A Roundup of Other Moderate Voices
Three Strikes, You’re Out
In her June 1st column, Wall Street Journal writer Peggy Noonan says that a third nomination for Donald Trump would end the Republican Party altogether: “If the party chooses Trump in 2024 it will mean it has changed its essential nature and meaning, and that it is split in a way that can’t be resolved by time. Republicans of the suburbs, of the more educated and affluent places, won’t agree to be the official Trump Forever Party. They just won’t. They will leave. Some will go third-party and try to build something there. Some will blend into the Democratic Party and hope they can improve things there. Trump supporters will stay on in a smaller, less competent party. But they will, as time passes, get tired of losing and also drift on somewhere.”
Nothing Like the Original
In a piece that appeared in the May 25th Wisconsin State Journal never-Trump Republican columnist Jonah Goldberg writes that what a lot of Republicans want from Trump is less the policy than the show. “The Republican Party now has a sizable number of voters who like the worst stuff about Trump. They want the entertainment, the policy stuff is incidental. They enjoy watching Trump take the low road, and even those voters who might wince at some of Trump’s antics, still recoil at anyone making hay of it. I’m not saying all of Trump’s most loyal voters are bad or deplorable people. But what a lot of them want from politics is bad and deplorable.”
In a May 21st piece in the Wisconsin State Journal local conservative commentator David Blaska says he’ll never vote for Donald Trump again. The January 6th insurrection and Trump’s slew of legal troubles have pushed him over the top. “It’s time for former Gov. Tommy Thompson, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and former Gov. Scott Walker to lead this party out of the conspiracy chat rooms and into the sunlight. They should say, with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, former House Speaker Paul Ryan and U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher of Green Bay, that, “We lose with Trump.””
Lies, Damned Lies and Donald Trump
In a May 11th post Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan explains why Donald Trump’s endless lies don’t ever come back to bite him: “Observers shake their heads despairingly: “He lies and people believe him.” I think it’s worse than that. He lies and a lot of supporters can tell it’s a lie—they know from their own memory it’s a lie, that, say, Jan. 6 wasn’t a “beautiful day” of “patriots” full of “love”—but they don’t mind. They admire his sheer ability to spin it out. You’re tickled by his boldness, his fearlessness, and when the lie drives the media and the stuffed shirts mad, you’re delighted. He’s subverting the elites and the corrupt power structures they’ve erected. And the great thing is you’re in on the joke, on the mischief. You get to take part.”
In a May 9th post New York Times columnist John McWhorter writes about the complexities of the Jordan Neely case. While he acknowledges that placing Neely in a chock hold for 15 minutes was unnecessary, he feels that the outrage from the left doesn’t allow for the real concerns of New York’s subway riders: “At the same time, the conversation among political leaders in the news and on social media has largely ignored the experience of legions of subway-riding New Yorkers. It implies that Neely was merely a desperate human being who should not have been detained in any way short of the intervention of a trained professional — an opportunity vanishingly unavailable in a subway car at any given moment.”
More Free Than Ever
In an April 24th essay in American Purpose Francis Fukuyama argues that Americans are more free than they’ve ever been: “There is plenty to criticize on the woke left, but this new type of conservative is not talking about rolling back particular policies; they are challenging the very premises of the liberal state and toying with outright authoritarianism. They are not simply deluded by lies about the 2020 election, but willing to accept nondemocratic outcomes to get their way. The new illiberal conservatives talk about an “existential” crisis in American life: how the United States as traditionally understood will simply disappear under pressure from the woke left, which then justifies extreme measures in response. It is hard to think of a time when the United States has been more free than it is in 2023. The much-feared tyranny of the woke left exists only in certain limited sectors of U.S. society — universities, Hollywood, and other cultural spaces, and it only touches on certain issues related to race, ethnicity, gender and sexual identity. It can be bad in these spaces, but most Americans don’t live there.”
Guns Really Do Kill People
In an April 22nd post New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff writes that guns in the home are more dangerous than they’re worth: “Above all, we must challenge the misperception that a gun in the home makes people safer. Yes, on rare occasions, a gun can avert a crime. But researchers have found repeatedly that a gun in the house makes people more likely to be murdered, not less. “People living in homes with firearms have higher risks for dying by homicide,” according to a 2022 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.”
Rumors of Their Demise
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, in an April 21st post, argues that the Democrats last had the GOP on the ropes in the early Obama era and that the party is as competitive as ever: “Prophecies about the demise of the Republican Party… were plausible only in the very early Obama era, following the genuine landslide defeats the G.O.P. suffered in 2006 and 2008. Since then, the story has been one of G.O.P. resilience across multiple different incarnations, whether in rabble-rousing libertarian or cautious-establishment or Trumpian-populist form. The Republican Party has championed unpopular causes, it has picked widely hated nominees, it has pioneered new forms of self-sabotage and political malpractice. Yet it has won unexpected victories and rebounded swiftly from its defeats, and it looks as competitive today as at any point since 2008.”
American-Style Capitalism Works
In an April 20th piece, New York Times columnist David Brooks recites figures showing that, far from being in decline, American capitalism is far outpacing Western Europe and Japan and holding its own against China. Moreover, poverty is in decline: “Over the past many decades, Americans have experimented with ways to provide more security without smothering the capitalist turbo that produces growth and social mobility. This has been the great project of the center-left and the center-right. It has worked and it continues to work. Between 1990 and 2019, American social spending rose from 14 percent of G.D.P. to 18 percent. In part because of this government support, poverty hit an all-time low in 2021, according to the Census Bureau.”
A Few Bad Men
In a piece that appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on April 20th, columnist Jonah Goldberg observes that crime is very specific to individuals and places: “These numbers confirm what has been known by criminologists and sociologists for decades — a very small number of people commit a very large number of crimes. Marvin Wolfgang’s seminal study, “Crime in a Birth Cohort” of 10,000 young Philadelphia men born in 1945, found that about 6% of juvenile boys accounted for nearly half of all juvenile crime. A follow-up study found that 7% committed 61% of crimes. Similar findings have been found in studies across Europe. And this dynamic holds not just for juvenile or petty offenses. One Swedish study found that 1% of the population was responsible for 63% of violent crime convictions.”
Narratives on Crime
In an April 18th column, New York Times contributor Bret Stephens ponders how left and right can look at the same set of circumstances and reach different conclusions: “Maybe there’s a lesson in this, simple and old-fashioned as it may seem. When bad guys walk free and brave cops have to fear for their jobs for doing their jobs, crime tends to go up. And when the national conversation about the Adam Toledo tragedy revolves around the officer’s split-second, life-or-death decision instead of the question “What is a 13-year-old child doing with a 21-year-old criminal firing a gun at 2:30 a.m.?” then we are deeply confused about the nature of our problems, to say nothing of the way to a solution.” Toledo was shot by a cop who believed he was still armed when, in fact, Toledo had thrown his gun over a fence in the second before the officer fired.
The Great Education Divide
In an April 17th New York Times guest essay, Doug Sosnik writes about how a college degree is becoming the most reliable factor in predicting the partisan identification of a voter: “According to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, since 1989, families headed by college graduates have increased their wealth by 83 percent. For households headed by someone without a college degree, there was relatively little or no increase in wealth. Culturally, a person’s educational attainment increasingly correlates with their views on a wide range of issues like abortion, attitudes about L.G.B.T.Q. rights and the relationship between government and organized religion. It also extends to cultural consumption (movies, TV, books), social media choices and the sources of information that shape voters’ understanding of facts.”
Free Speech Makes a Comeback
David French, in a New York Times column on April 16th, writes that free speech rights are being reasserted on campuses across the country: “This isn’t a column about doom, however, but rather about hope. There is no question that the worst are still “full of passionate intensity,” and we do live in a precarious place in our national life. But there are also some signs that the center is fighting back on some of the most elite campuses in the country, that some of the “best” still do, in fact, possess the necessary convictions. I litigated free speech issues on college campuses for almost 20 years, and I’ve never seen such widespread, institutional academic support for free expression.”
The Red-Blue Dynamo
In an April 13th essay, New York Times columnist David Brooks asks why blue states are losing population to red states. He concludes that some combination of conservative economic policies and liberal social policies might be the best mix for a strong economy: “If you look at these success stories, you see they are actually the product of a red-blue mash-up. Republicans at the state level provide the general business climate, but Democrats at the local level influence the schools, provide many social services and create a civic atmosphere that welcomes diversity and attracts highly educated workers. Very often the conservative state authorities are at war with the more liberal city authorities over things like minimum wage laws and L.G.B.T.Q. rights. But at least for right now, the red-blue mash-up seems to work.”
In an April 11th post, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens ponders why newly hawkish liberals (at least over Ukraine) are still so skeptical of defense spending while newly dovish Republicans want to keep spending on a military that don’t want to use. He also points out that the Defense Department is the poster child for how Democrats think government should work: ““The military is the epitome of big government, with egalitarian wages, socialized medicine and the best government-run child-care system in the country,” wrote the Swarthmore College political scientist Dominic Tierney in The Atlantic in September. He might have added that defense spending is about as pure an application of a domestic industrial policy — with thousands of good-paying, high-skilled manufacturing jobs — as any other high-tech sector.”
In an April 7th post Garrison Keillor writes about the virtues of cheerfulness, something that has gone out or style and is often seen as a mark of ignorance or perhaps dementia: ““Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy,” said Scott Fitzgerald, who was disappointed that World War I ended before he could go to France and get shot. So instead he became the golden boy of 1920 and a couple decades later dropped dead, an expired celeb, at 44. And ever after him, American writers tried to be Euro and affected a heroic hopelessness, a traumatized turgidity tinged with suicidal sensitivity, which was an act, like wearing a black beret and leading an ocelot on a leash. They ignored the millions of Europeans who made their way through Ellis Island to escape that very same hopelessness, hoping to find a sunny street of bungalows with well-kept yards and friendly neighbors. Something like south Minneapolis.”
The GOP Abortion Death Spiral
In an April 7th piece and in the wake of the Republicans’ big loss in the nominally nonpartisan Wisconsin Supreme Court race, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg writes: “Having made the criminalization of abortion a central axis of their political project for decades, Republicans have no obvious way out of their electoral predicament. A decisive majority of Americans — 64 percent, according to a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey — believe that abortion should be legal in most cases. A decisive majority of Republicans — 63 percent, according to the same survey — believe that it should not. When abortion bans were merely theoretical, anti-abortion passion was often a boon to Republicans, powering the grass-roots organizing of the religious right. Now that the end of Roe has awakened a previously complacent pro-choice majority, anti-abortion passion has become a liability, but the Republican Party can’t jettison it without tearing itself apart.”
Cuts Both Ways
An April 3rd story in the New York Times reports on the growing backlash against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ bill to curb press freedoms. Conservative news outlets, which have supported DeSantis, are coming to understand how liberal groups might use the law to shut them down. Said one conservative lawyer who specializes in First Amendment cases, “When you fashion a weapon you think can hurt your enemies, you shouldn’t be surprised when it hurts you, too.”
Bravery and Cowardice
In a March 31st post on his site, Garrison Keilor writes about the contrast between the bravery of the police officers who stopped the shooter in Nashville and politicians who will do nothing to control guns: “When you look at the body camera video of Nashville cops, guns drawn, dashing into the school, throwing doors open, shouting, “Shots fired, shots fired, move!” and a line of cops moving swiftly down the hall and up the stairs and shooting the attacker, you see men doing as they were trained to do, pursue a killer and take the killer out. From first call to completion of mission: 14 minutes. An expert operation carried out by dedicated public servants. And when you watch members of Congress tiptoe away from their duty to deal with the danger those men faced, you see cowardice in a pure form…. I am also waiting for the progressives on the Minneapolis City Council and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to express full public remorse for their “defund the police” idiocy after the George Floyd killing by patrolman Chauvin in 2020 and the riots that terribly damaged the city. It still hasn’t recovered. If any of them look at the six-minute video of Nashville cops storming the school, running toward an active shooter, her gun going off, cops prepared to take a bullet to save terrified innocent people, I’d be very interested to hear their thoughts about defunding.”
In a March 30th piece New York Times columnist Pamela Paul makes an argument that the real losers in the shout-downs of campus guest speakers aren’t the lecturers but the students. She recounts what happened when, as a student, she went to a lecture by Justice Antonin Scalia at Brown: “Once Scalia finished and we the righteous had a chance to speak truth to the evil one, we would rip apart his so-called originalism, his hypocrisies, his imperiousness. We were champing at the bit to have our say. And then he wiped the floor with us. In answer to our indignant questions, he calmly cited rebutting cases. We fulminated and he reasoned, and when we seethed he lobbed back with charm. Within the hermetic bubble of my liberal upbringing and education, it had never occurred to me that even when finally presented with The Truth, someone from the other side could prevail. I’d been certain we would humiliate him. Instead, I left humbled.”
Affirmative Action For Class, Not Race
A March 29th piece in the New York Times profiles Richard Kahlenberg, a liberal who has long advocated for replacing race-based affirmative action with a leg up for the working class. His ideas are likely to become more viable later this year when the Supreme Court is expected to strike down affirmative action as we have known it. The story begins: “For the college class he teaches on inequality, Richard D. Kahlenberg likes to ask his students about a popular yard sign. “In This House We Believe: Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, No Human Is Illegal, Science Is Real,” it says. His students usually dismiss the sign as performative. But what bothers Mr. Kahlenberg is not the virtue signaling. “It says nothing about class,” he tells them. “Nothing about labor rights. Nothing about housing. Nothing that would actually cost upper-middle-class white liberals a dime.””
Liberals Won, Why Are They So Miserable?
In a March 29th piece New York Times center-right columnist Ross Douthat explores liberal unhappiness in a world they created: “Thus in many ways the transformations of the last few decades are ones that liberals sought: The America of today is more socially-liberal on almost every issue than the America of George W. Bush, more secular, less heteronormative, more diverse in terms of both race and personal identity, more influenced by radical ideas that once belonged to the fringe of academia. Unfortunately in finding its heart’s desire the left also seems to have found a certain kind of despair. It turns out that there isn’t some obvious ground for purpose and solidarity and ultimate meaning once you’ve deconstructed all the sources you consider tainted. And it’s at the vanguard of that deconstruction, among the very-liberal young, that you find the greatest unhappiness — the very success of the progressive project devouring contentment.”
Not Worth the Trouble
A March 26th guest column in the Wall Street Journal by author Mary Eberstadt recounts why she backed out of a lecture at Furman, where students and faculty were gearing up, not to listen and engage with her ideas, but to shout here down: “(My) book makes the case that social upheavals since the 1960s have led to compounded fractures on generations and that the implosion of family, real-life community and religion has weakened many people’s sense of identity. It further argues that the rise in mental and emotional problems, increasingly visible on campuses and on the streets, is a result. The students revulsed by free speech these days aren’t victims of that analysis but poster children for it.”
Don’t Love Him, Don’t Hate Him
In a March 23rd story the AP reports that Pres. Joe Biden’s approval ratings remain stubbornly low. The one bright spot for Biden is that voters don’t seem deeply dug into their disapproval of him: “The president notched an approval rating of 38% in the new poll, after 45% said they approved in February and 41% in January. His ratings hit their lowest point of his presidency last July, at 36%, as the full weight of rising gasoline, food and other costs began to hit U.S. households. In recent months, approval of Biden had been hovering above 40%. Interviews with poll respondents suggest the public has mixed feelings about Biden, who is expected to announce a reelection bid by this summer. When it comes to the president, people generally do not swing between the extremes of absolute loyalty and aggressive loathing that have been a feature of this era’s divided politics.”
Book Ban Bonanza
The American Library Association reports that the country set a dubious record last year with almost 2,600 books that were targeted for banning. In a March 22nd news release the ALA wrote: “A book challenge is a demand to remove a book from a library’s collection so that no one else can read it. Overwhelmingly, we’re seeing these challenges come from organized censorship groups that target local library board meetings to demand removal of a long list of books they share on social media. Each attempt to ban a book by one of these groups represents a direct attack on every person’s constitutionally protected right to freely choose what books to read and what ideas to explore. The choice of what to read must be left to the reader or, in the case of children, to parents. That choice does not belong to self-appointed book police.”
TikTok and the First Amendment
In a March 24th guest essay in the New York Times, Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer and free speech advocate, argues that bans on TikTok have not cleared First Amendment hurdles: “The legitimacy of our democracy depends on the free trade in information and ideas, including across international borders. Except in the most extreme circumstances, citizens should be able to engage freely with the communications platforms of their choice. Perhaps there are contexts in which a ban on a social media platform could be reconciled with democratic values. It’s conceivable that the U.S. government will eventually be able to establish the necessity of a ban on TikTok, even if it hasn’t done so yet. But the First Amendment would require the government to carry a heavy burden of justification. This is an important feature of our system, and not a bug.”
Iraq Reconsidered (Or Not)
Twenty years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq there has been a lot of reflection on that event. In a March 21st piece New York Times center-right columnist Bret Stephens concludes that he does not regret supporting the invasion: “If there was one indisputably real W.M.D. in Iraq, it was Hussein himself. Until his downfall, he put everyone and everything he encountered at risk. Readers will want to know whether, knowing what I know now, I would still have supported the decision to invade. Not for the reasons given at the time. Not in the way we did it. But on the baseline question of whether Iraq, the Middle East and the world are better off for having gotten rid of a dangerous tyrant, my answer remains yes.”
Locking Up the Bad Guys
Like a lot of big cities, Seattle had had enough of crime. So they elected a new prosecutor, Ann Davison, who has focussed on the 168 most prolific criminals in the city. She made it a point of harassing them and getting them locked up for even relatively minor infractions. And, according to a March 21st editorial in the Wall Street Journal, their number of offenses per person dropped by two-thirds.
A Fair Definition of Woke
“Woke” has become a pejorative slung at the left by conservatives (and often by me). In his March 18th piece, New York Times center-right columnist Ross Douthat tries to offer a fair description of what the word describes: “I personally like the term “Great Awokening,” which evokes the new progressivism’s roots in Protestantism — but obviously secular progressives find it condescending. I appreciate how the British writer Dan Hitchens acknowledges the difficulty of definitions by calling the new left-wing politics “the Thing” — but that’s unlikely to catch on with true believing Thingitarians. So let me try a different exercise — instead of a pithy term or definition, let me write a sketch of the “woke” worldview, elaborating its internal logic as if I myself believed in it. (To the incautious reader: These are not my actual beliefs.)”
DeSantis Embraces Isolationism
In a March 15th editorial, the Wall Street Journal took Ron DeSantis to task for suggesting that the U.S. had no national interest in supporting Ukraine: “But he may regret describing the war in Ukraine as a mere “territorial dispute.” This is flirting with GOP isolationism that has emerged from time to time in history and has usually been an electoral cul-de-sac. The party’s isolationism in the 1930s consigned it to decades in the wilderness, and that naivete was on national display when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The electoral stigma wasn’t removed until Dwight Eisenhower, the victor of D-Day, rescued the GOP from Republican Robert Taft’s unwillingness to support the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”
Does Urban Decline Mean Democratic Party Decline?
