The Weekend Jolt

National Review

Let Mikey Try It!

Dear Weekend Jolter,

First . . . in this missive, and in the hearts of countrymen . . . we wish George Washington, POTUS One, a happy 288th birthday (this assumes your calendar waxes Gregorian).

The special day noted, let’s now also note the amazing scene in Nevada on Wednesday night past, when the other Democrat prexy contenders stopped and frisked usedta-Republican / usedta-Independent / fellow Democrat Mike Bloomberg. It wasn’t pretty. He wanted in (despite Michael Brendan Dougherty having counseled him to keep waiting) and even paid for the privilege of getting a podium on the debate stage. There he stood for hardly a minute when, like her or not, Elizabeth Warren made everyone forget about DNA and launched the pile-on about office jokester Mikey’s NDA problems. What theater! Whatever your take, to Your Humble Correspondent, this was the best entertainment broadcast on the boob tube since Bully Beatdown.

Our Jim Geraghty had an excellent night-of summary of the shebang:

The upshot of this two-hour brawl was that the front-runner, Sanders, didn’t take too much damage. The quickly rising Bloomberg took it on the chin, but he can probably erase most of the damage with another $400 million or so in television ads. Bloomberg isn’t leaving the race any time soon, and Sanders is, at least right now, on track to get to Milwaukee with the most delegates. These two guys really disdain each other, and tonight suggested that the next few months will be an epic slugfest between two septuagenarians who vehemently oppose everything the other man represents.

The gargantuan winner of the night was the Trump campaign. Tonight’s debate shone a bright spotlight on the weaknesses of the candidates most likely to be the nominee, and it provided a ton of fodder for Trump ads in the general election.

Did Mikey like it? (The experience, not Jim’s piece.) I don’t think so. But hey, don’t sweat it little guy: Go have a cigarette, spend a few tens of millions, supersize and guzzle a Jolt Cola (which we are particular to here at Weekend Jolt), spend a few tens of millions, and then regroup, and spend a few tens of millions, because South Carolina and Super Tuesday are coming up quick.

See you at the debate on February 25, Bloomy. Oh yeah: Even though it’s Walmart, where we deplorables sometimes shop, you may want to stock up on some of these before you take the stage.

By the way . . .

Warren’s debate performance was noteworthy for more than her Kill Bill treatment of Bloomberg. Kevin Williamson, who’s long had a black belt on the Massachusetts lefty, couldn’t help but see her thrilling to unforeseen opportunities to tax and regulate. From his debate watching:

The great highlight for me was watching Senator Warren. I am reminded of the Republican 2016 primary contender I saw a few days after Donald Trump’s victory in the general election. “I’m not sure about the guy who won,” he said, “but it was so . . . satisfying . . . watching her lose.” (No, these debates do not bring out the best in me. But, then, they don’t bring out the best in the contestants, either.) Senator Warren is a terrible campaigner, and her tribune-of-the-plebs shtick is awkward, because she so obviously and clearly detests people — take my advice, from one misanthrope to another, senator: This ain’t your game.

Warren’s leaps of imagination were amusing, though. Pressed by Jon Ralston (if there was a winner of the debate, it was he) about the assumptions behind her climate policy — assumptions that might charitably be described as wishful thinking — she said that the way forward on alternative energy and the like would be to develop new products that hadn’t been invented yet. What kind of new products that haven’t been invented yet? Well, that’s the thing about things that haven’t been invented yet. But irrespective of what those products are or when . . . somebody . . . gets around to inventing them, Warren said she’d insist that they be built here in the United States of America, in order to offset those mining jobs in Nevada and drilling jobs in Pennsylvania she plans to destroy.

That is classic Warren: She is already dreaming up heavy-handed regulations for things that do not yet exist — regulations that are politically unworkable and very possibly unconstitutional at that. (The president has no obvious constitutional power to tell hypothetical inventors of hypothetical products where they may locate their hypothetical factories.) But none of that really matters, of course. Not to Senator Warren, anyway, who is as cynical a grifter as American politics has to offer in 2020.

Now, on with the Weekend Jolt.

Editorials

1. There is madness behind those fighting to block the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. We encourage its passing in the Senate. From the editorial:

The Democrats have presented flimsy rationales for their opposition.

They claim, first, that “born-alive” infants don’t exist, that attempted abortions never produce living infants. This is not the case, as we know from the woeful tale of abortionist Kermit Gosnell, whose murderous crimes against newborns were not illegal under federal law. Though data on born-alive infants are spotty, there is both anecdotal and reported evidence that infants do survive late-term abortion procedures with some regularity.

When proven wrong on this first point, Democrats pivot to the assertion that laws already exist to prevent infanticide. In the context of abortion, that is false. There is no federal law requiring doctors to provide life-saving care to infants who survive abortions. Only 33 states, at last count, have such laws in place. New York’s legislature last year repealed the state’s born-alive protections.

2. We side with young Connecticut women trying to make sure that high-school girls’ sports are for high-school girls, and not wanna-chicks with dude chromosomes. From the editorial:

Transgender sports policies make a mockery of women’s competition. Just look at the state of Connecticut.

At the 2018 state open for women’s track and field, two young men identifying as transgender took first and second place in the 100m race. Their participation not only deprived young women of their rightful claim to victory, but also prevented others from even qualifying in the New England Championships. Now three of these displaced female high-school athletes are, along with their parents, seeking federal redress in a lawsuit against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC).

Last June, the same athletes had filed a complaint to the Education Department. But now that two of them are nearing graduation — and transgender activists are strengthening their influence nationwide — they have sought a speedier judicial intervention. Filed on behalf of Selina Soule, a senior at Glastonbury High School, Chelsea Mitchell, a senior at Canton High School, and Alanna Smith, a sophomore at Danbury High School, the suit argues, correctly, that the CIAC policy is in violation of Title IX.

