Dear Weekend Jolter,
If you are reading this on Saturday, it is December 7, which by sad happenstance is the 78th anniversary of the dastardly attack on America at Pearl Harbor. Never forget, they say. So let us not forget. An idea: Watch and listen to President Roosevelt’s address the following day asking Congress for a declaration of war.
“But always,” said the President, midway through his speech, “will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.” Always. We do our part here, to honor those men, few and aged, who were at Pearl Harbor and those who still live on — such as Lou Conter, one of three surviving crew members of the USS Arizona — and for those souls who perished that sunny Sunday morning at the hands of Japanese imperialism, many of them entombed in that noble ship.
We remember the brave and the dead at the end of a week that may not be one of comparable infamy, but one of political madness, if Your Bumbling Correspondent might share an opinion he considers unimpeachable.
And now, let us proceed on to the Weekend Jolt. But first . . .
There Are Just 17 Shopping Days Left Until Christmas
The anxiety is mounting, but you can vanquish it, right now, by sending those you love a gift subscription to National Review. A brilliant idea, yes? Yes! Do it here.
1. Kudos to the Trump Administration for closing loopholes in the federal government’s bloated food stamp program. From the editorial:
Many on the left complain about the rule simply because it will reduce the number of people on food stamps — by about 700,000, roughly 2 percent of total food-stamp enrollment, by the administration’s own estimate. But increasing benefit receipt is not an end in itself, especially when it comes at the expense of an incentive for childless, able-bodied adults to find work; and given the massive growth the program has seen these past two decades, there is clearly room for cuts. (Despite the recovery, total enrollment is about double what it was in 2000.) Perhaps more to the point, whatever one’s ideal level of food-stamp enrollment, there is no good reason to gut work requirements for entire areas with low unemployment while enforcing those requirements elsewhere — or to let states play games with their maps to boost eligibility.
The economy is in a good place, making now a good time to get those on welfare into the labor market by enforcing work requirements and time limits. The 1996 welfare reform proved the effectiveness of this approach. And if Congress disagrees, it’s welcome to write some new rules into the law rather than leaving these decisions to the executive branch.
2. NATO remains essential. From the editorial:
In short, the whole of peaceful modern Europe is a NATO — and especially an American — achievement.
That vast geopolitical success has been tarnished in recent years by the failure of European members of the alliance to spend more than a very modest portion, 2 percent, of their GDP on their own defense. That failure is the real source of NATO’s current weakness. Successive American presidents have complained about it with little success. When President Trump raised the rhetorical level three years ago, he was loudly denounced for weakening the Alliance. (American liberals now blame Macron’s stronger criticisms on Trump!) In fact, Trump was waking NATO up, if only into a light doze. Several countries now spend more — Poland and the Baltics spend more than the NATO target of 2 percent — and the rest must now follow their example.
If that is to happen, however, several leading European countries, notably France and Germany, have to overcome their ambivalence about NATO’s role. Germany’s outlook is confused. It is no use for Angela Merkel to sing songs of praise to NATO if her government continues to spend half of its promised defense spending. The underlying problem is that Germany’s political establishment and public opinion are tempted by a foreign policy rooted in pacifism, commercialism, anti-Americanism — and a complacent doubt that NATO is any longer necessary. NATO, however, is working today. No one should doubt that the Baltics would now be at the very least “Finlandized” states in a Russian sphere of influence, or that Poland would be experiencing border incidents, if they were not now in NATO. That’s why they pay their defense bills. A demilitarized Germany in an America-free Europe would not long remain a truly independent power.
France is a different and more creditable case. France has always wanted to exert an independence from the U.S., which has made its relations with NATO an off-and-on alliance. Macron seems to be saying today that NATO belongs to the past. Well and good. France spends money on serious military power. Paris is an ally worth having. But its recurrent vision of making the European Union into an independent military power is a delusion exposed as soon as its advocates ask: Which countries will be France’s allies in this quixotic enterprise? Not Germany. Brexit Britain? Who else?
Get Your Vitamin Sea
Yes, we are once again recycling that lame pun, and for a riverboat trip too, so there’s not even sea water involved. But involved is what you will want to be this April 19–26 on AmaWaterways’ luxurious (and chartered!) AmaMora as we travel the historic “Rhone” on the National Review 2020 Rhine River Charter Cruise.
We have a few cabins remaining, and . . . hey, why don’t you face this: You’ve always wanted to go on an NR cruise.
And face this too: You’ve always wanted to go on a European riverboat cruise.
Friend, what you want, we’ve got. Grab one of those few staterooms – make it a Christmas gift to the one you love! Get complete information at nrcruise.com.
Before the Sugarplum Visions Take Hold, Let These 15 NR Treats Dance in Your Head
1. The answer is “never.” Certainly then the question must be the title of Madeline Kearns’s new article, “When Will Transgender Clinical Activists Acknowledge Detransitioners?” From the piece:
Another detransitioner I spoke to recently was 21-year-old Helena from Chicago. She and three other young women have started a network, called the Pique Resilience Project, to help other detransitioners. Helena told me she is worried that voices like hers are being “silenced” and shut out of the transgender debate. She also worries that there is a lack of therapeutic and medical support for detransitioners. “Nobody seems educated,” she says. “A lot of practitioners don’t want to touch this with a ten-foot pole. . . . They’ll just refer you to a gender-affirmative practice.”
Helena has struggled with an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, and ADHD symptoms since her early teens. At 18, she decided she wanted to socially transition and begin cross-sex hormones. She decided that after spending a lot of time online, especially on Tumblr. She believed that being transgender would help boost her social status, since previously she had struggled to make friends and be accepted by her peers.
“I saw that [you] were listened to more if [you] had an opinion and you said you were trans,” she says. “It incentivized me to want to identify as trans because it was hard to just be like a cis girl.” After talking for 20 to 30 minutes to an LGBT social worker, who asked about ten questions, she was granted testosterone.
From her social worker’s initial notes:
Patient states that since he has been able to make this appointment, his depression has already started to improve. Patient expects that his whole life will be quite different and he will be very happy when he starts to change.
Patient states that he is 100% confident that he will get top surgery [full double mastectomy] in the future.