In a March 15th piece, New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall writes about the retreat from major metro areas by high-earners. That started around 2015, accelerated during the pandemic and has continued. He writes: “If left unchecked, this process would result in a municipal fiscal crisis. N.Y.C. experienced such a crisis in the 1970s, Detroit more recently. Such a development would be a tragedy. Politically, it would be devastating for the Democratic Party, which already faces voter anger over manifestations of urban dysfunction: homeless encampments, rising homicide rates, rampant crime and a sense of disorder on city streets and in city schools.”
Can You Do Well By Doing “Good”?
A common argument on the hard-left is that companies should pursue progressive policies in part because they produce greater profits. A smaller number of companies try to pander to the hard-right. In a March 10th article in the Wall Street Journal, Mike Edleson and and Andy Puzder put that theory to the test: “The results are compelling. The market was down overall (from the last half of 2021 to early 2023), by 1.8% for the S&P 500 and 3.2% for the Russell 1000. ESG (environment, social and governance) funds performed worse, with most losing 2.5% to 6.3%. A simple index composed of only neutral companies gained 2.9%, significantly outperforming both broad-market and ESG indexes in up and down markets. Notably, the benchmarks include the outperforming neutral companies—indicating that the politically active companies further underperformed.”
The Plight of Men
In a March 10th conversation in the New York Times with author Richard Reeves, Ezra Klein felt it necessary to explain himself for taking up the issue of the plight of men and boys: “I often think in politics you face this implicit sense that compassion or concern is zero sum, that to care about one group or one issue (in this case, men) is to care less about another (in this case, women). I just don’t believe that. I actually think there’s evidence this is not true. But compassion, it’s not measured out in teaspoons from a cup. It’s quite the opposite. I think it’s much more of a habit, something we get better at, something we have more capacity for the more we practice it.”
Why are Liberals So Unhappy?
In a March 9th oped in the New York Times, David Brooks tries to understand why studies show that liberals are much less happy than conservatives. He has three theories. Liberals tend to over-react, to see every bad thing as not just bad, but as the end of the world. Second, liberal culture demands maximum denunciation of the other side. You are not allowed to see, much less say, anything good about Ron DeSantis, for example. And finally, liberals are over-sensitive: “This was the sense many people had that they were constantly being assaulted by offensive and unsafe speech, the concerns that led to safe spaces, trigger warnings, cancellations, etc. But, as Jill Filipovic argued recently on her own Substack: “I am increasingly convinced that there are tremendously negative long-term consequences, especially to young people, coming from this reliance on the language of harm and accusations that things one finds offensive are ‘deeply problematic’ or even violent. Just about everything researchers understand about resilience and mental well-being suggests that people who feel like they are the chief architects of their own life” are “vastly better off than people whose default position is victimization.”
Speak Rural To Me
In an opinion piece in the March 9th New York Times, David Firestone wrote about new Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, who won a rural seat in Washington state: “She didn’t win her nail-biter of a race in a conservative district with a typical Democratic appeal. To court rural and working-class voters who had supported a Republican in the district since 2011, she had to speak to them in a way that her party’s left wing usually does not — to acknowledge their economic fears, their sense of being left out of the political conversation, their disdain for ideological posturing from both sides of the spectrum.”
Not Oscar Material
In a March 7th review of the film Tar, Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley writes: “The world depicted in “Tár” is one of left-wing elites engaging largely with their peers. They all listen to National Public Radio, read the New Yorker and seek validation in the pages of the New York Times. The film amounts to a fascinating dramatization of liberals eating their own. The villains aren’t political conservatives so much as fellow liberals who are further left and find the Lydias among them insufficiently progressive. To its credit, however, the movie never devolves into a preachy polemic. It gives this complicated subject matter the nuanced treatment it deserves.”
Send College Students to Prison
In a March 5th guest column in the Wall Street Journal Brooke Allen writes about her experiences teaching in a maximum security prison. “In many ways, it is the Platonic ideal of teaching, what teaching once was. No faculty meetings, no soul-deadening committee work, no bloated and overbearing administration. No electronics, no students whining about grades. Quite a few of our students are serving life sentences and will never be able to make use of their hard-won college credits. No student debt, no ideological intolerance, no religious tests—whoops, I mean mandatory “diversity” statements. And in our courteous, laughter-filled classroom there is none of the “toxic environment” that my friends in the academy complain about, and that I experienced during my own college teaching career.”
In a February 22nd post in the New York Times Thomas B. Edsall quotes academic Michael Podhorzer’s analyses:“Throughout the first half of the 20th century,” he writes in his class reversal essay, “Democrats were solidly the party of the bottom of the income distribution, and Republicans were solidly the party of the top half of the income distribution.” In 1958, Podhorzer points out, “more than half of the members of the Democratic caucus represented the two least affluent quintiles of districts. Today, that is nearly the case for members of the Republican caucus.”
In a February 6th piece in the Wall Street Journal William Schambra and Bob Woodson write that Black history has taken on an emphasis on victimhood when there are many inspiring stories of Black agency. “To build an even better future, we must reckon with our past failures but also learn from and build on our past successes. Take as an example the Underground Railroad in Ohio. It was organized by three black barbers and had nearly as many “operators” as all other states combined—more than 1,500 active workers during its estimated peak. This staggering figure is best approached as a minimum, since hundreds more contributed to the cause of emancipation without ever being positively identified or named by historians. But though they’ve been forgotten, and the history of their cause ignored by today’s activists, these workers aided the cause of liberty far more than today’s loudest protesters could ever dream to.”
On February 3rd the Wall Street Journal ran a lengthy interview with columnist George Will. Here’s one of the more interesting passages: “Progressives really do think, he says, that “consciousness is to be transmitted by the government. And they’re working on it, starting with kindergarten. The academic culture, from the Harvard graduate school of education to kindergarten in Flagstaff, Ariz., is the same now, coast to coast, as far as I can tell.” A core mission of K-12 education, in the progressive view of things, is to inculcate the values of diversity and equity. This Marxian project of consciousness-formation is “all over the country now,” he says. “Think of the DEI statements you’re supposed to make. It’s the threshold step in being considered for a faculty position. You express support for, enthusiastic support for, a political agenda. It’s quite explicit.””
Detonating the Linguistic Landmines
New York Times columnist Pamela Paul wrote a clever piece on February 3rd in which she weaved in 45 commonly used words that would have been banned by Stanford University. Here’s a sample. The words in bold are, apparently, deemed offensive. “Yet when in life is it more appropriate for people to take risks than in college — to test out ideas and encounter other points of view? College students should be encouraged to use their voices and colleges to let them be heard. It’s nearly impossible to do this while mastering speech codes, especially when the master lists employ a kind of tribal knowledge known only to their guru creators. A normal person of any age may have trouble submitting, let alone remembering that “African American” is not just discouraged but verboten, that he or she can’t refer to a professor’s “walk-in” hours or call for a brown bag lunch, powwow or stand-up meeting with their peers. “You can’t say that” should not be the common refrain.”
Readers Experiencing Irritation
Nicholas Kristof, in a February 1st New York Times column, laments the endless language games played by college-educated white liberals. “While this new terminology is meant to be inclusive, it bewilders and alienates millions of Americans. It creates an in-group of educated elites fluent in terms like BIPOC and A.A.P.I. and a larger out-group of baffled and offended voters, expanding the gulf between well-educated liberals and the 62 percent majority of Americans who lack a bachelor’s degree — which is why Republicans like Ron DeSantis have seized upon all things woke.”
The Uneasy Alliance
In a February 1st column in the New York Times Thomas Edsall writes about the new Democratic Party coalition made up of very liberal, college-educated, affluent whites and more moderate, less affluent Black voters. He quotes Harvard political science professor Ryan Enos: “My sense is that much of the college-educated liberal political rhetoric is focused on social signaling to satisfy their own psychological needs and improve their social standing with other college-educated liberals, rather than policies that would actually reduce racial gaps in economic well-being, civil rights protections and other quality of life issues.”
In Defense of Going Slow
A February 1st post in Persuasion by authors Greg Berman and Aubrey Fox makes the case for gradualism. “There are numerous advantages to gradual reform, in contrast to utopianism and comprehensive planning. Instead of pursuing broad, revolutionary change in a single master stroke, incrementalism focuses on addressing concrete problems in a piecemeal fashion. Following the scientific method, incremental reform allows for new ideas to be tested, evaluated, and honed over time. Crucially, gradualists know how little they know. Anyone trying to understand a given problem these days is necessarily missing crucial information because there is simply too much information to process effectively. Gradualists acknowledge that, inevitably, errors happen. Building on this insight, an iterative, incremental process allows for each successive generation of reformers to learn from, and improve upon, their predecessors’ efforts.”
The Late, Great Hitchens
In a January 27th post Persuasion contributor Matt Johnson writes about the apostasy of Christopher Hitchens. “He also opposed identity politics, because he didn’t think our social and civic lives should be reduced to rigid categories based on melanin, X chromosomes, and sexuality. He recognized that the Enlightenment values of individual rights, freedom of expression and conscience, humanism, pluralism, and democracy are universal—they provide the most stable, just, and rational foundation for any civil society, whether they’re observed in America or Europe or Iraq. And yes, he argued that these values are for export. Hitchens believed in universal human rights.”
Wisconsin at the Center
In a January 25th story a New York Times reporter starts with this lede: “In 10 weeks, Wisconsin will hold an election that carries bigger policy stakes than any other contest in America in 2023.” Reid Epstein, a former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter, writes that our Supreme Court race has already earned national attention and that interest groups will pour cash into the campaigns easily making it the most expensive state court race anywhere on record.
The DEI Scam
In a January 17th guest column in the New York Times, author Jesse Stingl makes the case that most corporate diversity, equity and inclusion trainings, now a $3.5 billion industry, cause more harm than good. “D.E.I. trainings are designed to help organizations become more welcoming to members of traditionally marginalized groups. Advocates make bold promises: Diversity workshops can foster better intergroup relations, improve the retention of minority employees, close recruitment gaps and so on. The only problem? There’s little evidence that many of these initiatives work. And the specific type of diversity training that is currently in vogue — mandatory trainings that blame dominant groups for D.E.I. problems — may well have a net-negative effect on the outcomes managers claim to care about.”
The Reasons For Reason
In a recent article in Persuasion Steven Pinker writes: “Here’s another candidate for a mythology zone: the sacred creeds of academic and intellectual elites. These include the belief that we are born blank slates, that sex is a social construction, that every difference in the social statistics of ethnic groups is caused by racism, that the source of all problems in the developing world is European and American imperialism, and that repressed abuse and trauma are ubiquitous. Many observers have been taken aback by the repression of dissent from these beliefs in contemporary universities—the deplatformings, the cancelings, the heckler’s vetoes, the defenestrations, the multi-signatory denunciations, the memory-holing of journal articles. Universities, after all, are supposed to be the place in which propositions are interrogated and challenged and complexified and deconstructed, not criminalized. Yet these beliefs are treated not as empirical hypotheses but as axioms that decent members of the community may not challenge.”
Rise of the Independents
According to a recent story on Gallup’s website more Americans then ever describe themselves as independent. “When Gallup began conducting its interviews exclusively by telephone in 1988, there were similar proportions of Democrats, Republicans and independents in the U.S. In the early 1990s, independents began to outnumber Republicans and Democrats, but that advantage faded in the early 2000s. However, since 2009, independent identification has grown and reached levels not seen before. Now, political independents (41%) greatly outnumber Republican (28%) and Democratic (28%) identifiers.”
A Real Debate
In a January 13th Wall Street Journal guest column Harvard Professor James Hankins had a suggestion for how House Republicans could address real issues beyond their obviously partisan investigations. “I don’t mean that members of the House should themselves debate these questions. Anybody who has watched congressmen “debate” before cameras in empty chambers knows that such an exercise would have no effect. I mean that the House should sponsor in its own chamber formal evening debates, Oxford Union style, on questions of public concern such as “What should be done about climate change?” or “How can government best support the middle and lower classes?” or “How can government strengthen the family?” or “Should government regulate social media, and if so, how?””
The Dignity of Reticence
In a January 12th column in the Wall Street Journal Peggy Noonan makes a thoughtful observation about Prince Harry and his eagerness to tell “his truth”.
“Once there was a reigning personal style of public reticence about private pain. You didn’t share it with everybody, and you didn’t use it for advantage or as a weapon: I have known pain, you must bow before me. The forces of modernity have washed away the old boundary between public and private. It isn’t good. It’s making us less human even as we claim to be more sensitive.”
What’s a Moderate Republican To Do?
In a January 11th conversation in the New York Times center-right columnists and disaffected Republicans David Brooks and Bret Stephens discuss the future of the party. It’s filled with interesting observations. Here’s one from Brooks: “Values, identity and social status issues will be more salient. I think the core driver of politics across the Western democracies is this: In society after society, highly educated professionals have formed a Brahmin class. The top of the ladder go to competitive colleges, marry each other, send their kids to elite schools and live in the same neighborhoods. This class dominates the media, the academy, Hollywood, tech and the corporate sector. Many people on the middle and bottom have risen up to say, we don’t want to be ruled by those guys. To hell with their economic, cultural and political power. We’ll vote for anybody who can smash their machine. The Republican Party is the party of this protest movement.”
It’s An Upside Down World
In a January 9th post, Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Baker wrote about how the parties have switched roles. “Not very long ago, college-educated professionals voted for Republicans in vast numbers, while blue-collar workers picked Democrats. Now a college degree is the most reliable indicator of Democratic preference; the proletariat is dependably Republican. Liberals used to be passionate defenders of free speech; now progressives seek to shut down dissent wherever they find it. The left once regarded domestic intelligence agencies as a threat to democracy and individual freedom; now they embrace them as essential weapons against their domestic adversaries, whom they accuse of “misinformation” and “sedition.” Democrats were traditionally suspicious of and hostile to big business. Now, on issue after issue—climate alarmism, “diversity,” the virtues of a borderless world—they are tightly aligned.”
What’s Better Left Unsaid
In a January 7th column in the New York Times Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan’s daughter, had some thoughtful observations about Prince Harry’s tell all book. She thinks it was a mistake for him to tell it all: “Of course, people generally don’t respond well to being embarrassed and exposed in public. And in the ensuing years, I’ve learned something about truth: It’s way more complicated than it seems when we’re young. There isn’t just one truth, our truth — the other people who inhabit our story have their truths as well.”
Column of the Year?
In what has to be a leading candidate for my essay of the year, Wall Street Journal editorial writer Barton Swaim nailed it on December 9th when he wrote: “That one party is the educated party—that its members see themselves, in some respects accurately, as more cultured and informed than their opponents—has generated an intellectual pathology that is obvious to everyone but themselves. Adherents of the smart-people party have lost the capacity for self-criticism. Which on its face makes sense. If your views are by definition intelligent, those of your critics must be dumb. Who needs self-reflection?” And he goes on to point out that conservatives can’t live in a conservative bubble. “The conservative voter who follows nothing but right-wing accounts on social media still sees CNN as a captive audience at airports. He advises his college-age children as they negotiate campus environments in which they’re expected to state their “pronouns” and declare themselves “allies” of the “LGBTQ2SIA+ community.” However scornful of left-wing opinion he may be, his employer still subjects him to diversity training. He attends a concert by the local symphony orchestra and has to listen to a four-minute lecture about systemic racism or climate change before the music starts. He can’t watch a pro football game without enduring little pronouncements of wokeness. The right-winger may get 100% of his news from Republican-leaning news sites but still has to be vigilant as his 5-year-old browses the children’s section of the local public library.”
A Welcome Look at Complexity
An AP story that appeared in the December 1st edition of the Wisconsin State Journal examined the contradictions and complexities of the far right. To quote the story: “He’s a complicated man. While even he admits he might accurately be called a right-wing extremist, he calls peaceful Black protesters “righteous” for taking to the streets after Floyd’s murder. He doubts there was fraud in the midterm elections. He drives a Tesla. He loves AC/DC and makes his own organic yogurt. In an area where Islam is sometimes viewed with open hostility, he’s a conservative Christian who says he’d back the area’s small Muslim community if they wanted to open a mosque here.”
It’s Not Working
Despite their continued emphasis on race-resentment politics, Democrats continue to lose market share with voters of color. As Jason Riley reported in a November 15th piece in the Wall Street Journal, “According to exit polls, every major racial and ethnic minority group voted more Republican this year than in 2018. Compared with four years ago, “Hispanic and Asian support for the GOP jumped 10 and 17 points respectively, while Black voters shifted about 4 points to the right,” Politico reports. Among black and Hispanic men, Republican gains in recent elections have been even more pronounced.”
In a November 10th column David Brooks makes a case that the populist fever has broken. “Performative populism has begun to ebb. Twitter doesn’t have the hold on the media class it had two years ago. Peak wokeness has passed. There seem to be fewer cancellations recently, and less intellectual intimidation. I was a skeptic of the Jan. 6 committee at first, but I now recognize it’s played an important cultural role. That committee forced America to look into the abyss, to see the nihilistic violence that lay at the heart of Trumpian populism.”
More Evidence As If It Were Needed
One of our recurring themes is the growing rift between affluent, mostly white liberal Democrats and everybody else, including other Democrats. In a November 5th editorial the Wall Street Journal offered still more evidence of that, this time on crime. They refer here to a recent Pew Research poll. “The kicker is the huge racial disconnect in the Democratic Party. As Pew puts it, “Differences by race are especially pronounced among Democratic registered voters. While 82% of Black Democratic voters say violent crime is very important to their vote this year, only a third of White Democratic voters say the same.””
A Little Balance Would Be Good
In a November 3rd editorial, the Wall Street Journal made a valid point about Pres. Joe Biden’s speech the other night on the threats to democracy. His speech would have been more effective if he had pointed out statements by his fellow Democrats that have also contributed to an erosion of faith in our democracy. The Journal skirts on the edge of false equivalency here, but its point is well-taken.
The Educational Divide
In a November 3rd post, New York Times columnist David Brooks writes again, but especially powerfully this time, about the chasm that has opened between college educated and non-college Americans. “America has riven itself into two different cultures. It’s very hard for the party based in one culture to reach out and win voters in the other culture — or even to understand what people in the other culture are thinking.”
Wall Street Journal columnist William Galston posted a piece on November 1st discussing a poll that found almost half of American voters looking for something between the two major parties. But the poll showed that there are lot more searching Democrats than Republicans. “The PRRI-Brookings survey makes clear that a center option is more attractive to Democrats than to Republicans. This makes sense: Fully half of Democrats identify as moderate or conservative, while just one quarter of Republicans call themselves moderate or liberal. If an independent candidacy doesn’t win outright in 2024 but draws more support from Democrats than Republicans, it could end up returning Donald Trump to the Oval Office.”
Overplaying Their Hand on Abortion
A key paragraph from a November 1st New York Times story on close gubernatorial races: ““It’s really weird that a lot of the Democrats are so worried about abortion and they’re not worried about anything else, like the economy or the border or the prices of prescriptions,” said Melanie Long, 46, of Kingman, Ariz. She said that she had an abortion when she was 17 and would like the procedure to remain legal early in pregnancies but that she planned to vote a straight Republican ticket.”
