Dear Weekend Jolter,
As the attending image shows, at NR’s 50th Anniversary gala in 2005 (a sensational celebration held at the National Building Museum in Washington), it mattered very much to Bill Buckley that Rush Limbaugh was at his immediate side that triumphant night. The two were close: mutual admirers and supporters who fought the same enemies by different and complementing means. And now they were reveling in Bill’s accomplishments, accumulated over a half century by relentless advocacy and hard work and a healthy dose of wit.
Both happy warriors are now gone. Resting in peace, oremus.
Well, not all are oremusing. Down here, the news of Rush’s demise sparked an outbreak of grave-dancing glee, and its harsher cemeterial-urological variations. An example: Yale Law School’s Scott J. Shapiro tweeted “I wouldn’t say I was happy Rush Limbaugh died. It’s more like euphoria.” Feeling better now, professor?
Our Brittany Bernstein rounded up the usual suspects to provide a rundown of liberal-celebrity castigating of the departed conservative icon. Do read it: You’ll find the freak flags flying high and snapping in the gales.
Meanwhile, Jim Geraghty, good man, pushes the rock up a hill, calling attention to the practice that should remain in place: We should not speak ill of the dead. A most commendable practice. It should come as no surprise that Big Jim’s essay was vilified by social-media snarks.
Amidst the week’s melancholy (amplified by the onset of the Lenten season) there is much to share. Since you are here, buck up, slap on a smile, and forward march thyself to the WJ.
NAME, RANK, AND LINK
Dan McLaughlin: Rush Limbaugh: A Voice for His Time
Scot Bertram: Rush Limbaugh Had Unbreakable Bond with His Listeners
Jack Fowler: Farewell, Rush Limbaugh: A Voice Like No Other
Andrew C. McCarthy: The Times Corrects the Record on Officer Sicknick’s Death, Sort Of
Alexandra DeSanctis: Jen Psaki and the Identity Defense
Isaac Schoor: The Dishonesty of Biden’s COVID Messaging
Jimmy Quinn: Biden’s Confusion on How to Talk about Genocide
Tim Morrison: Will Biden’s Nominees Confront Red China
Dan McLaughlin: Trump’s Political Movement: The Twelve Flavors
Mario Loyola: Will Trump Voters Lose Trust in Democracy
More Rich: It’s a Blacklist, Pure and Simple
Andrew Micha: America’s Cultural Revolution Will Leave Scars
Elliott Abrams: The Deterrent Message Iran Needs to Hear
David Harsanyi: Bill Gates’ Climate Hysteria
Brian Riedl on the “T” word: Trillion-Dollar Budget Deficits Are the Largest in Modern History
Daniel Tenreiro finds conservative investing: 2ndVote Funds is a New Counterweight to Stakeholder Capitalism
Timothy Fitzgerald appeals, with tariffs towards none: Oil Tariffs Are Bad for Consumers
From the New Issue of National Review
Kevin Williamson captures the descent: Minnesota Nasty
Sarah Ruden hits a Homer: In Defense of the Classics
Bing West calls Strike Three: Three Wars, No Victory – Why?
Robert VerBruggen is not a minimalist: Minimum-Wage Complexities
Lights. Camera. Review.
Kyle Smith is fine with blacklists. The good ones. Hollywood Double Standards Are the Problem
More Gina: Madeleine Kearns is sure she’s not going away. Gina Carano Won’t Be Canceled
More Kyle, who praises a painter. Sin Explores Michelangelo’s Unbounded Genius
Armond White weaves on Webb. Jack Webb and Anti-Communist TV Were Better than Today’s Woke Fare
AN EXCERPT ABUNDANZA
1. Our formal remembrance of El Rushbo. From the editorial:
He had an outsize role in conservative politics for 30 years and could instantly elevate a cause or argument. He was especially influential when Republicans were out of power, at the beginning of the Clinton years (the new Republican House majority made him an honorary freshman in 1994) and in the Obama years.
His three-hour program, listened to by 20 million people at its height, represented a crack in the dominance of the liberal mass media and foreshadowed the rise of a broader alternative conservative media.
He loved Bill Buckley — the feeling was mutual — and was friends with many people at this institution. A humble man in person, who performed countless acts of personal generosity that no one will ever hear about, he fought his lung cancer at the end with the heart of a lion. R.I.P.
2. Even a diminished debt-cancellation scheme is a bad idea. From the editorial:
The good news is that President Biden has scaled back the Left’s ambitions on both fronts. Where some have called for $50,000 in debt cancellation, Biden seems more comfortable with $10,000, perhaps allowing higher amounts in special circumstances. Biden has also been skeptical of his ability to make this change unilaterally and is asking the Department of Justice to review the law.
The bad news is that even $10,000 of blanket forgiveness is a bad idea, for the same reasons we laid out previously.
Student debt is not a “crisis”; most students graduate with manageable levels of debt, and those with extremely high debt burdens tend to be the folks who got postgraduate degrees or chose to attend expensive private schools. Moreover, if someone has a high debt burden and a low income, he can already, under current law, choose an “income-based” repayment option that forgives the debt after he makes affordable payments for a period. There are certainly sympathetic cases where students were suckered in by colleges’ fraudulent claims, or where students attended school but didn’t graduate, gaining some debt with no degree — but blanket forgiveness, even limited to $10,000, does not target such cases, much less prevent them from continuing.
3. In this corner, Donald Trump. In that corner, Mitch McConnell. We find some of 45’s blows below the belt. From the editorial:
Regardless, the more compelling explanation for the Georgia losses is that Trump divided the party with his outlandish attacks on Georgia officials who wouldn’t endorse his conspiracy theories about the election and discouraged Republican turnout in contests where they didn’t have any votes to spare.
For good measure, Trump included the smear that McConnell is weak on the CCP because of nonexistent business holdings in China.
It is certainly true, as Trump stated in the abusive terms, that McConnell isn’t charismatic; firebrands don’t typically rise to leadership in the Senate. McConnell is, to his credit, an institutionalist. He is also canny, tough-minded, and willing to play the long game in advancing the interests of the Republican Party and of conservatism. This doesn’t mean that his judgment is flawless. He’s made some wrong calls in GOP primary fights over the years, and surely will again.
But he’s genuinely interested in building up his party, rather than tearing it down if he doesn’t get his way. The same can’t be said of his antagonist.
4. That Capitol Hill has become an armed camp is absurd. From the editorial:
To be sure, there are fewer troops: On Inauguration Day, there were some 25,000. Now it’s around 6,000. But already there have been worrying changes to initial assurances, as well as public statements that suggest a more permanent military-style footprint for the Capitol.
Even the original plans called for a continued troop presence in the thousands into March. But according to a D.C. Fox affiliate, assistant secretary for homeland defense and global security Robert Salesses is considering plans to maintain some level of National Guard presence on the Capitol “at least through fall 2021.” And in late January, acting Capitol Hill Police chief Yogananda Pittman suggested that at least some of the current security measures be made permanent. It’s worth remembering, in this context, that the perimeter fencing erected the day after the riot was supposed to be up only for 30 days. We’re past that benchmark, and there is no sign of its coming down anytime soon.
The idea of extending the current extreme security measures on the Hill indefinitely has done the seemingly impossible — achieved bipartisan condemnation. D.C. congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, and Michigan representative Lisa McClain, a Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, have both spoken out against this prospect. Neither so far has been able to get any answers about what’s coming next.
A Dozen and Then Some Articles of Splendor and Wisdom
1. Researching how the MSM “covered” the Lincoln Project and Andrew Cuomo scandals, Rich Lowry is not surprised that no one believes anything. From the piece:
The Lincoln Project, the great conquering super PAC of the 2020 election, hailed as the work of geniuses and lavished with attention on cable news, has imploded upon revelations that it is a sleazy scam.
And the widely circulated story of the death of Officer Brian Sicknick, a key element of Trump’s second impeachment, is at the very least murky and more complicated than first reported.
It’s one thing to get a story wrong under deadline pressure; it’s quite another to get it wrong despite copious, readily available evidence to the contrary over the course of months, which is the case with the Cuomo and Lincoln Project stories.
All it took to realize that the heroic Cuomo narrative didn’t add up was to look, almost from the very beginning, at any of the COVID trackers that showed New York had one of the worst records in the country in terms of total deaths and deaths per capita.
Amazingly enough, the myth of Cuomo continued unabated even when the governor rescinded his nursing-home policy last May and it was already obvious it had been a profound policy error.
2. Andrew C. McCarthy corrects the record thoroughly. If only the New York Times honestly admitted how it murdered the truth about the death of Officer Brian Sicknick. From the article:
Second, and more significantly, the death of Officer Sicknick became a building block for the House’s impeachment of former President Trump and of the allegations posited by the Democratic House impeachment managers that were publicly filed in their pretrial brief on February 2. By then, there was already substantial reason to question the fire-extinguisher allegation.
