The Weekend Jolt

Politics & Policy

The Magic Slogan That Justifies Everything

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) participates in a climate-change demonstration outside the White House, June 28, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

We should probably talk some more about the dress.

You know the one, of Chick-fil-A color scheme and in-your-face situational unawareness. This newsletter is referring, of course, to AOC’s outfit. (Apologies if you’re all dressed-out by now.)

To walk things back a skosh, AOC likely knows full well what she’s doing and is situationally quite aware. She must get the hypocrisy of flaunting the words “Tax the Rich” on her dress at this week’s $35,000-per-head Met Gala. It’s a troll. She went all in, for the sake of the message.

But that message does help crystallize the thinking behind the ungodly sums in Democrats’ spending bills, which is why we should talk about it.

“Tax the Rich” is hardly a new idea. Before 1981, it was the policy of the U.S. government. The thinking goes that if only we can do that again, at that level or higher, any amount of spending can be covered. So let it rip.

If the investments Washington contemplates were on the level of, say, a small war, perhaps that would be true. But they are decidedly not. The Tax Foundation, a couple years ago, looked at one AOC proposal to tax incomes over $10 million at 70 percent. Over ten years, this wouldn’t close a single year’s deficit — even at pre-pandemic levels — and probably wouldn’t cover a single year’s interest payment on the debt, let alone a $3.5 trillion budget bill. Nevertheless, this past week, House Democrats released an extensive tax plan that generally adheres to that same slogan — complete with higher individual, capital-gains, and corporate tax rates. It’s estimated to raise over $2 trillion. It’s still not enough.

NR’s editorial succinctly addresses this shortfall:

House Democrats have put forward a worst-of-both-worlds tax proposal: punishing enough to do real damage to the U.S. economy and individual households, but not nearly enough to pay for the trillions upon trillions of dollars of new spending Joe Biden and his congressional allies have put into play.

What we’ve got here is a failure to elucidate. Politicians have convinced themselves, or maybe just their base (Kevin Williamson, for one, sees little evidence of sincerity here), that taxing the rich, while taking pains to spare the middle class, will pay for their promises. But it would in fact take middle-class tax hikes — fairly large ones — to pay for their agenda. They would need to go full Europe, as Rich Lowry explains:

This is where the Democrats are willing to talk the talk about a cradle-to-grave welfare state, but not walk the walk. There can be no European-style welfare state, at least not sustainably so, without European-style taxes.

The dirty secret about the Scandinavian countries that the Left constantly holds up as a model is that they aren’t afraid to tax the middle class. These alleged models of social justice tax more than we do and tax much more broadly, realizing that taxing the rich and corporations isn’t enough to fund extensive and generous social programs.

Jay Nordlinger puts it thusly: “If you want more revenue for the government — and we can debate that — you’re going to have to look to the multitudes: to the Great Middle. But no one wants to say that.” Brian Riedl does some math and comes to an alarming conclusion: “Using up all the ‘tax the rich’ options for the president’s new proposals would leave the wealthy unable to close the underlying — and unsustainable — $112 trillion in baseline deficits over the next 30 years, or finance progressive fantasies such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.”

NR’s editorial also notes that the proposal’s tax hikes on businesses would be felt by employees and customers alike, many of whom reside in that hallowed middle class.

Could the rich pay more? Sure, they could, and this writer would wholeheartedly support this as part of a comprehensive plan to balance the budget. [pauses to laugh hysterically, then regain composure] Anyway, David Harsanyi helps illuminate why this tactic yields diminishing returns, owing to the fact that the wealthy are covering a good deal of federal outlays already. And David gets at the nut of the problem, which incidentally is the premise of this newsletter:

The reality is that no politician is going to advocate raising middle-class income taxes, despite the ever-increasing cost of government. There is only the rich to tax. Consequently, it’s become easier to pass massive expansions of the state. Everyone expects someone else to foot the bill — either future generations or their wealthier neighbors.