Keeping the Wave Behind the Levee
In an October 26th essay, New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall offers three reasons why Democrats may lose in November but not be swamped by a red wave. First, there’s polarization. Democrats will stick with Democrats regardless of the latest news on inflation or crime. Republicans wouldn’t vote for a Democrat even in the best of times. Second, he offers gerrymandering. Each party has locked in their seats in states they control. There just aren’t many competitive House seats to swing one way or the other. And, finally, there’s education. College educated voters tend to over-perform in off year elections and they are overwhelmingly Democratic.
How Does This End?
In an October 26th New York Times column, Ross Douthat imagines an eventual truce in the culture wars. Along the way he offers an analysis of how each side tries to use what should be universal classical liberal values to its own advantage. “There is a well-traveled online quotation that encapsulates the suspicions involved here, formulated by a composer named Frank Wilhoit commenting on a political-science blog in 2018. To quote Wilhoit, what social conservatives fear is that progressivism in power “consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.” In other words, under progressive rule, abortion clinics get the law’s protection while racial-justice protesters aren’t bound by its requirements; meanwhile religious conservatives get to fear F.B.I. agents on their doorsteps while crimes against their own institutions go conspicuously unsolved.”
Ross Douthat, in an October 22nd column, lists Joe Biden’s tactical mistakes which have placed his party in peril of slaughter in November. Douthat’s point is that Biden has found himself — or allowed himself to become — captured by his party’s activist hard-left. “Part of Biden’s appeal as a candidate was his longstanding record as a social moderate — an old-school, center-left Catholic rather than a zealous progressive. His presidency has offered multiple opportunities to actually inhabit the moderate persona. On transgender issues, for instance, the increasing qualms of European countries about puberty blockers offered potential cover for Biden to call for greater caution around the use of medical interventions for gender-dysphoric teenagers. Instead, his White House has chosen to effectively deny that any real debate exists, positioning the administration to the left of Sweden.”
In an October 21st post, New York Times center-right columnist Ross Douthat offers several observations about the state of liberal democracy, among them: “This liberal order, even in decay, is unlikely to be simply defeated by an external rival, because no international alternative to liberal-democratic politics currently enjoys the requisite mixture of legitimacy, competence and dynamism. There is more divergence in the world’s power centers than might have been expected 20 years ago, more resurfacing of civilizational distinctives, more cracks in the Pax Americana. But there is also a convergence in decadence — slowing growth even in the world’s rising powers, declining fertility in most places and serious blundering by the regimes in Moscow and Beijing. The world is multipolar but it is not yet postliberal, because no clearly superior technique for mastering the currents of modernity has yet surfaced — not in Russia or China, not under Islamism or Bolsonarismo or Hindutva.”
Our Own Worst Enemies
In an October 21st guest essay in the New York Times, Alec MacGillis dissects the Ohio Senate campaign of Democrat Tim Ryan. He concludes that Ryan is running exactly the campaign that could win Midwestern states and districts back for Democrats, but he’s swimming upstream of trends in his own party. For example, MacGillis reports that when Ryan took on Chinese manufacturing advantages in a TV ad he was assailed by Asian Americans, but when his opponent, Republican J.D. Vance, did the same thing with much more crude language, he didn’t get the same criticism. Ryan’s attack was clearly directly at the Chinese government and not at the Chinese people much less Asian Americans, but it points up the hyper-sensitivity to identity on the America left.
Why Democrats are Fading Fast
In an October 20th piece, New York Times columnist David Brooks offers a half dozen convincing reasons for the Democrats’ nosedive this autumn. His final reason: “The Republicans may just have a clearer narrative. The Trumpified G.O.P. deserves to be a marginalized and disgraced force in American life. But I’ve been watching the campaign speeches by people like Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for governor in Arizona. G.O.P. candidates are telling a very clear class/culture/status war narrative in which common-sense Americans are being assaulted by elite progressives who let the homeless take over the streets, teach sex ed to 5-year-olds, manufacture fake news, run woke corporations, open the border and refuse to do anything about fentanyl deaths and the sorts of things that affect regular people. In other words, candidates like Lake wrap a dozen different issues into one coherent class war story. And it seems to be working. In late July she was trailing her opponent by seven points. Now she’s up by about half a point.”
Why Hispanics Are Moving to the GOP
In an October 19th piece in the Wall Street Journal, former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm writes about the reasons that Democrats are losing support among Hispanics. “Like the Germans, Italians and Greeks before them, many second-and third- generation don’t speak the language of their forbears. In the past 50 years, median income for Hispanic households has grown 17% faster than for the population as a whole. Today Hispanics, in their labor-force participation and income distribution, look more like Republicans than Democrats. And a strong case can be made that the same forces driving the political realignment of middle-income workers generally is increasingly moving Hispanic voters as well.”
This is What Disaster Looks Like
In an October 14th column in the Washington Post, George Will reports that veteran Washington State Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is in a close race in a state that went for Joe Biden by 19 points. If she loses it will likely cap a night that will have already have been a bloodbath for her party. Don’t rule it out.
Are Democrats Losing Latinos?
In his October 12th essay in the New York Times Thomas B. Edsall tries to parse out the complicated Hispanic vote. That group has been moving toward the Republicans, but it’s not clear if that movement will be sustained. Hispanics have been held in the Democrats’ orbit by identity and tradition. But as they become more affluent and move further from their immigrant roots, policy and value differences with the Democrats may accelerate their movement toward the GOP. He quotes one researcher: “Democrats commonly categorize Latinos as people of color, no doubt partly because progressive Latinos see the group that way and encourage others to do so as well. Certainly, we both once took that perspective for granted. Yet in our survey, only one in four Hispanics saw the group as people of color. In contrast, the majority rejected this designation. They preferred to see Hispanics as a group integrating into the American mainstream, one not overly bound by racial constraints but instead able to get ahead through hard work.”
The Virtues of Liberalism
In an October 11th column Wall Street Journal editor Gerald Baker discusses the virtues and pitfalls of an open society. “But setting aside the moral case for liberty, its essential practical virtue has always been accountability. When you can audit, scrutinize, interrogate and ultimately remove the people who govern you, history and logic tells us you should get better government. Exposing failure and venality and punishing it creates incentives for success and probity.”
In So Many Words
In his October 5th New York Times column Thomas B. Edsall provides an especially pithy explanation of what’s going on with blue collar voters. “Case and Deaton (two researchers) contend that the ballots cast for Donald Trump by members of the white working class “are surely not for a president who will dismantle safety nets but against a Democratic Party that represents an alliance between minorities — whom working-class whites see as displacing them and challenging their once solid if unperceived privilege — and an educated elite that has benefited from globalization and from a soaring stock market, which was fueled by the rising profitability of those same firms that were increasingly denying jobs to the working class.””
A September 18th story in the New York Times highlights one of the pitfalls of the plan to forgive college debt: for-profit colleges and their high pressure sales tactics. “By offering more-generous educational subsidies, the government may be creating a perverse incentive for both schools and borrowers, who could begin to pay even less attention to the actual price tag of their education — and taxpayers could be left footing more of the bill. “If people are taking out the same or more amount of debt and repaying less of it, then it’s just taxpayers bearing the brunt of it,” said Daniel Zibel, the chief counsel at the National Student Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group.”
We Didn’t Mean That Kind of Diversity
In a September 17th column, New York Times commentator Pamela Paul wrote that the new British government is made up of an inner circle that for the first time in history contains not a single white male. This is not good enough for the left because they are all conservatives. “A similar diversity of political opinion among minorities exists in the United States, and it bewilders the left. An increasing number of Latinos are running as and voting for Republican candidates. Donald Trump got more votes from ethnic minorities in 2020 than he did in 2016. Black men’s support for Trump increased by six percentage points the second time around. And that was after the murder of George Floyd, an event assumed to have galvanized many minority voters on the left.”
Summing It All Up
In an excellent, if lengthy, piece in the September 17th New York Times, David Leonhardt sums up the many threats to American democracy. “The makeup of the federal government reflects public opinion less closely than it once did. And the chance of a true constitutional crisis — in which the rightful winner of an election cannot take office — has risen substantially. That combination shows that American democracy has never faced a threat quite like the current one.”
On the Merits
In a guest essay in the New York Times, Asra Nomani, who immigrated from India as a four-year old and became a successful academic, wrote: “Merit should never have become a battlefront in the culture wars. I understand the impulse to declare the system rigged when so many children, particularly Black and Hispanic children, have fallen behind academically. But the answer to racial disparities in math and reading scores and advanced academic enrollment is not to blame the game and rerig it to favor outcomes that please certain political constituencies but do little to make life better for struggling children. The solution is to channel more resources into disenfranchised communities — from the Black urban poor to the white rural poor in West Virginia, where I grew up. The solution is not to give up on merit.”
In a September 1st piece, New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about group called No Labels, which has launched a sophisticated effort to nominate centrist candidates for president and vice president if the two major parties nominate extremists.
Buying Votes With Loan Forgiveness
In a column that appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on September 1st Jonah Goldberg slams Pres. Joe Biden’s college loan forgiveness program. “The Democratic Party, having only recently disabused itself of the idea it can simply ride the demographic growth of nonwhite voters to a permanent majority, now sees its future as the party of the college educated, including white college graduates, who’ve emerged as an indispensable bloc for Democrats. That’s why progressives talk about young people the same way they talk about women and minorities — as if simple membership in one category compels partisan allegiance. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for instance, has claimed that the “entire” millennial generation is saddled with a “lifetime of debt for the ‘crime’ of doing the right thing.” This is populist claptrap, a crude attempt to fuel generational warfare.”
Is History History?
In an August 30th piece, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens weighs in on the mini-controversy involving UW historian and president of the American Historical Association, who tried to make the case against “presentism” in his profession.
Objective Journalism Advances
An August 26th AP story reports on the move by CNN to shed its liberal image and move back toward objective journalism. We can only hope that they are successful in the marketplace, demonstrating that there is an audience for straight-ahead reporting.
In an August 26th oped in the Wisconsin State Journal Boston College Prof. David Hopkins claims that moderates, while a shrinking group on both sides of the aisle, are more powerful than ever.
Progress Upon Progress on Climate Change
In an August 17th essay in the New York Times, David Wallace Wells, who has written extensively on climate change, offers an optimistic take on the impacts of the Democrats’ $370 million climate plan. He sees it as accelerating changes that were already underway in the private sector. “But already today the United States has reduced emissions 20 percent from 2005 levels, and was projected to reduce them further even without the benefit of the (climate change bill). As recently as a few weeks ago, before the bill was revived, it might have felt like the United States was permanently stalled on climate action, but in fact the country was already moving to decarbonize, if not fast enough.”
Red Wave But a Ripple?
In an August 11th editorial the Wall Street Journal warns that results from Midwest primaries on Tuesday hold warning signs for the GOP this fall. “If Democratic Gov. Tony Evers can turn the race into a rehashing of Mr. Trump’s grievances, GOP swing voters might stay swung. Republican nominees will have the same problem in Arizona and Michigan.”
RoJo Race Gets National Take
In an August 7th column New York Times writer Michelle Cottle breaks down the Ron Johnson – Mandela Barnes matchup for national readers. “But the bigger, more existential question for Wisconsin voters remains: Do they want to spend another six years being repped by a conspiracy-peddling, vaccine-trashing, climate change-mocking, election-doubting, Social-Security-and-Medicare-threatening MAGA mad dog?”
Blue About Act Blue
If you’re like me you’re on every Democrat’s fundraising list. Getting tired of the endless, breathless demands for money? You’re not alone. Here’s part of a story on the subject from the August 1st New York Times: “National Democratic and progressive groups together burned through the surge of liberal organizing under Mr. Trump, treating impassioned newcomers like cash cows, gig workers and stamp machines to be exploited, not a grass-roots base to be tended. Worse, research by academics and political professionals alike suggests many of the tactics they pushed to engage voters proved ineffective.”
Censorship on Right and Left
In a column in the July 24th New York Times, Pamela Paul argues that censorship in the publishing industry has become rampant. “Over the course of his long career, John Sargent, who was chief executive of Macmillan until last year and is widely respected in the industry for his staunch defense of freedom of expression, witnessed the growing forces of censorship — outside the industry, with overt book-banning efforts on the political right, but also within the industry, through self-censorship and fear of public outcry from those on the far left. “It’s happening on both sides,” Sargent told me recently. “It’s just a different mechanism. On the right, it’s going through institutions and school boards, and on the left, it’s using social media as a tool of activism. It’s aggressively protesting to increase the pain threshold, until there’s censorship going the other way.” For those on the illiberal left to conduct their own campaigns of censorship while bemoaning the book-burning impulses of the right is to violate the core tenets of liberalism. We’re better than this.”
They’re Just Not That Into You
In a column posted in the July 21st Wisconsin State Journal Johan Goldberg makes the argument that Joe Biden is failing not because he’s not progressive enough, but because his party’s agenda is unpopular with American voters. “Obviously, if he were racking up more legislative wins, Biden would be less unpopular. But one of the primary reasons he’s failing is that his agenda, and his rhetoric, caters to a progressive base that speaks for a minority of voters… The harsh truth for progressives: most voters just aren’t that into you.”
Shut My Mouth
It was 50 years ago this week that George Carlin was arrested in Milwaukee for saying the “seven words you can’t say on TV” at his Summefest show. Wall Street Journal columnist Andy Kessler wrote a perceptive piece about it on July 17th. “Maybe Carlin’s gift to the world wasn’t identifying the hypocrisy of having words you can’t say on TV but pointing out that shutting down words or ideas or thoughts is destructive to a free society. He’d probably be aghast at the state of social-media censorship today. If the price of our freedom is that someone may take offense, Carlin surely would think that’s worth the cost. I’d agree.”
Going to a Better Place
On July 15th the Wall Street Journal reported that one of our favorite center-left thinkers, Ruy Teixeira, was moving from the liberal Center for American Progress to the more conservative American Enterprise Institute. The reason is the inability of CAP — and the same has been reported of other groups on the left — to function. Instead they’re caught up in internal angst over all kinds of identity politics issues that their young staff members obsess over.
Blue Collar Whites Aren’t One Thing
In recent elections Democrats have taken it on the chin for not understanding that “the Hispanic vote” isn’t a monolith. The same is true for blue collar voters. In an excellent June 24th piece in Politico, Lisa Pruitt explains the difference between working (“settled”) blue collar voters and “hard living” blue collars who live off government assistance. She suggests that the resentment employed blue collar people have against those who don’t work goes well beyond race. “Settled white workers tend to see themselves living a version of the American dream grounded primarily — if not entirely — in their own agency. They believe they can survive, even thrive, if they just work hard enough. And some of them are doing just that. Because they lean into the grit of the individual, they tend to downplay structural obstacles to their quest to make a living, e.g., poor schools and even crummy job markets, just as they downplay structural benefits. They also discount “white privilege” because giving skin color credit for what they have achieved devalues the significance of their work. This mindset is also the reason that when Obama said in 2012, “if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,” the remark landed so badly among the settled working class. They’re not accustomed to sharing credit for what they have — perhaps especially when they don’t have much.”
The Parties Aren’t Popular
Here’s an interesting observation from Jonah Goldberg’s June 23rd column: “There’s a reason more Americans identify as independents (42%) than as Republicans (28%) or Democrats (28%), and why 60% of voters now want a new major party to provide an alternative.” His point is that both parties misread elections as mandates for their most extreme positions when, in fact, voters are just picking the lesser of two evils.
It’s Been Bad Before, But Not This Bad
“Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of distress, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.” What would be the source of those horrors? The elevation of Thomas Jefferson to the presidency. That was an actual quote from supporters of his opponent, Pres. John Adams, as they fought to retain the job for him when the Electoral College was deadlocked and the election was thrown into the House. Columnist Steve Chapman recalls that event in a June 21st post and goes on to write that even then Adams peacefully surrendered the office when the House, after 36 ballots, went with Jefferson. The same can’t be said for Donald Trump.
Latino Voters Move Away From Democrats
In this Wall Street Journal video the paper’s demographics analyst describes how Latino voters shifted dramatically toward the GOP between 2016 and 2020 in both rural and urban areas. He says that Democratic positions on the economy, crime and social issues are driving Latino voters away and that Republicans have a chance to solidify themselves as the party of working class Americans, not just white blue collar voters.
What Can Be Done About Guns
In a May 30th oped in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin suggest a half-dozen modest, common sense and research-supported actions that could help reduce gun deaths. But even most of these mild approaches, like universal background checks and red flag laws, are opposed by the extremist gun lobby.
Understanding the Morality Wars
In a rambling and unnecessarily long May 20th piece that is still worth reading, New York Times columnist David Brooks tries to dissect the culture wars, which he suggests are rooted in different world views on morality. He nails it early on: “Many progressives have developed an inability to see how good and wise people could be on the other side, a lazy tendency to assume that anybody who’s not a social progressive must be a racist or a misogynist, a tendency to think the culture wars are merely a distraction Republican politicians kick up to divert attention from the real issues, like economics — as if the moral health of society was some trivial sideshow.”
Even the Times Opposes Student Debt Cancellation
In a May 14th editorial, the New York Times detailed why across the board student debt cancelation is a bad idea. “Canceling this debt, even in the limited amounts that the White House is considering, would set a bad precedent and do nothing to change the fact that future students will graduate with yet more debt — along with the blind hope of another, future amnesty. Such a move is legally dubious, economically unsound, politically fraught and educationally problematic.”
Transfer of Wealth to the Wealthy
From a story in the May 15th Wisconsin State Journal: “Data from the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that earnings are positively tied to levels of education and that the relationship holds for both rural and urban areas. Across the nation, regardless of the rural- urban breakdown, people with less than a high school degree earn a median of about $25,744 whereas those with a high school degree (or GED) earn a median of $31,548, an associate degree $35,664, bache-lor’s degree $47,529 and a graduate or professional degree earn $59,867. The increasing returns to higher education also play out differently in rural and urban areas. For example, the median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree in all nonmetropolitan counties across the U.S. is $44,579, below the return in metropolitan counties at $52,614. Thus, it looks like the education premium is stronger in urban areas than rural areas.” So, paying off student debt will be a massive transfer of wealth from the less-well-off to the better off and from rural areas to urban areas.
Will Dems Overplay Their Hand on Abortion?
In a May 10th oped in the Wall Street Journal, William Galston details the nuanced public opinion on abortion and fears that Democrats will message the issue only for the most extreme elements of their liberal base. “Forty-two percent of Democrats and 54% of liberals agree with the proposition that “abortion should always be legal” and that “there should be no restrictions on abortion,” a stance that three-quarters of Americans reject. When activists morphed the reasonable demand for criminal-justice reform into “Defund the police,” Democrats lost control of the issue. It could happen again. For Democrats, shifting the focus of the midterm elections away from inflation, crime, and immigration toward abortion and Republican extremism should be a no-brainer—if they can avoid becoming the party of abortion on demand.”
Dems Focus on Trivia
In a May 12th editorial, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch chastised Democrats for obsessing over politically correct language while Republicans aim at substance. “While Republicans savor their likely Roe v. Wade victory, the progressive left is doubling down on the small stuff, and therein lies the problem. They have muddled the English language with endless debate over which politically correct words to use — “homeless” or “unhoused”? — to the point that people now feel obligated to list pronoun preferences on their email signatures. Never mind the confusion of referring to a single individual as “they,” the relentless focus on Orwellian properspeak is alienating moderates and providing fuel for Republicans to mock the left mercilessly.”