Enacted in 1972, Title IX was designed to ensure that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” For sports, this meant that women were to receive equal opportunities to men. (Overeager implementation of the provision has, regrettably, caused many universities to scuttle men’s sports teams.) Between 1972 and 2011, female participation in high-school athletics increased from around 250,000 to 3.25 million students, with similar increases at the collegiate level.

Now Here Are Fourteen Yummy NR Delights to Go Along with Your GW Birthday Cherry Pie. If You’re Good, Mom Will Give You a Second Slice!

1. One More Mike Bloomberg Thing: Victor Davis Hanson, a real farmer, sized up the Manhattan Asphalt Expert’s video spiel on how corn is made, uttered amidst a wide-ranging display of monumental arrogance. From the commentary:

But he did not leave it there. First, he switched back into the present tense. (“I could teach anybody, even people in this room, no offense intended, to be a farmer.”) Did he mean the Manhattan whizz kid could teach sophisticated Oxonians to be modern farming simpletons, or that he, the student of history, could teach them to be preindustrial simpletons? And then he added that the present information age emphasized skill sets of thinking and analyzing, as apparently does not occur in contemporary farming or manufacturing work.

In truth, Bloomberg could not teach anyone in that Oxford hall or any other room how to farm, in either ancient times or modern. If he really thinks that farming is, or was, a mere “process” of digging holes, dropping in seeds, covering them with dirt, adding water, and, presto!, up comes the corn, then he is as dense as is he is arrogant.

The preindustrial history of farming was a nonstop life-and-death struggle to survive one more day, in constant war against nature (weather, insects, disease, soil chemistry, species variations) and man (labor, markets, government, war, security, etc.) to produce food. And it took a great deal of science, skill, patience, and physical courage to pull it off. Read the classical empirical and scientific treatises on farming and agronomy by Theophrastus, Columella, or Varro, and you’ll find that the degree of their contemporaries’ ancient farming expertise and science is extraordinary. No one would conclude from these that ancient agriculture was anything like Bloomberg’s caricatures.

2. OK, one last Bloomberg item: Robert VerBruggen lists the many ways the Billionaire Know-It-All wants to micromanage your life. From the piece:

And while he’s something of a known quantity from his years as mayor of New York (crime control, gun control, cigarette control, french-fry control), he’s selectively tweaked his approach to policy for this race, for example by apologizing for his administration’s overuse of stop-and-frisk policing — and by putting out a steady stream of policy proposals meant to appeal to the Democratic base. Indeed, while Elizabeth Warren may be known as the candidate with a “plan for that,” Bloomberg’s website has a 32-item alphabetical grid of the damn things, from “All-In Economy” to “Wildfire Resilience” (not joking).

I read them so you don’t have to. Here’s an unavoidably surface-level look at some of the highlights of his interminable agenda, which he began debuting late last year and continues to expand. In total, these ideas would drastically expand the role of the federal government in countless areas — if Congress indeed passed and funded them under a President Bloomberg.

Cut incarceration in half by 2030: Most prisoners are held in state, not federal, facilities, so this is not something the federal government even has the power to do. As a result, Bloomberg’s plan relies on a “Department of Justice reform hub to evaluate and fund state-level criminal justice reform efforts.” For good measure, he vows that we can reduce incarceration this much and cut crime.

Expand Obamacare and have the government offer a “public option”: He’d boost the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies and provide a government-run plan that could pave the way for something like Medicare for All in the future.

3. Really and Truly, the Last Bloomberg Item: Rich Lowry finds a technocrat who think little of the Constitution. From the column:

Bloomberg’s reaction after the Boston Marathon bombing was characteristic. “We live in a complex world,” he said, “where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”

What he so dismissively calls “the olden days” was the time of the American Founding, and the idea that the Founders didn’t understand complexity, or have any sense of trade-offs, is ahistorical nonsense.

It is important that Trump, whatever his personal and institutional failings, is backstopped by a conservative legal movement that has worked with him to pump originalist judges through the Senate. These judges will remain a bulwark of conservative constitutionalism long after Trump has departed the scene.

Bloomberg’s technocratic instincts, in contrast, run with the grain of contemporary progressivism. There will be no checks on his natural tendency toward unilateral rule through the administrative state. As it happens, support for this mode of government is shared by his fiercest Democratic critics, such as Elizabeth Warren, who may scorn Bloomberg but has openly embraced government by presidential decree.

4. Jim Geraghty spots four overlooked weaknesses of Bernie Sanders. Here’s one:

He’s got one big theme and isn’t that interested in what doesn’t fit that theme. James Pethokoukis contends, “Literally every Bernie explanation for every problem is corporate greed. Makes it easy to do economic policy because you don’t have to know anything about economic policy. Or costs and benefits. Or trade-offs. Or unintended consequences.” When Sanders is taken far afield of U.S. economic inequality, his answers either start to get nonsensical or he steers back to the same themes in different contexts.

He sees the Sunni-Shia divide as akin to bickering neighbors. “We’ve got to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia together in a room, under American leadership, and say, ‘we are sick and tired of us spending huge amounts of money and human resources because of your conflicts.’” He contends that we’ve been fighting a war on terror through three administrations to distract the public: “Endless wars help the powerful to draw attention away from economic corruption.” Sanders’ plan to deal with rising authoritarian powers like Russia, China is to form “an international progressive movement that mobilizes behind a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people, and that addresses the massive global inequality that exists, not only in wealth but in political power.” I’m sure an argument that amounts to “only the international socialist movement can stop Russia and China” sounded better in his head.