Prosecutors have an obligation, rooted in due process and professional ethics, to reveal exculpatory evidence. That includes evidence that is inconsistent with the theory of guilt they have posited. Even if Sicknick’s death was causally connected to the rioting, prosecutors would be obligated to correct the record if it did not happen the way they expressly represented that it happened. The House impeachment managers had not done that last week when NR published my column raising that issue, and to this day, although the impeachment trial is now over, we are still in the dark about the circumstances surrounding the officer’s tragic death at age 42.
Which brings us back to the original Times report. The “updated” version is, to put it mildly, confusing. At first, it attributes to unidentified “authorities” the claim that Sicknick “died from injuries sustained ‘while physically engaging’ with pro-Trump rioters.” The Times then describes Sicknick as “only the fourth member of the force to be killed in the line of duty since its founding two centuries ago.” That assertion is published as if it were an established fact, with no source.
But has it been established that Sicknick was “killed”? Has it been established that he died from injuries sustained while physically engaging with pro-Trump rioters? To my knowledge, it has not. And even the Times implicitly admits that it is unsure of what it is saying.
3. Nick Murray has had enough, and who hasn’t: It’s time to curtail governors’ COVID dictatorships. From the analysis:
In nearly one-quarter of the states, only the governor has the power to issue or terminate an emergency. The legislature is not required to concur with the declaration. This gives the chief executive sole discretion over where and when an emergency exists, and when it ceases to exist. This is true in Vermont, Washington, Ohio, and Hawaii, all of which are among the worst-ranking states when it comes to the potential to abuse emergency power. And Vermont is the worst of the bunch: It allows some emergency orders to remain in effect up to 180 days — yes, six months — after the emergency is terminated.
If the people can’t contact their elected officials to end an emergency, and thus end the use of emergency power, what stops a chief executive from continuously renewing the declaration and using this power in perpetuity? This accurately describes what many Americans have witnessed over the last year. This is an untenable situation that threatens the very idea of representative government.
At the time most of these state laws were constructed, few could have predicted they would be used to micromanage every interaction within society in the face of a pandemic. Indeed, most of these laws were established to help states respond to a natural disaster or terrorist attack, not a public-health matter like COVID-19.
4. Alexandra DeSanctis says one of the many reasons Jen Psaki performs poorly is her fixation with the “identity politics” go-to. From the piece:
We’re less than a month into the Biden administration, and it’s already become readily apparent that White House press secretary Jen Psaki is not very good at her job. Her most obvious tic thus far during evasive briefing-room performances is to dodge questions with the help of identity-politics non sequiturs.
Her very first day on the job, Psaki received a query about President Biden’s imminent plans to undo the Mexico City policy and the Hyde amendment, both of which prevent direct federal funding of abortion.
“I will just take the opportunity to remind all of you that he is a devout Catholic and somebody who attends church regularly,” Psaki replied. “He started his day attending church with his family this morning. But I don’t have anything more for you on that.”
The press corps never received a response about the Mexico City policy, which was revoked the subsequent week. The implication of her non-reply was that the White House did not owe the public an explanation about Biden’s policy stance on abortion; his identity as a Catholic was defense enough.
As it turns out, this reflex is Psaki’s primary means of dispensing with questions to which she has no answers. When the GameStop story was dominating the news cycle, a reporter asked whether the White House was concerned about the stock-market activity and whether there had been conversations with the Securities and Exchange Commission on the subject.
5. When it comes to housing policy, Howard Husock finds the Biden administration swapping out old sins for new one. From the article:
It is incontrovertible, as President Biden stated in his executive order, that “during the 20th century, Federal, State, and local governments systematically implemented racially discriminatory housing policies that contributed to segregated neighborhoods and inhibited equal opportunity and the chance to build wealth for Black, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Native American families, and other underserved communities.” Most significantly, the Federal Housing Authority would not insure mortgages for blacks in white neighborhoods, and racial covenants — deed restrictions against blacks (and Jews, by the way) — were the norm into the 1950s. Urban freeways ploughed through low-income, often (though not exclusively) minority, neighborhoods, displacing thousands. Today, we are left with the Cross Bronx Expressway and the Chrysler Freeway.
Even this apology is, however, selective. African Americans, particularly, suffered the tragedy of a (still) favorite progressive program: public housing. A key history here is underappreciated. Historically black neighborhoods — Central Harlem, Detroit’s Black Bottom, Chicago’s Bronzeville, Desoto-Carr in St. Louis — were denigrated as slums, even though they were home to large numbers of residential property owners and hundreds of black-owned businesses. When they were cleared to make way for public housing, they were replaced by high-rise hells in which ownership — asset accumulation — was by definition impossible. The social fabric of self-help, civil society, and upward mobility was ripped apart. Blacks have always been, and remain, disproportionately represented in public and otherwise subsidized housing, often trapped into long-term dependency by counterproductive policies: When their income rises, so does rent.
6. Biden’s COVID messaging is utterly dishonest, says Isaac Schoor. From the analysis:
The Biden administration has been similarly lackadaisical in its approach to school reopenings. White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced last week that its goal was to have 51 percent of schools open “at least one day a week.” This target suffers from the same problem as the vaccination target: It’s already been met, and exceeded. Around 64 percent of school districts were already offering some kind of in-person instruction when Psaki spoke. The objective, given the enormous costs of virtual instruction on students, should be to open up the remaining 36 percent and turn partial reopenings back into full-time ones. To some extent, Biden walked Psaki’s stunningly slothful goal back during a CNN town-hall event on Tuesday, saying “I think many of them [will be open] five days a week. The goal will be five days a week,” and calling Psaki’s statement a “mistake.” Questions remain, though: If it was only a mistake, why did it take a week for it to be corrected? And why is the correction so vague as to leave room for fudging? How many, exactly, constitutes “many” to the Biden administration?
Biden’s expectations game is a symptom of a greater problem: He never had the plan for handling the pandemic that he said he did. His campaign-season contention that he did was always a smoke-and-mirrors act that had more to do with tone and messaging than it did policy. To cover up the absence of tangible changes that it’s brought to the table, the new administration has tried to flood the zone with already achieved objectives and then tout their achievement as accomplishments.
Dishonesty has many forms, and the Biden administration has proven itself no more forthright than its predecessors, even if its deceptions are sometimes more artful.
7. Jimmy Quinn puts the spotlight on President Biden’s confusion on how to take on Red China’s Uyghur genocide. From the piece:
This human-rights-oriented approach has also guided its engagement with China. Both Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised Beijing’s severe human-rights abuses during their calls with their Chinese counterparts, and both consistently raise these concerns in their public speeches. On several occasions, Blinken has confirmed that he agrees with his predecessor’s finding that Beijing is carrying out crimes against humanity and genocide against the Uyghurs. The administration has also been clear that the U.S. is in competition with China, even “extreme competition,” as Biden recently put it.
But these officials apparently have trouble answering the question that logically flows from their condemnations: Can the United States seek any form of engagement with a regime carrying out forced sterilizations, systematic rape, and other unspeakable horrors?
Blinken thinks that the U.S. can deal with such a regime, even as it carries out an extermination of one of the ethnic minority groups under its control. He told NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly yesterday, “This has been a challenge for American administrations going back decades and decades, and we have to be able to find ways to do both.” Kelly then asked if the U.S. should boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Blinken emphasized the need to prevent the importation of goods produced by the Xinjiang forced-labor system. “But we have to be able to do multiple things at the same time,” he said, pointing to Russia to show that Washington can cut deals with the regime it simultaneously condemns, and apparently echoing Biden’s recent pledge to “work with Beijing, when it’s in America’s interest to do so.”
8. Tim Morrison asks: Will Biden’s nominess face questions about the administration’s Red China policies? From the essay:
While national security has traditionally been treated as the domain of just a few federal departments and agencies — the Pentagon, the State Department, the intelligence community, and the National Nuclear Security Administration (a semi-autonomous component of the Department of Energy) — it’s now clear that this siloed way of thinking uniquely exposes us to the malign activities of the Chinese Communist Party.
As just one example, consider CCP activities that have placed the Department of Education at the center of national security for the first time. The Thousand Talents Program, a CCP venture, identifies academics who facilitate American innovation and brings them into contact and friendship with Beijing. And then there are the dozens of Confucius Institutes operating on college campuses across the United States, supposedly for innocuous cross-cultural contact but in reality serving as bases for CCP operations and propaganda. The fact that the Biden administration has withdrawn a rule requiring educational institutions to report any relationships with Confucius Institutes raises serious concerns about their appreciation of the role of these initiatives in the CCP’s malign influence campaign.