Down on the Farm
In a May 2nd oped in the New York Times, Maine State Sen. Chloe Maxmin, a liberal Democrat, and her campaign manager detail how they won two races in a rural district. Their approach: expand the universe of voters you try to reach, talk values more than policy, compromise on some issues and, most importantly, listen. They write: “While (Democrats’ poor performance in rural America) ought to prompt real soul-searching within the party, some political scientists and many mainstream Democrats have taken them as proof not that their own strategies must change, but rather that rural Republicans are too ignorant to vote in their own best interest. It’s a counterproductive, condescending story that serves only to drive the wedge between Democrats and rural communities deeper yet.”
Even the Wall Street Journal Blasts Gableman
In a May 1st editorial, titled The Republican Plot to Lose Wisconsin in 2022, the Wall Street Journal took Wisconsin Republicans to task for continuing to question Joe Biden’s victory here in 2020. The Journal wrote: “Republicans have valid gripes about how the 2020 election was run. But it isn’t hard to figure out what flipped Wisconsin. Many voters, Republicans included, didn’t want four more years of Mr. Trump’s antics. In some suburban wards, 10.5% of Mr. Biden’s voters picked the GOP for Congress. This beats the evidence of vote fraud detected by everyone who has looked. Mr. Trump lost Wisconsin in 2020 on his own, and if Republicans keep chasing ghosts, he will also help them lose in 2022.”
The Magnificent Seven
In an April 29th post, New York Times columnist David Brooks identifies seven areas in which Democrats need to change their thinking: inflation, crime, education, immigration, identity politics, deficit spending and underlying values. He concludes: “The Democrats’ largest problem is this: We are living in an age of fear, insecurity and disorder on an array of fronts. The Republicans have traditionally been known as the party of toughness and order. Democrats are going to have to find a posture that is tough on disorder, and tough on the causes of disorder.”
In an April 26th column in the Wall Street Journal, Wm. Galston muses about prospects for a new centrist party in America, similar to what Emmanuel Macron has created in France. Galston details the unpopularity of both Joe Biden and Donald Trump and their parties and notes that 58% of Americans say they would vote for an independent centrist.
She Speaks the Truth
“I am so over Michael Gableman. He’s not right,” said state Sen. Kathy Bernier, a Lake Hallie Republican who leads the Senate Elections Committee. “I can speculate as to why he didn’t run for Supreme Court again (in 2018) and the speculation would be he’s incompetent, in my opinion,” she said. “You would never see that in a real investigator, that they go on to speculate on things. They deal with facts. He is an absolute joke.” Those comments came in an April 22nd Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story reporting on how Gableman used the personal appearance of an elections worker to speculate, without any further evidence, that she must be a Democrat.
Immigration Can’t Be Left to Fester
In an April 19th column in the Wall Street Journal, William Galston urges Joe Biden to take command of the warring factions in his own party and administration over immigration: “No one will solve this problem for Mr. Biden. He must take charge of his administration and make the tough calls. Endangered Democrats have done the political math and have concluded that the costs of inaction exceed the costs of angering progressive immigration activists. The president should stop looking for a no-cost way out of this morass and do what needs to be done.”
Recipe for Success
At the close of his April 16th column, New York Times contributor Ross Douthat offers the same prescription that we’ve been advocating here at YSDA since our inception. It’s worth a longer-than-usual quote: “To the extent that there’s a Democratic path back to greater parity in the Senate and Electoral College without structural reform, it probably requires the development of an explicit faction within the party dedicated to winning back two kinds of voters — culturally conservative Latinos and working-class whites — who were part of Barack Obama’s coalition but have drifted rightward since.
“That faction would have two missions: To hew to a poll-tested agenda on economic policy (not just the business-friendly agenda supported by many centrist Democrats) and to constantly find ways to distinguish itself from organized progressivism — the foundations, the activists, the academics — on cultural and social issues. And crucially, not in the tactical style favored by analysts like Shor, but in the language of principle: Rightward-drifting voters would need to know that this faction actually believes in its own moderation, its own attacks on progressive shibboleths, and that its members will remain a thorn in progressivism’s side even once they reach Washington.
“Right now the Democrats have scattered politicians, from West Virginia to New York City, who somewhat fit this mold. But they don’t have an agenda for them to coalesce around, a group of donors ready to fund them, a set of intellectuals ready to embrace them as their own.
“Necessity, however, is the mother of invention, and necessity may impose itself upon the Democratic Party soon enough.”
Save the Children
In an April 14th editorial, the Wisconsin State Journal calls on Congress to pass a stand alone bill reestablishing the expanded child tax credit, which expired at the beginning of the year. The State Journal advises Pres. Biden to work with Sen. Joe Manchin on a better focussed credit aimed at lower income households. The expired credit benefited families earning up to $400,000.
A Strange Tribe
The April 12th edition of the New York Times carried a verbatim report on a focus group of eight conservative men, a demographic group that the Times usually treats either as a hostile invading force or like a lost jungle tribe. When asked what they were proud of, here’s one member’s answers: “Christopher: Instilling values in my kids and seeing them live their lives not feeling like they’re victims. They’re not oppressed. They have a great work ethic. They have great character traits, all of them. I couldn’t think of a greater thing as a father and as a husband, knowing that we instilled that into our kids. Because that’s my idea of how society should be. They’re not self-entitled. They believe in the value of work and not this sense of victimization.” Christopher is a 51-year old Black man.
In an April 10th oped in the Wall Street Journal, David Bernstein writes about the need for balanced curricula in our schools: “Teaching multiple perspectives and the “1619” and “1776” versions of American history would be the best way to encourage open inquiry. Students could read Ibram X. Kendi’s bestseller “How to Be an Antiracist” alongside one of the many articles or books by writers like Messrs. Loury, McWhorter and Patterson. Kids would hear theories about “systems of oppression,” but they would also hear about the role that class and cultural differences play in disparity. In short, they would receive multiple narratives and explanations about why America is the way it is today and decide for themselves what to think and do about it. I want my kids to get a good education. That means exposing them to ideas that some on the right want banned and other ideas that some on the left actively demonize. That’s a true American education.”
Kinzinger Nails It
In a video posted on April 4th, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) calls to task his fellow Republicans for focussing on hot button culture wars issues while ignoring the Ukraine, the economy and other real world problems. Kinzinger, who voted to impeach Donald Trump and accepted an assignment on the House committee looking into the Insurrection, isn’t running again. It’s not so much that his voice was being heard much anyway, but his departure probably means that the GOP goes further down the rathole, if that were possible.
Another City Goes Sane
This piece posted on March 25th in the Wall Street Journal documents how Seattle has finally pulled back from the edge. New mayor Bruce Harrell has vowed to hire more cops, get the homeless to shelter off the streets and just generally make his city “less grumpy.”
How the Left is Killing Dems’ Chances
In a March 23rd piece in the New York Times, Thomas B. Edsall documents how hard-left positions have become welded to the image of the Democratic Party: “Ruy Teixeira, a co-editor of The Liberal Patriot, argues in an email that “the cultural left has managed to associate the Democratic Party with a series of views on crime, immigration, policing, free speech and, of course, race and gender that are quite far from those of the median voter. That’s a success for the cultural left, but the hard reality is that it’s an electoral liability for the Democratic Party.” Teixeira went on: “The current Democratic brand suffers from multiple deficiencies that make it somewhere between uncompelling and toxic to wide swaths of American voters who might potentially be their allies.””
Standing Up For Free Speech
In a March 18th editorial, the New York Times stood up for free speech. That may seem unremarkable until you remember that this is the same editorial page that sacked its own editor a couple of years ago simply for running a guest column by conservative Republican Sen. Tom Cotton. Anyway, better late than never. After lamenting the attacks on free speech, the paper asks: “How has this happened? In large part, it’s because the political left and the right are caught in a destructive loop of condemnation and recrimination around cancel culture. Many on the left refuse to acknowledge that cancel culture exists at all, believing that those who complain about it are offering cover for bigots to peddle hate speech. Many on the right, for all their braying about cancel culture, have embraced an even more extreme version of censoriousness as a bulwark against a rapidly changing society, with laws that would ban books, stifle teachers and discourage open discussion in classrooms.”
The Weakness of Autocracy
In a March 17th column, New York Times commentator David Brooks lists the weaknesses of autocracy, brought into focus by Vladimir Putin’s many miscalculations in his invasion of Ukraine.
Putin? Who’s Putin?
In a March 9th column in the Wall Street Journal, William Galstan takes Republicans and conservative commentators to task for their embarrassing groveling to Vladimir Putin before his brutal invasion of Ukraine. He writes: “(Tucker) Carlson had urged Mr. Putin’s critics to ask themselves: ‘Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he ever threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?’ I can think of a few other relevant questions Mr. Carlson might have posed: Did Mr. Putin ever throw his enemies in jail on trumped-up charges? Did he ever poison them? Did he ever crush the liberties of his people? Did he ever invade his neighbors? Did he ever level cities without regard for civilian populations? The answer to all these questions, of course, is yes. The answer was also yes years before the invasion of Ukraine.”
Speaking Up for Free Speech
On the March 7th New York Times opinion page, University of Virginia senior Emma Camp writes about the self-censorship she finds prevalent on her campus and others. She writes: “I went to college to learn from my professors and peers. I welcomed an environment that champions intellectual diversity and rigorous disagreement. Instead, my college experience has been defined by strict ideological conformity. Students of all political persuasions hold back — in class discussions, in friendly conversations, on social media — from saying what we really think. Even as a liberal who has attended abortion rights protests and written about standing up to racism, I sometimes feel afraid to fully speak my mind.”
Democrats Misread the Electorate
In a February 25th post in the Wall Street Journal, Elaine Kamarck and William Galston warn that the Democrats aren’t doing what is needed to win back some portion of blue collar voters. They write: “Yet beguiled by three comforting myths—that people of color think and vote alike, that economics trumps culture, and that a progressive majority is emerging—Democrats have failed to respond to the threat posed by the new Republican coalition.”
The Democratic Party’s Job #1
In an unusually insightful column even by his high standards, David Brooks laid out the fundamental problem for the Democrats in a February 25th post in the New York Times. He wrote: “So for the next three years Democrats need to wake up with one overriding political thought: What are we doing to appeal to all working-class voters in those five (key swing) states (including Wisconsin)? Are we doing anything today that might alienate these voters? Are the Democrats winning the contest for these voters right now? No.”
Far-Left Alienates Even the Left
In a February 23rd post in the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger writes that mainstream Democrats should have distanced themselves from the hard-left long ago, and now it’s too late for November. He writes: “The recall vote in San Francisco was a portent, summed up in this remark to the Washington Post by a recall organizer: “I’ve always thought of myself as a progressive—until now, recently, when I’m looking at this situation,” said Siva Raj. “I’m shocked—like, how can progressives be for something like this? This is not me. These are not the values that I buy anymore.””
A Gold Medal For Grim
Did you watch any of the winter Olympics? I didn’t, but one of our favorite columnists, Wall Street Journal writer and UW Madison grad Jason Gay, did. He reports in his February 18th piece that it was sad, grim and infuriating. Gosh, sorry we missed that. The Journal’s editorial had it right. “Let’s not do this again.. not in a police state.”
What the Heck Went Wrong?
The 1990’s seemed to promise the final victory of classical liberalism. Then the promise was broken. In a February 18th column, David Brooks explains what went wrong. Echoing Jonah Goldberg’s argument in Suicide of the West, Brooks argues that democracy is unnatural and requires constant work. He writes, “The real problem is in the seedbeds of democracy, the institutions that are supposed to mold a citizenry and make us qualified to practice democracy. To restore those seedbeds, we first have to relearn the wisdom of the founders: We are not as virtuous as we think we are. Americans are no better than anyone else. Democracy is not natural; it is an artificial accomplishment that takes enormous work.”
All three San Francisco school board members who were up for recall elections on Tuesday, February 15th, were trounced, losing by at least three-to-one. The issues were about their decision to keep schools closed, at the insistence of the teachers union, even while they took the time to rename four dozen schools for allegedly being named after racists or otherwise politically incorrect people. These people included George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and California’s own liberal senator and former SF mayor Dianne Feinstein. This in in the most liberal of cities where only 6% of the population is registered as Republican. For those who want to dismiss Democrats’ problems in the education realm, this should be a wake-up call.
Crime and the Democrats
In a February 15th post, center-left Wall Street Journal columnist William Galston writes about the bind Joe Biden is in between his supporters in police unions and hard-left activists. Galston writes: “After the civil disorder of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Democrats were tagged as antipolice and soft on crime, charges it took them decades to overcome. Now the party’s response to George Floyd’s murder has brought those charges back to center stage. Calls to reduce funding for police may have cost Democrats as many as 12 House seats in 2020, and a recent poll showed that only 36% of Americans approve of the way President Biden is handling crime.”
Should We Blame Bill Clinton?
In his usual, interesting Wednesday column in the New York Times, Thomas B. Edsall suggests that free trade, and specifically NAFTA which was championed by Pres. Bill Clinton, may be at the root of right-wing populism today. He writes: “Before NAFTA, the… Democratic Party support for protectionist policies had been the glue binding millions of white working-class voters to the party, overcoming the appeal of the Republican Party on racial and cultural issues. Democratic support for the free trade agreement effectively broke that bond.” Then Edsall quotes an academic researcher: “For many white Democrats in the 1980s, economic issues such as trade policy were key to their party loyalty because on social issues such as guns, affirmative action and abortion they sided with the G.O.P.”
McConnell Steps Up
Credit Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell for calling out the RNC for its ridiculous assertion that the Insurrection was just normal political discourse. According to a story in the February 8th New York Times, here’s what McConnell said: “We saw it happen. It was a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election, from one administration to the next. That’s what it was.”
The Practical Leftist
In the February 7th New York Times, Michelle Goldberg writes about the intellectual-activist Todd Gitlin, who died last week. Gitlin was a 1960’s student radical who became more pragmatic with time, and then suffered the same withering criticism he had visited upon his elders when he was young. “But there was a cost to needlessly alienating potential allies and fueling right-wing backlash,” she writes. “Gitlin argued for left-wing pragmatism because he wanted the left to succeed, even if some people on the left heard it as patronizing centrism. As he once wrote of Occupy Wall Street, “I worry with this movement, not just about it.””
Our Pronouns Ourselves
If you’re like me you may find yourself perplexed and vaguely annoyed by pronoun rituals without quite understanding where the discomfort originates. An evolutionary biologist takes a stab at defining the problem in an oped in the February 5th Wall Street Journal. “The effort to resist gender ideology is reality’s last stand,” writes Colin Wright. “We simply can’t ignore fundamental realities of our biology and expect positive outcomes for society. Pronoun rituals are extremely effective at normalizing and institutionalizing the abolition of biological sex in favor of gender identity. These rituals take advantage of people’s confusion and compassion to achieve compliance. But the time for politeness has long passed. The only proper response to the question “What are your pronouns?” is to reject the premise and refuse to answer.”
Diversity of Experience for the Court
In a February 1st post, New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie writes about what has been considered “qualified” for the Supreme Court throughout the nation’s history. He suggests that we’ve fallen into a pattern of defining qualifications too narrowly and only in terms of having graduated from the right law schools and having had experience as a Federal court judge. He writes: “It is something we’ve lost in our current norms regarding the court, where members come from a handful of the same law schools, have some of the same kinds of experience and largely avoid any public-facing political work before donning the robes of a Supreme Court justice.”
Dark Money Hypocrisy
Democrats have decried dark money — contributions made to shadowy nonprofit groups that spend freely on campaigns, but don’t need to disclose where their money is coming from. So, it’s kind of embarrassing when it turns out that dark money groups supporting Democrats have recently spent about twice as much as those backing Republicans, according to a January 30th story in the New York Times.
In a surprisingly sympathetic January 19th post, Wall Street Journal columnist and Republican strategist Karl Rove claims that things will get better for Pres. Joe Biden this year, though he says it will be too little and too late for the mid-terms. Here’s Rove’s take on what has gone wrong: “The problem is that Americans are generally not fond of transformation, except for a few exceptional moments in our history. This isn’t one of them. Most times, Americans like changes to be incremental and, if they’re really significant, approved by commanding congressional margins and strong bipartisan support. Mr. Biden had neither.”
The Way Back
In a January 19th column, Bret Stephens of the New York Times advises Pres. Joe Biden on how to recover from a less than stellar first year in office. His first recommendation is a senior staff shake up. “Why did the infrastructure bill languish for months in an intramural Democratic Party squabble?” he ask. “How did President Biden give his fire-breathing speech on voting rights in Georgia without first checking whether Kyrsten Sinema was going to cut him off at the knees? Why couldn’t the administration work out a deal with Joe Manchin on Build Back Better — and where was the political wisdom in having White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki publicly accuse him of breaking his word? Why has the president spent the year making overconfident predictions on everything from Afghanistan to migration to inflation? How was the coronavirus home test fiasco allowed to happen?”
Biden’s Disastrous Georgia Speech
In a January 13th column, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan took Pres. Joe Biden to task for his heavily partisan speech last week in support of his party’s voting rights bill. “The speech itself was aggressive, intemperate, not only offensive but meant to offend,” she wrote. “It seemed prepared by people who think there is only the Democratic Party in America, that’s it, everyone else is an outsider who can be disparaged. It was a mistake on so many levels.”
In a January 11th column for the Wall Street Journal, William Galston worries that elites with advanced degrees see themselves as not just better at their jobs, but as better people more deserving to lead. “Being better educated doesn’t make you a better person, nor does it qualify you to rule over those with less education. America’s founding creed teaches that all are created equal, not in talent, but in dignity and worth,” writes Galston.
Gender and Free Speech
In his January 12th column, Thomas B. Edsall discusses gender differences in American politics. Here’s one especially troubling conclusion for those of us who care deeply about free speech: “Male students (in a survey of college freshmen) preferred protecting free speech over an inclusive and diverse society by a decisive 61 to 39. Female students took the opposite position, favoring an inclusive, diverse society over free speech by 64 to 35.”
Fueling the Backlash
In his regular Wednesday offering on January 5th, New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall worries about a backlash fueled by a big increase in philanthropic giving to organizations that promote a leftist view toward race. Edsall writes “There are Democratic strategists who worry about unintended political consequences that could flow from this surge in philanthropic giving. Rob Stein, one of the founders of the Democracy Alliance, an organization of major donors on the left, argued in a phone interview that while most foundation spending is on programs that have widespread support, “when progressive philanthropists fund groups that promote extreme views like ‘defunding the police’ or that sanction ‘cancel culture,’ they are exacerbating intraparty conflict and stoking interparty backlash.” The danger, according to Stein, is that “some progressive politicians and funders are contributing to divisiveness within their ranks and giving fodder to the right.””