5. So, why the heck wasn’t McCabe charged? Andrew McCarthy explains. From the piece:

Why not indict McCabe on felony false-statements charges? That is the question being pressed by incensed Trump supporters. After all, the constitutional guarantee of equal justice under the law is supposed to mean that McCabe gets the same quality of justice afforded to the sad sacks pursued with unseemly zeal by McCabe’s FBI and Robert Mueller’s prosecutors. George Papadopoulos was convicted of making a trivial false statement about the date of a meeting. Roger Stone was convicted of obstruction long after the special counsel knew there was no Trump–Russia conspiracy, even though his meanderings did not impede the investigation in any meaningful way. And in the case of Michael Flynn’s false-statements conviction, as McCabe himself acknowledged to the House Intelligence Committee, even the agents who interviewed him did not believe he intentionally misled them.

I emphasize Flynn’s intent because purported lack of intent is McCabe’s principal defense, too. Even McCabe himself, to say nothing of his lawyers and his apologists in the anti-Trump network of bureaucrats-turned-pundits, cannot deny that he made false statements to FBI agents and the IG. Rather, they argue that the 21-year senior law-enforcement official did not mean to lie, that he was too distracted by his high-level responsibilities to focus on anything as mundane as a leak — even though he seemed pretty damned focused on the leak while he was orchestrating it.

The “he did not believe he intentionally misled them” defense is not just implausible; it proved unavailing on McCabe’s watch, at least in General Flynn’s case. Hence, McCabe has a back-up plan: To argue that it would be extraordinary — and thus unconstitutionally selective and retaliatory — for the Justice Department to prosecute a former official for false statements in a “mere” administrative inquiry (which the leak probe was), as opposed to a criminal investigation. Again, tell that to Flynn, with whom the FBI conducted a brace-style interview — at the White House, without his counsel present, and in blithe disregard of procedures for FBI interviews of the president’s staff — despite the absence of a sound investigative basis for doing so, and whom Mueller’s maulers squeezed into a guilty plea anyway.

It will be a while before we learn the whole story of why the Justice Department walked away from the McCabe case, if we ever do. I have some supposition to offer on that score. First, however, it is worth revisiting the case against McCabe as outlined by the meticulous and highly regarded IG, Michael Horowitz. If you want to know why people are so angry, and why they are increasingly convinced that, for all President Trump’s “drain the swamp” rhetoric, a two-tiered justice system that rewards the well-connected is alive and well, consider the following.

6. There’s lots of trade and security upside, write Thomas Duesterberg and Eric Brown, that could come from President Trump’s upcoming trip to India. From the piece:

At almost 14 percent, average applied tariffs in India are the highest of any major economy. Tariffs on manufactured goods such as medical products, motorcycles, and agricultural products, and limits on many services imports, are prohibitive. The expected trade deal would reduce some of the most damaging of these impediments to U.S. exporters. Total trade between the U.S. and India is only $145 billion, less than half of the total for the U.S. and the ten countries of ASEAN, and barely 20 percent of total U.S. trade with China.

Against this backdrop, one important factor in the calculus of Trump and Modi to improving bilateral relations, including in the economic sphere, is clearly India’s longstanding fear of being subordinated in an Asia dominated by the PRC. The PRC aims to establish itself as the controlling power in the Western Pacific and the Strait of Malacca, as well as in the Indian Ocean and the Sea of Bengal, through which India connects to Southeast Asia. India already has seen its traditional trade sea lanes threatened by the creation of PRC ports or bases in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, and East Africa. Throughout South Asia, PRC is an aggressive presence challenging the autonomy and economies in what Modi and his party consider integral parts of India’s rightful civilizational sphere of influence.

Meanwhile, PRC companies such as Huawei and ZTE are striving to dominate the future of global telecommunications, including 5G. India and the ASEAN countries have been looking to 5G to jump-start economic growth, including via future artificial intelligence (AI) applications. Human-centric AI that is democratically deployed has the potential to help South and Southeast Asian countries to address their creaky governing systems, which are being stressed by rising populations and other dynamics. But Chinese Communist Party dominance over the infrastructure through which data flows could have adverse implications for overall economic growth and competitiveness, while PRC’s surveillance and espionage via 5G could also impinge on the political sovereignty of India as well as other Asian nations.

President Trump and Prime Minister Modi will certainly discuss these challenges posed by the PRC. Over time, the U.S. would like to enlist India as a more active diplomatic and military contributor to the free and open order in the Indo-Pacific. If India is going to play this role, and check the growth of PRC power in South Asia, it will require a larger and faster-growing economy.

7. More Victor Davis Hanson: The scholar offers some proposals that just might help save higher education. From the essay:

A college education is far too expensive. Nearly 45 million young Americans owe $1.5 trillion in student loans — a staggering sum unmatched in American history. Millions have either defaulted on their loans or are able to pay only the interest and are making no progress on the principle.

Universities have for decades upped their tuition and services higher than the rate of annual inflation. Yet they deny they have any responsibility for the staggering student debt, even though the encumbrances have altered the U.S. economy, culture, and demography. One of many reasons youth are marrying later, delaying child-rearing, and unable to buy a home is that so many of them are burdened well into their late twenties and early thirties with student-loan debt, on average over $30,000 per student. Again, the university more or less shrugs, insisting it has no responsibility for this collective national disaster that it helped create

The student-loan crisis could be alleviated if universities, not the federal government, were the co-signers of the loans, which would make them share with students the moral hazard of loan repayment. Instead of spending superfluously on “diversity and inclusion” czars and entire castes of non-teaching facilitators, universities would have incentives to lower non-teaching costs. It would be in their own financial interest to ensure that students could minimize debt by graduating within four years, and also to invest in job placement for their graduates, so they could move into the full-time workforce months after finishing school.

8. David Harsanyi zaps Connecticut senator Chris Murphy for being a massive hypocrite on Iran. From the piece:

The Federalist reported yesterday that Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and other Democratic senators secretly met with foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during the Munich Security Conference last month. Today, Murphy acknowledged that the meeting took place, arguing that “Congress is a co-equal branch to the executive” and, well, Donald Trump is bad.

