The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

‘They Are Never Talking about Issues Like Russia’

“Our brand is worse than Trump.”

That quote from Ohio Democratic representative Tim Ryan in the New York Times is going to get a lot of attention; for Republicans it’s a reason for glee and for Democrats, a devastating self-assessment that challenges them on an almost existential level.

But the comment that probably ought to spur even more thought in Democratic lawmakers’ offices is this one from Chris Murphy, who dares to utter the heretical thought that the preeminent obsession of Democrats since Election Day 2016 — the as-yet-unproven possibility of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign — simply is a non-factor in the lives of most Americans:

“The fact that we have spent so much time talking about Russia has been a distraction from what should be the clear contrast between Democrats and the Trump agenda, which is on economics,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” whether Ossoff’s defeat means the party should become more progressive, the senator responded that it’s more an issue of what they’re talking about. “When I’m back in Connecticut, I often get on a commuter bus and ride it for just an hour to talk to folks that don’t normally call my office or write my office,” Murphy explained. “They are never talking about issues like Russia. They are not talking, frankly, about what’s on cable news at night.”

Now, this idea that a party should only focus on “kitchen table issues” or what’s on the mind of the “common man” can be taken too far. There are a lot of issues that the average voter doesn’t think about much that are still important. The debt and deficit, the long-term outlook for entitlement programs, almost everything involving foreign relations that don’t involve the war on terrorism, cyber-security, most issues involving the judiciary and debates about interpreting the Constitution, most government regulations outside of a few high-profile news stories, the state of higher-education institutions, most energy issues beyond gas prices . . . People tend to talk about anything that affects them directly or something that has been in the news a lot, particularly if there’s an element of human drama.

The New York Times article makes a fleeting reference that probably deserves more attention . . . 

Part of the Democrats’ challenge now is that the jobless rate is low, and many of the districts they are targeting are a lot like the Georgia seat: thriving suburbs filled with voters who have only watched their portfolios grow since Mr. Trump took office.

Back in March, during his address to Congress, President Trump boasted that the stock market had gained almost $3 trillion in value since his election; since then, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen another couple hundred points. In other words, if you’re an investor, these are the good times. Your 401(k) probably looks better than you ever figured it would a year ago. Yes, the stock market could go down, and some analysts think it will.

Ben Shapiro points out how apocalyptic modern political rhetoric is on both sides. How apocalyptic do you think those voters in those white-collar suburban congressional districts feel?

The Failure of Cellular Violence

Speaking of not being apocalyptic, about a week ago, John Podhoretz recoiled from the mad bloodlust of the Alexandria shooter and wondered if we are about to experience “a similar feeling of chaos” as in 1968; our Max Bloom laid out the numerous ways that the circumstances just aren’t parallel.

Over on NRO’s home page, I pointed out that despite the feeling that we are besieged by violence and terrorism, since 9/11 terror on American soil has just about always been perpetrated by one or two assailants, not a group. This is a major difference from the late ’60s and early ’70s.

It’s easy to forget just how comparably vast some of these radical groups were. About 800 members of the Weathermen came out to square off against the Chicago police on October 8, 1969. After two clashes with the police left many injured and arrested, about 200 to 300 members of the Weathermen decided at the “Flint War Council” to shift to working in cells or small groups and to plot bombings. The moral inversion on display was jaw-dropping:

Some who attended the War Council said the highlight was a speech given by [Bernardine] Dohrn.

Dohrn reportedly spoke admiringly of the murders of actress Sharon Tate and others in California by Charles Manson and his cult family in 1969, according to later accounts. Holding up three fingers, Dohrn described how Manson’s people used forks to stab the bodies after they murdered their victims.

For the rest of the council, the Weathermen used the three-finger salute as a rallying symbol.

It may seem we’re living in the most dire of troubled times, but then you read about two generations ago, when groups of people gathered to celebrate Charles Manson as a role model for social change, and suddenly modern society doesn’t seem to be doing so badly . . . 

Ben Franklin reportedly said, “Three people can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” It appears that keeping a terror plot secret is much harder when it involves three or more perpetrators than when it has just one or two. There are just too many opportunities for someone to spill the beans, get caught in an NSA or FBI surveillance net, associate with someone on a watch list, or attract attention for suspicious behavior.