Patient states that he would consider bottom surgery [genital modification] if the options that he would like for a penis became available, but he is not interested with the current options.
“It’s actually pretty ridiculous, the answers that I gave, and she like accepted those answers without questioning them,” Helena tells me. As well as making her more aggressive and permanently lowering her voice, she endured unwanted clitoral growth. Which, she notes, was “the one thing that I really didn’t want,” but she spoke of “having to sacrifice in order to get other changes.” Incidentally, this was not listed as a potential side effect on her informed-consent form.
About four months in she told her therapist she was confused and having doubts. However, the therapist, who worked at an LGBT resource center, was concerned that she might be experiencing “internalized transphobia” or familial pressure.
2. The headline of Andy McCarthy’s piece says it all: “Schiff’s Report Will Not Attract New Impeachment Supporters.” From the analysis:
Schiff ignores the ongoing Justice Department investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. Democrats despise this probe and want the public to see it as a politicized extension of the Trump 2020 campaign. It is, however, every bit as legitimate as was the Mueller probe (also approved by DOJ, and despised as political by Trump supporters). It is routine and proper for governments to seek each other’s help in investigations — especially when the obligation to assist is codified in a treaty, such as the one Washington and Kyiv have had for 20 years.
Schiff’s report obscures this fact by continuing to pretend (as Democrats did throughout Schiff’s hearings) that there is only one narrative of Ukraine’s 2016 collusion: a conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that hacked the DNC email accounts. Regrettably, Trump has bought into this discredited notion, and he mentioned it to Zelensky during their discussion. This enables Democrats to say that Trump seeks to undermine the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was the cyber culprit. But even though the president is wrong to dabble in debunked narratives, his focus was on establishing culpability for 2016 campaign wrongdoing, not political positioning for 2020 campaign purposes.
More to the point, Schiff continues to ignore significant evidence that Ukrainian government officials meddled in the 2016 election to promote Clinton and hurt Trump — including a Ukrainian court decision that so held. Coordination among the Obama administration, the Ukrainian government, and Democratic operatives is a legitimate area of inquiry for the ongoing investigation of the Trump-Russia investigation’s genesis. Contrary to the Democrats’ story, regurgitated in Schiff’s report, there is no contradiction in believing both that Russia hacked to harm Democrats and that Ukraine meddled to harm Trump.
3. More Andy: Aren’t Democrats exploiting Constitutional powers for political purpose? Andy catches the Nadler & Co. Pot Calling the Trump Kettle Black. From the piece:
After all, the lack of due process has been one of the president’s major complaints since late October, when the House belatedly voted to endorse the impeachment inquiry that Democrats have been conducting for months. Among the fundamental elements of due process is the opportunity to be heard. Having denied this opportunity to the president in Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff’s faux grand-jury phase of the proceedings, Democrats are now inviting the president to participate in the Judiciary Committee phase, where articles of impeachment are soon to be drafted and voted on. The president’s complaints are apt to ring hollow if he carps about the witnesses from the Twitter sidelines while forfeiting the right to question them at the formal hearings.
Abstaining now could also be problematic down the road. Eventually, there will be a Senate impeachment trial. Because the House is now giving the president an opportunity to examine witnesses, Senate Democrats will have a good argument that transcripts from Nadler’s hearings should be admitted as trial evidence — i.e., the president should not be heard to complain since he will have passed up his chance to confront his accusers.
All that said, though, the White House’s position makes sense, at least for the moment.
4. Adam Schiff has put the First Amendment on his Schiff List. David Harsanyi wonders as to the whereabouts of all the self-styled champions of the free press. From the piece:
With the release of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report Tuesday came the revelation that Giuliani and his Ukrainian affiliate Lev Parnas, whom Schiff apparently subpoenaed, had exchanged calls with former The Hill columnist John Solomon, ranking Intelligence Republican Devin Nunes, and attorney Jay Sekulow. Even if we allow that the California congressman had genuine national-security concerns when he subpoenaed metadata from AT&T so he could snoop on his political opponents, what possible national-security concerns would justify unmasking them?
This was an impeachment inquiry, not a criminal investigation. If Nunes had conducted himself similarly with Hillary Clinton’s personal lawyers, the D.C. press corps would have exploded into a raging panic. Rest assured, if Schiff had unearthed anything meaningful — and the subpoenas reportedly went out before the impeachment inquiry even began — he would have shared the evidence during the inquiry rather than using it as partisan chum in a post-inquiry report.
None of those unmasked by Schiff were the target of the inquiry, and, as far as we know, none of their conversations he exposed were unlawful. Nor were any of these conversations relevant in making a case for the impeachment of Donald Trump, especially without information beyond the time, dates, and lengths of the phone calls.
Schiff’s decision to unmask a journalist, though, was especially disconcerting. It meets none of law enforcement’s typical standards.
5. Steve Emerson attends the American Muslims for Palestine convention. Zionism hate was the theme. From the beginning of the report.
Its leaders won’t condemn terrorist groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah, but the co-founder and executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Nihad Awad, says his organization fights “Zionism on [a] daily basis.”
Awad co-founded CAIR in 1994, and is the only person to run it. In a speech to the anti-Israel group American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) last Friday, he cast Zionism as inherently hateful.
“For me, at CAIR, as the executive director of CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil-rights and advocacy organization, we deal with racism, Islamophobia, and Zionism on [a] daily basis,” he said.
AMP is a radical group that opposes Israel’s existence. It is suspected of having grown from the ashes of a now-defunct American propaganda arm of Hamas called the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP). Osama Abuirshaid, now AMP’s national policy director, has said the organization seeks “to challenge the legitimacy of the State of Israel.”
Awad and others who spoke at AMP’s national convention, held in Chicago over Thanksgiving weekend, share that mission, though some of them are more circumspect than others about saying so. None of the AMP speakers criticized Israeli policies. Each took issue with Zionism, the ideology that calls for a Jewish state in Jews’ ancestral homeland. Anti-Zionism of the sort heard in Chicago ignores the political and demographic realities of life in Israel, where Israeli Arabs serve on courts, as military leaders, and in the Knesset. Such rhetoric is also routinely described as anti-Semitic by Jewish and other groups. “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” is included in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of anti-Semitism, which has been adopted by 20 countries, including the United States.
