Making the click-through worthwhile: Deep-blue state legislative districts in Pennsylvania start flirting with the red . . . of openly professed socialist candidates; Democrats nominate their more liberal candidates, Republicans nominate their more moderate options; many bright writers discuss the influence of Tom Wolfe; and a quick observation about how modern media are changing language for the worse.
Democrats Nominate Literal, Non-Metaphorical Socialists in Pennsylvania Primaries
Two openly socialist candidates — as in, dues-paying members of Pittsburgh’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America — won Democratic primaries for the Pennsylvania state House of Representatives last night.
The [defeated incumbent Democrat] Costa cousins represent deeply blue districts in a city where winning the Democratic nomination is often tantamount to winning the general election. Sara Innamorato and Summer Lee are running primary campaigns against them that are anything but quixotic. Both challengers have aired television ads and have garnered support from a handful of prominent local officials. Both have notched endorsements from the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood. Lee has outraised her opponent, Paul Costa, and Innamorato has kept pace with Dom Costa. The districts are small—each holds 60,000 people—and the campaigns expect to be able to win each primary with just about 3,500 votes. Volunteers, including a hefty portion of DSA members, have knocked and canvassed tens of thousands of doors.
The further-left Democratic candidates won in a lot of primaries across the country last night, but it’s fair to wonder if that’s really the smart move in places such as . . . Omaha, Nebraska.
The potential problem for Democrats is that Eastman’s outspoken liberalism may turn off general-election voters in Nebraska’s 2nd District, which, while not ruby red, is still red. True, Barack Obama carried it 50 to 49 percent in 2008 — but that was 10 years ago and in an election where Democrats won the popular vote by 7 percentage points. Since then, Mitt Romney carried the district by 7 points (while losing nationally by 4 points), and Trump won it by 2 (while losing nationally by 2). All in all, the 2nd is 6 percentage points more Republican-leaning than the nation as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric.2 Democrats currently lead the generic ballot by that same 6 points. If that’s true in November, that would theoretically translate to a tie ballgame in the 2nd District — the kind where small considerations, like a candidate’s appeal to the median voter, could tilt the outcome.
And the Republicans . . . actually nominated the more moderate options in a lot of races last night.
Republicans held primaries last night too — and, in a role reversal, for the most part they chose more electable options. In Idaho, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who enjoyed the support of much of Idaho’s Republican establishment, defeated Trump-like businessman Tommy Ahlquist and bomb-throwing tea party Rep. Raul Labrador in the primary for governor. In Oregon, pro-choice state Rep. Knute Buehler fended off two more conservative Republicans with 47 percent of the vote, preserving a potential path to victory for the GOP in the Beaver State’s gubernatorial race. And in Pennsylvania, state Sen. Scott Wagner — who came the closest to defeating Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in pre-primary polls — topped Paul Mango, albeit by a smaller-than-expected 44-to-37-percent margin.
These choices won’t make a huge difference in a “blue wave” election cycle, but in March, Trump’s approval rating in the RCP average was 39.8 percent; today it’s 43.1 percent.
Contemplating the Life’s Work of the Great Tom Wolfe
There are great fiction writers. There are great nonfiction writers. What made Tom Wolfe downright unfair is how he slid over from being a brilliant journalist and nonfiction writer to bring a brilliant novelist and fiction writer without skipping a beat.
Wolfe was frequently described as a conservative and was a longtime friend of many figures at National Review, but he may not have seen himself as a conservative; as our Kyle Smith notes, he voted for Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. But he enjoyed puncturing smugness and hypocrisy wherever he found it, which meant he was often at odds with the modern Left. The Editors offer a revealing quote from Wolfe from 1980:
These days, if you mock the prevailing fashion in the world of the arts or journalism, you’re called a conservative. Which is just another term for a heretic. I would much rather be called a conservative in that case than its opposite, I assure you.
(Revealing for everyone who argues, “the hard Left has never had such an iron grip on the arts and culture as it does today.”)
His New York magazine essay, “Radical Chic” is online:
Wonder what the Black Panthers eat here on the hors d’oeuvre trail? Do the Panthers like little Roquefort cheese morsels wrapped in crushed nuts this way, and asparagus tips in mayonnaise dabs, and meatballs petites au Coq Hardi, all of which are at this very moment being offered to them on gadrooned silver platters by maids in black uniforms with hand-ironed white aprons?