It’s quite a volte-face for Murphy. In March of 2015, when President Obama was involved in negotiations with the mullahs, Senator Tom Cotton and 46 of his colleagues released an open letter to the Islamic Republic of Iran, offering some basic lessons on the American constitutional system — namely, an explainer on binding treaties.

At the time, Murphy called the letter “unprecedented” and claimed it was “undermining the authority of the president.” Then-Secretary of State John Kerry claimed to be in “utter disbelief” when asked about the letter. Kerry, no stranger to negotiating with America’s enemies, would a few years later meet Zarif a number of times to try and ‘salvage’ Obama’s Iran deal, in direct conflict with the position of the American government in Trump’s administration.

When Dianne Feinstein, then the Democrats’ ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, heard about Cotton’s letter, she was “appalled” at the “highly inappropriate and unprecedented incursion into the president’s prerogative to conduct foreign affairs.” Only a few years later, Feinstein would host the Iranian Foreign Minister for dinner.

9. Stanley Kurtz calls out the Trump Administration for failing to undo an Obama reg that allows Big Brother to run roughshod over every neighborhood. From the analysis:

The Obama administration’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule was arguably its most radical attempt to “fundamentally transform” the United States. As I wrote at the time, Obama’s AFFH gives the federal government “a lever to re-engineer nearly every American neighborhood — imposing a preferred racial and ethnic composition, densifying housing, transportation, and business development in suburb and city alike, and weakening or casting aside the authority of local governments over core responsibilities, from zoning to transportation to education.” Another way of looking at Obama’s AFFH is to see it as a way of allowing big cities to effectively annex their surrounding suburbs — siphoning off suburban tax revenue and controlling suburban planning as well.

While Ben Carson’s HUD is now proposing a revision of Obama’s AFFH that peels back some of the rule’s most egregious overreach, the core of Obama’s AFFH remains intact. Although it is disguised by vague bureaucratic language, Carson’s version of AFFH still gives the feds the power to control local zoning decisions.

As policy, this is folly. As politics, it is flat-out malpractice. Carson’s version of AFFH will alienate the suburbs, now the crucial swing vote in federal elections. If a Republican administration entrenches “AFFH lite”, it will only legitimate the next Democratic administration’s attempts to restore an Obama-style AFFH. Once Republicans accept the principle that it is the business of the feds to tell local governments how to zone and plan, the next Democratic president will push federal control to the max. With Carson’s AFFH lite, Republicans will have abandoned not only the principle of local control and the correct interpretation of the original Fair Housing Act, they will have lost a political issue that could turn suburban swing voters their way.

10. Alexandra DeSanctis counters Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson’s precious case absolving pro-life Republicans who want to support and vote for a Democrat abortion fanatic. From the analysis:

But while a few of the points in his column are sensible, Gerson makes an utterly baffling logical leap in his conclusion: “It would be difficult for a pro-life citizen to be an enthusiastic and loyal Democrat, even if my case is correct,” he writes. “But it is possible to imagine circumstances in which voting for a Democrat would be preferable to endorsing immediate harm to the country by a Republican. And we are in exactly such a circumstance.”

Despite spending his entire article presenting reasons (some more compelling than others) as to why a pro-lifer might not always need to — and in fact sometimes ought not — vote for an anti-abortion candidate, he concludes the piece as if he had somehow illustrated that pro-life voters are required to support the eventual Democratic nominee. The column’s headline, too, makes this assertion: “It is difficult for pro-lifers to vote Democrat. But it’s better than Trump.”

Even if Gerson had attempted to make this argument, it likely wouldn’t have been terribly convincing. It’s hard to imagine a compelling way to convince voters who choose their candidate based on whether they oppose abortion to support a politician who favors unlimited abortion, for any reason, at any stage of pregnancy, funded by the U.S. taxpayers — the position of every leading Democrat competing for the nomination.

11. Oren Cass announces the formation of a new organization to break conservatism from what he calls its “market fundamentalism.” From the piece:

Today we are announcing the formation of American Compass, an organization dedicated to helping American conservatism recover from its chronic case of market fundamentalism. In preparation, we have been perusing the mission statements of many of our nation’s think tanks. Nearly every group has one. Oddly, the right-of-center’s preeminent public-policy institutions all have the same one: to advance the principles of “limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty” or “free markets and limited, effective government” or “free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom” or “individual liberty, limited government, free markets” or “economic choice and individual responsibility” or “individual, economic, and political freedom; private enterprise; and representative government.”

Without question, those principles are vital. But an emphasis so monotonal is neither supportive of effective deliberation nor genuinely conservative. “Why don’t we look at a policy and just ask, does it expand economic freedom?” suggests Heritage Foundation vice president Jack Spencer. Because there is more to life than economic freedom. Also, there is more to economic freedom than economic freedom. A society that attempts to maximize everyone’s freedom at every moment will fail miserably in preserving individual liberty and limiting government over time.

What is missing from our public debates is a distinctively conservative approach to economics. The modern right-of-center coalition is the product of the “fusionism” that joined economic libertarians with social conservatives and Cold War hawks in an era when the defeat of Communism was of preeminent importance to all three. Having for decades outsourced their economic thinking to libertarians, conservatives now watch from the sidelines as classical liberals (i.e., libertarians) and modern liberals (i.e., progressives) debate how best to pursue their shared and unquestioned priorities of personal consumption and aggregate economic growth.

12. Jack Butler rejoinders (new verb!) the Cass Case. From the piece:

The notion that libertarians have largely controlled the Right probably comes as a surprise to libertarians, who have watched helplessly over the past few decades as government has grown, debt and deficits have expanded, and the Federal Register accrues more pages (even as one of the consistent priorities of what Cass calls the inchoate “earthquake” of the Trump administration has been a concerted effort to fight this last trend).