6. Only four? John McCormack posits a quartet of fatal flaws that kyboshed Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign. From the analysis, here’s Point 2:
Choosing the Wrong Ground on which to Fight Harris’s breakout performance came in the June Democratic debate, when she attacked Joe Biden for opposing mandatory-busing policies in the 1970s. The move worked in the short term: Harris surged in the polls, and Biden dropped. But the senator had painted herself into a corner: Logically, to build on the attack, she would’ve had to make mandatory busing, which remains deeply unpopular, central to her message. So she dropped the issue after initially calling for new federal busing policies. It was an entirely foreseeable own goal, and the high-water mark of her campaign.
7. Rich Lowry finds the Left’s campaign against the Salvation Army a disgraceful thing. From the column:
The Salvation Army would seem a bridge too far. Its red kettles are iconic, as much a part of Christmas as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or “Miracle on 34th Street.” During the heavily commercial Christmas season, the red kettles are a token of charity and fellow feeling. It takes a perverse worldview not to have fond feelings about this tradition, which is spectacularly successful on its own terms, raising almost $150 million a year.
But the commissars of political correctness aren’t amused, and don’t let sentimentality interfere with their dictates.
They’ve already accomplished what would a few years ago have been considered impossible — bullying the explicitly Christian restaurant chain Chick-fil-A out of its donations to the Salvation Army. The army is now so radioactive that the pop singer Ellie Goulding threatened to cancel a halftime performance at the Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving, kicking off the red-kettle campaign, over the group’s alleged anti-gay bigotry.
The first thing to know about the Salvation Army is that it is a church, founded by the Methodist preacher William Booth. He started his Salvation Army, with military ranks for its clergy, to reach the hungry and the needy through service. With more than 1.5 million members and a presence in roughly 130 countries, it is a spectacular example of, as Billy Graham once put it, “Christianity in action.”
8. Jonathan Tobin finds the EU’s persistent wooing and appeasement of Iran to be threat to the West. From the piece:
The same week that Europe was celebrating NATO, six more Western European nations — Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden (all but the last one members of NATO) — announced that they would participate in the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX). INSTEX, whose founding members are Great Britain, France, and Germany, is an attempt to create a pathway to trade with Iran based on the barter of goods and services. In theory, it will allow member countries to do business in the Islamic republic without violating U.S. sanctions.
That six more countries joined INSTEX right as reports emerged that the Iranian government had met ongoing protests against price increases with unprecedented force — fatally shooting anywhere from 180 to 450 people, wounding at least 2,000, and arresting 7,000 — was shocking. It highlighted the obtuseness of INSTEX itself — the stupidity of Europe’s determination to undermine the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal Iran struck with President Barack Obama and other Western nations in 2015.
The Europeans believe that Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from what he rightly terms a disastrous deal was a betrayal of a Western alliance that was unanimous in applauding Obama’s appeasement of Iran. INSTEX participants say they are motivated by a desire to preserve a pact that was sold to the world as a way to prevent Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon. But since the deal merely postponed an Iranian bomb while ensuring its inevitability, these arguments don’t pass muster.
9. A weakened China, writes Matthew Continetti, is a cause for increased American vigilance. From the piece:
Hong Kong is the most visible reminder of the tenuous nature of Communist rule. The city has become a postmodern battleground where masked protesters wield social media and lasers to avoid armor-clad police and facial-recognition technology powered by artificial intelligence. When one looks at Hong Kong one sees a possible future where champions of freedom the world over employ desperate measures against the overwhelming resources of a mechanized Leviathan. One also sees the brittleness, confusion, and embarrassment of despotism when challenged by subjects assumed to be grateful for growth and security and immune to the will to freedom.
What is happening in Hong Kong is not isolated. The China model of authoritarian development is damaged and scarred. What seemed as sturdy and invulnerable as a Borg Cube looks more like a fragile and wobbly mobile by Alexander Calder. The regime of Xi Jinping is under economic and political and diplomatic pressure that it is not handling well. This beleaguered combatant in an era of great-power competition is more dangerous to the United States than before.
What legitimacy the Communist party possessed was based on the decades of economic growth inaugurated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. But growth has slowed to its lowest level in decades as the Chinese workforce ages, low-hanging investment opportunities disappear, and the trade war with the United States reduces manufacturing output and sends supply lines to Vietnam and Mexico. Capital is fleeing China at a record pace as the bourgeoisie hedge against stagnation and turmoil.
10. Alexandra DeSanctis checks out the divisions and fractures in the pro-choice movement. From the piece:
In other words, although abortion rates are steadily dropping, those decreases have been much higher among rich, white women than among low-income, minority women. From this perspective, McGill Johnson’s quote sounds almost eerie. The abortion-rights movement is, increasingly, an activist class of privileged women who don’t need abortion campaigning for women who often fall back on abortion out of a feeling of necessity.
But perhaps the most telling aspect of the piece is the fear gripping the pro-choice movement, riven as it is by factional conflict. “For years, abortion rights supporters like Ms. Wood believed the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling had delivered their ultimate goal, the right to reproductive choice,” the Times article says. “Now, they are grappling with a new reality: Nationwide access to abortion is more vulnerable than it has been in decades.”
Whether or not this panicked tone is merited given the state of play, the disarray on display in the article illustrates a significant point. The Left is frightened about the future of abortion rights because its entire policy framework depends on the courts.
This is what a movement looks like when its preferences are cemented in place by a judicial decision rather than by legislative action informed by the will of the people. Despite what the justices hoped, Roe didn’t settle the abortion question, and now pro-choice advocates are wrestling with the consequences of having gotten their way without putting in the work.
11. When applying for prestigious scholarships, Christian Schneider says conservatives would do best to keep their yaps shut. From the beginning of his commentary:
When British businessman Cecil Rhodes passed away in 1902, he couldn’t possibly have imagined what the world would be like in 2019. Over 117 years ago, his brain couldn’t have conceived of commercial air travel or the Internet or how great Jennifer Aniston would still look.
Further, Rhodes also would not recognize what has become of the prestigious scholarship he founded in the year of his death. For one, he would be confused that the Rhodes Scholarship was being granted to women and minorities — he was an avowed white supremacist and specifically excluded women from winning the award. (Women didn’t become eligible until 1977.)
