almost entirely with Buttigieg. He describes cordial meetings with Pence as a congressman, “I was surprised with how affable, even gentle he was.” He writes that “the governor seemed determined to be a friend to South Bend. His office was always open to me, and he often appeared in our area for factory tours, ribbon cuttings, and other events, always with something good to say about our city.” He appoints Democrats to state boards. Pence declares at a local event, “South Bend is so blessed to have an energetic, innovative, forward-thinking, creative mayor in Pete Buttigieg.” Pence talks with Buttigieg about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which some contended would legalize discrimination against gays, and the worst Buttigieg can say is “It was clear from the look in his eyes that he had made up his mind.”

Back in 2015, Pence tweeted that if he saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, he wouldn’t eat there anymore. And when asked by a local television station what he thought of Buttigieg’s coming out, he replied, “I hold Mayor Buttigieg in the highest personal regard. We have a great working relationship. I see him as a dedicated public servant, and a patriot.”

Buttigieg can never muster any examples of Pence being rude, hostile or hateful, but his book keeps lamenting “the complications of being openly gay in Mike Pence’s Indiana.” It’s as if Buttigieg knows his intended audience is expecting a tale of Pence sneering or denouncing the mayor, but the then-governor keeps failing to live down to expectations.

As mentioned above, we’ve got bigger, more substantive problems to worry about on the national scene. Wage growth and automation; energy security and independence; the cost of higher education and whether it’s fostering genuine free thought, debate and inquiry; protecting our citizens at home and abroad from those who would seek to harm them. We just held a whole Ideas Summit tackling these big issues. But that’s not as much fun as “getting those guys!” — and it’s neither as widely covered by the national media, as quickly spread on social media, or as rewarded by the voters.

Twitter Is Not Real Life, Part Infinity

The New York Times’s Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy offer a cool graphic and article laying out how the vast majority of Democratic primary voters are not like the ones who are loudest and most active on social media. They’re more likely to identify as moderates or conservatives, more likely to say political correctness is a problem, don’t follow the news as closely, and be African-American. They add that polling might even “understate the leftward lean of the most politically active, Democratic Twitter users, who often engage with political journalists and can have a powerful effect in shaping the conventional wisdom.” Cohn asked the Democrats who follow him on Twitter how they classify themselves, and 29 percent said “very liberal” and 48 percent said “liberal.”

The question is . . .  how many political journalists realize this? How many political journalists keep that in mind when assessing who’s up and who’s down and what “the mood of the party’s grassroots” is?

How Big Is the Gun Industry in Your State?

The folks at WalletHub have put together an intriguing measurement of much a state is “dependent upon the gun industry,” although I think a more accurate moniker would be just measuring the gun culture in each state. They gathered the data on firearms-industry jobs per capita, gun sales per 1,000 residents, and gun-ownership rate.

In the category of firearms industry jobs per capita, there was a three-way tie for first, among New Hampshire, Idaho, and Montana. But when you measure which states have the highest tax revenues from firearms industry per capita, Wyoming, Maine, and Alaska come out on top. The highest rates of gun ownership are in Alaska, Arkansas, and Idaho.

The survey found a five-way tie for first in most NICS background checks per capita: Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia, and Idaho.

I’ll be covering this year’s NRA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, and each year I go, I marvel at just how many small American companies make up the gun industry. Besides the manufacturers, there are hundreds of companies that thrive from making associated gear, from holsters to gun safes to hunting equipment to cleaning materials to targets and skeet. Gun control activists talk about “the gun industry” and picture a bunch of guys in suits, which is not a particularly accurate portrait.

ADDENDUM: Congratulations, University of Virginia Cavaliers! As somebody on sports radio said, they’ve just created the greatest “yes, but” in sports history. As in, for years to come, someone will chuckle, “Only one number-one seed has ever lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament,” and someone else will inevitably respond, “Yes, but they came back and won the championship the following year!”