Setting Up For a Crisis
In a January 4, 2022 guest essay in the New York Times Noah Millman warns of the grave danger of Republicans stealing the 2024 presidential election. “Republican legislatures in several states have revised their election statutes to give themselves more authority over the conduct of elections in their states, reducing the authorities of state secretaries of state, governors and county election officials in the process. From the perspective of anyone who isn’t a Republican, those moves look like preparation to commit fraud and to do so with legal impunity.”
What’s Great About America
In a December 30th column in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan recounts the reflections of an immigrant from Jordan who takes inventory of the ten things he loves most about his new country. Freedom, lack of corruption, orderliness and a tolerance for the weird are on his list.
The Great Over Reach
In a December 28th column, Jonah Goldberg recounts the successes of the Biden administration, which doesn’t feel very successful because they failed in their over-ambitious Build Back Better agenda. Goldberg writes: “Biden is a victim of surely one of the worst messaging screw-ups in recent political history. He got $1.9 trillion in spending at the beginning of his presidency for COVID relief. He successfully managed to do what Trump couldn’t — pass a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, with bipartisan support. Over $3 trillion in spending — nearly twice the Obama stimulus and Obamacare price tags, combined — is plenty for your first year in office. Biden could have — and should have — declared victory and swiftly pivoted to centrist initiatives and rhetoric that would help Democrats hold on to moderates and independents in the 2022 midterms. Instead, he opted to pander to the slice of the Democratic base that opposed him in the primaries.”
Standing Up For Yourself
In a Christmas Eve post, columnist George Will makes the case for individualism, and argues that it will prevail against attacks from right and left. Will writes: “The impulse, presented as a moral imperative, to view the nation’s past and present exclusively through the narrow lens of race became in 2021 so pervasive and fierce that it resembled something perishable: a fad.”
In a December 19th oped in the Wall Street Journal, Charlotte Allen, who is Hispanic, takes on the trendy term “Lantinx.” Allen writes, “Actual Latinos shun the word “Latinx.” According to a November 2021 poll by Bendixen & Amandi International, only 2% of Americans of Latin descent refer to themselves that way. Some 68% prefer “Hispanic” to “Latino” and “Latina.” And 40% are offended by “Latinx,” which means it’s a mistake for a politician to use the word, at least around Latino constituents.”
The Streets of London (Breed)
San Francisco’s liberal mayor, London Breed, has had enough. According to a December 17th story in the New York Times: “Earlier this week, Ms. Breed acknowledged that many of her progressive constituents would push back on her efforts, but she said, “We can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” She said San Francisco was a compassionate place, one that prided itself on second chances. “But we are not a city where anything goes,” she said.”
Is Trump Fading?
In a December 15th piece, Never Trump Republican Jonah Goldberg makes the case that the former president is losing his hold on the party. “Trump still polls well among Republicans, but according to a Pew survey in October, about half don’t want to see him run again. In November, the Des Moines Register’s widely respected Iowa Poll found that 61% of Iowa Republicans said they are more aligned with the party than with Trump, while only 26% said they were more aligned with Trump than with the party.”
Without a Mandate
In a November 24th column in the Washington Post, George Will compares the sweeping agendas of three Democratic presidents and points out that FDR and LBJ worked from big electoral victories: “Biden’s agenda for swollen government resembles Franklin D. Roosevelt’s in 1933 and Lyndon B. Johnson’s in 1965. The stark differences are the popular-vote margins that put the three into the presidency: FDR, 17 percentage points; LBJ, 23 points; Biden, 4.5 points. So, in 1933, there were 59 Democratic senators (out of 96) and 313 Democratic representatives. In 1965, there were 68 Democratic senators and 295 Democratic representatives.” Biden’s Senate is 50-50 and Democrats hold the House majority by just three seats. And he goes on: “Today, according to David Shor, a Democratic consultant, “If you look inside the Democratic Party, there are three times more moderate or conservative nonwhite people than very liberal white people, but very liberal white people are infinitely more represented.””
They Need to Get Out More
Former Montana Sen. Steve Bullock wrote an oped in the December 3rd New York Times advising Democrats to get out of major metros and reconnect with rural voters. Too often he said, “The national Democratic brand (is typecast) as: coastal, overly educated, elitist, judgmental, socialist — a bundle of identity groups and interests lacking any shared principles. The problem isn’t the candidates we nominate. It’s the perception of the party we belong to.”
It’s the Economy, Democrats
In a December 2nd New York Times interview, Democratic pollster Brian Stryker warned Democrats that they’re being perceived by voters as captivated by social issues when their real concern is the economy: “The No. 1 issue for women right now is the economy, and the No. 1 issue for Black voters is the economy, and the No. 1 issue for Latino voters is the economy. I’m not advocating for us ignoring social issues, but when we think broadly about voters, they actually all want us talking about the economy and doing things to help them out economically.”
Crime and the Democrats
In a November 23rd post, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens keys off Sunday’s tragedy at the Waukesha holiday parade to warn Democrats that they’ve earned a soft on crime reputation that will haunt them. Stephens notes that the accused perpetrator had a long criminal record and was free on a small bail amount. He also writes about the mess in San Francisco where flash mobs recently ransacked stores. He concludes, “And who has been helped the most by all this, politically speaking? Donald Trump and his mini-mes. The country won’t be safe from them until a more serious Democratic Party can set itself free from ideas that embarrass it and endanger us all.”
Biden Is Taking on the Big Issues
In his November 18th column in the New York Times, David Brooks writes that, despite bad approval numbers, Joe Biden has been a success because he has addressed the big issue of our time: the growing imbalance in wealth and income. “Presidents are judged by history, not the distraction and exhaustion of the moment. Did the person in the Oval Office address the core problem of the moment? The Biden administration passes that test. Sure, there have been failures — the shameful Afghanistan withdrawal, failing to renounce the excesses of the cultural left. But this administration will be judged by whether it reduced inequality, spread opportunity, created the material basis for greater national unity. It is doing that.”
Republicans Hit New Low
After only two Republicans voted to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Heather Cox Richardson wrote this in her November 17th blog: “”Threatening and showing the killing of a member of this House,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said to the Republicans. “Can’t that appall you? Even that act? Do you have no shame?” Indeed, censuring Gosar should have been an easy vote for Republicans. He is a problematic colleague: he has embraced white nationalist and neo-Nazi culture, and six of his nine siblings have cut ads urging voters not to support him. (He retorted that they are “leftists” of whom “Stalin would be proud.”) One of his brothers said on television today: “My brother is unhinged. He needs to be more than censured. He needs to be expelled. And if it is determined that criminal charges need to be filed, then they need to be filed.””
How Inflation & CRT Are Similar
In his November 17th column, Jonah Goldberg argues that inflation and Critical Race Theory are both big problems for Democrats. They’re similar in that the Democrats didn’t invent either, but they’re still being tagged with them. And their attempts to say that neither problem is real only make things worse. “Trying to talk people out of their concerns only makes them angrier,” he writes. “Whether the Virginia schools were technically teaching CRT misses the point. Parents, exposed to what their kids were learning to an unprecedented degree thanks to COVID-related school closures, knew they didn’t like what they were seeing. The label was incidental and attempts to tell parents they didn’t know what they were talking about came across as condescending.”
In his November 17th column, Thomas B. Edsall explores just how bad Democratic losses are likely to be in next year’s mid-term elections. Since WW II the average loss in House seats for the party that controls the White House is 27. Most observers think the Democrats will be lucky if they get away with that. Edsall writes, “Mark Wattenber, of the University of California – Irvine, cited data from the General Social Survey showing a sharp rise in the percentage of Democrats describing themselves as liberal or slightly liberal, up from 47 percent in 2016 to 62 percent this year: “The left-wing movement of the Democrats is probably going to hurt with the 2022 electorate that will likely be skewed toward older more conservative voters.”
Dems Can’t Hide From CRT
In a November 11th post, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan calls on moderate Democrats to speak out clearly against Critical Race Theory. “Back to the Democrats. This ideology is of the left. You are the party of the left, not the right. If you do not kick away from the woke educational agenda you will own it. Republican operatives who don’t have a clue about the implications of woke ideology, or why it is so damaging, or how to answer it in the schools, will deftly hang it around your neck. Parents will demand you take a stand, for or against, and if against what will you do about it—tell the unions that fund and support you to knock it off? Do that. You’ll look like you have some seriousness, some guts. You’ll look like you care about parents. And it would actually be sincere: I’ve never, ever met a moderate Democrat who personally approved of the woke education regime.”
Dems Need to Come Back to Center
Left-center columnist and Democrat William Galston wrote an incisive piece in the November 9th Wall Street Journal: “The bottom line: It is time for Democrats to get serious about the problems they have created for themselves in their decadeslong drift toward a cultural progressivism that repels the voters they need to build a national majority.”
Listen to Black People on Policing
In a November 9th guest column in the New York Times, Nekima Levy Armstrong, a Minneapolis civil rights lawyer, explains why she joined most other Black residents in voting down a referendum that would have dismantled the police department there. “The proposal would have almost certainly created a cascade of unintended consequences that would have harmed Black residents by reducing the number of police officers and the quality of oversight without creating an effective alternative. Supporters of the measure held no public hearings about it and made little effort to listen to Black residents’ concerns or the opinions of experts. The main issue that many Black people were worried about — the significant increase in gun violence, carjackings and homicides here in the past year or so — was largely ignored.”
Losing the Farm
A November 7th analysis in the New York Times digs into just how badly Democrats are performing in rural America. To quote the story: “The politically urgent problem for Democrats is that rural America has moved faster and further from them in the last 20 years than urban America has moved away from Republicans. From 1999 to 2019, cities swung 14 percentage points toward the Democrats, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center report. At the same time, rural areas shifted by 19 percentage points toward the Republicans. The suburbs remained essentially tied.”
Republicans Will Win Any Culture War
In a November 4th column, New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about how Democratic elites are dominating cultural institutions but failing at politics. “You can’t win a culture war by raising the minimum wage,” he writes. “In fact, if politics are going to be all culture war — as Republicans have tried to make them — I suspect Democrats can’t win it at all. Democrats need a positive moral vision that would start by rejecting the idea that we are locked into incessant conflict along class, cultural, racial and ideological lines. It would reject all the appurtenances of the culture warrior pose — the us/them thinking, exaggerating the malevolence of the other half of the country, relying on crude essentialist stereotypes to categorize yourself and others.”
Dems Can’t Hide
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, in a November 3rd post, makes the case that Democrats can no longer afford to sidestep deeply unpopular ideas on their left flank. “The immediate future of the Democratic Party depends on its leaders separating themselves, to some extent, from academic jargon and progressive zeal.”
The School Issue Isn’t Going Away
In a November 3rd post, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens argues that Democrats’ dismissal of parental worries over Critical Race Theory are both wrong and politically damaging. “That’s no reason to ban teaching (CRT) or any other way of looking at the world,” he writes. “But it is dishonest to argue that it is anything less than ideologically radical, intensely racialized and deliberately polarizing. It is even more dishonest to suggest that it exists only in academic cloisters. We live in an era of ubiquitous race-based “affinity groups,” incessant allegations of white supremacy, and pervasive censorship and self-censorship in everything from words that can be said and documentaries that can be watched, to jokes that can be laughed at.”
A well-balanced story in the November 1st New York Times explores white liberals’ rapidly changing social justice language, which they embrace more than the groups they are expressing solidarity with, which befuddles even themsevles sometimes, and which can lead to a potent backlash. To quote part of the story: “Symbolic progress placates people who are pushing for change, and it also invites backlash from those who want to maintain the status quo,” said Dr. Deo, of Southwestern Law School. “So you might end up worse off than where you started.”
In God We Trust
In an October 31st post in The Dispatch, David French writes about “A Christian Defense for Classical American Liberalism.” He makes the case that liberalism is the best secular form of government in which to realize the Christian teachings about the role and potential of mankind. French writes: “By seeking to strip away classical liberalism’s restraints on the power of the government over the individual, more-authoritarian post-liberals fail to acknowledge and control for the profound spiritual truth that rulers are just as fallen and just as prone to sin as those they seek to rule. In fact, our modern class of post-liberals consistently demonstrate why they are so dangerous. Through their all-too-common cruelty, cancelations, and profound intolerance, they demonstrate day-by-day that their governance would be anything but benign.”
End the Guilt Trip
In an October 29th essay in the New York Times, John McWhorter ask guilty white liberals to spare the guilt and just get on with making progress. “What’s more, I don’t completely trust white guilt,” he wrote. “It lends itself too easily to virtue signaling, which overlaps only partially, and sometimes not at all, with helping people. I recall a brilliant, accomplished, kind white academic of a certain age who genially told me… “John, I get what you mean, but I reserve my right to be guilty.” I got what he meant, too, and did not take it ill. But still, note that word “right.” Feeling guilty lent him something personally fulfilling and signaled that he was one of the good guys without obligating him further. The problem is that one can harbor that feeling while not actually doing anything to bring about change on the ground.”
The Arrogant and Isolated Hard-Left
In an October 28th piece, New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about hard-left elites, out of touch with most Americans, but imposing their views on them. “Modern progressivism is in danger of becoming dominated by a relatively small group of people who went to the same colleges, live in the same neighborhoods and have trouble seeing beyond their subculture’s point of view,” he writes. “When people sense that those with cultural power are imposing ideologies on their own families, you can expect the reaction will be swift and fierce.”
Maybe We’re Not As Paranoid As We Think
In an October 20th piece for Persuasion, University of Nottingham Prof. Hugo Drochon reports that his research shows that conspiracy theories are on the wane. “Take Covid-19 theories. According to our polling, in March 2020 31% of Americans agreed Covid-19 was “purposely created and released by powerful people as part of a conspiracy.” But by May 2021 that had gone down to 29%. Those believing that 5G spreads the virus went from 11% in June 2020 to 7% in May 2021. Those believing that we are being implanted with microchips decreased from 18% to 12%, and those who believe Bill Gates is somehow “behind” the pandemic fell from 13% to 10%. Thankfully, the view that “Putting disinfectant into your body can prevent or cure Covid-19,” promotedby Trump, has halved from 12% to 6%.”
Is the Left Pro-Labor or Not?
In an October 14th oped in the Wisconsin State Journal, Laborers Union leader John Schmitt called on House progressives to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill now. “Progressives in the House — including Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, and Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee — have long been champions for Wisconsin working families. We ask that they help push for passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill while still negotiating for the Build Back Better reconciliation package. We believe that these bills should not be tied together,” Schmitt wrote.
The Tsunami Becomes a Ripple
In an October 13th post, Thomas B. Edsall explains why Democrats need to reconnect with at least some white blue collar voters. The big demographic wave they were counting on is not happening. Edsall wrote: “In their May 21 analysis, “What Happened in 2020,” Yair Ghitza, chief scientist at Catalist, a liberal voter data analysis firm, and Jonathan Robinson, its director of research, found that Black support for the Democratic presidential nominee fell by 3 percentage points from 2016 to 2020, and Latino support fell by eight points over the same period, from 71 to 63 percent.”
Third Party’s the Charm
In an October 13th syndicated column, Johan Goldberg suggests that a traditionally conservative third party is a more promising alternative to keep Donald Trump from a second term than urging never Trump Republicans to vote for Democrats.
How to Save College
In an October 12th piece, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens reviews a book by Johns Hopkins University President Ronald Daniels on how to fix what’s gone wrong with higher education. Daniels’ prescriptions as summed up by Stephens: “End, once and for all, legacy admissions. Institute a “democracy requirement” in school curriculums. Enhance openness in science and reform the peer-review process. Curb self-segregation in university housing. Create spaces for engagement and foster the practices of reasoned disagreement and energetic debate.”
Dems Can Shor Up Their Party
In an October 8th post that is as long as it is important, New York Times columnist Ezra Klein reports on the work of Democratic number cruncher David Shor. “Shor has built an increasingly influential theory of what the Democrats must do to avoid congressional calamity. The chain of logic is this: Democrats are on the edge of an electoral abyss. To avoid it, they need to win states that lean Republican. To do that, they need to internalize that they are not like and do not understand the voters they need to win over. Swing voters in these states are not liberals, are not woke and do not see the world in the way that the people who staff and donate to Democratic campaigns do.”
The Full Life of Howard Fuller
In an October 7th piece reprinted in the Wisconsin State Journal, writer Jon Hale looks at the career of Howard Fuller, a Milwaukee-based national advocate for school choice. Fuller is the prototype free-thinker: A liberal Democrat, who supports what are largely viewed as conservative education reforms because he believes they will benefit Black students. Hale notes that about three-quarters of Black and Hispanic families support school choice, but choice is vigorously opposed by mostly white teachers unions.
The War on ‘Women’
The hard-left has now decided the words “women” and “mother” are offensive. Read about it in an October 3rd column by Wall Street Journal writer Nicole Ault.
Cheer Up, Liberals
In an October 3rd post, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat lists all the ways in which the country has moved to the left in the past two decades. “So not one but three right-of-center ideologies — crusading neoconservatism, moralizing religious conservatism, Tea Party government-cutting — have fallen to progressivism’s advance. Meanwhile the country is more racially diverse, pot is legal or semi-legal in many states, incarceration rates have fallen, and ideas once on the leftward fringe are dominant across media and academia. In all these ways and more, America in 2021 is the country that liberals in the Bush era wished they lived in: more liberal and permissive across multiple dimensions, less traditionally religious and heteronormative, less male-dominated and less white.”
Wall Street Journal Blasts Trump
In a September 25th editorial, the Wall Street Journal blasted Donald Trump and the GOP for chasing wild electoral conspiracy theories in Arizona, Wisconsin and elsewhere: “The GOP should quit chasing him down rabbit holes. Mr. Trump lost last year by 74 electoral votes, so even flipping Arizona would have left him two states short. He can’t admit to his fans that he lost, since it would undermine his rally attendance, fundraising and teasers about 2024. Perhaps Mr. Trump can’t even admit to himself that he lost, and in his final days he’ll be raging on the heath about “ballot dumps.”
Boy, Is This Some Bad News
In a September 22nd post, Thomas B. Edsall explores the roots of the anger among blue collar men that is fueling Trumpist populism. Edsall quotes a researchers: “Over the last three decades, the labor market trajectory of males in the U.S. has turned downward along four dimensions: skills acquisition; employment rates; occupational stature; and real wage levels.”
McWhorter on the March
For the second time in about a month, New York Times columnist John McWhorter is taking on the UW Madison. A few weeks ago he wrote about the UW’s decision to remove Chamberlin rock from campus because it had been referred to by a racist phrase one time almost 100 years ago. In a September 17th post, McWhorter recounts the UW’s decision to remove Frederic March’s name from a theatre because he once belonged to a campus organization called the KKK, which had no affiliation with the infamous national group or was, apparently, racist in any way.
Black Lives Matter (Really)
In a September 14th post, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote: “Today, you can drive down just about any street in a liberal neighborhood and see lawn signs or posters proclaiming that Black Lives Matter, sometimes alongside a picture of George Floyd. But the lives of Shanice Young, Kaden Ingram, Legacy Beauford, London Michael Bean, Craig Batiste and Wayne Washington, among so many others, (all Black people killed in gun violence this summer) should also matter and be remembered. Where are the yard sign slogans for them?”