But Rhodes would also be perplexed about the academic paths chosen by Rhodes winners and by the criteria applied to the applicants.
Last week, the Rhodes Foundation announced its 32 American scholarship recipients. The third paragraph of the statement accompanying the selections reveals the foundation’s true goals:
For the third consecutive year, the class overall is majority-minority, and approximately half are first-generation Americans. One is the first transgender woman elected to a Rhodes Scholarship; two other Scholars-elect are non-binary.
If Rhodes were to rise from the grave in 2019, he might die all over again.
Once the ultimate academic award for American students, the Rhodes Scholarship has morphed into an identity contest, where racial and sexual classifications appear to have trumped academic rigor.
12. What is it about welding, college, and income, that all combine to make a strange political stew? Erin Valdez has a very interesting piece about the need for a nexus when it comes to trade jobs. From the piece:
It’s a fair point that welding has in some ways become a trope that is trotted out by politicians and others in a debate over value of public investment in higher education. Marco Rubio’s recent “Case for Common-Good Capitalism” builds on themes the senator has previously emphasized, including the importance of vocational education. Mr. Rubio’s support for vocational education in a 2015 presidential debate was overshadowed by his claim, “Welders make more money than philosophers,” a statement which was extensively fact-checked and which he later clarified. Mr. Tough is quite right that welders do not typically make $150,000 per year. The median wage for welders, according to the BLS, is $41,380. Like most jobs, you don’t start out at the top of the income range. As you gain more experience, you get paid more.
But wages for welders, even less experienced ones, are better in some places than others, as Mr. Tough points out. Texas is a pretty good place to be a welder (or just about anything else) these days. The Houston Chronicle has a useful primer on the process of becoming a journeyman pipefitter, which describes apprenticeship (no college required) in this specialized welding field. But Orry was unwilling to move, a disinclination that is unfortunately widespread in our current moment, but one that may contribute to less-than-optimal employment outcomes.
13. Andrew Biggs says it’s nuts to expand Social Security, and he has the reasons why. From the analysis:
The shift in sentiment on Social Security reflects a shift in priorities. In the 1990s, policymakers largely saw Social Security as a budgetary challenge, with rising retirement costs pushing up taxes or squeezing out other government programs. Today, Americans are increasingly concerned that Social Security will fail to provide income stability for retirees. Seventy-five percent of Americans agree that the nation faces a “retirement crisis,” according to a National Institute for Retirement Security survey. Politicians have responded to these fears, with President Trump pledging to maintain full Social Security benefits despite the program’s looming insolvency. Progressives such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders promise benefit increases to rich and poor alike, financed by dramatically higher taxes on high earners.
Almost no one is asking whether these fears of a retirement crisis are justified and whether expanding Social Security benefits outweighs all the other competing uses for federal dollars. But new data from three trusted government agencies say that the answer to both questions is almost certainly no. While Social Security requires changes to ensure solvency and to better protect against poverty in old age, Americans’ retirement incomes and retirement savings have never been stronger.
Last summer, the Congressional Budget Office released new data based on IRS tax returns that provide a more accurate view of changing household incomes. From 1979 through 2016, the salaries of working-age households grew by 39 percent above inflation. But over that same period, incomes for households whose members are 65 and older grew by 90 percent, over twice as fast. Over the past three decades, seniors have gone from being a disproportionately poor segment of the population to a rich one. By itself, this undercuts the case for across-the-board Social Security benefit increases.
E.T.’s story might be largely unknown to Parkland–Greta Thunberg activists. Born after E.T.’s social phenomenon, the generation made pessimistic and dystopic by Wall-E and The Dark Knight never learned Spielberg’s lesson about the ultimate ecumenical empathy. E.T.’s annunciation and resurrection imagery was so replete with Judeo-Christian resonances that, as with Spielberg’s greatest film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it was more than what Disney’s family-movie fodder could ever be.
Instead, “A Holiday Reunion” presents false nostalgia. Its appeal to Boomers encourages them to forget that E.T. was, above all, a spiritual touchstone.
In the advertisement for this advertisement, the spot’s plot is described as “37 years in the making.” So it is a shock when 47-year-old Henry Thomas himself appears as a married father of two children who embraces his old extra-terrestrial friend, returning to Earth for no apparent reason except to sell Comcast. (Adult Elliott’s couch-potato family watch cable TV with E.T., and Elliott’s son even introduces the once technologically advanced visitor to the wonders of WiFi, tablets, and virtual-reality gadgets.)
In “A Holiday Reunion,” Xfinity’s four-minute promise of media revolution, some precious part of our cultural past has been violated. E.T.’s storybook moral, the truly great moment of the alien and children bicycling across the luminous orb of the moon, as well as God’s rainbow sign to Noah, are traduced.
15. If you have a thing for Gershwin, you’re going to dig this Daniel Gelernter piece on the 1933 sequel to the composer’s hit musical, “Of Thee I Sing” – the floperoo “Let Them Eat Cake.” From the article:
Unfortunately, the writers seem to have accepted the Pulitzer Prize Committee’s interpretation. They teamed up again in 1933 to produce a sequel, and this time they actually did write a political satire. The result was Let ’Em Eat Cake — a tremendous flop. The show ran just 89 performances (compared to Of Thee I Sing’s 441) and is largely forgotten today.
It would be tempting to blame the failure on George Gershwin’s being in a sulk. Understandable as this would have been, it wasn’t the case. It may contain only one timeless masterpiece hit (“Mine”), compared with Of Thee I Sing’s two (the title song and “Who Cares”). But the score is lively and vivacious and rippling with little musical jokes drawn out of everything from Schubert to Sousa to The Pirates of Penzance. The overture makes clear just how much all subsequent musicals owe to Gershwin, who invented the gestures and orchestrational techniques that modern composers copy, perhaps unawares, when trying to conjure up the “Broadway sound.” At the same time, the construction is more intricate and deeply contrapuntal than any of Gershwin’s previous endeavors, and it was this work, rather than his next — Porgy and Bess — that Gershwin called his “claim to legitimacy.”