To paraphrase the brilliant Remy, it’s such a relief to see “Virginia” trending on Twitter and know that for once, it’s not about a politician wearing blackface.

Elections

Foreign Policy and the 2020 Presidential Election

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

Making the click-through worthwhile: Famous bass guitarist and skateboarder Beto O’Rourke assures us that he has identified the prime impediment to peace in the Middle East; a perpetually troubled city on the East Coast finds its mayor has discovered an innovative new form of corruption; and yet another not-all-that-popular Democrat convinces himself that the people are calling his name and begging him to run for president.

Beto O’Rourke: Bibi Netanyahu Is a Racist

Beto O’Rourke, who was in high school during the First Intifada, running an alternative weekly newspaper during the Second Intifada, and who was on the El Paso City Council when Bibi Netanyahu became Israeli Prime Minister for the second time, warns us that the U.S. — Israel relationship “must be able to transcend a prime minister who is racist.”

If you thought the relationship between Netanyahu and Barack Obama was tense, imagine how things would be between Netanyahu and O’Rourke.

O’Rourke added, “I don’t think that Benjamin Netanyahu represents the true will of the Israeli people.” Netanyahu has won four national elections; we’ll see later this week if he can win a fifth.

As we watch the bass guitarist-skateboarder-former congressman wade into the realm of international relations, it’s worth remembering that there are two main approaches to foreign policy offered by American politicians, and neither one is guaranteed to be effective.

Think of President Trump as an example of the first approach: direct, blunt, and denounced as “bullying” among the Davos set. Trump can make charm offensives, as with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, or he can flash not-so-veiled contempt for other world leaders, like Canada’s Justin Trudeau or Germany’s Angela Merkel. This approach is often dismissed as “cowboy diplomacy” by newspaper columnists, think-tank experts, and foreign-policy officials from the preceding administration.

Let’s use former secretary of state John Kerry as the example of the second approach. Kerry held endless meetings and summits and was patient to a fault. He enjoyed reminding the public how complicated, nuanced, and delicate his negotiations could be. He spent so much time in talks in conference rooms in Geneva that he should have bought a condo there. Week after week, month after month, Kerry would engage in shuttle diplomacy, journeying from foreign capital to foreign capital, and point to incremental progress on the thorniest of issues and argue that if the same approach continued, eventually there would be a grand breakthrough.

Despite the diametrically opposed styles, these are both attempts to get a country to do something when they are not inclined to do it. In both cases, there’s a belief that getting another country to do what we want is a matter of pressing the right buttons. In the Trump approach, we have to press the buttons harder, to make clear what a priority this is to us and make clear the consequences of a lack of cooperation. The threat of a fiery denunciation on Twitter is never far away, with the president of the United States castigating a foreign leader for all the world to see. In the Kerry approach, getting another country is like safecracking, listening carefully to the internal mechanisms until we figure out the right combination to get them to do what we want, and then carefully calibrating our actions to coax them in that direction.

But countries aren’t machines. Sometimes they just are unwilling to do what we want them to do, because they are convinced that our preferred course of action is against their national interest. Maybe they perceive their national interest in a way that strikes us as irrational or excessively aggressive or unfair to others. But no amount of American strong-arming or sweet-talk is likely to get them to change their minds.

Let’s take a seemingly simple U.S. foreign-policy goal, getting Turkey to be nicer to the Kurds. The Trump administration, and quite a few Americans across the political spectrum, would like to wind down our efforts in Syria with the Islamic State now largely defeated. The Kurds have been a steady U.S. ally throughout the war on terror, and they made up a big chunk of the Syrian Democratic Forces that fought ISIS. Back in February, Trump met with Kurdish Leader Ilham Ahmed and told her, “I love the Kurds.” If the U.S. foreign-policy community isn’t united in a desire to see the Kurds as an independent nation, there’s a broad consensus that we would like to see Turkey stop seeing all Kurdish forces in Syria as “terrorists” and pledging to “crush” all of them.