Similarly, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has always had a role in biodefense — especially during the pandemic. However, with scandals at the world famous M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the Moffat Cancer Center related to China’s attempts to steal American medical breakthroughs, HHS, too, now has a national-security role. The Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, NASA . . . the examples go on and on.
9. It ain’t as plentiful as Baskin Robbins, but Dan McLaughlin discerns 12 flavors of Trumpism. From the beginning of the piece:
How much of “Trumpism” will survive in the Republican Party now that Donald Trump is gone from the White House? That is the hot question of the day on the right. Much depends, of course, on whether Trump himself is able to stage a comeback in 2024, but there are still years of political battles and midterm elections between now and then. We can’t answer what Trumpism will look like without Trump in office or running for office until we decide what “Trumpism” is in the first place.
Despite vigorous efforts to refashion “Trumpism” into a single, coherent set of ideas, the fact is that there were multiple new things that Trump brought to Republican politics. Not all of those things necessarily go together. Some were more helpful to Trump and the party, some harmful. Some are likelier to endure in the party than others. Predicting the future of Trumpism will be easier if we try to untangle its different strains. Let us consider the twelve major flavors of Trumpism, ranging from the good to the very ugly.
Kitchen-Table Trumpism: The most appealing and persuasive argument for Trump’s reorientation of Republican thinking goes like this: The party had lost its way by embracing a “Zombie Reaganism” that prioritized professions of fealty to conservative ideals, veneration of the name of Saint Ronnie, and efforts to proclaim oneself “severely conservative” (in Mitt Romney’s words). The party’s leaders made too many promises they couldn’t deliver or had no intention of trying to deliver.
In this telling, Republican policy proposals lost their tether to Earth. Leaders such as Paul Ryan talked about budget deficits and entitlement and spending cuts that were fiscally responsible at the macro level, but were of no interest to ordinary voters. Republicans pledged to repeal Obamacare, eliminate cabinet departments, and turn the tax code into a postcard, but never made a serious effort to make any of this happen. The mismatch between the promises and the realities left them to explain to the folks back home that, “Hey, at least we reduced the rate of growth of spending below what the other side wanted,” a claim that the average voter had no means to assess.
Meanwhile, leading Republicans threw red meat to the party’s populist wing that they themselves did not believe in or intend to pursue. George W. Bush ran on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. John McCain pledged to “complete the danged fence” along the border. They never really tried.
10. Mario Loyola wonders if Trump voters will remain convinced of the benefits of Democracy. From the article:
How did we get here? One hundred years of progressivism have left us with a constitutional system that elevates special interests over the public interest. The swamp of progressive government is sapping the vitality of our democracy. But Trump and too many of his supporters increasingly confuse the swamp of progressive government with democracy itself.
History suggests that America, like other great powers before it, may one day enter into a prolonged decline and fall. At some point, it may be impossible to deny that our democratic government has become irredeemably corrupt and is exploiting Americans for the benefit of capitalists and foreign enemies. It will be more and more tempting to conclude that institutions and procedures can no longer be defended, that we must fall back to a stronger line of defense — identity and community — and fight back however we can, whatever the collateral damage to our institutions.
That apocalyptic vision is increasingly common on both left and right. It is the weirdly common ingredient in both the Trump diehards’ worldview and that of Antifa. But democracy cannot be defended by abandoning compromise, just as equity cannot be secured by abandoning equal protection of the laws. Our democratic institutions may be rife with dysfunction, but they are still a beacon of freedom, they still allow hundreds of millions of Americans to live as they were meant to live, and they are still worth defending with our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
11. Rich Lowry says “Cancel Culture” is just a new way of saying “Blacklist.” From the beginning of the piece:
Cancellations had a precursor in the Hollywood Blacklist.
Why should anyone get upset about the ongoing wave of cancellations across the culture, when the government isn’t involved?
This isn’t a First Amendment issue, we are told, rather private entities making their own decisions to disassociate themselves from people who have said or done controversial things.
This line of argument, often made by cancellation apologists, is lacking in a number of respects, including that there is no reason it wouldn’t also justify the Hollywood Blacklist that the Left considers one of the darkest moments in American history.
12. Andrew Micha believes America’s cultural revolution will leave wounds and scars. From the article:
The religion of wokeness taught in our schools and preached in most realms of American life rests on a mutated strand of Marxism, only this time it is not the oppressed proletariat that is to be freed by the party elite and given the “correct” consciousness. Today the victim groups are those races deemed historically oppressed along with sexual minorities. Unlike the Stalinist chimera of a “classless society” that was to be birthed by communism, the woke acolytes of today are working toward a brave new world of racial justice, and of absolute equality for all genders and sexual orientations, understood in terms of equal outcomes and proportional representation. The social-media milieu that they have grown up in — Instagram, Twitter and Tik-Tok — has nurtured a culture of sound bites and moral preening. Such preening leaves little room for nuance, and gradually sharpens group cleavages. It also strengthens the conviction among millennials and Gen Z of the virtue of their cause and the moral bankruptcy of those who either oppose it or simply fail to display the requisite zeal. With political difference cast as an ethical contest between right and wrong, compromise becomes a source of shame, fueling the Leninist politics of kto-kogo (“Who gets whom.”) The result? Arguably the greatest fracturing of our national fabric since the Civil War, one that has made it nearly impossible for many Gen Z and American millennials to concede that their opponents — which is to say the rest of society — even deserve to participate in our democracy. The other side is not merely misguided but increasingly illegitimate.
Today’s American wokeness is the “Radicalism Olympics” — by definition it has an ever-receding telos, with no break of any kind, and few limitations. And like every collectivist totalitarian impulse, radicalism breeds the fear, particularly among its devotees, that one may be decreed insufficiently radical. Such evaluation necessarily leads to expulsion from the Church of Wokeness and consignation to the realm of the “other” — much as the young Stalinists denounced older communists who did not worship enough the party and the boss.
The values gap that is increasingly on display between Gen Z and millennials on the one hand, and the rest of America on the other, goes beyond the traditional left-right or liberal-conservative disconnect of decades past. The religion of wokeness professed by our credentialed class, especially those just coming into adulthood, is fueled by an unquestioned moral superiority over much of America. It is full of disdain animated by an unshakeable sense of purpose to reeducate the country and save it from the stain of injustice, past and present. This young generation of Americans — aided by their adult enablers in academia, the media, politics, and the corporate world — appeal heavily to emotion, repeating with an almost religious-like fervor the mantra of eliminating “privilege,” an amorphous and ill-defined term used to besmirch one’s opponents. Throughout, they fail to see the biting irony of their own station in life, which is among the most privileged and pampered groups in this nation’s history. It is this moral certitude that carries with it the seeds of a totalitarian impulse unlike anything this country experienced in the past, for it carries with it the categorical imperative to stamp out what it deems to be evil.
13. Elliott Abrams describes how the Biden administration must respond to Iran’s aggression. From the article:
On February 15, Iran-backed Shia militia groups in Iraq fired a barrage of missiles — a minimum of 14 — at an American base in Erbil, Iraq. One contractor was killed and five were wounded; one American soldier was wounded.
That no American was killed was a matter of luck, it seems.
The U.S. reaction has so far been verbal only. Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement, saying “We are outraged by today’s rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. . . . I have reached out to Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani to discuss the incident and to pledge our support for all efforts to investigate and hold accountable those responsible.”
“Those accountable” are sitting in Tehran, and this is a key test of the Biden administration: If the United States reacts with words alone, the Biden administration will show the Iranians that such attacks are cost-free. The only lesson that Iran’s leaders will learn from such a response is that the Biden administration’s desire to return to nuclear diplomacy will permit Iran to put American lives at risk whenever it wishes. If the U.S. reaction is to strike at the Iraqi Shia group that claimed the attack, it will once again play Tehran’s game. Iran is pleased to allow those proxies to absorb American strikes while it acts with impunity.
14. David Harsanyi cranks up the Hysteri-O-Meter and finds Bill Gates’ climate-change madness has overloaded the circuits. From the analysis:
Gates, for instance, told Cooper that “the Syrian War was a twentieth of what climate migration will look like.” (Is “a twentieth of the Syrian War” a scientific calculation?) In his book, he claims that in “the worst drought ever recorded in Syria — which lasted from 2007 to 2010 — some 1.5 million people left farming areas for the cities” and set the stage “for the armed conflict that started in 2011.”