The problem with the show was that there was too much real and impending disaster in the topic the authors chose to satirize. In Let ’Em Eat Cake, the American president loses reelection, goes into the shirt business, and then — when his shirts aren’t selling — decides to found a revolutionary army called the “Blue Shirts” and stage a coup. The show is still very funny: The now-dictator paints the White House blue and turns the Supreme Court into a baseball team. But even though Mussolini’s Blackshirts and Hitler’s Brownshirts were still little-understood foreign curiosities in ’33, American audiences simply didn’t like a story about America being taken over by fascists. The jokes were funny, but the idea wasn’t — it made Americans uneasy.
The New Issue of National Review Magazine Is Out and Has a Rollicking Good Time Taking On Some Little Dudes
The long and short of it is, the December 22, 2019 issue comes up short . . . but in a good way. An appropriate way! Let’s keep this short: Here are four pieces — not a tall tale among them — offered to satisfy your . . . longing.
1. In the cover piece, Kyle Smith does his thing to presidential wannabe Pete Buttigieg, sanctimonious mayor of South Bend, Ind., rising in polls as he stands on his political tippy toes. From the piece:
What’s the appeal? the way Pete Buttigieg talks. He gets the juices—the sap?—of idealism flowing through liberal veins. He speaks in the language that they don’t merely respect, they revere—the language that hushes them up and makes them knit their eyebrows in sympathy. It’s that Harvard-McKinsey-PowerPoint-problem-solving-speak that sends a thrill up the leg of Kennedy School, good-government Dems. to gentry liberals, this is the new Scripture. Buttigieg connects with his Atlantic-reading, six-figure-earning, Whole Foods–shopping flock as convincingly as Joel Osteen does with his. Asking “Er, what exactly has Pete Buttigieg ever accomplished?” is, to this crowd, wholly irrelevant. Do you ask what your local priest or minister has accomplished? no, you simply revel in their homilies. Buttigieg isn’t really Mayor Pete.
He’s Saint Pete. no one has ever gone directly from being mayor of a large city to the presidency before, much less mayor of a small city. Moreover, Buttigieg faces a singular problem in that it’s easier to pronounce his name than it is to cite anything he’s done. He’s all hat and no cattle. He’s human vaporware. He’s Credential Man. Check out all the brands he’s accumulated: Harvard, Rhodes Scholarship, the navy, McKinsey & Company.
Buttigieg oozes so much Millennial arrogance that he invites the kind of dismissal Joe Biden showed when, sizing up the less-than-half-his-age competitor, he sarcasm-bombed Buttigieg with a greeting of “Mr. President.” Mayor Pete is a walking “OK, Boomer” T-shirt. Recently he suggested on Showtime’s The Circus that the Democratic primary is now a two-person race, those two being himself and Elizabeth Warren. Except Biden has held the lead in national polling virtually nonstop since he got in the race, and he’s still ahead. As of December 3, Biden was still 16 points ahead of Buttigieg in the Real Clear Politics polling average. Buttigieg has never surpassed Biden in national polls. In places like South Carolina and Nevada, Biden is stomping all over Buttigieg. Moreover, to say Buttigieg has thus far failed to make the sale to black voters is like saying Tom Brady isn’t so well liked in Buffalo. At this point Mayor Pete seems about as likely to capture South Carolina as Donald Trump is to be asked to host the Academy Awards. So far, his plan to achieve support from the black community is to pretend he already has support from the black community. To promote his alleged “comprehensive investment in the empowerment of black America,” Buttigieg rolled out a list of 400 black supporters, many of whom were either not black or not supporters. He promoted it with a photograph of someone who isn’t even American—a Kenyan resident who was surprised to find she had turned up in a stock photo that whiz kid Buttigieg was using to tout his bona fides among people of color. Buttigieg, a son of two professors, has begun gingerly hinting that being gay is kinda sorta like being black. Do blacks feel that way?
2. Another guy who got into the race a . . . short . . . time ago is former NYC Mayor and global scold Michael Bloomberg, the subject of Kevin Williamson’s analysis. From the article:
Bloomberg is a Washington outsider in genuine sense: He served three terms as mayor of New York City and has generally regarded Washington and its denizens as something somewhere between necessary evil and evil. But whereas Trump’s outsider status endeared him to Republicans, who are nearly uniform in their rhetorical detestation of Washington, Bloomberg’s outsider status does nothing for him among Democrats who are interested in centralizing power in Washington and believe, not without reason, that this ambition would best be served by the leadership of a veteran of the national legislature. Republicans in 2016 wanted a frothing rage-monster who would put Washington’s elites in their place; Democrats in 2020 want a cool insider who will rally Washington’s elites to their cause.
Which is to say, most Democrats want a variation on the theme of Barack Obama: Joe Biden was Obama’s vice president; Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg both are products of Harvard (the law school and the undergraduate college, respectively) and both would represent a first in the White House: first woman, first gay man. (You get an asterisk, James Buchanan.) Buttigieg’s smug corporate style, bred at McKinsey & Company, has more than a little Obama in it. (A little bit also of Bill Clinton, another Rhodes scholar.) Senator Warren represents to some Democrats the missed opportunity of the Obama years, an alternative storyline in which President Obama went after Wall Street hammer-and-tongs. That appeals to many Democrats, while a sizeable minority of them, between 15 percent and 25 percent, prefer the outright socialist Bernie Sanders—and Michael Bloomberg does nothing to satisfy either tendency.
And that raises Michael Bloomberg’s biggest cultural challenge in the Democratic primary: Democratic voters in 2020 are a mirror image of Republican voters in 2016 in that they do not desire mere electoral victory but also a cultural repudiation of the incumbent president—they want political antimatter, much as Republicans in 2016 found in Trump, who is as different a man from Barack Obama as the national stage had to offer. Michael Bloomberg may despise Donald Trump and hold him in contempt, but he is in affect and cultural temperament a man more similar to than dissimilar from the president, at least from the point of view of a teachers’-union-local president in Milwaukee, which is the point of view that matters most in Democratic circles.
3. Jay Nordlinger heads to Indiana and visits with an old conservative friend and man of much accomplishment, Purdue University president Mitch Daniels. From the profile:
Mitch Daniels is remarkably unchanging, both in his looks and in his views. You would recognize him at 100 paces. He looks basically the way he did when he was a Reagan aide. He thinks basically the same way too—one of the last of the Reaganite Mohicans. Today, he is president of Purdue University, and I’ve arrived at his office for a conversation.