“Market fundamentalism,” then, is a curious choice of villain. Few could survey the actual policy achievements of elected Republicans over the past few decades and claim they reflect that wholesale. Republicans during George W. Bush’s presidency may have cut taxes, but they also increased spending (as have Trump-era Republicans), added a new federal agency, expanded an existing federal entitlement, and increased federal involvement in education. Bush himself proclaimed that “we have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move,” imposed unilateral tariffs (as President Trump has done), and spearheaded the TARP bailout of the financial industry, sacrificing “free-market principles to save the free-market system,” in his words.

President George H. W. Bush famously raised taxes and was never fully on board with what he had called President Reagan’s “voodoo economics.” The degree to which Reagan himself was on board with what became known as “Reaganomics” is the subject of some debate, largely due to his utility as a totem for both sides of this argument. But he did intervene in the economy specifically in behalf of Harley-Davidson. And libertarian economics had very little sway in the actual policy of the Republican Party before Reagan. If Cass’s dispute is instead with conservative rhetoric irrespective of its purported practitioners’ actions, then he ought to make that clear. (Few would contest that many elected Republicans have been hypocrites in this regard.)

13. The Oscars may be over, but Armond White is making the case for the Polish film, Corpus Christi. From the outset of the review:

The new Polish import Corpus Christi was nominated for the Best International Film Oscar but lost to South Korea’s Parasite, a choice that reflects the Hollywood Left’s current fascination with Communism and the forced redistribution of wealth and property. That film regarded moral depravity as farce, which Corpus Christi does not.

Yet Corpus Christi’s depiction of our modern moral quandary also proves uniquely — peculiarly — of this time. Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) is a rascal in a Polish reformatory whose misbehavior and rebellious predisposition test his Catholic upbringing. He’s first seen standing lookout while a gang brutalizes another youth. At Mass, Daniel’s treachery comes into focus during the priest’s homily: “I am a murderer. Yes, you heard me right. I have killed. I killed in my thoughts. I killed in what I failed to do. I killed in what I did.”

Director Jan Komasa avoids putting too fine a point on his ironic thesis in Corpus Christi by complicating it. The priest reveals his subject to be forgiveness: “Forgive means love. Love someone despite their guilt.” Komasa similarly challenges the audience by contrasting piety with impudence.

14. Kyle Smith jumps into the time machine (well, he went to Amazon Prime) to watch Paddy Chayefsky’s 1971 movie, The Hospital. He finds it prophetic. From the review / essay:

A glance beneath the surface of what the medical profession is up to reveals a staggering array of incompetence, intransigence, and disregard for life. It was just in the past 20 years or so that doctors started to consider maybe washing their hands once in a while; before that, hand-washing was at less than 50 percent, and surgeons and anesthesiologists were ruled the leading offenders. As recently as 2009, after years of retraining by the medical establishment, hand hygiene stood at an estimated 74 percent. A one-in-four chance your doctor didn’t wash his hands before he started examining you, in some of the world’s best hospitals, in 2009! Some of the world’s most expensively trained doctors have no more concern about hygiene than your four-year-old. Dr. Filthyhands is a big reason that 1.7 million patients pick up infections in hospitals annually, which contributes to an estimated 90,000 deaths each year, according to a 2009 survey by the World Health Organization.

Trainee doctors are saddled with absurdly long hours as their punishment for being rookies — 28-hour shifts were common until that was dialed down to 16 hours. In 2017, the panel that decides these things declared that 28-hour shifts, twice a week, were okay after all. How do you feel about having a doctor examine you while crazed by sleep deprivation?  Are you surprised that a 2008 study in Oregon showed there is no significant health difference between being on Medicaid and having no insurance plan whatsoever? Imagine the immense expense of Medicaid being worth nothing in life outcomes. The top three killers in the U.S. are heart disease, cancer, and medical errors.

Saying all of this out loud won’t win you a lot of friends among the doctors who could hold your life in their hands, which is why criticism of medical professionals (as opposed to those nasty insurance companies) tends to be whispered rather than shouted out the window à la Howard Beale. Yet Beale’s creator, Paddy Chayefsky, wrote a perfectly devastating satiric indictment of technologically sophisticated, bureaucratically sclerotic modern medicine. Of his two mighty satires, the one that remains spot-on is, naturally, the one that was forgotten. Chayefsky’s Network (1976) has aged poorly, what with its fretting about Arab petro-states taking over U.S. media, its soothsayers, its Maoist terror groups. The Hospital (1971), on the other hand, is timeless. Both films won Chayefsky Academy Awards, though only one of them really made him nervous. When he checked into a hospital for cancer treatment in 1981, he told friends that doctors “are going to get ahold of me and cut me up because of that movie I wrote about them.” He died soon after that, at age 58.

The New March 9, 2020 Issue of National Review Huffs, Puffs, and Blows Down Misconceptions about the Crazed State of Housing in America

As is our custom, we use this vehicle to turn you on to the immense wisdom contained between the covers of every issue of National Review, and the new number is chock full of such. So here are four selections for whistle-wetting.

1. John McCormack, from the now-abandoned campaign trail in New Hampshire, profiles the Bernie juggernaut, and why it may prove to be a jugger-not. From the report:

The agenda. The final words spoken by Bernie Sanders at his election-eve rally in New Hampshire were: “Let’s win this thing! Let’s transform America!”

It’s hard to think of a sharper contrast in political slogans than the one between “Let’s transform America!” and “Make America great again.” The latter is broadly within the American tradition (it was in fact copied from Ronald Reagan’s 1980 slogan “Let’s make America great again”). For all the controversy that Trump stirred up in 2016—for all the criticism of his character and temperament—he was not promising a radical transformation of the American economy. He broke with his party on entitlement reform, for example, by abandoning a controversial but sound plan to reform Medicare for Americans under the age of 55. Sanders, by contrast, is the only remaining Democrat in the race firmly committed to Medicare for All and its politically toxic plan to eliminate private insurance for more than 180 million Americans. Sanders wants to gut spending on the military while increasing funding for domestic programs by some $97 trillion over the next decade.