The climate crisis has been ongoing for decades, we’re told, yet Gates is reduced to talking about Syria — whose conflict environmentalists blame on climate change, and others of us blame on sectarian violence, ISIS, and Baathist strongmen — because so few wars are fought over resources anymore. While Gates has been warning about the climate crisis, millions of people worldwide have secured regular access to food and water for the first time. Whereas the natural elements once regularly killed many Americans, since 1980, all death caused by natural disasters and heat and cold is well under 0.5 percent of the total. Deaths due to climate events have plummeted. Extreme global poverty has plummeted. State-based conflicts have plummeted. Air pollution has plummeted and deaths from air pollution have plummeted. When the state of the earth is improving in almost every quantifiable way, alarmists are compelled to rely on prophecies that have not only been notoriously wrong but rarely take into account human adaptability.
“How might climate change affect you and your family?” Gates rhetorically asks in his book. Every situation he offers as a reason for concern would almost surely be worse without affordable energy. Gates, for example, argues that rainfall has become less predictable for farmers. Some years they have 22 inches. Other years, 29. In the past, rainfall was apparently the same every year. Gates cobbles together a few stories about farmers struggling with this problem. Our very food is at risk, he warns. “It may sound as if I’m cherry-picking the most extreme example, but things like this are already happening,” Gates concedes, “especially to poor farmers, and in a few decades they could be happening to far more people.”
Yes, Gates cherry-picks throughout the book. American farming yields have dramatically increased because of technological efficiencies. Farmers have adapted to recent climate variations, as they’ve been doing for thousands of years. Food is now far more affordable, “especially” for the poor. Gates’s ideas would threaten this reality far more than climate change would.
Rest in Peace, Rush, the Strife Is O’er
1. He was a consequential voice, for decades. Dan McLaughlin explains the talents shared daily by El Rushbo. From the article:
Five towering figures, all of them fairly fresh to the fight in the mid to late 1980s, led the way on different fronts. All of them were converts to Reaganism, but each had come of age in the darker Nixon years. Newt Gingrich led the populist-conservative revolt that wrested the House back from the Democrats in 1994 for the first time in 40 years. Rudy Giuliani, elected mayor of New York in 1993 after a narrow defeat in 1989, led the battle against urban crime and decay, taking conservative policy onto the most hostile domestic turf and winning. Antonin Scalia led the intellectual movement to restore legitimacy and rigor to the interpretation of the Constitution, beating the academy at its own game. Former Bush consultant Roger Ailes started Fox News in 1996, creating a television platform for ideas and perspectives that had previously been limited to radio and print.
The fifth, and as important as any of the other four, was Rush Limbaugh.
American conservatism, like any other political movement or tendency, is a mix of the light and the dark; of hope and fear, optimism and pessimism, altruism and self-interest. These are the stuff of humanity, all of it legitimately the subject of politics, but too much darkness can poison a movement. Reagan had his own share of the darkness — witness his battles with Hollywood communists in the Fifties and campus radicals in the Sixties — but he had made an art of elevating the light in conservatism: economic opportunity, the bedrock importance of family, the blessings of liberty, the stirrings of patriotism, the sacredness of human life, the shining city on the hill as a beacon of hope for the world’s oppressed.
Rush always understood, at an instinctive level, how to tap into both light and darkness. If you are not a conservative, or if you listened to Rush only in his last years, it may surprise you today to see quite what a variety of people on the right were fans of his at one point or another in their careers. I was an active Rush listener mainly in the early 1990s, after one of my college roommates turned me on to him. He was at his peak then, and a great evangelist for Reaganite optimism at a time when Reaganism and populism were allies, not enemies.
2. Something was very amiss, writes Jim Geraghty, about the MSM’s once-upon-a-time go-to comparison of Rush and crudemaster Howard Stern. From the Corner post:
Lumping Limbaugh and Stern together reflects the limited thinking of the mainstream media of that era. But perhaps there was a common thread that the article missed. The two radio giants had a staff, but no editors, other than the FCC’s efforts to rein in Stern. No large institutions held authority over them; they didn’t answer to a board of directors or investors. They quickly made fortunes and didn’t need the money; they could walk away from their careers at any point if it became too much of a hassle. They became one-man institutions — eventually followed by the likes of Matt Drudge and Joe Rogan.
Their paths since that article illuminate that the two men defined success differently. Stern certainly wasn’t apolitical, and did run for governor in 1994 as a Libertarian, but withdrew from the race after refusing to fill out financial disclosure forms, contending he had already revealed enough about his life on air. He endorsed George Pataki, and his interest in politics waned. As Bruce Bawer laid out in City Journal last year, Stern gradually morphed into part of the Hollywood establishment. He’s now the kind of dangerous, outrageous, shameless provocateur NBC can trust to safely sit as a judge on America’s Got Talent.
Limbaugh intermittently stepped into the larger media establishment — his short-lived television show, a very brief run as a commentator on ESPN, some funny vocal cameos on Family Guy. But in the end, Rush Limbaugh had created his own world through radio and didn’t need to branch out. He didn’t need any newer listeners or broader appeal, or greater approval, and never sought it.
3. Mutual Affection Society: The profound affection that Rush and his listeners had for each other is given justice by Scot Bertram. From the beginning of the piece:
Early in 2020, a caller to The Rush Limbaugh Show made an unusual request.
Following a conversation with the host, he asked to speak off-air to the program’s call screener, Bo Snerdley. Limbaugh, perplexed, agreed to make that happen. He later admitted a suspicion the caller was trying to “grease the wheels” to return to the show at a later date.
Instead, as Limbaugh found out during a commercial break, the caller made an unsolicited offer to donate one of his lungs to the iconic radio host, if it were to aid in his recovery. Snerdley then told Limbaugh he had been receiving similar calls from other listeners. Multiple offers, every day.
Back on-air, a clearly emotional Limbaugh was taken aback by the revelation. Perhaps even he had underestimated the power and strength of the relationship he had built with his audience over more than 30 years on the radio.
Radio is, by nature, an intimate medium. Many listeners tune in while they’re alone — driving, walking or exercising, working around the house. On headphones or earbuds, the phenomenon is even more pronounced. The host, your friend, is talking directly into your ear, perhaps even whispering at times for effect.
4. The Author of This Missive penned a remembrance that seems to have had some resonance. From the piece:
There were happier times. Nearly 30 years ago, Rush Limbaugh first graced the cover of National Review. The headline about the radio pundit who had transformed the AM band by connecting with millions of far-flung Americans was direct: “Leader of the Opposition.” It was a statement, not a question. And for those many millions, and others who were yet born, who would come one day to the same conclusion as their parents, it bore up despite controversies (an addiction, a bizarre Monday Night Football uproar that served as an early indication of the approaching cancel culture) and normal realities. There is a natural propensity for things (even, and maybe especially, Republican politics) to become stale, boring, and even irritating, a function of time passing, as the familiar becomes repetitive becomes oh-so-yesterday. But the curse of an enduring sameness never touched Rush Limbaugh. Every day there was something to be said, some guidance to be imparted, spoken to an audience that very much wanted his take, and treated it as Gospel. Boring? Not a chance: Rush Limbaugh leaves this stage with the immense popularity he seemed to have gained, overnight, as Bill Buckley described (in a 1992 Firing Line interview) with a short, sweet historical reference: “Veni, vidi, vici.”
Rush may have conquered the airwaves, and conservatism, but he was in turn conquered by the founder of this enterprise. Rush Limbaugh’s principal hero was his father. But after dad came William F. Buckley Jr. He was, simply, an idol. And soon enough, a close friend. Impressed by the radio populist’s impact, Bill sought out Rush, a dream come true of sorts. They hit it off, at once, and thrilled to each other’s company. But beyond the enduring friendship, if Bill Buckley imagined the conservative movement he toiled to create was going to expand and prosper courtesy of the unique talents carried over the ether every Monday through Friday at noon, Eastern time, packaged in this eloquent and entertaining college dropout from Cape Girardeau, he would have been right.
1. That’s “trillion,” with a “T” — Brian Riedel looks at the rise in budget-debt insanity. From the article:
Like trillion-dollar deficits, trillion-dollar legislation is a relatively new phenomenon. From the mid-1980s through the 1990s, many of the largest bills were crafted as short-term deficit-reduction packages, typically saving around 1.2 percent of GDP annually (the equivalent of $250 billion in today’s economy). The budget moved into surplus in 1998, and by January 2001 the Congressional Budget Office had (quite questionably) forecast a $5.6 trillion budget surplus over the decade. At that point, President George W. Bush broke the trillion-dollar barrier by signing into law a tax cut estimated to reduce that projected surplus by $1.3 trillion over the decade. But even in that era, figures remained smaller. State-budget shortfalls in 2003 led to a Congressional fight over an eventual $20 billion in additional state Medicaid aid, and the following year Congress seemingly broke the bank by creating a Medicare drug entitlement with a then-stratospheric cost of $400 billion over the decade. During this period, the response to the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were funded typically (but not always) in increments between $40 billion and $120 billion. President Bush vetoed the 2008 farm bill over its unjustified $20 billion spending increase.
