The Morning Jolt


Don’t Mistake Sherrod Brown for Being a Moderate

Senator Sherrod Brown (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: why the conventional wisdom around Ohio senator Sherrod Brown and his potential 2020 bid is probably all wrong, Virginia’s attorney general Mark Herring explains why Ralph Northam will stick around, and an event you don’t want to miss.

What You Need to Know about Sherrod Brown

In case you missed it yesterday, twenty things you probably didn’t know about Sherrod Brown. The whole series can be found here.

Every recent profile of Brown hits the same notes and makes the same case for him to be the Democratic nominee: He’s blue-collar, working-class white union member personified, he’s won Ohio cycle after cycle while other Democrats have had trouble, he’s amiable and unassuming and “rumpled” — someone please get these correspondents a thesaurus — and he’ll be able to win the populism-minded voters back from Trump.

I’m not so sure that the conventional wisdom is solid on this one.

Like Tulsi Gabbard and Amy Klobuchar, Brown sometimes gets labeled a “moderate” or “centrist” or even “conservative enough for people in the center” when his voting record and stances are nothing of the sort. Slate called Brown “centrist” because he isn’t signing on to cosponsor the Green New Deal. Be careful of all of the broken glass around here; somebody tried to move the Overton Window too quickly.

The guy is liberal. Really liberal. I know people might quibble with the ratings of various interest groups, but the vast majority of them are open about which votes they score and why. Sherrod Brown scoring a 5.92 out of 100 in his lifetime ACU rating, ranking him among the most liberal senators. He’s rated 13 out of 100 by the NRA, 4 percent lifetime by Club for Growth, 3 percent by Americans for Prosperity, 2 percent by NumbersUSA, a zero by the Center for Security Policy, a zero by the American Energy Alliance, and a zero by Citizens Against Government Waste.

He’s rated 100 percent lifetime — meaning he’s never voted against their preferred position —  by Planned Parenthood and NARAL (abortion), the Brady Campaign (gun control), the Human Rights Campaign (gay rights), the National Education Association (teacher’s unions), National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (government workers and spending), Council on Islamic-American Relations the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, a 93 percent out of 100 by the League of Conservation Voters, and anywhere from 83 to 100 by various labor unions.

 I really think a lot of folks in political media label Democratic officeholders and candidates “centrist,” “moderate” or “liberal” based entirely on aesthetics and personal style. Brown votes like Bernie Sanders but get covered, and is perceived, completely differently.

Brown is about as far from “Washington outsider” as you can get. He was elected to public office before I was born, elected to Congress when I was in high school, and elected to the Senate before the iPhone was announced. He’s spent two years in the private sector in his adult life. For a populist, he’s spent a lot of time in the establishment; for an agent of change, he’s spent a lot of time running things. Some might wonder how Brown can keep getting easily reelected in his not-so-liberal state. Observe that if you’re going to run for Senate in Ohio as a Democrat, then 2006, 2012, and 2018 were three really good years to do it — two Democratic wave years and Obama’s successful reelection bid.

Beyond that, the New Yorker profile offered this anecdote:

Just after Thanksgiving, while riding the stationary bike in his basement, Brown read a David Brooks column in the Times, which argued that a “crisis of connection” now defined the nation. “Economic anxiety is now downstream from and merged with sociological, psychological and spiritual decay,” Brooks wrote. “It’s not jobs, jobs, jobs anymore. It’s relationships, relationships, relationships.” From his bike, Brown let out a groan audible from upstairs. Brown has about the opposite intellectual approach from Brooks, whose columns can move rapidly from a mundane policy question to the question of the relationship between man and God. A few days later, the Times published a letter to the editor from the Ohio senator, with a Cleveland dateline. “Actually it’s wages, wages, wages,” Brown wrote. “And respecting the dignity of work.”