But there is no foreign-policy button on Turkey that says, “Be nicer.” Turkish politics are complicated. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is authoritarian, paranoid, and ambitious. His country’s politics have always been shaped by a fear that the Kurds in the southeast would attempt to secede. There’s a genuine, longstanding, serious terrorist threat from the PKK; last month the Turks claimed they had launched a joint military operation with the Iranians against the PKK. (Iran has its own problems with Kurdish separatists.) The term “deep state” originated in Turkish politics, because they really do have portions of the government bureaucracy pursuing their own agendas in secret. Erdogan and the foreign ministry face their own internal political pressures and pressures from public opinion. As in almost every country, no leader at any level can afford to look weak or appear to be submitting to foreign influence.

Diplomatic pressure from the United States is always going to be one of several competing forces shaping the decisions made by the Turkish government; at some times it will be stronger than other times, but it rarely will be enough to get Ankara to change its behavior all by itself. They say politics is the art of the possible and diplomacy is the same. But that’s not a particularly satisfying way to look at it, particularly for politicians who are convinced that they are blessed with an unparalleled gift at persuading others. There’s a famous anecdote that “as Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’”

In 2020, we’ll hear a lot from governors, senators, and mayors about how they would transform American foreign policy and breakup longstanding diplomatic logjams by “reaching out to our allies” and “engaging in substantive dialogue” and promises of vague “innovative new approaches.” No one wants to acknowledge that maybe the trouble spots of the world are as good as they can get, and that there is no possible lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, a happy reconciliation between China and Taiwan, durable peace on the Korean peninsula, or quick end to the war in Yemen, or substantive easing of tensions over Kashmir. Maybe the status quo in Afghanistan is as good as it’s going to get.

At Least Your Mayor Hasn’t Done This!

You may have heard that Baltimore’s mayor — not the one that presided over the riots, the new one — is caught in an embarrassing scandal of writing a hideously cliched children’s book entitled Healthy Holly and collecting backdoor bribes by having a hospital network that has business with the city buy a hundred thousand copies of the self-published book.

Apparently creative forms of bribery are no more popular than the traditional kind:

The Baltimore City Council called Monday on Mayor Catherine Pugh to resign.

The 14 council members sent a two-sentence letter to Pugh on Monday morning urging her to step down and sent copies to acting Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Solicitor Andre Davis, Pugh’s chief of staff Bruce Williams, and Baltimore’s senators and delegates in the General Assembly.

“The entire membership of the Baltimore City Council believes that it is not in the best interest of the City of Baltimore for you to continue to serve as Mayor,” the council members wrote to Pugh. “We urge you to tender your resignation, effective immediately.”

Hey, does any publisher want to commission a parody children’s book about “Corrupt Catherine”?

Oh, Heck, Let’s Throw in the Groundhog Killer. At This Point, Why Not, Right?

Good heavens, every last Democrat is going to run, aren’t they?

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s communications director is leaving City Hall to work on his federal political action committee, the latest sign that de Blasio is leaning toward a run for president.

Mike Casca, who came to City Hall in 2017 after working on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, will leave his city job Monday, he said. Wiley Norvell, a communications aide to de Blasio since he was the public advocate, will assume the $180,000-a-year role.

De Blasio’s got a 42 percent approval rating in the city and 76 percent think he shouldn’t run. I’d say there’s light at the end of the tunnel for de Blasio, but considering the state of the New York City subway, that light is an oncoming train that is perpetually delayed.

ADDENDUM: From a good essay by Terry Newman, covering Don Quixote, moral panics, and politics:

The real world, as Cervantes knew, is not that simple. Someone can be skeptical of the existence of “non-binary” genders without being a transphobe. Someone can suggest that women might, in general, be inclined to possess different interests than men without being a misogynist. Someone can think that things in the western world have been getting progressively better on the whole for centuries without being a white supremacist. These opinions are not indicative of a moral deficiency. These opinions may be correct, or they may be incorrect. They may also be changeable, or nuanced, or based on differing life experiences. The people holding these varied opinions are not thieves or blasphemers or giants. They are your fellow townsfolk.