Inflationary growth does not negate these comparisons. With the exception of the 2001 tax cuts, adjusting these figures for the 38 percent cumulative inflation (or even 75 percent increase in GDP) since the early 2000s does not make them comparable to today’s proposals that begin in the trillions of dollars.
During policy debates, figures like millions, billions, and trillions are used interchangeably. So here is a useful distinction: A $1 million program costs just under a penny per household. A $1 billion program costs $8 per household, while a $1 trillion program costs $8,000 per household. And yet social media is filled with Mathematical illiteracy is expensive.
2. “Stakeholder capitalism” has competition, reports Daniel Tenreiro. From the piece:
A former U.S. representative has teamed up with financial professionals to offer an alternative. 2ndVote Funds — founded by former Congresswoman Diane Black (R., Tenn.), along with David L. Black and Daniel Grant — will provide investment products, such as ETFs and actively managed funds, that use a conservative or libertarian framework to allocate capital.
The company, which launches today, is an offshoot of 2ndVote Inc., a research provider that scores companies on a socially conservative scale. 2ndVote Funds has started off with two products: the Life Neutral Plus ETF, which invests in pro-life businesses, and the Society Defended ETF, which invests in businesses that defend the Second Amendment.
“There are no asset managers, ETFs, or mutual funds countering the trend” of stakeholder capitalism, says CEO Daniel Grant. He sees the company as a much-needed alternative to the rise of progressive corporate governance.
Grant cites recent examples as evidence of corporations’ attempting to effect social change: “Amazon dumped Parler, Twitter dumped Trump, banks exclude the gun industry from corporate credit.” Americans investing in their retirement accounts may unwittingly be funding these activities.
2ndVote Funds has enlisted a roster of industry veterans from both Wall Street and Washington. Kevin A. Hassett, a senior adviser to National Review Capital Matters, is serving on 2ndVote’s advisory board, as is Andy Puzder, the former CEO of CKE Restaurants. 2ndVote will also work alongside Laffer Tengler, the investment firm headed by Art Laffer Jr.
3. Oil tariffs will kybosh consumers, warns Timothy Fitzgerald. From the analysis:
The oil-tariff idea has deeper roots, going back to the Suez Crisis during the Eisenhower administration. While those may seem like halcyon days for the U.S. oil industry, tariffs did not change the trajectory of long-term decline in domestic production. All the more ironic to revive this policy now, with the U.S. a net energy exporter for the first time in 75 years. Nonetheless, some producers are preparing to mount an effort to impose a tariff on oil imports under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the same authority that the Trump administration used to put tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.
Tariffs create problems. One is that the costs largely fall on our own consumers. The second is that, to the extent they affect foreign interests, they often hit friends and allies. In the case of oil, that means Canada, Mexico, and other neighbors. Since the beginning of 2020, over 85 percent of U.S. oil imports came from the Western Hemisphere, overwhelmingly from Canada and Mexico. What about Saudi Arabia and Venezuela? What about Russia? What about the other member states in OPEC? Actually, we really don’t import much oil from any of those places — the average over the past year is about 12 percent of total oil imports from all OPEC members. That might seem like a lot of oil to a single producer, but the global oil market is large and complex. The option to buy and sell on the global market provides American firms flexibility and is likely to help domestic prices on balance.
It has been a rough year for the oil industry, but things are looking slightly better, even as clouds remain on the policy and economic horizons. The path to recovery does not wend through protectionism, certainly not when the United States is producing more energy than it can consume. Oil producers petitioning the new administration for tariffs are among the most desperate in the country, and they should prepare for disappointment.
The March 8, 2021 Issue of NR Awaits
As is our custom, we share a sampling of articles, essays, and reviews from the new issue. Here’s a quartet for your consideration.
1. Kevin Williamson profiles the hellhole better known as Minneapolis. From the cover story:
If there is one thing Minnesota Democrats can count on, it’s this: You ain’t never woke enough. Somebody can always outwoke you. Running for reelection, Hodges finished third in a field of five in 2017 and was replaced by Jacob Frey, the doorknob currently serving as mayor, a white-shoe radical lawyer who was buffaloed into letting rioters run amok and burn down his city. He tried to finesse his way to a third-way solution in the face of demands to defund the police but in the end signed a budget imposing millions of dollars of cuts on the police department in order to appease the Left.
The department now has hundreds fewer officers than it says it needs to do its job. With violent crime soaring, the city council unanimously voted to approve funding to hire more officers — but three of its members are working on a plan to abolish the police department entirely, replacing it with a new “public safety” agency that would provide social services in addition to law enforcement with progressive characteristics. A left-wing coalition comprising groups ranging from the Sex-Workers Outreach Project of Minneapolis to the Minnesota Youth Collective (“founded by young, queer, female-identifying people who practice intersectionality in organizing”) is working on a ballot initiative to the same end.
So where does that leave Minneapolis?
A great deal is going to depend on the upcoming trial of Derek Chauvin. In February, the New York Times reported that Chauvin had offered to plead guilty to third-degree murder in the death of George Floyd but Attorney General William Barr had scuttled the deal, believing that that agreement was too lenient. (Federal sign-off was required because the deal would have included an assurance that Chauvin would not be brought up on civil-rights or other federal charges in the future.) The trial is imminent, and the outcome is uncertain.
Thirty-Eighth and Chicago, the intersection at which Chauvin pinned down Floyd with his knee, remains closed to traffic. It won’t reopen until after the trial, if it ever does. Office workers downtown already are being told not to come to work during the trial. The state already has budgeted millions of dollars for security and anti-riot measures, and the National Guard will be called out to protect the courthouse precincts.
2. Cicero is holding on Line One: Sarah Ruden defends the classics. From the essay:
The hardest lesson of “empowerment” is finally being presented with the evidence that you, you yourself, are not interesting after all. For me the crisis came when I started to teach. Language teaching is in fact the crucible of objectivity as well as of power in classics — social objectivity along with cognitive objectivity. Teaching Latin or Greek entails a lot of plodding work that the students, who in elite institutions are all celebrities, see no reason to do; as they view it, the best the work could achieve for them would be to make them into you, the teacher, with whom they are not impressed in the slightest.
The extra difficulty for me was that I thought I was the only celebrity there. After that first course of mine, I had a climactic breakdown and sulked off mainstream classics forever, though I did finish my degree and put in three years as a lecturer in post-apartheid South Africa. Ironically, I’ve had a better time pouting in exile from the American classics academy than many of my classmates have who stuck around. Typical teaching loads are three or more courses a semester, and the committee work is no joke. To the exile, the classics tools, lying idle on the floor, whisper (for instance), “Hey, kid, look: Those medical researchers can’t even spell — they need us for editing and rewriting. We can make money while we keep looking for something more fun.”
All this is not to say that I didn’t have valid complaints about the field. The Harvard Department of the Classics in the Eighties and early Nineties, before a harassment scandal that made it into the national press and instigated reforms, was brutally sexist. (Racism could be daintily avoided; none of us had ever heard of “minorities” except on TV.) I remember staring at a luscious graduate student from overseas, the mistress of a senior professor; another professor, sensing her embarrassment — everyone at this gathering was staring — soothed her by kindly inquiring about her travels. My mind squirmed through six or seven makeover possibilities for myself, but I knew it was hopeless: I could never have that personal pull, could never trade my desirability for a chance to publish my translations, for a good job . . . I then felt, quite straightforwardly, that I needed to die. In later years, the feeling became the purest rage. I wanted Boylston Hall burned to the ground and the whole classics faculty driven across the river to Roxbury and reduced to sweating over Burger King fryers.
Idiotic, to let them distract me from all the solid power that classics had given me. Most useful to me as a cultural journalist has been classical literature’s sheer duration. Writing systems of the eastern Mediterranean are the oldest in the world (and their literatures begin by subsuming long oral traditions); Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, because of those reviled hegemonic privileges supporting them, form remarkably continuous traditions, allowing concentrated and reiterative contemplation. The collective contemplation is a massive, history-spanning version of the individual classics career; both properly invite self-reflection and growth, and in time naturally crumble layers of rage and arrogance that form in the usual imbecilic human way.
3. America has fumbled three wars, in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Bing West contemplates – why? From the beginning of the piece:
America is the most powerful country in the history of the world, yet it has not won any of the three major wars it has fought over the past half century. This has not been due to a lack of effort and persistence. Our troops fought in Vietnam for nine years and in Iraq for a dozen. We’re still fighting after 20 years in Afghanistan, where our generals are asking the Taliban to stop attacking. That’s not a sign of success; the victor does not make such requests. The fact is that in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, America has failed in its mission to develop and sustain democracies.