Sanders’s pledge to “transform America” with a radical economic agenda may win him a plurality of Democrats, but it is causing a lot of angst among those in the party who are concerned most with beating Trump in 2020. If Democrats opposed to Sanders don’t unite around one alternative early enough, they are going to fail, and the socialist from Vermont will be the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nominee.

2. A mending Kat Timpf loves South Park. From the reflection:

These critics are correct about one thing: South Park is consistently offensive, and it absolutely has gone after every sacred subject under the sun. Where the critics are wrong, though, is in their contention that this is a bad thing, that this approach has led only to nihilism and cruelty. In fact, I can confidently say that South Park’s penchant for unbridled derision has been directly responsible for my own joy in some times of terrible sadness.

Make no mistake . . . South Park is brutal. It takes subjects that aren’t supposed to be touched at all and handles them roughly. It’s true that it’s crude and rude and disgusting, even in its treatment of subjects that are supposed to be solemn—spoken of only in polite whispers and polished platitudes if they’re ever spoken of at all.

The thing is, though, that’s precisely why I think it’s so great—because it’s taught me that I can laugh, even at life’s most horrific atrocities, disarming its toughest challenges by demonstrating that even they are not untouchable by the powerful healing forces of humor.

One time in particular comes to mind: I was in college and had just found out that my mom had breast cancer. I was young; I was away from home; I was scared, and I was lost. It was, perhaps, the first time I felt that terrifying feeling that nothing truly is unshakable; that the things we consider to be the “foundations” in our lives are truly too unreliable to be thought of in that way at all.

That week, as I was relaxing and watching episodes of South Park with my friends, an episode came up that was centered on jokes about breast cancer. I will never forget what happened to everyone’s eyes in that room, darting around between nervous looks at one another and nervous looks at me, trying to make sure I was “okay” without having to take the risk of saying the wrong thing.

Of course, I wasn’t okay. How could I be? But here’s the thing: I hadn’t been okay before the episode came on. It’s not like, because of that episode, I had just remembered that my mom had cancer, or that it had somehow gotten worse because Cartman was making fun of it. I had already been thinking about it, because I was thinking about it nonstop. When I saw the episode, though, I did something that I hadn’t done in a while:

I laughed . . . and laughing felt amazing.

3. Michael Gibson has a birds-eye view of the Bay Area’s housing madness. From the piece:

What is unique about this situation is how the tech companies have utterly failed to transform the wealth generated in this boom into any political power at the local or regional level. Tech companies appear to influence national elections and foment revolutions abroad, yet they can do little to change the land-use ordinances around their home offices. So powerful are these giants that candidates for the presidency are calling for them to be broken up, but they are also prohibited from building so much as one new home for one employee in a leafy suburb.

I reached out to Alain Bertaud, the renowned urban economist at New York University and author of Order without Design: How Markets Shape Cities. “When I read [that] Google says it’s going to give $1 billion to housing,” he told me, “I think it’s completely misplaced. Now, of course, we have to address homelessness in a non-market way, through social welfare, to help people out of their misery and bad luck. But what disturbs me is when I read some large percent of the housing should be affordable, which means below market-rate through subsidies. That only means waitlists and lotteries. As soon as the system doesn’t allow firefighters, cops, and schoolteachers to afford a house, you know that it is a broken system and no amount of subsidy will solve the problem.”

According to Bertaud, Google’s, Facebook’s, and Apple’s billions might be better spent lobbying city and suburban governments to relax their restrictions and free up the housing market.

Good luck.

4. Ramesh Ponnuru watches progressives give political mouth-to-mouth to the corpse of the long dead ERA. From the article:

The debate over the 1970s debate over the ERA is comprehensible only in the context of the federal judiciary’s growing power during the decades preceding it. It had become widely accepted that the Constitution was full of “majestic generalities” (“both luminous and obscure,” Justice William Brennan would add in 1985) and that it fell to the justices to fill in the details. Pro visions of the Constitution such as the 14th Amendment’s due process clause thus became a license for judges to make law. The ERA was an attempt to give the federal courts additional leeway by adding one more majestic generality to the constitutional text.

The opponents understood the strategy, and it was that understanding that motivated them. There was no good reason for Americans, and especially for traditionalists, to give a liberal-dominated federal judiciary a blank check. The growing power of the courts has probably reduced the demand for formal constitutional amendments in general: Why go to the trouble if the courts will do all the work? It stoked opposition to this amendment in particular.

There is some dissent on the left about the ERA, at least on tactics. Advocates of a balanced-budget amendment have gotten many state legislatures to call for a constitutional convention to consider the proposal. Progressives’ main weapon in fighting back against this proposal has been getting legislatures to undo their requests. So anti-BBA progressives need rescissions to count, even as pro-ERA progressives swear that rescissions are void.

Another dissenter is Justice Ginsburg, the most prominent feminist lawyer in U.S. history. She has repeatedly and recently said that advocates of the ERA have to start the amendment process again if they are to get their way. A strong argument can be made that the justices should be silent about such matters, especially given the lawsuits mentioned above, but Ginsburg has made a practice of disregarding such niceties. In this case, though, the justice is right. Article V is still alive, and the ERA is a zombie that cannot be reanimated.

This Deserves Its Own Section

At USA Today, Brett Decker urges President Trump to award James L. Buckley with the Medal of Freedom. From the column:

One of the few in history to hold senior positions in all three branches of the federal government, Buckley has been a U.S. senator, undersecretary of State and ambassador, and retired as a judge on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He served in the Navy in the Pacific Theater in World War II.