Daniels has had a busy, multifaceted life. He was born in 1949, making him 70 today. He went to Princeton University and later to Georgetown Law. He worked as an aide to Richard Lugar, the longtime Indiana senator. Then he was in the White House, with Reagan. Leaving the White House, he headed up a think tank, the Hudson Institute. Then he worked as an executive for Eli Lilly, the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company. In the first two and a half years of the George W. Bush presidency, he was budget director. In 2004, he was elected governor of Indiana. In 2008, he was reelected. A lot of people wanted him to run for president in 2012, but he declined. In January 2013, the day his second term expired, he became president of Purdue. Moreover, he started writing a column for the Washington Post two years ago.
“You must never be bored,” I remark to him. “I never have been,” he says, adding, “I’m gonna run out the string of jobs here sometime, and I hope to finish never having been bored.”
I imagine he likes being around young people. He does indeed. “That’s why I’m here,” he says, “as much as for any other reason.” He has long had a test of whether he will like or appreciate someone: Does the person in question like kids, and, specifically, other people’s kids? “Here I am,” says Daniels, “surrounded by 30-some thousand of other people’s kids. It’s certainly one of the top two or three joys of the job.” I have read that he eats with them, in dorms, Greek houses, and other places. “I had dinner last night at a fraternity house.”
I have read that he works out with them. “I’ll be headed to the gym after we talk.” And that he attends football games with them. “Football for me is a full-contact sport. I go around the stadium and thank people for coming. I always stop to see the band, and see the other team’s cheerleaders, and see what’s going on in the student section.”
4. Nothing short or tall about David Harsanyi’s “Happy Warrior” contribution, which in part recalls the wars against litter, and the failure of current Big City libs to keep us from stepping in stuff. From the column:
One of the greatest accomplishments of the urban liberal do-gooder was cleaning up these cities. At some point in the early 1980s, citizens, not merely the wealthy but also the middle and working classes (in those days they could still afford to live in our big cities), got sick of wading through rubbish and began browbeating their neighbors into decency.
It still took decades to fix the litter problem—and, obviously, it would never be completely corrected—but the city streets were no longer complete dumps. Not Switzerland or Tokyo clean, for sure, but bearable. And though laws certainly helped with the cleaning up, it was a dramatic shift in social norms that really did the trick. Signs told people to curb their mutts. Signs told people to throw out their trash. PSAs began inundating the airwaves in the ’70s. How long could we ignore Iron Eyes Cody, the fake Indian in one of those PSAs imploring us to “keep America beautiful,” after he saw some savage throw trash from a speeding car? “People start pollution; people can stop it.” They could. Mostly by shaming those who trashed the city.
I bring up all this unpleasantness because it seems to me that many of the children and grandchildren of these heroic litter-fighters, people who haven’t had to step over broken bottles daily, are allowing our cities to backslide. I have no way of quantifying the relapse, but whenever I go back to my hometown it sure feels a bit more like the 1970s, and I don’t write those words nostalgically. “All of us have to deal with the filth that collects on the side of the road, making our community look uninviting and run down,” a spokesperson for one of the few current anti-litter campaigns in the city, Staten Island’s “Operation Clean Sweep,” recently complained. “The more litter we have on our streets, the more it becomes an accepted part of life.”
Rich and Yuval Talk Nationalism
1. At The UnHerd, Anne-Elisabeth Moutet explains how French President Emmanuel Macron’s ambition is very real . . . and very alienating. From the analysis:
Yet on Macron proudly strides — with Europe in his sights. Even though he is struggling at home, the President, a petit-bourgeois liberal, imbued with his own undeniable but narrow intelligence, considers himself to be Europe’s natural leader. Since Germany will be preoccupied with its difficult political transition, facing signs of an early recession, and with the UK gone (the UK will be gone, won’t it?), who else is there, after all?
Some of his arrogance comes naturally, but some is theorised: why would he go against the tactics defined by de Gaulle, and followed by Giscard, Mitterrand and Chirac? The assumption that nuisance value gives you more clout in international politics has always been a mainstay of French power projection. Macron is simply continuing the tradition.
But alienating friends and not influencing people is all too often coupled with a lack of effort to understand how France’s partners think. And given that many decisions have to be taken unanimously by the EU27, it’s hard to see how he’d make a success of European leadership.
Macron does have a unique way of ruffling feathers — from his Nato remarks to his recent veto against EU membership application for both Albania and North Macedonia and his rudeness to Mrs Merkel. It will trip him again and again: the President will never be a team player. So as the country literally grinds to a halt, Macron stands alone with only his ambition and acolytes for company.
2. At the Daily Mail, Andrew Roberts body-slams Labour commissar Jeremy Corbyn. From the piece:
This ingrained hatred towards America led him to describe the 2011 killing of Osama Bin Laden by US special forces as ‘a tragedy’, saying the Al Qaeda leader should instead have been brought to trial.
In a rant on Iranian State TV – that bastion of human rights and fair judicial process – Corbyn continued: ‘The World Trade Center [terrorist attack] was a tragedy, the [UN-authorised] attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war on Iraq was a tragedy.’
And it has resurfaced most recently in the ludicrous conspiracy theory that Boris Johnson is ‘selling off our NHS to the Americans’. Basing his so-called ‘revelations’ on documents relating to preliminary trade talks where no politicians and only low-level officials were present, shows how he is prepared to shoehorn anything into his rigid world view.
And this is why he is totally unfit for public office – because his deep commitment to a socialist future rides roughshod over the facts.
Similarly, Corbyn’s hatred of Nato – which has underpinned our national security for 70 years – has led him to blame it for ‘provoking’ Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine.
He claims to support human rights but is never heard denouncing Venezuela, Cuba and Iran – all serial offenders. Why? Because these countries support his totalitarian vision, and above all Corbyn is primarily concerned with pursuing his single-minded ideology, no matter the human cost.