The Growing Backlash
In his September 8th New York Times column, Thomas B. Edsall quotes William Galston about the growing moderate, and even liberal, backlash to woke extremism. “I am increasingly confident of one thing: a backlash is building. The policies of elite private schools reported on the front page of The New York Times will not command majority support, even among white liberals. As awareness of such policies spreads, their conservative foes will pounce, and many white liberals who went along with them will be unwilling to defend them. The fate of defunding the police is a harbinger of things to come.”
The Silent Majority Isn’t Just White
In an August 30th piece, New York Times opinion writer Jay Caspian Kang wrote: “By the time (New York mayoral candidate Eric) Adams gave his victory speech, a narrative about the diverse silent majority had taken hold: People of color supported the police, hated rioting and wanted more funding for law enforcement. They did not agree with the radical demands of the Floyd protests — in fact, such talk turned them off.”
The Rock Goes National
New York Times columnist John McWhorter takes on the UW’s decision to move Chamberlin rock in this August 24th piece. “The students essentially demanded that an irrational, prescientific kind of fear — that a person can be meaningfully injured by the dead — be accepted as insight. They imply that the rock’s denotation of racism is akin to a Confederate statue’s denotation of the same, neglecting the glaringly obvious matter of degree here — as in, imagine pulling down a statue upon finding that the person memorialized had uttered a single racist thing once in his or her life… The Wisconsin rock episode was a textbook demonstration of the difference between sincere activism and playacting, out of a desire to join the civil rights struggle in a time when the problems are so much more abstract than they once were.”
Afghan Mission Was Clear
In an August 21st essay in the New York Times, Ryan Crocker, an ambassador to Afghanistan and neighboring countries who has worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote: “The United States’ objective in Afghanistan has always been clear: to ensure that Afghan soil is never again used to plan attacks against the American homeland. It was not about nation building as an end in itself, or building a new democracy, or even regime change. The message from the Bush administration to the Taliban after 9/11 made this clear: If you hand over Al Qaeda leadership, we will leave you alone. The Taliban chose to fight instead. Once the Taliban were defeated, our fundamental mission of ensuring that Afghanistan was never again the base for an attack on the United States did not change. But the means to that end became much more complex. And the development of those means would require patience.”
Afghans Still Fight
The Biden Administration narrative that the quick collapse of the Afghan military proved them right in their decision to abandon the country is fraying as elements of the Afghan army fight a resistance effort. An August 22nd story in the New York Times quoted Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan Vice President. “A super power signed an agreement with a terrorist group. What you see in Kabul is a massive humiliation for Western civilization,” Mr. Saleh wrote in a text message earlier this week. On Saturday, he was even more blunt: “NATO and the U.S. failed,” Mr. Saleh wrote.
In Defense of Merit
In his August 17th review of the new book, “The Aristocracy of Talent,” Jason Riley makes a case for merit. “On balance, however, meritocracy has done a better job than its alternatives in moving societies forward. It has provided upward social mobility for the poor, for women and for racial and ethnic minorities. Whatever meritocracy’s shortcomings, the cure is clearly more meritocracy, not moving back in the direction of what it replaced.”
Afghan Pullout Inspires Terrorist Groups
An August 17th story in the Los Angeles Times reports on how the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is inspiring Islamic terrorist groups around the world. “Whether it’s al-Qaida affiliates in Mali and Somalia, extremist factions operating in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, or so-called keyboard warriors cheering on from their homes in the West, the Taliban’s victory over Afghanistan’s Western-created government “is the most significant boost to the global jihadist movement since Sept. 11,” said Rita Katz, the founder of SITE Intelligence, an extremist monitoring group.”
Biden Owns This
Pres. Biden is trying to deflect blame for the Afghan debacle to his predecessor, but an Associated Press analysis of August 19th, shows otherwise: “But Biden can go only so far in claiming the agreement (for a pullout negotiated by Trump) boxed him in. It had an escape clause: The U.S. could have withdrawn from the accord if Afghan peace talks failed. They did, but Biden chose to stay in it, although he delayed the complete pullout from May to September.”
Afghan Disaster Was Not Inevitable
In an August 12th guest column in the New York Times, American Enterprise Senior Fellow Frederick Kagan argues, “A disastrous Taliban takeover wasn’t inevitable. President Biden said his hands were tied to a withdrawal given the awful peace deal negotiated between the Trump administration and the Taliban. But there was still a way to pull out American troops while giving our Afghan partners a better chance to hold the gains we made with them over the last two decades.”
Can Higher Wages Mean Higher Profits?
In an August 6th story, the Wall Street Journal reports on a Cleveland manufacturer that has increased wages by a third: “The early signs appear favorable, if initially bumpy. Custom Rubber Corp.’s head count climbed to 124 in July from 91 at the end of January. Profit margins hovered between 5% and 6% in recent months, roughly double the 3% the company had come to expect in a good year. Labor costs, including taxes and benefits, now account for about 17% of sales, up from 12% eight years ago. But the extra labor has helped CRC to fill more orders, and sales rose nearly 50% in the first seven months of 2021 versus a year earlier. That allowed better use of equipment and other fixed assets—to a degree that surprised Mr. Braun.”
Biden May Be Saving Liberal Democracy
From David Brooks’ column in the August 6th New York Times: “If Joe Biden stands for one idea, it is that our system can work. We live in a big, diverse country, but good leaders can bring people together across difference to do big things. In essence Biden is defending liberal democracy and the notion that you can’t govern a nation based on the premise that the other half of the country is irredeemably awful.”
Moderates On a Streak
From the lede in an August 4th New York Times story: “In the most important elections of 2021, the center-left Democratic establishment has enjoyed an unbroken string of triumphs, besting the party’s activist wing from New York to New Orleans and from the Virginia coastline to the banks of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio.”
The Moderate the Left Loves to Hate
In an August 3rd New York Times story, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is profiled as a maverick in the John McCain tradition. Like McCain, she’s made a habit of reaching out to work with the other side to the frustration and anger of true-believers in her own party. The Times writes, “But it’s at least plausible that another sticking point for progressives is that so far, her centrism seems to work. She is regularly in contact with President Biden, on the phone and at the White House. She helped broker a deal between Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, and Senator Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, on the Covid relief bill. She’s been working with Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, on a minimum-wage bill. And now she’s making headlines on infrastructure.”
Moderate Wins in Ohio
Moderate Shontel Brown won a Democratic primary for an Ohio House seat over a hard-left candidate. According to a story in the August 4th New York Times: “In a Democratic primary in northern Ohio, Shontel Brown, who vowed to be “a partner” with the Biden administration and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, prevailed over Nina Turner, a party outsider who openly rejected the idea that Democrats are more effective through conciliation and compromise. Late Tuesday, Ms. Brown was leading by over five percentage points, and Ms. Turner conceded the race.”
The Associated Press reports that, in a surprise move, the Senate voted 67-32 on July 28th to proceed with debate on the almost $1 trillion infrastructure package negotiated by a bipartisan group of Senators and the administration. The measure had been bogged down in negotiations over details after Pres. Biden and the Senators had agreed to a broad outline about a month ago. If passed, which now seems likely, it will be one of the most far-reaching bipartisan agreements in recent years.
America Makes the Wrong Choice
In a July 28th column, Jonah Goldberg writes about the U.S. pull out from Afghanistan, “Giving up an air base, multiple listening posts and an allied government at the cross section of Central Asia and the Middle East while simultaneously handing our enemies a great political victory in exchange for a domestic political talking point doesn’t strike me as all that strategic. It strikes me as a choice — and a bad one.”
You Could See This Coming
The United Nations reports that civilian casualties in Afghanistan increased by 47% in the first six months of this year, as the U.S. announced and started its pull out. “Civilian casualties increased for women, girls, boys, and men. Of particular concern, UNAMA documented record numbers of girls and women killed and injured, as well as record numbers of overall child casualties.”
Not Just Black and White
In a July 22nd column, David Brooks questions the easy categorization of race identity. “It’s certainly time to dump the replacement theory that has been so popular with Tucker Carlson and the far right — the idea that all these foreigners are coming to take over the country,” Brooks writes. “This is an idea that panics a lot of whites and helped elect Donald Trump, but it’s not true. In truth, immigrants blend with the current inhabitants, keeping parts of their earlier identities and adopting parts of their new identities. This has been happening for hundreds of years, and it is still happening. This kind of intermingling of groups is not replacing America, it is America.”
A Sorry State
In a July 21st essay in Persuasion, editor Seth Moskowitz pushes back against the woke left’s shaming rituals. “In the long run, obsequious apologies for imagined crimes pave the way for a destructive cycle of inquisition,” he writes. “Unless brave people stand up and say, “Enough,” the mob will continue steamrolling victims, leaving behind a trail of careers, reputations, and a culture of conformity. So, if the mob comes for you and you don’t believe you have done anything wrong, I have a modest proposal: Don’t apologize… If we continue to censor unpopular opinions and censure those who hold them, we will be giving up the knowledge-building endeavor of constructive debate and open discourse. Instead, we should use liberalism’s greatest tools—logic, evidence, and persuasion—to sort fact from fiction and to challenge ideas we oppose.”
Is the Remedy to Discrimination More Discrimination?
In a July 20th column in the Wall Street Journal, center-left commentator William Galston writes, “Critical race theory’s popularizers have done the movement no favors. In his bestselling book, “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” Ibram X. Kendi bluntly asserts that “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” If prescriptions such as Mr. Kendi’s come to be seen as the inevitable consequence of critical race theory, the movement will end in failure.”
In a sobering July 15th story, the Associated Press reports on the alarming advances and increased aggressiveness of authoritarian governments in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
The Liberal Disconnect on Afghanistan
In a July 15th column, David Brooks wrote: “I guess what befuddles me most is the behavior of the American left. I get why Donald Trump and other American authoritarians would be ambivalent about America’s role in the world. They were always suspicious of the progressive package that America has helped to promote. But every day I see progressives defending women’s rights, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and racial justice at home and yet championing a foreign policy that cedes power to the Taliban, Hamas and other reactionary forces abroad.”
Sidestep the Culture Wars
Thomas B. Edsall’s routinely thoughtful Wednesday column contained this observation: “While Republicans and progressive activists are hurling invective at each other, Democrats in Congress and the White House are preparing to send substantial amounts of money, in the form of pandemic relief, to hundreds of millions of Americans. That’s likely to be pretty popular — and opens up an intriguing possibility. What if, while Republicans are busy trying to bait Democrats on culture war issues, those Democrats end up winning public opinion in a big way by refusing to play along, changing the subject, and actually making the lives of most Americans concretely better? If so, the culture-war play by the right could end up backfiring big time.”
The Good Stuff First
In a July 10th column, Ross Douthat makes the case for laying down a patriotic base of history for young Americans, with steadily more critical points layered in as kids grow up. “So if historical education doesn’t begin with what’s inspiring, a sense of real affection may never take root — risking not just patriotism but a basic interest in the past,” he writes. “I encounter the latter problem a lot, talking to progressive-minded young people — a sense that history isn’t just unlovable but actually pretty boring, a grim slog through imperialism and cisheteropatriarchy.”
More Evidence of Dem Moderation
In a July 10th post, Jonah Goldberg offers more evidence of a gap between Democratic pols (and the activists who run them) and the rank and file. In deep blue California, where Joe Biden won by 30 points, “the stunning failure of Proposition 16 — which would have repealed Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure that banned public agencies, including universities, from considering race, gender or ethnicity for decisions in contracting, hiring and student admissions — was the most telling. Supported by every major Democratic official in the state with an estimated 15 to 1 funding advantage, it still failed by 14 percentage points.”
Not as Bad as We Thought
In a July 9th essay in Persuasion, a University of Chicago Law School professor argues that the Supreme Court had been less political and predictable than many had feared. “Understandably, the conventional wisdom on much of the left seems to have become that the Supreme Court is a partisan institution, that the justices are simply politicians in robes, and that with a 6-3 majority, the court’s conservatives will be a rubber stamp for Republican priorities and a barrier to Democratic ones,” wrote Tom Ginsburg. “But the most recent Supreme Court term paints a more nuanced portrait of the court. Surprising coalitions among justices, careful case selection, and relatively few decisions dividing the court along ideological lines point to an institution that is trying to bolster its nonpartisan legitimacy. The justices seem to be refuting the idea that they are partisan actors in an ostensibly nonpartisan institution.”
It’s Not Just Your Imagination
In a July 3rd post on his site Jabberwocking.com, liberal journalist Kevin Drum, late of Mother Jones, writes this about the woke left: “And for God’s sake, please don’t insult my intelligence by pretending that wokeness and cancel culture are all just figments of the conservative imagination. Sure, they overreact to this stuff, but it really exists, it really is a liberal invention, and it really does make even moderate conservatives feel like their entire lives are being held up to a spotlight and found wanting.”
The Costs of Leaving Afghanistan
In a July 6th column, the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Sieb lays out the cases for and against leaving Afghanistan. He notes that there was a price to pay for staying but there will certainly be costs of leaving, including a stronger foothold for the Taliban, a loss of human rights (especially for women), a chance for expanded influence from China and Iran, a greater difficulty in getting intelligence on the region and a security presence in the region that will now fall entirely on the U.S. instead of being shared with our allies.
Free to Think
In a July 5th essay in the New York Times, four writers from across the political spectrum explain why they all oppose state laws banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory. While some of the authors of the essay were opposed to CRT, they agreed that trying to ban its teaching was a cure far worse than the disease.
The Seeds of Its Own Destruction
In a July 5th column, Bret Stephens quotes chess champion and human rights activist Gary Kasparov, ““China gave us the virus, And the free world gave us the vaccines.” Stephens goes on to make the case that any totalitarian government is in the business of telling lies in the service of covering up its failures. But it ends up lying to itself as well. Leaders don’t get timely, accurate information on which to base decisions and so they stumble, blindly into crises.
Transitional or Transformational?
In a July 3rd piece, columnist Jonah Goldberg argues that Joe Biden was elected by moderates and that he has the opportunity to cement the Democratic Party in the center. “Among married men, Biden received 44% of the vote, a huge improvement over Hillary Clinton’s 32% in 2016,” Goldberg reports. “Biden’s performance with men overall cut the gender gap in half — from Clinton’s deficit of 26 percentage points to a 13-point deficit for Biden. As Nate Cohn of the New York Times writes, “The data suggests that the progressive vision of winning a presidential election simply by mobilizing strong support from Democratic constituencies simply did not materialize for Mr. Biden.” The path is there for Biden to become a transitional president — not to some new socialist nirvana, but to a more moderate Democratic Party that actually speaks to the voters who delivered him a victory in the first place,” Goldberg writes.
Stop Before It’s Too Late
In a July 3rd piece, center-right columnist Ross Douthat warns liberals about making too many excuses for the ideological excesses of the most radical “anti-racist” theoreticians. “It would be helpful if liberals currently dismissing anxiety over Kendian or DiAngelan (referring to Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, two of the most prominent anti-racist theorists) ideas as just a “moral panic” experienced a similar awakening now — before progressivism simply becomes its excesses, and the way back to sanity is closed,” Douthat writes.
Out of Many, Well, Many?
The American flag was once a symbol of unity. Now, not so much. To quote a July 3rd New York Times piece on the battle for who owns the flag: “Politicizing the American flag is thus a perversion of its original intent, according to Professor Vile, who is also the author of “The American Flag: An Encyclopedia of the Stars and Stripes In U.S. History, Culture and Law.” He added, “We can’t allow that to happen. It’s E Pluribus Unum — from many, one,” he said, citing the Latin motto on the Great Seal of the United States. “If the pluribus overwhelms the unum, then what do we have left?”
Black Voters Moderate the Dems
In a June 30th post, Thomas B. Edsall analyzes the New York mayor’s race. “The results in the mayoral primary so far are evidence of the continuing power of Black voters to act as a moderating force in a Democratic Party that has seen growing numbers of white voters shift decisively to the left.”
Moderate Dems Rule
In a June 29th oped Jonah Goldberg writes, “It adds up to this: Given a 50/50 Senate, moderates (particularly moderate Democrats) are the most powerful bloc in government. And you know what? That’s the old normal.” His point is that for the last several years we’ve had “party government” in which the majority party makes no attempt to work with the minority and, because the majority needs to stay together, its most extreme elements have an outsized role. The infrastructure deal returns to the old normal where moderates work across party lines.
Report A Neighbor
In a dispiriting New York Times article on June 29th, a report documents how the Chinese government is picking up the pace as it crushes freedom in Hong Kong. According to the story: “Residents now swarm police hotlines with reports about disloyal neighbors or colleagues. Teachers have been told to imbue students with patriotic fervor through 48-volume book sets called “My Home Is in China.” Public libraries have removed dozens of books from circulation, including one about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.”
Racism Just Begets Racism
In a June 28th oped, Bret Stephens takes on the reverse racism that has become fashionable on the hard-left. “The new dispensation in which racism is justified in the name of antiracism, discrimination in the service of equality, and favoritism for the sake of an even playing field, is exactly as Orwellian as it sounds,” he writes. “It may find purchase in the usual institutional and political progressive circles, but it’s not a good way to win converts when most of us believe that the promise of America lies in escaping the narrow prisms of race and identity, not being permanently trapped by them.”
Conservative Case For Ending the Filibuster
In a June 27th oped, Scalia Law School Prof. F.H. Buckley makes the conservative case for ending the Senate filibuster. The argument is that, when Republicans regain control of Congress, they can use it to repeal laws they don’t like.
Now Even “Trigger Warning” Has Been Cancelled
You thought “trigger warning” is a politically correct thing, right? Not anymore. It’s been cancelled because it could invoke feelings of violence. Jonah Goldberg writes about this on June 25th in Persuasian. “If there are 10,000 people in America who feel oppressed by the term “trigger,” I’d guess 9,950 of them are the kind of people who walk the earth looking for reasons to be a pain in the ass. Indeed, that’s one of the problems with trigger warning culture: It trains people to be pains in the ass because it incentivizes the practice of taking offense by rewarding people with power and attention. Victimhood is powerful these days,” writes Goldberg.
Democrats Turn Practical
In a June 24th Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan looks at the New York City mayor’s race and sees good news for the Democratic Party. “If you take the top five first-choice candidates as of Thursday afternoon, the more or less reality-oriented moderates (Mr. Adams, Ms. Garcia and Mr. Yang) received 63% of the Democratic vote. The self-declared progressives (Ms. Wiley and Mr. Stringer) got 27%,” Noonan writes.
It’s a Deal
The New York Times reports on June 24th that Pres. Joe Biden has reached a compromise infrastructure deal with at least five Senate Republicans. The trillion dollar agreement would improve roads, bridges, mass transit, airports and harbors as well as water, grid and broadband projects. However, the plan still needs 60 votes in the Senate, and with only five GOP Senators signed on, it’s not clear if it can meet that hurdle.
China’s Grip on Free Speech Tightens
Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy print newspaper was essentially shut down on June 23rd by the Chinese government. Apple Daily sold out its one million copy final print run (it usually prints 80,000 papers). “Without Apple Daily, Hong Kong is less free than it was a week ago. Apple Daily was an important voice, and it seems unlikely that any other media outlet will be able to fill its shoes, given growing restrictions on free speech and freedom of the press,” said Thomas Kellogg of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law, quoted in an AP story.