Except wages grew more than 3 percent in 2018. Wages could grow faster, but Brooks seems to have a point about “sociological, psychological and spiritual decay.” Unemployment is extremely low by historical patterns, but new data out today shows “the number of deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide in 2017 hit the highest level since federal data collection started in 1999.” We’re in an economic boom and a psychological depression.

Maybe you love Trump’s bravado, maybe you don’t, but it speaks to a yearning to restore a lost pride in America as a nation and in ourselves. Trump hasn’t lived his life in a particularly Christian way; his life is a vivid exhibition of all seven deadly sins. But even his intermittent public embraces of Christianity represent an acknowledgement that faith and the connectivity of religious communities are important, and that this acknowledgment of a higher power and these values are the glue that hold everything together or keep us going when times are toughest. If “hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue,” at least the hypocrite is paying a tribute. Some folks would prefer to erase the virtue entirely.

Beyond that, I don’t know how well Brown will be able to bridge his union-focused agenda with the worldview of modern progressivism that the average suburban Americans — most likely, suburban dads at backyard barbecues — are the root of all evil by driving environmentally unfriendly SUVs, eating too much meat, gripped by unconscious bias, refusing to give up their guns, opposing abortion, wariness about government control of health care, politically incorrect beliefs and problematic jokes, and so on.

Looking over Brown’s career, he seems to think that the best way to fix what’s wrong with America is to raise the minimum wage, have more Americans join unions, and enact more tariffs on foreign imports. I’m not so sure that’s the slam-dunk against Trump that the Democrats believe it is.

Herring: Maybe Governor Northam Doesn’t Have to Resign Anymore

Let’s give a molecule or two of credit to Virginia attorney general Mark Herring, more commonly known as, “the other Virginia statewide official who wore blackface in his younger years.” He’s got an internal logic to his belief that Governor Ralph Northam should resign, but that he shouldn’t.

“I myself struggled with what to do when the governor’s medical school yearbook photo came out that Friday night,” Herring said. “I was shocked as I’m sure everyone was. Shocked also when the governor admitted that he was in the photo and apologized for it. And I was also thinking, would I need to have a reckoning, a public reckoning for something I had done in my past?”

The photo on Northam’s page of the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook showed one man wearing blackface and a second in Ku Klux Klan garb. On February 2, the day after the scandal broke, Northam changed his account and said he was not in the photo. Later that day, Herring joined many elected Virginia Democrats calling on Northam to resign. He said Monday that it was more than just a photo that prompted his call for Northam’s resignation.

Northam’s contradictory accounts “led to an evaporation of a lot of trust, especially public trust in the people whose support he would need to be effective, which is when I came out with a statement about it,” Herring said. “But I really wrestled with what to do given what I had done, and talked to my family about it. I talked to a couple of college friends about it.”

In other words, it’s not the action in 1984 that merits resignation, it’s the implausible explanation, offered to the public as a governor in 2019 that does. But Herring is now dodging questions about whether he still thinks Northam should resign.

Out of the three Virginia lawmakers mired in scandal, you can probably make the strongest argument in defense of Herring. He came forward with his own blackface before any pictures surfaced. He was 19 years old when he wore blackface while Northam was 25; those who met with Herring say he seems genuinely contrite. Of course, because Virginia Democrats are afraid to attempt articulating those fine distinctions, they seem content to keep everyone in place. The voters will get to weigh in on that decision in the state legislative elections in November.

Book Your Spot at the Ideas Summit Now!

Time is running out! The National Review Ideas Summit is occurring March 28th and 29th at The Mandarin Oriental in Washington, D.C. — and I’ll be there! I don’t know what I’m doing yet, but apparently I’m doing something! Two years ago, I got to ask KellyAnne Conway about spying through microwaves and we heard, for the first time, her account of Hillary Clinton’s concession phone call to President Trump. The only way to know what will happen this year . . .  is by being there!

ADDENDUM: Yesterday’s assessment of Max Boot crops up in the Jerusalem Post profile of the ex-Republican . . .


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