Tax the Working Man doesn’t have the same visceral appeal. But Tax the Rich? That’s a slogan that keeps hope alive, and the money flowing. It suggests there’s a dollar match for every dollar of need out there. And conveniently for the sloganeers, the subtext once that imperative accompanies a massive spending proposal is that any opposition reflects a craven and mulish refusal to hit the plutocrats in their George Costanza wallets. So say it loud.

Green New Deal? Tax the Rich. Medicare for All? Tax the Rich. Canada’s got problems? You’d better believe, Tax the Rich.

It’s the slogan that justifies anything and everything. It is, without question, way better than Drill, Baby, Drill. No wonder AOC donned it. She’ll probably be invited back.

In other news . . . do be sure to check out the jam-packed new issue of National Review, devoted to examining America’s crime crisis. More on that below, but you can start with Rich’s intro.

Lastly, R.I.P. to an icon of my adolescence and of many others’, Norm Macdonald. If you haven’t seen it yet, his moth joke is perfection. Watch it here.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

Democrats want to soak the rich, but the rich aren’t the only ones who will be soaked: Revenue and Revenge

The allegations that Joint Chiefs chairman Milley went behind Trump’s back to the Chinese merits a formal inquiry, quickly: Investigate General Milley Now

ARTICLES

David L. Bahnsen: The California Recall’s Lesson for Republicans

Michael Brendan Dougherty: No Trust, No Exit

Jack Butler: The Myth of the Red Pill

Kevin Williamson: The Billionaires’ Party

Charles C. W. Cooke: Biden Is Hurting the Vaccine Case

Charles C. W. Cooke: Why Did the Staff at the Met Wear Masks, While the Celebrities Went Without?

Andrew McCarthy: Blinken’s Idiocy on the Taliban and Women

Yuval Levin: The Future of Conservative Constitutionalism

Jeb Bush: The Dumbing Down of Expectations

Caroline Downey: Planned Parenthood Doxxes Texas Pro-Life Group Leader

Jim Geraghty: The Taliban ‘Cut Off the Heads of Two Boys Who Were Nine and Ten’

Dan McLaughlin: Are Mobs Still Bad When Their Target Is Brett Kavanaugh?

Nate Hochman: Who Is Kristi Noem, Really?

Jimmy Quinn: Taiwan Sees Opening amid Chinese Bullying: ‘There’s an Awakening’

Ryan Mills: San Francisco School-Board Recall Gains Steam as Organizers Surpass Signature Threshold

CAPITAL MATTERS

Kevin Hassett looks at how Biden’s vaccine rules could slow the economic recovery: Vaccine Mandates and the Labor Market

America has a spending problem. Eric Blankenstein calls it by its name: A Trillion Here, and a Trillion There . . .

Joseph Sullivan offers another, disturbing way to look at the Afghanistan withdrawal: The Taliban Just Received the Largest International Weapons Transfer in 50 Years

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Another remake, another failure. Armond White charts the decline: Amazon’s Cinderella Is Extra Bad

Brian Allen attends an in-person (!!) art fair and breathes in the sweet air of normalcy: A Fine Armory Show Signals a Return to Normal Life

Someone had to say it, might as well be Kyle Smith. Clint Eastwood probably shouldn’t cast himself in starring tough-guy roles at this stage: Clint Eastwood’s Macho Mistake (Armond dissents)

FROM THE NEW OCTOBER 4, 2021, ISSUE OF NR

William J. Bratton and Rafael A. Mangual: Forgotten Lessons of the War on Crime

Ryan Mills: Where Have All the Officers Gone?

Hannah E. Meyers: The ‘Systemic Racism’ Stereotype

Andrew C. McCarthy: Fictions of the ‘Carceral State’

IF YOU DON’T CLICK YOUR LINKS, YOU CAN’T HAVE ANY EXCERPTS. HOW CAN YOU HAVE ANY EXCERPTS IF YOU DON’T CLICK YOUR LINKS?