A F***ing Great Decision
The Supreme Court has struck a blow for free speech. In a 8-1 decision announced on June 23rd, the Court said that a high schooler’s obscenity laced rant on social media about not making her school’s cheer leading squad could not be punished by the school.
Better Late Than Never
In the June 23rd edition of the Capital Times, Editor and Publisher Paul Fanlund defended Republicans like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan for speaking out against Donald Trump. Romney, Ryan and others, like Rep. Liz Cheney, have come under fire from the far left for earlier supporting Trump. Fanlund argues, to a Cap Times audience that leans heavily left, that we should welcome any Republicans who are willing to take on the former president, regardless of when they showed up at the party.
Good Reason to Celebrate Juneteenth Day
In a June 19th column, Jonah Goldberg writes, “There was nothing hypocritical about slavery in Asia, the Middle East, or Europe. To the extent those civilizations had charters, creeds, or some other form of fleshed-out ideals, slavery was consistent with them. In America, slavery was a grotesque hypocrisy whose horror was eclipsed only by the actual horror of the institution as practiced. Since long before critical race theory became a bogeyman, I’ve argued that schools should teach the evils of that hypocrisy—not to dwell in guilt and self-flagellation, but to both acknowledge the facts of history and to celebrate America’s story of overcoming it. Acknowledging this hypocrisy is valuable and important because it illuminates the very ideals being violated. Without principles, you can’t be a hypocrite. You would have nothing to fall short of or betray.”
Where Would We Be Without Manchin?
In a June 19th column Steve Chapman writes that hard-left Democrats should be grateful for the very existence of Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrats of West Virginia. “What the party needs is not fewer people like Manchin but more. The Democratic approach works well in presidential elections, but it has yet to produce lasting majorities in Congress — and it has been a dismal failure in state elections. Manchin has demonstrated that it’s possible for a Democrat to win in the reddest of states by selectively straying from liberal orthodoxy. Progressives who think they are at odds with him are really at odds with political reality.”
Bill Maher Takes on the Woke
In her June 17th column, Peggy Noonan quoted extensively from progressive comedian Bill Maher’s comments on a recent show about “progressophobia” — the denial among the hard-left that any progress has been made at all and that things are worse than ever. “This is one of the big problems with wokeness, that what you say doesn’t have to make sense or jibe with the facts, or ever be challenged, lest the challenge itself be conflated with racism,” Maher said.
UN Condemns Myanmar Military
In a June 19th story, the AP reported: “In a rare move, the U.N. General Assembly on Friday condemned Myanmar’s military coup and called for an arm embargo against the country in a resolution that demonstrated widespread global opposition to the junta and demanded the restoration of the country’s democratic transition.”
The Bright Side of Pandemic
In his June 18th column New York Times writer David Brooks sees the benefits of a 15 month lock down. He observes that people have become less job-focussed and more family-oriented, yet many more people took the opportunity to get more training which should make them more productive employees. And people saved money while workers’ leverage in the marketplace dramatically increased, making an era of broad economic security possible.
Gates Laments Afghanistan Pull Out
In a New York Times oped on June 13th, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates warns of the dire consequences now that the U.S. is pulling out of Afghanistan. “Despite ongoing negotiations, I do not believe the Taliban will settle for a partial victory or for participation in a coalition government. They want total control, and they still maintain ties with Al Qaeda. Once in power, they may well turn to China for recognition and help, giving Beijing access to their country’s mineral resources and allowing Afghanistan to become another Belt-and-Road link to Iran,” Gates writes
In a June 11th column in Persuasion, Zaid Jilani reports that the leading candidates for Mayor of New York are both men of color and both are moderates who oppose defunding the police. “Polling shows that Americans across the board want police to spend the same amount of time in their areas or spend even more time. Blacks and Hispanics are no exception, with around 80% of them agreeing with that sentiment even as confidence in individual encounters with police remains lower in minority communities,” writes Julani.
In a June 13th editorial the Wisconsin State Journal praised Rep. Ron Kind (D-LaCrosse), Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay) and Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin for scoring well in the Lugar Center’s ratings of Congressional cooperation between the parties. They also noted that Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeulah) was most improved.
Barbarians at the Gate
In a June 11th post, New York Times columnist Timothy Egan fears that the Biden Administration may be just the competent lull between the populist storms, and that the left’s cultural agenda may help usher an unhinged Republican Party back into power. “The way to hold off the barbarians on the right should be pretty simple. A unified Democratic message — helping people live better lives with a targeted hand from government — is hugely popular. It’s the essence of both the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act and Biden’s proposed infrastructure bill. And it should be the essence of what voters think about when they think about Democrats. Another message, on cultural issues, is much less popular,” Egan wrote.
Moderates Reach Infrastructure Agreement
A negotiating group of 10 moderate senators has reached an agreement on an infrastructure plan. No details were available in the June 10th New York Times story, but the deal was believed to total $1.2 trillion over eight years compared to Biden’s last offer of $1.7 trillion. The five Republicans are Senators Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. The Democrats are key moderates: Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Mark Warner of Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Jon Tester of Montana.
In a June 9th oped in the New York Times, former GOP Congresswoman Barbara Comstock took stock of her party and urged it to move on from Donald Trump. “Mr. Trump is a diminished political figure: 66 percent of Americans now hope he won’t run again in 2024, including 30 percent of Republicans. He is not the future, and Republicans need to stop fearing him. He will continue to damage the party if we don’t face the Jan. 6 facts head-on,” she wrote.
Things Get Worse in Afghanistan
In a June 8th report on NPR’s Morning Edition, a Taliban commanded is quoted: “He claims it will be utopia, but he warns: “We will punish those who do not pledge allegiance to us.” The report goes on: “This deal (the U.S. withdrawal) has actually emboldened the Taliban,” says Weeda Mehran, a lecturer on conflict, security and development at Britain’s University of Exeter, “to assassinate people and try to get rid of people who would be a problem.” Mehran’s referring to killings of dozens of Afghan journalists, activists, clerics and other influential members of society.”
The Kids Will Be Alright
In a June 7th post, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg takes an optimistic view about free speech. While recognizing a generational gap among liberals (Boomers are for it; younger liberals would limit speech they don’t find pure enough), she thinks the tension will resolve itself in favor of the broader, more classically liberal view. Goldberg writes, “I wonder, however, if this divide could soon fade away, because events in the wider world are conspiring to remind the American left how dependent it is on a robust First Amendment. Civil libertarians have always argued that even if privileged people enjoy more free speech protections in practice, erosions of free speech guarantees will always fall hardest on the most marginalized. This is now happening all over the country.”
Back to Basics
In a June 6th oped in the Wall Street Journal, James Baker called on Republicans to get back to basic conservative principles and disavow conspiracy theories, lies about stolen elections and cults of personality (read: Donald Trump).
Clamp Down in Nicaragua
According to a June 6th report in the Wall Street Journal, the government of Daniel Ortega has now arrested a second of his potential opponents in the next presidential election on what appear to be vague, trumped up charges. Ortega has also harassed Nicaragua’s independent press.
In his June 2nd column, Jonah Goldberg defines populism. “Definitions of populism vary, but it’s best understood as the politics of the mob. The defining emotion of populism and mobs alike is passion, fueled by the invincible twin convictions that “we” are right and that “we” have been wronged by “them.” Populism is often immune to reason and contemptuous of debate. “
Biden’s Memorial Day Speech
Here’s an excerpt from Pres. Joe Biden’s speech at Arlington on May 31st. “This nation was built on an idea,” Biden said. “We were built on the idea of liberty and opportunity for all. We’ve never fully realized that aspiration of our founders, but every generation has opened the door a little wider. Generation after generation of American heroes are signed up to be part of the fight because they understand the truth that lives in every American heart: that liberation, opportunity, justice are far more likely to come to pass in a democracy than in an autocracy. These Americans weren’t fighting for dictators, they were fighting for democracy. They weren’t fighting to exclude or to enslave, they were fighting to build and broaden and liberate.”
God Gave This Land To Me (But Not Them)
Are you befuddled by the inability for Middle East leaders to just work things out? In a May 29th oped in the New York Times, the former Israeli consul general Dani Dayan explains it all with clarity as does Pres. Joe Biden when he said last week, “Let’s get something straight here. Until the region says unequivocally, they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace.”
Don’t Defund as Shootings Rise
In a May 29th piece, columnist Cynthia Tucker recounted the many killings of young Black children who were simply caught in the hail of bullets this past year. “Can’t we muster the same anger, the same energy, the same commitment to curb the staggering level of gun crime in America’s cities that we have brought to the issue of murderous police conduct? Can’t we march and protest and pressure public officials to make neighborhoods and streets safe for our children?” Tucker wrote. “Whatever the reasons for the surge in homicides, it shows the foolishness of calls to “defund” the police. Instead, cities need better police — those dedicated to protecting their residents. All of them. Children shouldn’t be dying in the streets.”
Race Discrimination Blocked
A Federal appeals court in Tennessee has issued an injunction against a part of the COVID relief package that gave priority for payments to restaurants owned by women and minorities. The decision emphasized, “As today’s case shows once again, the “way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.””
Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Movement is “Tired”
A May 27th report in the New York Times documents what appears to be the relentless progress of the Communist Chinese take over of Hong Kong and the dismantling of liberal institutions there. The imprisonment of protest leaders has either broken their spirit or sent them into exile after their release. “I’m really tired,” said one activist. “The government has left us no room to resist and nowhere to go.”
Wokeness: “Most People Hate It”
In his May 26th column, Thomas B. Edsall quotes Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at N.Y.U., “Wokeness is kryptonite for the Democrats. Most people hate it, other than the progressive activists. If you just look at Americans’ policy preferences, Dems should be winning big majorities. But we have strong negative partisanship, and when people are faced with a party that seems to want to defund the police and rename schools, rather than open them, all while crime is rising and kids’ welfare is falling, the left flank of the party is just so easy for Republicans to run against.”
‘Mostly Peaceful’ Misses the Point
In his May 26th column, Jonah Goldberg points out that both Democrats and Republicans misuse the idea that protests supporting their side were “mostly peaceful.” Both BLM and pro-Trump protests were generally peaceful, but that doesn’t excuse the looting and violence that accompanied some BLM protests and it doesn’t excuse the January 6th insurrection.
Next They Came For John Marshall
The Wall Street Journal in a May 23rd editorial on the University of Illinois’ decision to drop John Marshall from the name of its law school in Chicago: “This is the go-to progressive indictment of American historical figures. Never mind that Marshall’s muscular jurisprudence as Chief Justice from 1801 to 1835 forged a national government and economy powerful enough to finally smash slavery a generation after his death.”
Kind of Blue About Academia
Linfield University President Miles K. Davis as quoted in the May 21st Wall Street Journal: “We have people who are coming into academia with very narrow perspectives on the world,” he says, “and quite frankly they often think that their perspective is right.” The purpose of colleges “is to educate, not indoctrinate. So we should teach people how to engage in the exchange of thoughtful conversation,” which “is in the mission statement—that we engage in thoughtful dialogue with mutual respect. We can disagree without being disagreeable.”
Rights of the Accused Threatened
In a May 19th post in Persuasion, Richard Reeves, a fellow at Brookings, argues against returning to Obama administration policies that dramatically weakened the rights of those accused of sexual assault on campus. But he fears that the Biden administration is making moves to restore those rules, which erode fundamental rights of the accused.
Independents and Moderates
In his column on May 19th, Jonah Goldberg reflects on two kinds of independents — “insurgents,” like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and moderates. He concludes: “If true political moderates want to signal their virtue more effectively, they should stop declaring independence, pick a party, work to change it in their image and remake the American center.”
Bipartisan Support for Hate Crimes Bill
On May 17th, the House passed a bill on a bipartisan 364-62 vote to provide more funding to enforce laws against hate crimes. The bill, sparked by increased recent attacks on Asian-Americans, had previously passed the Senate on a 94-1 vote.
In his May 13th column, David Brooks predicts that woke political correctness will get washed out in the marketplace. “I’m less alarmed by all of this because I have more confidence than… other conservatives in the American establishment’s ability to co-opt and water down every radical progressive ideology. In the 1960s, left-wing radicals wanted to overthrow capitalism. We ended up with Whole Foods. The co-optation of wokeness seems to be happening right now.”
Afghanistan Pull-out Criticized
Hardly a hawkish newspaper, the Washington Post on May 13th editorialized against the Biden administration decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. The paper said of Biden’s decision, “the result could be a collapse of the political system and civil society the United States spent two decades helping to build, a resurgence of Afghan-based international terrorism, and another massive wave of refugees headed toward fragile neighboring countries as well as Europe.”
Could COVID Moderate Our Politics?
In his regular Wednesday column, Thomas B. Edsall sites studies suggesting that the geographical response to COVID — liberal voters migrating to suburbs and rural areas — could result in more purple political maps. The analysis of the researchers he quotes is that big cities will become less deeply liberal and suburbs and rural areas will become less deeply red. As a result, efforts by legislatures to gerrymander districts may, over the course of the next decade, fall victim to demographic shifts they can’t account for.
Some Progress on Police Reform
A rare bipartisan bill with some substance is on track to pass the Wisconsin Legislature. The first set of recommendations from a task force on policing practices and accountability in the wake of last summer’s events is on its way to approval with support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Understanding Trump Voters
In a recent post in the online journal American Purpose, William Galston dissects the big social and economic trends that have alienated a wide swath of voters who chose Donald Trump in the last two elections. A sample of his analysis: “They believe we (urban, highly-educated liberals) have a powerful desire for moral coercion. We tell them how to behave—and, worse, how to think. When they complain, we accuse them of racism and xenophobia. How, they ask, did standing up for the traditional family become racism? When did transgender bathrooms become a civil right?”
To Tell the Truth
In a May 4th editorial, the Wall Street Journal backed Rep. Liz Cheney in her fight to keep her House leadership position. “Republicans should find a way to speak this truth to voters in 2022—and quickly turn to running on an agenda for the future that will check Mr. Biden and his cradle-to-grave entitlement state. Purging Liz Cheney for honesty would diminish the party.
Crime and Education
In his column on May 2nd, New York Times contributor Ross Douthat agrees with James Carville about the dangers of woke language and policies, but he suggests that the real danger for Democrats will come if there are related policy failures in regard to crime or education.
Chinese Authoritarian Grip on Hong Kong Tightens
In an April 28th editorial, the Wall Street Journal editorial board called on the U.S. government to follow Britain’s lead and admit more political refugees from Hong Kong. In its latest move to crack down on basic rights, the Chinese-influenced government there has made it legal to stop Hong Kong citizens from leaving the country for any reason.
In an April 26th column, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens writes about the reaction of some on the left to equate the shooting of an armed Black woman with the murder of George Floyd. Stephens writes, “An alternative view: Maybe there wasn’t time for Officer Reardon, in an 11-second interaction, to “de-escalate” the situation, as he is now being faulted for failing to do. And maybe the balance of our sympathies should lie not with the would-be perpetrator of a violent assault but with the cop who saved a Black life — namely that of Tionna Bonner, who nearly had Bryant’s knife thrust into her.”
Pressure Increases on Myanmar Military
Leaders of the Southeast Asian Nations Association (the regional bloc is made up of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Ma-laysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) called on the Myanmar military leadership on Saturday to end its killing and suppression of pro-democracy protesters. Since the coup on February 1st, the military has killed over 700 mostly peaceful protesters and bystanders.
From David Brooks April 23rd column in the New York Times: “Over the last decade or so, as illiberalism, cancel culture and all the rest have arisen within the universities and elite institutions on the left, dozens of publications and organizations have sprung up. They have drawn a sharp line between progressives who believe in liberal free speech norms, and those who don’t. There are new and transformed magazines and movements like American Purpose, Persuasion, Counterweight, Arc Digital, Tablet and Liberties that point out the excesses of the social justice movement and distinguish between those who think speech is a mutual exploration to seek truth and those who think speech is a structure of domination to perpetuate systems of privilege.”
America First Finishes Last
In an April 21st post, center-right columnist Jonah Goldberg dissects the short-lived House “America First Caucus” spearheaded by Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar. Goldberg writes: “My point isn’t that these professional trolls deserve the benefit of the doubt or that their critics are wrong to assume “Anglo-Saxon” is a racist dog whistle. Any project Gosar is part of deserves no benefit of the doubt. My point is that these people are idiots. They’re also cowards.”
The Afghan Tragedy to Come
Liberal columnist Trudy Rubin lamented Pres. Joe Biden’s decision to pull the last U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September. “By giving up our leverage before U.S.-brokered peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government make progress, we are dooming millions of women, girls, and urban Afghans to civil war hell and eventual Taliban takeover. Hundreds of thousands of students, female activists, and ordinary Afghans face arrest or desperate flight in a massive refugee exodus,” wrote Rubin in an April 20th post. That view was echoed, and passionately, by New York Times center-right columnist Bret Stephens on the same day.
All the debate about what constitutes “infrastructure” really comes down to what Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) wants it to mean. In a story on April 20th, Manchin is quoted as saying that it should include funding to help miners transition to jobs in other industries, what he called “human infrastructure.” In the same story the leader of the nation’s largest miners’ union said the union supports the move away from fossil fuels as long as there is a way to bridge from fossil fuel jobs to other work.
The Trumpy Antidote to Trump?
New York Times center-right columnist Ross Douthat sees Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as perhaps having the formula to help his party move beyond Donald Trump. In an April 19th post, Douthat writes: “You can see a model for post-Trump Republicanism that might — might — be able to hold the party’s base while broadening the G.O.P.’s appeal. You can think of it as a series of careful two-steps. Raise teacher’s salaries while denouncing critical race theory and left-wing indoctrination. Spend money on conservation and climate change mitigation through a program that carefully doesn’t mention climate change itself. Choose a Latina running mate while backing E-Verify laws. Welcome conflict with the press, but try to make sure you’re on favorable ground.”
Navalny Protests Planned
Backers of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are calling for protests on Wednesday against his treatment in prison. Navalny is on a hunger strike in an attempt to get access to his own doctors. Navalny’s supporters fear that he will die in prison. It’s widely believed that the Russian government tried to assassinate him through poisoning last year.
Standing Up to Extremism
In an April 17th report in USA Today, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) slams the America First Caucus, the brainchild of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). Kinzinger says that any Republican who joins the caucus should be stripped of their committee assignments. Among other things, the caucus claims to be for championing “Anglo-Saxon political traditions” and warning that mass immigration was putting the “unique identity” of the U.S. at risk. Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) have also denounced the group.
You Dance With Thems That Brung Ya
In his Wednesday column, Thomas B. Edsall warns Democrats that their increased coziness with corporate America could change their priorities, just as the Republican’s embrace of the tea party wound up transforming the GOP into something unrecognizable.
The Retreat of Democracy
In a sobering story on April 12th, the New York Times reports that the military coup in Myanmar (Burma) is part of a much broader trend of retreating democratization in Southeast Asia. But there’s hope for the future. The Times quoted an official from Chulalongkorn University who said, “The youth of Southeast Asia, these young digital natives, they inherently despise authoritarianism because it doesn’t jibe with their democratic lifestyle. They aren’t going to give up fighting back. That’s why, as bad as things may seem now, authoritarianism in the region is not a permanent condition.”