Our Kyle Smith writes that Tom Wolfe’s books altered the course of his life:
To this day, no book has ever hit me harder [than The Right Stuff]. The acuity of Wolfe’s social analysis, the depth of his reporting, and most of all the mad, exhilarating gallop of his prose style rerouted my mind, redirected my intentions. Wolfe’s impassioned admiration for the courage and ingenuity of test pilot Chuck Yeager and the Mercury space-program astronauts jarred all my ironic, postmodernist, Ivory Tower assumptions. I was a Mike Dukakis–loving liberal Democrat, but in the book’s jovial respect for what would later be known as red-state culture (it was Wolfe who popularized the phrase “good ol’ boy”) came the first low rumblings that I might someday become patriotic, maybe even conservative.
John Podhoretz makes a key observation about how Wolfe was an outsider almost everywhere he went, and was extremely comfortable being one: “Tom Wolfe, who died Monday at the age of 88, carried his Virginia accent with him all of his days. He famously, or notoriously, dressed himself in a creamy white suit whose purpose seemed to be to say ‘Whatever I am, I am not one of you.’” David Frum said Wolfe once explained a purpose behind his wardrobe: “Try to interview hippies or NASCAR fans dressed like one of themselves — they’ll instantly sniff you out as a fraud. Show up dressed like the Man From Mars, and they’ll tell you all you wish to know. People love explaining things.”
What’s fascinating is that Wolfe turned out to be one of the most influential writers of the past generation, if not the most influential, without setting out to be a crusader. His writing became powerful because of his skill at observation. The portrait was the polemic. He didn’t need to argue against the greed, narcissism, status-obsessiveness, and cynical opportunism of 1980s New York City; he just weaved a story through recognizable figures and archetypes in The Bonfire of the Vanities, and everyone recoiled.
I think Richard Brookhiser makes another key observation about how Wolfe seemed to quietly enjoy his distance from those he profiled and observed. Perhaps they were fools, but he wasn’t going to denounce them. But he might take gentle amusement in how their visions and schemes rarely came to fruition the way they hoped: “He was Richmond, looking with appreciation but also a slight smile at the rest of the country. There was always a trace — minus Lost Cause nonsense and its attendant racial thuggery — of the loser saying, politely, ‘Well, now that you’ve won — isn’t that interesting?’” Americans of all stripes — the hippies, the radicals, the upper crust, the ambitious lawyers, the debt-ridden moguls depicted in A Man in Full — had made their choices and now they were living with the consequences.
Two Painfully Accurate Observations of Modern Writing
Wolfe’s passing is perhaps a good opportunity to observe how social media — and the rise of online journalism, with its attendant appetite for clicks through attention-grabbing headlines — have turned modern writing into cacophonous noise. Wall Street Journal editor Bill Power notes, “It’s our own fault as writers and social-media posters. But the words startling, stunning, outrageous, crisis and chaos now mean nothing more than: interesting, notable, weird, situation and unrest.”
Then there’s the role of ideology and belief, which frequently prompts us to want to downplay news, facts and truth that embarrasses us and hype news, facts and truth that embarrasses those who disagree with us. Iowahawk calls “controversial” a “wonder word that makes something innocuous sound criminal and makes something criminal sound innocuous.”
ADDENDA: I was going to tout John Hillen’s new book, What Happens Now?: Reinvent Yourself as a Leader Before Your Business Outruns You, but Amazon says they’re out of stock! That’s a terrific sign for John, and a hint that you can either order and download a copy to your Kindle, or place an order and have a copy shipped once they restock.
Our Kathryn Lopez is hosting a foster-care forum on May 24 at Marriott Marquis Hotel in Washington, D.C., featuring the incoming chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life office, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City. The event will include foster parents, policymakers, and researchers, and will focus on the challenges to the current foster-care system, including the opioid crisis. The event aims to raise awareness about need and resources and to ensure everyone walks away with a plan for action. Kathryn’s hoping for an audience of people who can add to the conversation or may want to contribute to the solution. If you’re in D.C. and interested in foster care, check it out.