What accounts for this trifecta of failure? Through luck and poor shooting by our enemies, in all three wars I was able to witness both the actual fighting on the ground and the creation of the high-level policies that shaped the wars. In this article, I lay out what I believe were the root causes of the failures. Oscar Wilde once remarked, “Two kinds of people are fascinating: people who know absolutely everything, and people who know absolutely nothing.” I’m rendering one man’s opinion, while hoping to fall into neither category.
Broadly speaking, leadership in war comes from three hubs. The first consists of the military commanders who design strategy and decide how our troops will fight. The second hub is the policy-makers, including the president as commander in chief and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs as his military adviser, plus the theater commander, the CIA, the State Department, and the secretary of defense, who all give input. The third hub is the culture and popular mood of our country, as reflected by congressional votes and the slant of the mainstream press. The press does not report “just the facts”; rather, it presents a point of view by selecting which facts to focus upon. The popular mood is the ultimate fulcrum of political power, because the policy hub can’t fight a war without resources from Congress
4. Robert VerBruggen explains the complexities and nasty consequences of the Biden administration’s call for major hikes in the minimum wage. From the analysis:
Then there’s the matter of how much of a wage hike the beneficiaries would actually get to keep. Minimum-wage supporters often treat it as a selling point that low-wage workers can qualify for government benefits such as food stamps, cash welfare, housing subsidies, and the like, and that they’d rely on these benefits less if they were paid more. No conservative should celebrate reliance on government aid either, of course, but it must be said that these programs can be downright punitive toward workers who get raises.
In 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that households with children just above the poverty line tend to lose about half of any additional income to benefit cuts and taxes. More generally, those who make at least 75 percent of the poverty line normally lose at least a fifth of any new income, though people poorer than that can face lower or even negative tax rates thanks to the safety net’s work incentives. (As a benchmark, a 40-hour-a-week minimum-wage job will lift an individual over the poverty line this year and even keep a two-person household above the 75 percent mark.) This, too, complicates the question of whose money is being transferred to whom: The government is playing the game as well.
What happens when you put all these effects together? Well, these phenomena are all controversial individually, so it’s something of a fool’s errand to try. Nonetheless, Thomas MaCurdy ran some simulations in a 2015 study, calculating what would happen if businesses didn’t reduce employment but did pass the costs of a minimum-wage hike through to their customers. He found that this arrangement was basically a regressive tax that “allocates benefits as higher earnings nearly evenly across the income distribution” (because low-wage workers so often come from higher-income households), and that the government would take back about a quarter of the wage increases.
Lights. Camera. Review.
1. Kyle Smith paints a pretty fresco of the new film about Michelangelo, Sin. From the beginning of the review:
Michelangelo looks up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and decides it’s . . . a disaster. The perspective is all wrong. It looks completely different from the floor than it does from on top of the scaffolding where he painted it. He must start painting over the frescoes immediately. When visitors arrive, he pleads with them not to come in. A year! Just one more year to complete the project! The pope must not be allowed to see the travesty he’s created! He gets drunk, runs away, and hides in shame.
Others see the work somewhat differently: as the masterpiece of all masterpieces. The pope calls Michelangelo “the Divine.” And still Michelangelo grouses. The only true divine artist is Dante, he believes; he has memorized Inferno. (Whenever anyone mentions Leonardo or Raphael, however, he makes it clear that he thinks his supposed rivals are hacks.)
Sin, a richly immersive study in genius told in Italian by the 83-year-old Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky (whose equally vivid and penetrating film on a Soviet debacle, Dear Comrades!, has just been released on Hulu), situates the audience both in Michelangelo’s cruel and soiled world and in his self-lacerating, perfervid mind. Genius may not be the spouse of neuroticism, but they certainly seem to go on a lot of dates together. Muttering and fretting and dressed like a peasant, Michelangelo (fiercely portrayed by Alberto Testone) is forever tortured by visions (angels, demons), wracked by money worries, and unsettled by feuds with family and colleagues. Also, he thinks someone is going to poison him.
2. More Kyle: He whitewashes blacklists when they’re red. Well, not really . . . but shares right and wrong grounds for cinema shunnery. From the piece:
In short, blacklists themselves aren’t the problem. The problem is that in Hollywood, straying one inch right of the center gets you labeled extreme and canceled, while if your progressive dues are paid up, you can say whatever you want without consequence. Anti-Semitism, for instance, is associated with both extremes of the political spectrum, but it’s only held against Hollywood conservatives. Two years ago, known Democrat John Cusack shared a sickening anti-Semitic image, lied about it, and remained employed (on an Amazon Prime TV series called Utopia that failed when it debuted last fall). He’ll be back.
Carano, on the other hand, was fired for making an overwrought metaphorical comparison between her ideological opponents and Nazis, which is a rhetorical move so common on the left that you’d be hard-pressed to find an outspoken progressive or mainstream media outlet that hasn’t employed it. (Her own co-star, Pedro Pascal, for instance, used a Nazi analogy to criticize the Trump administration’s child-separation policy.) She also made a very mild joke about pronouns (“beep/bop/boop)” that only a rage-aholic activist could possibly be offended by, expressed the same annoyance lots of Americans feel about mask mandates, and indicated she was worried about election fraud, which Democrats up to and including Hillary Clinton routinely do whenever they lose elections. All of this was deliberately exaggerated by progressives to paint a picture of Carano as an anti-Semitic transphobe who claimed the election was stolen. After she was fired, someone noticed that she’d also shared a cartoon image depicting a cabal of greedy bankers controlling the world, but this is fairly routine populist stuff. Carano said she didn’t know about a previous version of the image (in which the bankers had huge noses) and there was nothing in the picture she shared to indicate Jewishness. (More on that here.)
3. More Carano: Madeleine Kearns argues she will transcend the ruckus. From the article:
Flannery O’Connor once explained how it is that “righteous” art can be indistinguishable from propaganda (she was talking of Catholicism and novelists, but the point is applicable to politics as well):
The sorry religious novel comes about when the writer supposes that because of his belief, he is somehow dispensed from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality. He will think that the eyes of the Church or of the Bible or of his particular theology have already done the seeing for him, and that his business is to rearrange this essential vision into satisfying patterns, getting himself as little dirty in the process as possible.
Conservative artists ought to fight against the Hollywood culture-war machine without resorting to the same cynical tactics. If art convinces, it does so indirectly, on account of its likeness to life. The true test of whether art has succeeded on these grounds is whether (like life) its meaning is multilayered and/or open to interpretation. One movie that recently broke the Hollywood mold was A Quiet Place, a horror film written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski — Krasinski also directed and starred in the movie. An interviewer for Deadline asked Krasinski to comment on the controversy surrounding the film, about whether it was pro-life. “I’ve never heard the pro-choice and pro-life thing, but it is awesome that people are thinking about it,” he said, adding that “the greatest compliment you can have on any piece of work that you do is that it starts a conversation.”
4. Armond White gets retrospective about Jack Webb and a time when Hollywood was unafraid to combat the Red menace. From the piece:
Compared with the straightforward dramaturgy of Webb’s 1954 theatrical film Dragnet (just released on Blu-Ray from KINO), the Dragnet series doesn’t look like Millennial TV but resembles the modernist style of cineastes Sam Fuller, Robert Bresson, and Jean-Marie Straub. And like Fuller, Webb was a military vet turned Hollywood professional who sustained his patriotism through pop-art aesthetics. Webb brought probing Americanism to television; the best example is his 1962 drama Red Nightmare, a prediction of 21st-century progressivism that exposes what we now take for granted in Fake News TV.
In Red Nightmare, originally titled “Freedom and You,” Webb focused on Communist encroachment. It’s a Cold War parallel to today’s PC war. Webb imagined a national takeover in which citizens are told, “In America you have too many freedoms. One day it will be your mission to destroy those bourgeois capitalist freedoms.” Webb himself steps in as narrator and sets the scene:
From the looks of it, it could be Iowa, California, Tennessee. You might call this a college town, Communist-style, as part of a long-range plan to destroy our free way of life.
Webb’s intro pinpoints academia’s role in social revolution: “The strangest of all schools: espionage as a science, propaganda as an art, sabotage as a business — long-range Communist conspiracy.”
BONUS: You can watch Red Nightmare here.