White House

Democrats Demand to See Trump’s Tax Returns

President Trump attends a Department of Veterans Affairs event at the White House, August 3, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Democrats in the House demand that the IRS turn over six years of President Trump’s tax returns; Bernie Sanders isn’t quite clear on when he’ll release his tax returns; Beto O’Rourke identifies the modern version of the Third Reich.

Good morning! Hope you’re enjoying this “[darn] healthy economy . . . Over the past three months, the economy has produced on average +180,000 jobs per month. Which is smoking.”

Should Congress Get to See Trump’s Tax Returns?

The tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns was a good thing. If you want the power of the presidency, you have to be willing to let the American people learn a great deal about you. I’d argue the American people have a right to know where a potential president made his money, how he invested his money, and a sense of his charitable contributions.

Those of us with long memories remember the media treating the tax returns of Mitt Romney like they had the location of the lost city of Atlantis in them. And we remember Cory Booker and Terry McAuliffe releasing limited summaries of their financial information and getting considerably less grief about it.

Back in early 2016, I wrote that Trump was unlikely to ever release any of his tax returns, and that the most likely reason is they might indicate that his wealth, while substantial, is not the “TEN BILLION DOLLARS” that he touted. Trump declared that he couldn’t release his returns because he was being audited — never mind that President Nixon released his tax returns while he was being audited — and it’s pretty clear that Trump will never voluntarily release his tax returns. His election suggests that the American electorate doesn’t find this lack of disclosure to be a deal-breaker.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal is formally requesting six years of Trump’s tax returns, as well as a statement as to whether they were audited, why they were audited, when the audit was completed, and all of Trump’s businesses — and he wants all of the documents by Wednesday.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig wrote about the issue of Trump and his tax returns for Forbes magazine back in February 2016, and speculated about what would be found in them:

What is in Trump’s returns? Likely information prepared by many very well-qualified tax professionals who were quite aware the general public might be looking at the returns at some future date. It’s unlikely an accurate overall financial picture will surface by simply reviewing his returns. He likely pays taxes at a lesser rate than many of us given the nature of his real estate and similar investments being subjected to lower tax rates than salaries earned by the rest of us. Certainly, his tax professionals have not advised him to overpay his taxes.

He is likely worth far more than us but may be worth far less than the approximately $10 billion he wants us to believe. However, alone, his tax returns are unlikely to provide an accurate picture beyond the Forbes estimate of $4.5 billion.

Neal argues that the committee needs the records because “the IRS has a policy of auditing the tax returns of all sitting presidents and vice-presidents, yet little is known about the effectiveness of this program. On behalf of the American people, the Ways and Means Committee must determine if that policy is being followed, and, if so, whether these audits are conducted fully and appropriately.”

More than a few Republicans will suspect that the real goal of the committee is to get Trump’s tax returns, look through it for anything disparaging or embarrassing, and then leaking that.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, charges that the Democrats are launching a fishing expedition:

I, for one, haven’t seen any evidence that the IRS has suddenly changed its policy under this president – that it’s conducting a less thorough review of President Trump’s taxes than it did of previous presidents, or that it hasn’t conducted a review at all. So why are Democrats considering these changes to the tax code now? Why didn’t they raise the issue under President Obama, or President Bush, or President Clinton? The answer is, nothing has changed. There’s no reason to believe the IRS is doing any less due diligence in its review of President Trump’s taxes than it has for any other president in recent memory.

(This is the same Chuck Grassley who called President Trump’s comment that wind turbines can cause cancer “idiotic,” so let’s dispense with the idea that Grassley is just a partisan hack who defends the president under any circumstances. He’s upset about this because he can see what happens when politicians can access the tax returns of political foes without their permission.)