3. At Gatestone Institute, Soeren Kern explains how the Islamic State is alive, well, and festering in Europe. From the article:
At least 1,200 Islamic State fighters, including many from Western countries, are being held in Turkish prisons. Another 287 jihadis from at least 20 different countries have been captured by Turkish forces since the start of an offensive that began on October 9 against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria.
Approximately 100 German Islamic State supporters are believed to be in custody in Turkey, according to the German news agency, Deutsche Presse-Agentur. The German Interior Ministry said that although the identity of the jihadis being held by Turkey was not known, they could not be denied entry to Germany if they indeed were German citizens.
A German government spokesman, Armin Schuster, insisted that the German returnees were not “serious cases” and warned against “media-fueled hysteria.” He explained: “They did not take part in the fighting. They won’t be sent to prison, but they must be kept under surveillance.”
On November 11, Turkey officially began repatriating Islamic State detainees to the West by deporting a German, an American and a Dane.
On November 14, Turkey repatriated another eight Islamic State fighters: seven Germans and one Briton. One man, a German-Iraqi father of a family of seven named Kanan B., was accused by Turkey of being a member of the Islamic State. German authorities allowed the man and his family to return to their home in Lower Saxony. They said that although he is a member of the Islamist Salafist movement, they do not believe that he ever joined the Islamic State.
4. At Law & Liberty, Theodore Dalrymple takes on the ethicists who are confounded by trans lunacy. From the analysis:
The Journal of Medical Ethics recently had a paper with the title “Transwomen in elite sport: scientific and ethical considerations.” Interestingly, my computer, which underlines in red words that I misspell, did not do so when I entered transwomen, which I suppose means that the word is as bona fide a word of the English language as, say, goldfinch or skylark.
Of course, the flexibility and adaptability of the English language is one of its glories. The ethical (and no doubt soon to be legal) problems referred to in the title of this paper arise when men who have had themselves changed into simulacra of women compete in women’s sport and benefit from residual male strength, such that they are able to win matches or tournaments in an unfair fashion.
The problem of the definition of womanhood in sport is not entirely new. I remember from my youth the problem of the Press sisters, the champion Soviet women athletes who won Olympic medals but were strongly suspected of not being women at all. To win medals at the Olympics and other world championships was regarded at the time as evidence of the superiority of one ideological system over another, surely one of the most fatuous notions ever to strike Mankind; but so it was, and totalitarian regimes were particularly ruthless and unscrupulous in the production of champions at all costs. In the days preceding the Moscow Olympics in 1980, the now-defunct magazine, Punch, ran a cartoon showing the sex-test of an athlete in Moscow. An inspector is looking at a female athlete trying to change a tractor-tire. “You’re not a woman,” he says. “A real woman would have changed that tire by now.” Such a joke would now probably arouse protests worldwide, because people so enjoy their outrage.
The problem alluded to in this paper is, of course, the consequence of a fiction, namely that a man who claims to have changed sex actually has changed sex, and is now what used to be called the opposite sex. But when a man who claims to have become a woman competes in women’s athletic competitions, he often retains an advantage derived from the sex of his birth. Women competitors complain that this is unfair, and it is difficult not to agree with them.
When it deals with the science of the question—for example, the effect of testosterone levels on athletic performance—the paper is measured and fair. But as soon as it comes to purely ethical problems, the authors give the impression of being frightened of being declared heretics by an unseen but clearly present Inquisition. They begin to write in a new langue de bois, that special kind of language utilised in totalitarian dictatorships (we seem to live increasingly in a world of various micro-totalitarianisms).
5. Springtime for Kleagle: Campus liberals shut down a play because it has KKK characters. Daniel Payne covers the absurdity at The College Fix. From the report:
How bad can campus liberal activism get? This bad: At Washington College in Maryland, students there succeeded in getting the school to shut down a play—one day before opening night—because some of the play’s characters were members of the Ku Klux Klan. You’re not reading that wrong: Students were aggrieved simply because some fictional characters in the production were members of an evil terrorist organization, and so the play had to go.
Even by the cracked and useless standards of campus activism, this is rather astonishing. One of the basic markers of a sound and cognizant mind is the ability to adequately discern between reality and fiction—to recognize when something is real and when it is contrived for the purpose of entertainment. It may come as a shock to the students at Washington College, but: Those weren’t real Klansmen. They weren’t going to hurt you. They were actors portraying fictional characters. Nobody was in any danger, at any time, at all, in any way. It was not necessary to cancel this play.
Then again, the standards of campus progressivism are lower than you might expect. The play in question, The Foreigner, was a comedy, and the Klan elements in it are addressed partly through the lens of satire. Yet as one activist put it: “[P]utting the KKK on stage in a satirical way is not appropriate because nothing about the historical and present day ramifications of the KKK is funny.”
More from The College Fix: Greg Piper gives a thorough accounting of Mann v. National Review. Read it here.
6. At City Journal, Brian Patrick Eha counsels that men’s magazines offer no guidance to men adrift. From the beginning of the essay:
When Jay Fielden, late of Esquire, announced his departure as editor-in-chief this past May, he did it in foppish style. An Instagram post showed him leaving Hearst Tower dressed in a safari jacket and dark sunglasses, designer bags in hand. The photo, which fastidiously aped a famous shot of Jack Nicholson, was roundly mocked on social media. But it served as a fitting, if unwitting, symbol of how the Esquire of today stands in comparison with the Esquire of an earlier era—as a self-conscious echo, a superficial imitation of its former self. Nicholson, after all, was merely living his life; Fielden was playing pretend. The door, closing behind him, closed not only on a three-year run in which the magazine he helmed won not a single National Magazine Award—this after a 19-year span in which his immediate predecessor won 17—but also, it was felt in some quarters, on the cultural moment when such a thing as a men’s magazine had any remaining relevance.
Esquire, Details, Men’s Journal, Maxim, Playboy—it would be easier to list the men’s titles that haven’t shut down, cut issues, changed owners, blown up their editorial strategies, or become all but unrecognizable since 2015. In a tough media environment, men’s magazines are suffering more than most. Some—notably, Playboy and Esquire—appear to have decided that appealing primarily to men is no longer the best way forward. Their recent issues serve as signposts toward the future that, we are told over and over these days, is female—or, better yet, divorced from the gender binary altogether. What we stand to lose from their cultural eclipse is a certain ballast and guidance just as men need it most.