During the Cold War, Buckley played a key part in President Ronald Reagan’s successful two-pronged strategy to defeat the Soviet Union by bankrupting Moscow through a costly arms race that the inefficient socialist economy could not afford, and by undermining the legitimacy of the regime by publicly attacking the evils of the communist system. As president of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, Buckley led America’s operations to broadcast hopeful messages about freedom, democracy and capitalism to millions suffering behind the Iron Curtain. . . .

Bestowing Judge Buckley with the nation’s highest civilian honor would celebrate the man for his role in government, champion the value of public service in general, and mark the contemporary coming together of the establishment and populist wings of an ascendant conservatism.

The Six

1. Writing in Quillette, our old pal Chris DeMuth, along with Yoram Hazony, hit the U.K. Conservative Party for attacking an MP who attended a conference run by . . . conservatives. From the outset of the piece:

Two weeks ago, the Edmund Burke Foundation convened a conference on national conservatism in Rome. The conference committee, of which both of us were members, brought together hundreds of academics, politicians, students, and journalists from across Europe and the US to discuss the most important political development of our time—the revival of the idea of the independent national state.

In the two weeks since the conference, the organizers and certain participants have been subjected to a torrent of smears from UK media and political sources. It’s no surprise that the Guardian and Buzzfeed took the lead in condemning a conference of conservatives as an anti-Semitic event “packed full of racists, homophobes, and Islamophobes.” These have become familiar tropes of the anti-intellectual Left.

But one aspect of the attacks should trouble anyone who regards himself or herself as a conservative: The reaction of the UK Conservative Party to criticism of one of its own MPs, Daniel Kawczynski, who attended the conference to give a talk on Brexit. Not only did the Tories fail to come to Kawczynski’s defence when the media mob descended on him and his party. They joined the mob and threw him under the bus. A party spokesman announced that Kawczynski had been “formally warned that his attendance at this event was not acceptable, particularly in light of the views of some of those in attendance, which we utterly condemn, and that he is expected to hold himself to higher standards.”

Read those words carefully: The Conservative Party has “formally warned” an elected Member of Parliament for attending a public conference, and “utterly condemned” the views of some others in attendance—without even deigning to say whose views or which views it deems worthy of condemnation. This about a conference of elected officials and respected public intellectuals from across Europe.

RELATED: Alexis Carré attended and filed this report for National Review Online.

2. At The New Criterion, Daniel J. Mahoney pens a wonderful, personal tribute to the late Roger Scruton. From the piece:

I met Roger again in the spring of 2015 at a conference at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, sponsored by his good friend, exegete, and admirer—and my friend, too—the political theorist Dan Cullen. By that time, I had reviewed half a dozen of Roger’s works, seeing in them a wellspring of impressive conservative and philosophical wisdom. Given my work on Solzhenitsyn (and to a lesser extent Václav Havel), I immediately took to his profound and lyrical novel Notes from Underground, published by Beaufort Books in 2014. Here was a book that got to the heart of totalitarian mendacity while depicting the efforts of a small minority of self-respecting Czechs to “live not by lies,” in Solzhenitsyn’s inestimable phrase. At the conference, I presented on the book, one that continues to preoccupy me. Better than any recent book I knew, I argued, Scruton’s novel illustrated the profound truth that human beings are above all persons to be respected and not playthings to be endlessly manipulated by ideologists, technocrats, and soulless bureaucrats. His unforgettable characters—Jan Reichl, Betka Palková, Father Pavel—were less sainted “dissidents” than imperfect human beings who attempted to maintain their personal integrity and moral dignity in a phantasmagorical world marked by the loss of personal responsibility and moral agency. Scruton wrote with passionate sympathy for these men and women who refused to succumb to the ideological Lie even as he avoided anything resembling hagiography. The Czech philosopher Jan Patočka’s “solidarity of the shattered” became palpable in Scruton’s artful and moving book. Scruton was pleased by my engagement with his book and encouraged me to develop it into a full-blown essay. I did so in the summer of 2019, writing a twenty-six-page engagement with Notes from Underground that appeared in VoegelinView in the fall of 2019, and that will appear in essay form in a book on Roger Scruton’s thought being prepared by Cullen. I was touched and pleased when Roger recommended my essay to his readers and admirers in his fall newsletter from “Scrutopia,” his farm and intellectual enclave in Wiltshire, England, which brings together, as Dooley has so deftly put it, “farmers and philosophers, Wagner and wine, Aristotle and animals.” It doesn’t get better than this—a conservative utopia that could be someplace precisely because it respects persons as such.

Cullen and I also plotted to bring Roger and the contemporary French political philosopher Pierre Manent together. We almost succeeded when I was president of the New England Political Science Association in 2016, but poor Roger was too injured to travel after he fell off a horse on his Sunday Hill Farm. Scruton and Manent were the most thoughtful and persuasive defenders of humane national loyalty and national self-government writing at the time. They thought deeply about human nature, practical reason, and the natural moral law, themes superseded by the regnant relativism and nihilism. They both had contempt for the post-political nihilism and antinomianism arising out of the May events in Paris in 1968. Both defended the secular state while doing full justice to the “Christian mark” of Europe, to cite Manent’s suggestive phrase.

3. The crime busters have now become the criminal enablers, writes Andrew McCarthy in the cover essay of the new issue of Commentary. From the beginning of the article:

A newly minted district attorney for a major American city vows to establish an immigration unit. At first blush, that would seem entirely normal for a prosecutor’s office. Immigration laws require enforcement, and prosecutors are in the law-enforcement business.

But no—the new San Francisco DA actually has in mind an immigration defense unit. He wants to assign a staff of prosecutors to protect undocumented aliens—those who are either illegal and thus deportable to begin with, or for whom a criminal conviction could result in loss of lawful status and thus eventual deportation. The unit’s enforcement target would be not the law violators but the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who enforce federal laws, along with any local police and corrections officials who have the temerity to assist ICE in that endeavor. The prosecutors’ mission, in the words of their new boss, would be to “stand up to Trump on immigration”—the president having made signature issues of border security and the stepped-up deportation of aliens who flout the laws.