Here’s David Bahnsen with some lessons for conservatives from the California recall:

For the many millions who did not vote for Trump but were sympathetic to the recall, there could not have been a message less effective for earning and retaining their vote than the “stop the steal” story.

This is going to stay around Republicans’ necks as long as they let it. Not just in an “against all odds” case such as recalling a Democrat governor in a deep-blue state, but anywhere independents and moderates are needed to win an election — the backward-looking focus on the unprovable claims of a 2020 stolen election are toxic, self-defeating, and counter-productive. It is a fatal focus. A forward-looking focus on defeating cancel culture, pandemic irrationality and tyranny, and woke corporatism is the winning formula for the party and the cause.

Those who care about the latter will reject the former. Or they will continue to lose.

A new book claims General Milley had back-channel talks with China in the latter days of Trump’s presidency. From the editorial:

We had occasion, during the Trump years, to warn not only about steps that Trump took to undermine the American system of government, but also about threats to that system created by the actions of others in response to him. Any consistent defender of constitutional government should be alarmed by both. Extralegal and anti-democratic steps justified as responses to a crisis have a way of becoming habits.

Woodward and Costa report that General Milley had grave concerns about Trump’s mental stability in the run-up to the 2020 election and through the aftermath of the January 2021 Capitol riot. He was also concerned that the Chinese military would overreact to saber-rattling by Trump, possibly creating an unnecessary military conflict. There are proper ways to air such concerns, such as insisting that presidential directives comply with the law and are properly handled through the chain of command, or marshaling support among the president’s senior advisers to counsel him against rash actions. There are many known occasions of the latter approach working with Trump, who never did order new acts of military force in his last months in office. There are even proper civilian procedures, much discussed and repeatedly attempted during the Trump era, to remove a commander-in-chief.

What is never proper is for an American military officer to go to hostile foreign governments to tell them things at odds with the message the president decides to communicate. . . .

If this account holds up, anyone who believes in democratic self-government, civilian control of the military, and the rule of law should join in calling for General Milley’s removal.

(As Dan McLaughlin notes, however, there could be more to this story, so stay tuned.)

The accounts on the ground in Afghanistan continue to be harrowing. Jim Geraghty reports on a veteran trying desperately to get Afghan allies and Americans out of the country, and on what her organization has encountered:

[Jean Marie] Thrower reports that her organization has “people who are going missing and getting killed every day.” Her group hears accounts from Afghans who made it out, as well as the horrifying accounts they’re told by those who were left behind.

She describes the case of an American child whose Afghan uncle was recently killed by the Taliban. “We have had people shot, beheaded. They’re taking the kids. If you’re on the run, and they find your family, they’ll hurt your family and put the word out in the neighborhood that ‘we’ve got your brother or son or daughter.’ They cut off the heads of two boys that were nine and ten.”

While the description of beheaded children could not be independently verified, other reports of beheadings unfortunately have been. A recently unearthed video showed six Taliban men beheading an Afghan soldier. Christians in Afghanistan report receiving phone calls from the Taliban, pledging to behead them. A British member of Parliament said that Afghan refugees had told him of the Taliban forcing family members to watch the beheadings of their relatives. A human-rights activist in Kabul who was beaten and hospitalized said he was told by his Taliban captors, “You are acting against Islam so we are allowed to kill kafirs like you,” and two journalists said they were threatened with beheading after being beaten for covering a women’s protest.

Thrower laments that the Taliban is finding and executing Christians in Afghanistan with stunning speed. “We started out with 300 three weeks ago, and we’re down to 55. They’ve been killed. . . . We had two young girls that were with this Christian family, the Christians had found them after their parents had been killed. They were hiding together, and then went to the market to try to get some food. The Taliban found them, raped them, and beat them. We did manage to get them to a hospital.”

(Jim reports on more infuriating details about our State Department’s handling of the situation here.)