Grassley continues:

If Democrats are truly interested in finding out the level of scrutiny given to a president’s tax returns, why not just ask the IRS to describe its audit procedure?

That’s a straightforward question, and I’m sure Commissioner Rettig would be happy to oblige with a straightforward answer.

Why is there a need to see President Trump’s tax returns in order to get an answer to those questions?

I’ll give you a hint. There isn’t one . . .

When Congress reformed the modern IRS privacy law, it was 1976 — not long after President Nixon left office.

Nixon had used his power over the IRS to target his political enemies, and Congress wanted to make sure this never happened again. Congress was determined to put protections in place that would prevent that kind of abuse of power in the future.

Congress wanted to ensure private tax information would never be used for political purposes again.

But if you strip away all of the pretense and trace this current effort back to its roots, that sounds an awful lot like what’s happening now.

If the IRS turns over Trump’s tax returns to the Democrats in the House, then future members of Congress will demand the tax returns of other political rivals.

Maybe the Socialist Senator Isn’t Eager to Have a Public Discussion about His Third Home

And speaking of releasing tax returns . . .

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders sidestepped questions Thursday about when he will release his tax returns, with the Vermont independent hinting he could fulfill his six-week old pledge to make public ten years of tax returns on April 15 — Tax Day.

Yet, as quickly as Sanders suggested that, he appeared to backtrack and wouldn’t commit that he would release them then.

“Do you know what April 15th is? It’s Tax Day,” Sanders told CNN on Capitol Hill when asked if there was an issue to releasing his taxes. “So, I think we want to make sure we have all of them together and as I said, they will be released soon.”

When asked if that meant he would not necessarily release his tax returns on April 15, Sanders responded, “That’s it. Thank you very much.”

An aide then stepped in front of CNN and said, “He answered your question” and referred CNN to follow up with a Sanders’ spokesperson.

Back in 2016, I noted that Sanders and his wife utilized several deductions that he pledged to eliminate in his tax plan.

Beto O’Rourke, Nazi Hunter

Our Kyle Smith marvels that Beto O’Rourke is so transparently attempting to imitate Barack Obama’s rhetoric and style and is proving to be a pale imitation (no pun intended):

Obama was, moreover, exceedingly careful. He avoided saying anything crazy like suggesting we tear down existing border fencing in Texas or contemplate reparations for slavery. O’Rourke seems to toss out jawdroppers on the fly.

Then, almost as if on cue, “Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke told a crowd in Sioux City, Iowa, that some of President Donald Trump’s inflammatory remarks echo the rhetoric of Nazi Germany’s ‘Third Reich.’”

Primary voters will love that, but in the general election, that will be “basket of deplorables” on steroids.

ADDENDUM: Peggy Noonan warns Joe Biden:

In the past you were never really slimed and reviled by your party; you were mostly teased and patronized. But if you get in the race this time, it will be different. They will show none of the old respect for you, your vice presidency or your past fealty to the cause. And you are in the habit of receiving respect.

Elections

Every Democrat and Their Mother Is Running for President

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

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

Almost Every Democrat Is Running for President

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also note that Clinton ran against TPP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elections

Pete Buttigieg Is Having His Moment

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

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

Setting the Stopwatch on Pete Buttigieg’s Moment

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

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

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

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

Compare that assessment to mine from last month:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, Out in Wisconsin . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elections

Joe Biden Got Away With It for Eight Years

Joe Biden in 2015 (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

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

Why Democratic Candidates Can’t See Themselves Clearly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Allen’s morning newsletter reports:

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

Welcome to Thunderdome!

Yes, There Is Such a Thing as Too Many Candidates

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Redactions Are Unacceptable.’

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

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

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

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

Elections

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

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

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

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

We Need to Have a Talk about Crazy Uncle Joe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Nationalism Debate — er, Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elections

The Democrats and Identity Politics in 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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