Elsewhere in the Conservative Solar System
1. In Modern Age, Professor Daniel J. Mahoney, the great public intellectual and our esteemed friend, reflects on the nexus of statesmanship and human excellence. From the essay:
The founding fathers of modern republicanism had no qualms about appealing to the crucial role of the “founder” or “legislator” in establishing and sustaining free and lawful political communities. The American Founders, for example, read their Cicero and Plutarch and were no doubt inspired by the accounts of political nobility found in the pages of both immensely influential thinkers and writers. Their own noble deeds partake of classical greatness of soul as much as the purported “realism” of distinctively modern political thought. But it is undoubtedly the case that they aimed to establish political institutions where “power checked power,” institutions that would make political greatness less necessary, if not superfluous. Is this one reason why the study of statesmanship has fallen on hard times? Were they too successful?
Perhaps statesmanship of the noblest and truest kind has always been associated with crises of one sort or another: Solon addressing civil strife and class conflict in Athens in the sixth century BC; Pericles steering a middle path between imperial grandeur and prudent restraint in resisting the expansion of the Athenian Empire at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War; Cicero using all the arts of rhetoric and statesmanship in an ultimately failed attempt to save the remnants of Roman republicanism from the threat of Caesarian despotism; Burke eloquently warning defenders of ordered liberty against the proto-totalitarianism of Jacobin France; Washington leading the American people to their rightful station among the peoples of the earth and governing the new republic with an austere republican dignity; Lincoln preserving the Union and putting an end to the evil of chattel slavery at the same time; Churchill eloquently and firmly defending liberty and law, and all the achievements of the “English-speaking peoples,” against the dreadful barbarism of Nazism. Such statesmanship is, always and everywhere, a rare political achievement and an equally infrequent if admirable manifestation of the highest possibilities of the human soul.
Classical authors were right to understand such statesmanship as an elevated standard against which all political action can be judged. The thoughtful or reflective statesman exercises what the contemporary French political philosopher Pierre Manent calls “commanding practical reason,” not arbitrary power or a plan to satisfy the lowest impulses of his soul. Every political community needs such commanding practical reason, an authoritative exercise of judgment and foresight at the service of the common good. But the doctrinaire egalitarianism and relativism that many today confuse with democracy do not readily allow for such qualitative differences to be acknowledged and affirmed.
Elementary distinctions “natural” to political life — the distinctions between authority and authoritarianism, reason and will, nobility and baseness, domination and the mutual accountability inherent in free political life — are effaced in the name of a terrible simplification. Arguments about “the advantageous and the just,” as Aristotle so memorably put it in the opening chapters of his Politics, are summarily reduced to mere struggles for “power.” This effacement of politics as a moral science goes hand in hand with a toxic egalitarian moralism that feels free to repudiate our civilized inheritance and to judge all thought and action in the light of the overlapping determinisms of “race, class, and gender.” In truth, there can be no authentic political sphere, no veritable “public space,” when thought and action are reduced to cruel and inexpiable struggles for power and domination. And whatever the antinomian left claims, the messianic struggle for “justice” will lead only to mayhem, violence, and tyranny if the goods of life are said to have no foundation in the human soul or the natural order of things. One cannot promote justice on the “willful” premises of Machiavellian (and Nietzschean) modernity. If one begins with nihilistic premises, if one reduces every argument to a pretense for domination and exploitation, one necessarily ends with the self-enslavement of man. A barely concealed nihilism cannot provide a foundation for common humanity, the civic common good, or mutual respect and accountability. In the end, it can only negate our civilized inheritance despite the perfectionist or utopian veneer that invariably accompanies it.
2. At Substack, Glenn Greenwald looks at the Capitol riots, exaggerated claims, and false reporting. From the piece:
It took on such importance for a clear reason: Sicknick’s death was the only example the media had of the pro-Trump mob deliberately killing anyone. In a January 11 article detailing the five people who died on the day of the Capitol protest, the New York Times again told the Sicknick story: “Law enforcement officials said he had been ‘physically engaging with protesters’ and was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher.”
But none of the other four deaths were at the hands of the protesters: the only other person killed with deliberate violence was a pro-Trump protester, Ashli Babbitt, unarmed when shot in the neck by a police officer at close range. The other three deaths were all pro-Trump protesters: Kevin Greeson, who died of a heart attack outside the Capitol; Benjamin Philips, 50, “the founder of a pro-Trump website called Trumparoo,” who died of a stroke that day; and Rosanne Boyland, a fanatical Trump supporter whom the Times says was inadvertently “killed in a crush of fellow rioters during their attempt to fight through a police line.”
This is why the fire extinguisher story became so vital to those intent on depicting these events in the most violent and menacing light possible. Without Sicknick having his skull bashed in with a fire extinguisher, there were no deaths that day that could be attributed to deliberate violence by pro-Trump protesters. Three weeks later, The Washington Post said dozens of officers (a total of 140) had various degrees of injuries, but none reported as life-threatening, and at least two police officers committed suicide after the riot. So Sicknick was the only person killed who was not a pro-Trump protester, and the only one deliberately killed by the mob itself.
3. At Claremont Review of Books, paisano Charles Kesler scopes out the future of Trump and Trumpism. From the piece:
Will he come back from this defeat? Assuming he isn’t disqualified from holding office again, Trump could pull a Grover Cleveland and run for the presidency in 2024. He would be much older than Cleveland (the 22nd and 24th president) when he ran the second time (78 versus 55), but also much richer. It may be that the pleasures of being a billionaire are more entrancing than Trump remembers, and he might decide just to enjoy life in Florida. Or his health might dictate it. But the appetite for high office, once indulged, is not easily renounced. Plus the awful, ignominious way his term ended will add the spur of honor (and vengeance) to his pursuit of approval. He wants to belong especially to any club that won’t have him as a member. Failing that, he will build his own bigger and better club, as he did with Mar-a-Lago.
He’s already let it be known he intends to primary, beginning in 2022, all the weak Republicans who deserted or betrayed him in the impeachment fight. He’s prepared for a civil war within the Republican ranks, thinks the other guy started it, but plans to finish it on his terms. It didn’t come to this in 2016 because the panjandrums of the GOP didn’t expect him to win, and he was a novice. Then, for years, they were intimidated by his popularity with the party’s base. Now that he is out of the White House, their sighs of relief and disdain are obvious. In grateful return, he would like to throw a lavish Red Wedding at Mar-a-Lago and invite all his erstwhile allies.
But the second impeachment, and a fortiori the tragedy at the Capitol, will weigh on Trump’s support. From his re-election triumph in 1972 (49 states, 520 electoral votes, almost 61% of the popular vote), Nixon fell hard. He left office with about 24% popular approval, and it never recovered from those levels. Trump hasn’t experienced a similar collapse, but an erosion has begun. Almost every poll shows his approval ratings, measured before and after January 6, tumbling: Pew Research shows him down from 38% to 29%, Quinnipiac from 44% to 34%, ABC News/Washington Post from 44% to 38%. In most polls, a majority of Americans say he deserves a great deal of blame for the events of January 6. CNN/SSRS reports that 77% nationally want the GOP to move on from Trump. Among Republicans, 43% say they want the party to continue to treat him as its leader; 55% prefer someone else, though no one knows who.
Although not catastrophic, those declines don’t augur well for a political comeback. The trends will probably worsen, at least temporarily, as the second impeachment plays out and as various state and federal prosecutors come after the ex-president. Even at the peak of his popularity and power, Trump’s approval ratings, as Busch points out, were stuck in the mid-40s.
4. At Law & Liberty, David Schaeffer shows the disconcerting parallels between Russia 1917 and America 2021. From the essay:
First of all, the past nine months have witnessed a growing disrespect and disregard for the rule of law at both extremes of the political spectrum: on the Left, in response to the George Floyd killing, widespread urban violence, often spurred by semi-organized groups like Antifa and the Marxist Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement; on the Right, fanatics like those who invaded the Capitol to interfere with the counting of the electoral vote (including QAnon believers, who think that the government is run by a secret conspiracy of pedophiles and possibly cannibals). In some parts of the country, most notably Portland, we have witnessed something like a microcosm of the chaotic situation that existed in Russia in 1917 from the March “revolution” to the October one.
A second parallel between America’s present situation and that of Russia in 1917 is a pre-existing national crisis that had no direct connection with the political causes that inspired lawlessness. In 1917, the setting was prepared for a political uprising by bitter cold and food shortages, and by Russia’s increasingly unpopular participation in World War I. For its part, well before the George Floyd killing, America, like the rest of the world, experienced the COVID pandemic, generating not only many deaths among vulnerable populations, but also lockdowns of restaurants, hotels, gyms, and other facilities that interfered with people’s customary habits, caused widespread business shutdowns and unemployment, and often appeared, despite their medical justifications, to be imposed arbitrarily by governments in states like New York, California, and Michigan.