Is the world waking up to China’s deception? Jimmy Quinn conducted a revealing interview with a top Taiwanese diplomat, who sees cause for hope:

While it’s unclear whether China’s grip on the U.N. can be loosened, Taiwan’s latest push takes place in an international environment that is increasingly receptive to warnings about Chinese misconduct. I specifically asked [James] Lee about Europe, because the European Parliament recently advanced a measure urging closer EU–Taiwan ties. “Taiwan and Europe, although thousands of miles apart, we do share common values and principles, such as human rights, democracy, freedom, peace, rule of law,” he said.

“I think there’s an awakening in Europe. A lot of countries, one by one, say, yes China has become more repressive at home and aggressive abroad,” Lee said. “And more and more countries, not just in our region, but beyond, have more concerns, and are worrying how the West, led by the United States, is going to respond to China’s challenge.”

That’s important in its own right, but it has broader implications for how international blocs approach the China question — and therefore, how Taiwan is discussed at the U.N. The Chinese aggression that Lee cites has dovetailed with Beijing’s adversarial pandemic-era politics to midwife significant policy shifts among Western democracies. Lee sees a new opening for Taiwan.

In case you missed it last weekend, Kevin Williamson examined the political proclivities of America’s billionaires. Perhaps you won’t be surprised that the GOP is no longer their exclusive home:

Jeff Bezos: The wealthiest American is a mixed bag in terms of his political donations. In terms of his public statements, he is scrupulously nonpartisan, though he has been generally supportive of Joe Biden, including of Biden’s infrastructure proposals and his plan to raise corporate taxes. People who know Bezos describe him as a Reason-style libertarian — a free-market capitalist with socially progressive tendencies.

He is not a Donald Trump fan, and not exactly the poster boy for the Republican Party in 2021.

Elon Musk: The eccentric Tesla founder has approximately the politics of a 1990s college sophomore, calling himself “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” and “half Democrat and half Republican.” The experience of dividing his time between California and Texas seems to be radicalizing him in Texas’s direction. But, for now, he donates to both parties and commits himself to neither.

Bill Gates: The Microsoft founder has financially supported a lot of Democrats and a few Republicans. He is personally tight with the Obamas, but he also likes charter schools. Philosophically, he is best described as a technocratic progressive. His criticism of Trump’s coronavirus response made him a right-wing-hate totem. Policy-wise, he is generally closer to Democrats than to Republicans. Culturally, he is about as far away from the 2021 Republican Party as an American can be.

Mark Zuckerberg: He has spread political money around pretty promiscuously, tipping everybody from Chuck Schumer to Marco Rubio. He publicly claims neither party. His wife supports Democrats almost exclusively, with the exception of Chris Christie. He is not the Republican billionaire you are looking for.

Shout-Outs

The College Fix: Syracuse U. professor says 9/11 was an ‘attack on the heteropatriarchal capitalistic systems’

Charlotte Lawson, at The Dispatch: The Afghans We Left Behind

Hollie McKay, at the New York Post: Taliban bring back ‘virtue’ ministry, stoning and amputations for ‘major sins’

Bill Melugin and Adam Shaw, at Fox News: Drone footage shows thousands of migrants under bridge in Del Rio, Texas, as local facilities overwhelmed

CODA

Here’s a song “two ways,” as a fine-dining menu might read. “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” first composed and recorded by Charles Mingus, was written as a tribute to the late saxophonist Lester Young. It’s so soulful and ubiquitous as a jazz standard, it almost invites listeners to shape their own meaning out of it. Maybe it’s a lament for a loved one, maybe it’s something more uplifting. A musician friend of mine used to call it “car-crash music,” a comment on how the song’s peaceful vibe would juxtapose, in slow motion, against something not so peaceful. That’s dark. We Jersey kids were dark. Anyway, “two ways,” right? So here’s the second way: Guitarist John McLaughlin recorded his own acoustic version on his solo album, My Goal’s Beyond. Have a listen.

Got a tune? Want to share? Send a link to jberger@nationalreview.com. Thanks for reading.

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