Latasha Harlins and Philando Castile

You may recall me raving last year about the ESPN five-part documentary, O.J.: Made in America. One of the things that made it great was how much it was willing to dive into topics that might seem peripheral to O.J. Simpson’s life story but in fact provided enormous context and background, and a better understanding of why events played out the way they did. The producers clearly decided early on that you couldn’t discuss the racial divide in Los Angeles, and the distrust of the LAPD during Simpson’s trial, without explaining the L.A. riots of a few years earlier, and you couldn’t really understand what triggered the L.A. riots without discussing the 1991 killing of Latasha Harlins.

Latasha Harlins was a 15-year-old African-American girl who got into a dispute with 51-year-old female Korean-American store owner Soon Ja Du. As seen on the store’s security tape, Du accused Harlins of shoplifting. Hu grabbed Harlins’s sleeve; Harlins punched Hu. They continue to exchange words, then Harlins turned away, and Du pulled out a gun and shot Harlins in the back of the head from a distance of three feet. The video can be seen here and is . . . grim viewing.

Between the videotape and the witnesses in the store contradicting Du’s claim it was an attempted holdup, this was an open-and-shut case. The jury found Du guilty of voluntary manslaughter, an offense that carries a maximum prison sentence of 16 years. But trial judge Joyce Karlin sentenced Du to five years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and a $500 fine. No jail time.

Shocked and enraged protesters scuffled with police outside the courthouse, a precursor to the riots that would arrive less than a year later. Rioting is wrong, but it’s not hard to understand the seething outrage of African Americans in Los Angeles at that moment. If a person casually executes someone who looks like you, and the system treats it like a minor crime, do you feel like your rights are being protected? Do you feel like the justice system cares about you? Do you feel like society at large believes your life matters?

Fast forward to 2016, and think of the traffic stop that cost Philando Castile his life. Once again, we have videotape and this time, audio of what led to the shooting.

Our David French lays out all the facts succinctly and clearly. As far as anyone can see and hear, Castile did exactly as he was told, and exactly what he was supposed to do. Officer Jeronimo Yanez asked for his driver’s license and proof of insurance, Castile handed over his car-insurance information card. Then he calmly informed officer Yanez that he had a gun; the officer responds, “don’t reach for it.”

In a span of about 20 seconds, Yanez instructed Castile to hand over his driver’s license and to not reach for his gun. Give me something that is in your pocket, but do not look like you are reaching for something by your waist. Within seven seconds, Yanez has interpreted Castile reaching to get out his driver’s license, as instructed, as reaching for a weapon, and shoots at Castile seven times.

Is there a legal consequence for fatally shooting someone over a misunderstanding?

In the courtroom, no. The jury found Yanez not guilty on all counts — second-degree manslaughter in as well as two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. After the verdict, the police department fired him: “The City of St. Anthony has concluded that the public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city. The city intends to offer Officer Yanez a voluntary separation agreement to help him transition to another career other than being a St. Anthony officer.”

The protests in Minnesota since the verdict have been pretty peaceful; Friday night, 18 people were arrested for blocking traffic on I-94. Thankfully, nothing resembling the L.A. riots has occurred.

We live in a world with a lot of overheated rhetoric, a lot of racial demagoguery, and a lot of people who are quick to demonize the police, lie, or throw gasoline on the fires of public anger. But sometimes events play out as just as badly as everyone fears. An innocent man was shot to death by a police officer, with no significant legal consequence.

ADDENDA: The Missouri chapter of Americans for Prosperity is doing something unusual. Most activist groups push to get a law passed or changed, and then move on to new goals. But this group won their fight to get “right to work” legislation passed earlier this year . . . now they’re out to tell everyone why it’s such a good idea. The organization is launching “a six-figure issue education effort to inform Missourians about the benefits of the recently-passed right-to-work legislation. AFP-Foundation will use digital ads, door-to-door canvassing, volunteer phone calls, and mailers to educate residents of how right-to-work affects Missouri workers.” You can see the mailer here.

I’ll be out next week, so someone — probably Jack Fowler? — will be pinch-hitting in my absence.

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