The third parallel is a reluctance of governmental authorities, confronted with a sudden spike of violent crime and sometimes anarchy, to control and deter it through arrest and punishment. In each instance, that reluctance reflected an uncertainty on the part of the authorities about whether enforcing the law was the right thing to do. Hence in 1917, when Russian mobs were allowed to empty the jails (as depicted in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s recently translated The Red Wheel: March 1917), just as when French mobs stormed the Bastille in 1789, those jails actually housed none of the rumored “political prisoners.” Meanwhile, Kerensky and his associates, themselves liberals and socialists who saw “no enemies on the Left,” refused to take the steps necessary to restore order. Even the commander of Russia’s Baltic Fleet expressed his sympathies for the incipient Red revolution to his sailors, only to be murdered by them later on.
5. More Law & Liberty, this time from Richard Reinsch, who looks at America and sees a closing society. From the beginning of the piece:
We are receiving almost a daily understanding of what a closed society is and what it does to dissenters. The latest revelation came from — where else — The New York Times, a publication that flatters the egos and tastes of our elites and firmly demonstrates the attitudes and postures the new regime demands. They mean to rule us in this regard. Donald McNeil, a nearly four-decade writer for the Times, and a highly regarded science correspondent, was forced out because he committed the new thought crime of merely mentioning a racial slur in the context of trying to understand and analyze a previous racist use of the term by a high school student. He was on a trip with high school students who had inquired of him if he thought it correct that a classmate of theirs who was suspended for using a racist slur should, in fact, have been suspended. McNeil was asking questions and thinking about the incident, trying to gather what had occurred. You might say, he was seeking understanding. But such inquiry is no longer permitted, apparently.
As Theodore Dalrymple recently observed in this space, there is no defense that one can use against the allegation of objective racism, that is, intent and context no longer matter in the determination of a racist allegation. If one is deemed to cause racist offense by a hearer, then perforce, one is a racist. Andrew Sullivan remarked that McNeil’s apology appeared to have been compelled by the Khmer Rouge. I found McNeil’s apology to his fellow writers to be abject and demeaning — to himself — and to any reasonable criteria of fairness and justice.
His personal declaration of sin committed against identity politics is worthy of Rubashov’s final apology in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, a 1941 novel widely regarded as one of the truly definitive literary investigations of communist totalitarianism. Rubashov was imprisoned for counterrevolutionary political crimes he allegedly committed against the communist regime. Although we are never told it’s the Soviet Union, the similarities of Rubashov’s interrogation and trial replicate the Stalinist era. However, this old Bolshevik isn’t actually guilty of what he has been accused of. His famous last confession is completely false, and yet it is not simply a lie. He has convinced himself that he owes such an apology to the regime to which he has dedicated his life. In the end, Rubashov cannot disbelieve in the communist regime because of its moral hold on his soul, even though it will execute him for crimes he has not committed against it.
6. At City Journal, Karl Zinmeister finds that identity politics is at odds with the core principles of a free society. From the essay:
At the root of our current crisis lies the dogma of identity politics. Created on university campuses and incubated among the young for more than a generation, this ideology now surges through the media, commerce, the nonprofit sector, and government. Identity politics asserts that civilization is a battle among groups, with dominant forces ruling by oppressing and manipulating the disempowered. It “atomizes society into different interest groups according to sex, race, sexual preference,” as author Douglas Murray summarizes in The Madness of Crowds, and “presumes that such characteristics are the main, or only, relevant attributes of their holders.” Once they have adopted a worldview defined by color, sexuality, and economic grievance and have built up levels of offense and outrage sufficient to justify a radical reorganizing of American society, proponents of identity politics are said to be “woke.”
Thanks to years of hectoring during college and strong pressures toward groupthink within urban culture, identity politics has become fashionable even among people with little experience of dispossession — like the couple I know who decorated one of their two yachts in support of this summer’s street protests. The identity-politics division of society into oppressors and oppressed now suffuses news stories, entertainment, school lessons, corporate policies, religious proclamations, and municipal rules. The movement demands redistribution of resources and power by group membership, using the language of “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” enforced by a “cancel culture” that attacks those who resist the woke agenda.
The diversity demanded by identity politics, though, is a strangely limited one. It is built on crude biological criteria like skin color or sexual practice. There is no tolerance for philosophical diversity, alternative principles, or heterodox beliefs. The stark categorization of people into “the privileged” and “the subjugated” must not be questioned. Resist a remaking of society that elevates certain identities and pulls down others, and you will be attacked as a bigot.
Identity politics is thus an aggressive marshaling of human divisions. It’s not interested in things we all share. It has no place for universal experiences, national harmony, or gratitude. Nor does it care for the wondrous idiosyncrasies and distinct variations of individuals. It draws its energy from factional resentments and fractures. The speed at which this radical, impersonal mode of thinking has been mainstreamed is astonishing.
7. More City Journal: Joel Zinberg profiles the pandemic’s false hero, one Andrew Cuomo, governor and crypto-mortician. From the article:
Finally, the most damaging disclosure was a leaked recording from February 10, in which a top Cuomo aide admitted to Democratic lawmakers that the administration hid the true numbers of nursing-home deaths for political reasons. The administration had worried that federal investigators would use these numbers against the governor. A February 11 addendum to the original DOH report now acknowledges that nursing-home deaths account for 35 percent of New York’s Covid-19 deaths.
Yet Cuomo’s policy failures are not confined to nursing homes. His capricious policies on business and restaurant closures, unmoored from public-health data, have destroyed small businesses statewide and wiped out New York City restaurants. The December restaurant reclosure was made at the same time that New York officials released data indicating that during the September–November period in which restaurants were open, restaurants and bars accounted for only 1.43 percent of Covid-19 cases. Transmission in homes and at social events account for nearly 74 percent of cases. And the New York Times noted that the metrics Cuomo had said would guide his decisions on business reopening were worse when he announced New York City restaurants could reopen for indoor dining on February 14 than when he closed them in December. Even New York Democrats are now calling for curbing Cuomo’s emergency powers.
Cuomo has eagerly criticized other state governors’ pandemic responses. “You played politics with this virus and you lost,” he chided. “Look at the numbers.” He had particular censure for Florida governor Ron DeSantis. In fact, New York has the nation’s second-most Covid-19 deaths per million population, just behind New Jersey — and nearly twice as much as Florida. It turns out that it was Cuomo who was playing politics.
8. At Gatestone Institute, Raymond Ibrahim catalogues the ongoing persecution of Christians by peace-religionists. From the report:
Iran: On Jan. 18, the Islamic Republic’s “morality police” arrested Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi, a 22-year-old convert to Christianity and human rights activist, on the accusation that “her trousers were too tight, her headscarf was not correctly adjusted, and [that] she should not be wearing an unbuttoned coat.” This is the third time officials arrested Mary. She served six months in prison after her first arrest for being a member of a house church — which the regime recently labeled as “enemy groups” belonging to a “Zionist” cult. She also spent a brief time in jail after joining a peaceful protest in April 2020. Officials have also pressured her employer, with whom she always had a good relationship, to prevent her from returning to work as a gymnastics instructor. She was expelled from her university on the eve of her exams. Reflecting on what had come to pass, Mary wrote:
“Everything is affected . . . Your work, income, social status, identity, mental health, satisfaction with yourself, your life, your place in society, your independence. . . . And as a woman it’s even harder to remain patient and endure, in a society so opposed to women and femininity, though crying out for them both.”
9. Oregon bureaucrats, reports Jennifer Kabbany at The College Fix, are demanding “math equity” as part of their effort to combat racism. Something’s not adding up. From the article:
The effort is outlined in an 82-page training manual distributed to educators and titled “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction: Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction.”
One section argues that “white supremacy culture shows up in math classrooms” when students are required to “show their work.”
“Math teachers ask students to show work so that teachers know what students are thinking, but that centers the teacher’s need to understand rather than student learning. It becomes a crutch for teachers seeking to understand what students are thinking and less of a tool for students in learning how to process,” the training manual states.
“Thus, requiring students to show their work reinforces worship of the written word as well as paternalism,” it adds.
Instead, teachers are instructed to offer different ways for students to show their math knowledge. Among them?
“Have students create TikTok videos, silent films, or cartoons about mathematical concepts or procedures,” the manual states.
Lent is upon us — some of us anyway. May it’s graces benefit all, regardless. A little tip: On Friday, try the fish.
Another tip, unrelated: The left lane is for passing, not vacationing.
For the repose of the soul of Rush Limbaugh, that he requiescat in pace, please do offer up a prayer.
May the Almighty’s Graces Prove Sustaining These 40 Days,
Jack Fowler, who is eager for penitential tips if sent to email@example.com.