In 2017, more than twice as many men died of opioid overdoses in the United States as women—32,337 to 15,263. The national suicide rate stands at its highest level in 50 years, and while it has increased for both sexes, men are nearly four times as likely to take their own lives. More women than men now attend—and graduate from—four-year colleges. At the very moment that large numbers of American men are adrift, in the very midst of their hunger for meaning, men’s magazines are leaving them behind.
Books, Books, Books! And Books!
1. Earlier this year we published a much-acclaimed double special issue (actually, two full issues of your favorite magazine) on Socialism (against) and Free Markets (for). Urged to publish these 24 essays making the case for our principles, and against the determined enemy (i.e., socialism) of them, we discussed the book prospect with our friends at Post Hill Press. They agreed (excellent idea), and acted, and here it is, sweetly and simply titled: Against Socialism, and filled with the wisdom of Rich Lowry, Charles C. W. Cooke, Kevin D. Williamson, John O’Sullivan, Yuval Levin, David L. Bahnsen, Timothy P. Carney, and many more. Get yours in quality softcover, or the Kindle edition. Order at Amazon, right here.
OK, as to the question Will it make an excellent Christmas gift? the answer is Yes. Indeed!
2. Another great book smacking Socialism upside its thick skull is Amity Shlaes’ Great Society: A New History. Get the down-lo right now by listening to two podcast interviews: John J. Miller interviews Amity on NR’s The Bookmonger, and at The Power Line Show, the Amity and Steven Hayward chat up Great Society.
3. The senior senator and presidential wannabe from Massachusetts is in for it, courtesy of our pal David Bahnsen’s important new book assessing a (thought-perishing) POTUS Warren — it’s titled Elizabeth Warren: How Her Presidency Would Destroy the Middle Class and the American Dream, and right now it is available in audio format: You can get it at Amazon, Audible, or iTunes.
Listen and you will discover a smartly written takedown of what the subtitle claims: How the leftist senator’s trillions-upon-trillions agenda, if implemented, is going to sucker punch America’s Middle Class.
Here’s a taste of some praise about EWHHPWDTMCATAD, from Steve Forbes: “The choices in the 2020 election couldn’t be more stark: Socialism or Capitalism. A buoyant, opportunity-rich economy or economic stagnation and evermore social strife. This well-written, lucid, always-interesting book convincingly makes the case for freedom over tyranny. Essential reading!”
If you thought Steve had nice things to say, get this from Andy McCarthy: “What a great political and economic anomaly: The populist Left, championed by Elizabeth Warren, is determined to vanquish wealth — the thing most essential to the investment, productivity, and growth desperately needed to underwrite the evermore ambitious progressive agenda. Here, David Bahnsen, a brilliant financial analyst with a keen political eye, provides the antidote to Senator Warren’s nostrums, and a Hazlitt-esque Capital in One Lesson for the rest of us.”
4. Oft-mentioned in this weekly screed is Bradley Birzer, king of The Imaginative Conservative and professor of history at Hillsdale College. He has an important new book out, which we recommend: Beyond Tenebrae: Christian Humanism in the Twilight of the West. What’s it all about? We’ll tell you, Alfie:
Beyond Tenebrae is about Christian humanism in all its breadth and depth, and the persons and groups best embodying it (quite apart from any particular social or political stance) in the last century and a half. Modern readers who sense the greatness of the “Republic of Letters” that commenced with the wisdom of the ancient Greeks and has endured for over two millennia will benefit from being introduced to the great men and women presented in these pages, ranging from lesser-known figures (T.E. Hulme, Canon Bell, Clyde Kilby, Theodore Haecker) to the more famous (Irving Babbitt, Christopher Dawson, Russell Kirk, Alexander Solzhenitsyn). Nor does the author, Bradley Birzer, a keen student of literature and poetry, neglect literary figures with strong humanist motivations, again ranging from the celebrated (Willa Cather, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Flannery O’Connor) to those who are forgotten or controversial (Shirley Jackson, Walter Miller, Margaret Atwood). We are treated as well to vignettes of those who influenced Birzer’s own life as a conservative and a humanist. By an interweaving of philosophical reflections with vivid biographical portraits, a vision emerges of a broad, responsible, humble, self-aware Christian humanism that can be a light shining in the darkness of the postmodern West.
Professor Double B is upstream, at the barricades, fighting the culture wars — his vital voice can be heard loud and clear in Beyond Tenebrae. Order your copy.
First, let us note the passing of Seymour Siwoff, the former owner of the Elias Sports Bureau, the statistical mothership for the MLB and so many other sports. Your humble correspondent had the privilege of working there long ago and far away. Rest in Peace. The same to Val Heim, the MLB’s oldest living player, who passed away last month, age 99. He played in 13 games for the White Sox in 1942, and if there was anything to note about Heim’s brief career (like that of many, cut short by WW2), it would be that on September 20 he played both games of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns, and drove in a total of four runs that day, on just one hit.
That leaves the great Eddie Robinson as the National Pastime’s oldest living player. As Yours Truly wrote in a particularly baseball-intensive WJ a few months back, Robinson . . . “a four-time All Star first baseman, played for seven of the AL’s eight franchises from 1942 to 1957. He never got to take the field for the Red Sox. And Robinson is still kicking: The former general manager for the Texas Rangers will celebrate his 99th birthday in December.” That happens on the 15th. Enjoy that, and many more.
On that fateful day in 1941, 2,335 military personnel and 68 civilians died at Pearl Harbor. One who dodged death and fought back was Army Air Corps second Lieutenant Phil Rasmussen, the pajama-clad pilot who got his Curtiss P-36 Hawk fighter up into the air with guns blazing — he shot down one of Hirohito’s Zeros. He lived to fight throughout the war, and to defeat the enemies of freedom (listen to this lecture he gave on the 50th anniversary of the attack).
Did he do it so that American lawmakers could engage in its current liberal lunacies to undo legitimate elections? The question is rhetorical. This request — would you pray for the souls of those who died that day? — is not.
God Bless and Protect You and Yours,
Jack Fowler, who remains open to your attacks, if necessary, and words of encouragement, if such can be imagined, at email@example.com.