That kind of immigration unit is not something you’d expect to find in a district attorney’s office. But of course, neither would you expect, upon this new DA’s election, a victory party marked by ear-splitting chants of “F*ck POA!” The POA is the Police Officers Association.

May I introduce to you, then, a new and uniquely destructive actor on the 21st-century scene: the progressive prosecutor.

For such law “enforcers,” the obstruction of immigration-law enforcement barely scratches the surface. The agenda here is to obstruct prosecution itself. It is, to quote Chesa Boudin, the newly elected progressive prosecutor described above, “a movement…rejecting the notion that, to be free, we must cage others.”

4. The Vatican has struck an unholy deal with Red China. In The Wall Street Journal, William McGurn is not letting them off the hook. From the column:

The 2018 Vatican concordat with Beijing was not the work of Chinese Catholics. It was an almost exclusively European affair, led primarily by Pope Francis, Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli. Instead of fostering a “reconciliation of hearts” between the patriotic and underground wings of the church, Cardinal Zen says, the agreement is attempting to impose a false and destructive institutional unity.

On Capitol Hill last week, Cardinal Zen likened it to the 1933 concordat Germany negotiated with the Vatican soon after Hitler became chancellor. Like the Nazis, who violated the concordat almost as soon as it was signed, China under Xi Jinping has only stepped up persecution since the deal was struck. Meanwhile, the price extracted has been high: the pope’s silence.

This silence comes at a particularly terrible moment, when Mr. Xi is busy persecuting everyone from Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uighurs to house church Christians and Falun Gong practitioners. Nor is Beijing making any effort to hide its intentions: The same day Cardinal Zen was in Washington to collect his award, China named Xia Baolong as its new point man in Hong Kong. Mr. Xia is best known for tearing crosses off Chinese churches.

Yet the leader of the world’s largest religious denomination—a pope who rails against everything from air conditioning to Donald Trump —utters not a peep of protest against what is arguably the world’s largest persecutor of religion.

5. More WSJ: Our former colleague Ericka Andersen has an important take on the spiritual creative destruction happening across the fruited plains. From the piece:

As thousands of churches close across the U.S., many fret about the inevitable decline of faith in American life. Congregational demise is troubling, but underreported data suggest that fear of a secularizing America may be overwrought. A religious renewal could be on the horizon.

It’s true that denomination-based churches—Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Catholic—have been on a downward slope for years. But nondenominational evangelical churches are growing in number, from 54,000 in 1998 to 84,000 in 2012, according to the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Pew Research data show a similar trend continuing to the present, with steep declines among mainline churches as evangelical ones keep popping up. And 42% of these new congregations report growing attendance, data from Lifeway Research shows.

One reason for the success of the new evangelical congregations is their aggressive pursuit of growth, which they call “church multiplication”: A new church will commit to start several smaller churches in a short time. Dave Ferguson, president of the church leadership organization Exponential, tells me that church multiplication numbers are on the rise. In 2015 only 4% of churches were multiplying, according to research conducted for Exponential by Lifeway. Last year 7% were doing so. Each percentage point upward represents some 3,000 churches. Mr. Ferguson says that if this growth is maintained, “it will change the spiritual landscape.”

6. At The Federalist, Dana Loesch ponders Pete Buttigieg’s homilies, applicable to all but Pete Buttigieg. From the piece:

Buttigieg believes everyone else’s sin is up for discussion — except his own. He cites Trump’s behavior, but what of Pete’s? Scripture is explicitly clear on the topic of sin and that everyone sins — and thank goodness for grace and forgiveness. Buttigieg likes to say, “God doesn’t have a political party,” which is correct. But God did give commandments to uphold, commandments which conflict with policies such as late-term, post-birth, and partial-birth abortion, policies Buttigieg and his party are trying to normalize as mainstream Christian doctrine while passing judgment on the manner in which Trump tweets. If Buttigieg’s “positions are informed by his faith,” as he so often says, you wouldn’t know it.

Buttigieg can cite Scripture, but does he follow it? He forgets that “It is not those who hear the law who are righteous but those who obey the law that will be declared righteous.”

At the town hall, Buttigieg said “the interpretation” of Trump’s conduct deserves a voice by way of his office and this presidential race — but then so does Buttigieg’s, and if Scripture is the litmus test he chooses, then logic and fairness dictate that he too must be judged by these same standards. No one, not Trump nor Buttigieg, is free of sin. I don’t apply this to Buttigieg alone. As I said, everyone falls short of God’s glory, but — and I say this in a spirit of Christian love — it is difficult to lecture on sin while trying to make sin mainstream.

Department of Self-Promotion

Episode 3 of The Victor Davis Hanson Podcast, hosted by Your Mumbling Servant, is available. It’s titled, “Old Mike Bloomberg Had a Farm . . .” And if you thought there was a follow-up line that went something like Ee Eye Ee Eye Ohh . . . Ee-Vey, well, you’d be right. Listen here.

A Dios

Mickey and Miss E have the cancer thing going. Not good — as if it ever could be. Would you mind taking a moment and saying a prayer for them and for their families? Always God’s Will be done, but who’s to say God’s Will doesn’t change because it gives Him pleasure, as part of His boundless love? The mind of the Dimwit typing now will acknowledge he is not tall enough for the Theological Roller Coaster Ride.

Have a delightful Mardi Gras. And then, let the fasting begin!

God’s Blessings on You and Yours,

Jack Fowler, who waits by a bloated email inbox, hoping even for communications of outrage and cantankerousness, that receives messages sent to jfowler@nationalreview.com.

P.S.: Baseballery will return next week. And maybe even Podcastapalooza will rise from the dead.

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