What Made Manchin
Moderate West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin holds the key vote on virtually the entire Democratic agenda. This April 10th Wall Street Journal profile reports on how he wins in a state that went for Donald Trump by 40 points.
Moderates Lead in New York
According to a report in the April 9th New York Times, moderate candidates Andrew Yang and Eric Adams are leading in the race to be the city’s new mayor. Both candidates have expressed support for business and have talked about reforming, rather than defunding, the police department.
In an April 8th post, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan decries the current state of the Republican Party and explains what used to be the symbiotic relationship between the parties. “As Oscar Hammerstein once said, liberals need conservatives to hold them back and conservatives need liberals to pull them forward. One side should stop the other when it goes too far, or boost it when it fails to move,” Noonan writes.
Sanity Prevails After All
The San Francisco school board voted this week to reverse its decision to rename 44 schools whose namesakes were accused of real or imagined crimes against current cultural standards. Mayor London Breed, herself a liberal, had blasted the earlier move as being tone deaf when San Franciscans wanted the board to be focussed on reopening the schools, whatever they were named.
Confused by the budget “reconciliation” process in Congress? Who isn’t? The Wall Street Journal provided a tidy explanation in this April 6th story. Turns out the Democrats can probably use it once or twice more this year, including with regard to the Pres. Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure bill. But provisions in that bill not directly related to taxes or spending would have to be taken out and passed under the normal 60-vote rule. Got that?
U.S. Picks the Wrong Side in Jordan
The latest numbers from a human rights organization show that 557 people have been killed by the Myanmar (Burma) military since they seized power on February 1st. Almost all were killed for protesting to reinstate the democratically elected government. Meanwhile, a Jordanian prince was placed under arrest after speaking out against rulers in that country. The U.S. backed the government’s move to silence Prince Hamzah.
Developments in Hong Kong and Russia
Four long-time leaders in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement were convicted of illegal Assembly. Over 2,400 people have been charged with various “crimes” since protests against the Chinese government crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong began in 2019. Meanwhile, in Russia, opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has begun a hunger strike in the prison he was sent to on trumped up charges of missing parole check-ins while he was recovering from a Russian government attempt to assassinate him by poisoning.
Careful What You Wish For
In his weekly column on March 31st. Thomas B. Edsall reports that Republican voter suppression efforts have backfired. He quotes researchers who have found that voter anger at attempts to make it harder to vote has spurred them to overcome barriers and cast a ballot. The researchers found that that has been especially true of African American voters.
Kind of a Dilemma
In a March 29th story, Politico included moderate Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind in a short list of House Democrats who may decide to run for Senate or Governor as they face tough reelection bids in purple districts. Their road to reelection looks even more uphill when you consider that the off year is usually bad for the party in power. And it all gets complicated by redrawn maps, which will be late this time because of delayed census data.
More Military Killings in Myanmar
The military junta that staged a coup in Myanmar (formerly Burma) on February 1st has killed another 100 or more protesters just over this weekend, according to a March 28th press report. After a half-century of military rule, Myanmar had been transitioning to a democracy. Protesters are trying to reinstate that progress.
In his March 26th column in the New York Times, David Brooks offers the pros and cons of Pres. Joe Biden’s moves to vastly expand America’s social safety net. Brooks reports that America currently spends only 19% of its GDP on social programs while France spends 31%, On the other hand, per capita GDP in the U.S. is $66,000 compared to only $45,000 in France. So, is there a necessary tradeoff between economic dynamism for the country and economic security for individuals?
Both Parties Ignore Concerns of Moderate Voters
In his weekly oped posted on March 24th, New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall poses the central question: Is there still a viable American political center or is the center just exhausted by the issues that activists in each party fight over? He writes: “(Data show) that there are large numbers of voters who say that neither party reflects their views; that many of the most polarizing issues — including gay rights, gender equality, abortion and racial equality — rank 19 to 52 points below voters’ top priorities, which are the economy, health care, jobs and Medicare; and that the share of voters who describe themselves as moderate has remained constant since 1974.”
Can We Best China?
In a March 24th post, columnist Jonah Goldberg linked Chinese attacks on America’s human rights record to undermining of pride in our country on both sides of the political spectrum. “On the left, much of the rhetoric is obsessed with white supremacy, structural racism, sexism, transphobia, etc. It’s difficult to speak proudly about American democracy, never mind condemn Chinese apartheid, when the activist base of your party seems to believe we have nothing short of Jim Crow and apartheid in America right now. And, on the right, it’s difficult to express patriotic pride in democracy when a good share of the party holds that the previous election was stolen, the system is rigged and America was a sucker all those years we advocated for our ideals around the globe rather than “America first.” I don’t much care if China doesn’t want to hear about the superiority of the American system. I’m much more concerned that a lot of Americans don’t want to hear it, either.”
Purple Wisconsin Could Decide Senate
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political reporter Craig Gilbert reports, in a March 21st story, that Wisconsin will once again be a key state in the 2022 mid-terms. Gov. Tony Evers will be up for reelection, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s seat is one of only two Republican seats from states that went for Donald Trump in 2020 that are up next year, and Rep. Ron Kind’s seat will be targeted by the GOP. Given the 50-50 split in the Senate, Johnson’s seat could well determine who controls that house in the next Congress.
Biden Discovers Self-Control
Joe Biden always had a knack for the gaffe, but so far his presidency has been marked by sure-footed confidence. In a March 19th post, New York Times center-left columnist Frank Bruni, observes: “He was less showboat than tugboat, humbly poised to pull us out of perilous waters. And he’s still tugging and tugging. No culture wars for America’s 46th president: Those are just distractions that give oxygen to a Republican Party gasping for it. No distractions, period, for him.”
In his weekly column posted on March 17th, New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall reports that Pres. Biden is pursuing a strategy of refusing to engage in the culture wars and reaping political benefits from that. He quotes writer Damon Linker: “While Republicans are busy trying to bait Democrats on culture war issues, those Democrats end up winning public opinion in a big way by refusing to play along, changing the subject, and actually making the lives of most Americans concretely better.” Biden has a 52% public approval rating while Pres. Trump never approached 50%.
Talk, Talk, Talk
Pres. Joe Biden said on March 17th that he supports the “talking filibuster” idea of moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia). With Manchin and at least one other Democratic senator opposed to repealing the filibuster altogether, requiring senators to actually hold the floor in real time (as opposed to simply threatening to do that) seems to be the best alternative. Despite Biden’s support, Senate Democratic leaders say they want to bring proposals to the floor under the current rules first to see what happens.
Common Ground Already Plowed
China, immigration, rural broadband and prescription drug prices. In a March 16th post, center-left Wall Street Journal columnist Wm. Galston suggests that those are four areas in which bipartisan common ground can be found in Congress. He says that all four areas have already had a good deal of work done on them by legislators working across the aisle.
Don’t Fix What’s Not Broken
Right-center columnist Jonah Goldberg takes both parties to task for their baseless claims about the 2020 election in a piece posted on March 17th. “Both sides seem to be suffering from a kind of elite panic,” Goldberg writes. “Some Republicans have convinced themselves they can’t win votes without severely restricting minority access to the ballot box, even though the GOP improved with minority voters in the last election. Democrats not only look at record-breaking turnout in 2018 and 2020 and see evidence of voter suppression, they make it sound like any attempt to return to normal procedures after a pandemic is tantamount to the restoration of Jim Crow.”
Moderate Biden Flips Counties Blue
An Associated Press story posted on March 17th reports that Joe Biden flipped some 60 counties that are home to regional hub cities blue in 2020. To quote the story: “These voters are in line with Biden’s personal brand,” said Robert Griffin, research director for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, a bipartisan demographic and public opinion team. “He’s pegged as a moderate Democrat, rightly. But he’s also making sure there’s room for moderation in the party.””
Kooyenga is a Guy to Watch
Wisconsin State Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) was one of only two Republicans to not vote for a resolution honoring the late Rush Limbaugh in the Senate on March 16th. Kooyenga said that he won’t vote for any more honoring resolutions because they’ve become “sticks” both parties use to “poke people in the eye.” Kooyenga went on, “I’m just disgusted with this body. Your cultural wars will not be solved in this chamber with your resolutions. Where’s the policy?” Kooyenga is also the author of a proposal to reform primaries in a way designed to produce more moderate candidates.
A Third Party for the Center?
In a column posted on March 15th, New York Times writer Bret Stephens suggests that a third party may be needed for those who respect classical liberal values of free speech, the rule of law and the presumption of innocence. “The neglected territory of American politics is no longer at the illiberal fringes. It’s at the liberal center. It’s the place most Americans still are, temperamentally and morally, and might yet return to if given the choice,” he writes.
Don’t Be So Sure of Yourself
In a deeply thoughtful interview posted on March 15th in the New York Times, film maker Ken Burns argues that there is such a thing as a shared American story. And he makes a case for a sense of nuance and for the healthiness of a little uncertainty. “Doubt is the mechanics of faith in a way; it’s testing and not being too sure,” says Burns. “Learned Hand — could there be a better name for a judge than Learned Hand? — said liberty is never being too sure you’re right.”
At least seven more protesters were killed in Myanmar on Saturday as police, backed by the military, continue to crack down on pro-democracy activists. Earlier in the week, a U.N. human rights investigator reported that at least 70 people had been killed since the junta seized control earlier this year.
In a March 12th editorial, the New York Times had a balanced take on the F-35 fighter jet. While attacking the plethora of technical problems and massive cost overruns associated with the plane, the Times noted, “as more F-35 are churned out, the price is dropping — the tag on the Air Force version has already slid below $80 million, less than some other advanced fighter planes. As problems are eliminated, the fighter is arguably doing better than some of the criticism suggests.” The paper suggested that the military should cut back on the number of jets ordered and fill in with revamped F-16’s and drones. It’s not clear what that would mean for the F-35s scheduled to be deployed in Madison next year.
Some Good, Some Bad
In a March 11th post, New York Times columnist David Brooks offered a balanced, big picture assessment of the $1.9 trillion Covid relief package. “I’m worried about a world in which we spend borrowed money with abandon,” Brooks wrote. “The skeptical headline on the final preretirement column of the great Washington Post economics columnist Steven Pearlstein resonated with me: “In Democrats’ progressive paradise, borrowing is free, spending pays for itself and interest rates never rise.” But income inequality, widespread child poverty and economic precarity are the problems of our time. It’s worth taking a risk to tackle all this.”
Myanmar Junta Kills More Opponents
In a story reported on March 12th, a United Nations human rights investigator has found that at least 70 people have been murdered and political imprisonment and torture are widespread since a military coup earlier this year. The investigator challenged the international community to do more.
Biden Doesn’t Fulfill Punching Bag Role
In an analysis of his first 50 days in office by the Associated Press, the AP reports that Pres. Joe Biden just isn’t the same kind of polarizing figure that Republicans have been able to rally the right against in the past. The AP quotes sources saying that conservative commentators and news outlets rarely mention Biden, preferring to stoke anger over culture war issues.
Far Left Policies Push Hispanics Away From the Democrats
In a March 10th column in the New York Times, Thomas B. Edsall writes about the Democrats’ eroding support among people of color, especially Hispanics. He quotes Democratic data analyst David Shor. Edsall writes: “In brief, Shor makes the case that well-educated largely white liberals on the left wing of the party have pushed an agenda — from “socialism” to “defund the police” — far outside the mainstream, driving conservative and centrist minority voters into the arms of the opposition.”
Education or Indoctrination?
In a piece posted on March 10th, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens takes on the proposed ethnic studies curriculum in California and its cousin, critical race theory. Stephens writes, “Public education is supposed to create a sense of common citizenship while cultivating the habits of independent thinking. This is a curriculum that magnifies differences, encourages tribal loyalties and advances ideological groupthink.”
No Deficit of Hypocrisy
Center-right columnist Jonah Goldberg makes a case that the $1.9 trillion Covid bill about to become law is vastly more expensive than it needed to be in a piece printed in the March 10th Wisconsin State Journal. But he also points out the hypocrisy of Republicans who didn’t care about deficit spending when they were the ones doing it. “But the dilemma for McConnell, and Republicans generally, is that this is the world they helped create. Under Trump, spending and debt exploded, even before the pandemic,” Goldberg wrote.
Maybe a Bipartisan Thaw
A series of modestly important bills with bipartisan support is moving through the Wisconsin legislature, according to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal on March 10th. Allowing dentists to administer the Covid vaccine may be the most significant of them. This may not seem like a big deal until you realize that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has already signed seven bills this year as compared to none at this same point in the cycle two years ago.
Stand and Deliver
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) said on Sunday that while he will not support killing the filibuster, he could support returning to the days of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” in which a senator must actually stand and hold the floor for as long as he can. Under the current system, all senators have to do is threaten to filibuster and the 60 vote cloture rule is invoked. Manchin’s compromise could make the filibuster more rare than it is now, allowing more legislation to pass with a simple 51 vote majority.
Down the Slippery Slope
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote in a piece posted on March 6th that the decision by the estate of Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) to stop publication of a half dozen of his titles — and the lack of any objection from liberals — is another indication of what’s happened to the once-liberal passion for the defense of literature, even (maybe, especially) when it was offensive. “But it was much creepier that so few people notionally in the free-expression business, so few liberal journalists and critics, seemed troubled by the move,” Douthat wrote.
Pro-Democracy Protests Continue
More than 50 peaceful pro-democracy protesters have now been killed by the military junta that seized control in Myanmar earlier this year. A United Nations special envoy is now recommending that the U.N. Security Council take strong actions to force the generals to back down and return power to a civilian government.
In a March 4th post New York Times economics writer Steve Rattner warns that Democrats are too quick to dismiss inflation threats from the $1.9 trillion stimulus package they are about to pass. He offers specific areas to cut. For example, he reports that Moody’s Analytics has estimated that the real need for state bailouts is about $80 billion, not the $510 billion in the bill.
Equality v. Equity
In a piece posted on March 4th in the Wall Street Journal, University of Chicago Professor Charles Lipson writes about the difference between the terms “equality” and “equity.” “It’s the difference between equal treatment and equal outcomes,” Lipson writes. “Equality means equal treatment, unbiased competition and impartially judged outcomes. Equity means equal outcomes, achieved if necessary by unequal treatment, biased competition and preferential judging.”
Patriotism v. Nationalism
In a column posted on March 4th, New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about the nature of, and the need for, an informed patriotism, as opposed to a blind nationalism. Brooks writes: “The problem is that if you abandon shared patriotism, you have severed the bonds of civic life. There’s no such thing as the loyal opposition. There is no such thing as putting country over party. We talk about how people have grown more passionate about their partisan identities. Maybe the problem is people have grown less passionate about a shared American identity.”
Speaking of Speech
On March 4th, the UW Alumni Association sponsored a very interesting discussion on free speech with Prof. Donald Downs and Ian Rosenberg, author of “A User’s Guide to Free Speech.” Downs quoted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who said that the First Amendment means nothing if it doesn’t protect speech that you hate. Down’s own book, “Free Speech and Liberal Education,” deals mostly with free speech challenges on campuses. He said that he has grown less optimistic since he wrote his book. “There’s a lot of conformity of thought,” he said. “People are afraid to speak up.” You can view the discussion here.
Some Common Ground
In a story posted on March 1st, the Cap Times reports that there are at least three areas that could be fertile ground for bipartisan cooperation on Wisconsin’s $91 billion biannual budget. The article suggests that common ground might be found on broadband and support for small businesses and farmers.
Rewarding Good Behavior
In a March 3rd editorial, the Wisconsin State Journal endorsed a bipartisan proposal for ranked choice voting in Wisconsin’s congressional elections. They quote Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield): “Politics is hyperpartisan. It is a lot of bomb throwing. It is not very productive, and the vast majority of people are turned off. The system as it’s currently designed rewards behaviors in the tail of bell curves. What this reform does is it gives a broader segment of our population … a say in who the representatives are.”
Self-Loathing Loses Elections
In a column posted on March 1st in the Wall Street Journal, Rahm Emanuel chastised fellow Democrats for being dismissive of their successes during the Clinton and Obama administrations. “If you want to win elections, you need to assert that your record demands the public’s respect and confidence,” he wrote. “Progressives undermine their own candidates with baseless self-doubt. Democrats should be as proud of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as Republicans are of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. Yesterday’s successes pave the way for tomorrow’s triumphs.”
The Grievances of Trump Past
In an editorial posted on March 1st, the Wall Street Journal lamented that the GOP is unable to stop much of the Biden agenda, including the president’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan, which will be approved in the coming week. The paper lays the blame squarely with Donald Trump and makes the case that the party needs to move beyond him if it is to regain power. “As long as Republicans focus on the grievances of the Trump past, they won’t be a governing majority,” they wrote.
The Academic Monoculture
In a February 28th oped in the Wall Street Journal, University of London Professor Eric Kaufmann writes about his research into intolerance on campuses in America and Britain. “Some 75% of American and British conservative academics in social sciences and humanities say their departments offer a hostile climate for their beliefs. Nearly 4 in 10 American centrist faculty concur,” Kaufmann found. Kaufmann suggests that, in the U.S., the government require First Amendment protections for faculty as a condition of receiving federal aid. There are already some safeguards recently put in place in Britain.
Navalny Sent to Harsh Prison
Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has been sent to one of the country’s harshest prisons. Navlany was convicted in a show trial of violating his parole — while he was in a Berlin hospital recovering from an assassination attempt carried out by the Russian government. The prison sentence at a bleak, corrupt gulag east of Moscow is, no doubt, meant to send a message to others who might oppose Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Democracy Recedes Still Further in Hong Kong
In Hong Kong protesters briefly gathered on Sunday near a jail where 47 dissidents are awaiting trial. Their crime? They were plotting to win primary elections last year and then form a coalition to block anti-democratic legislation. In Hong Kong normal political activity like that is now considered illegal because it is disloyal to the Communist Party. Even the pro-democracy protests have grown rare because of the pandemic and Chinese government repression.
Myanmar Coup Gets Bloodier
The military crackdown against pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar continued over the weekend and became the most severe yet. The United Nations reports that at least 18 protesters were killed. The military retook power in a coup against the democratically elected government earlier this month.
In a piece posted on February 27th, New York Times center-right columnist Ross Douthat chides his own newspaper and other media outlets for mostly ignoring troubles with people and institutions they deemed worthy. He offers as examples New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (now facing charges of covering up nursing home pandemic deaths and sexual harassment), the Lincoln Project (now accused of being a toxic workplace) and a general fawning over how Europe was handling the pandemic (it turns out, not so much better than the U.S.). He writes that the media was, “slow to scrutinize their own narratives, question their own icons, or acknowledge the importance of stories that might vindicate the right.”
The February 26th Wisconsin State Journal editorial page contained two pieces lamenting the current state of the GOP and the CPAC conference, which starts today in Orlando. Center-right columnist (and former CPAC enthusiast) S.E. Cupp writes that, “The agenda is.. predictable, obsessed with culture wars and cancel culture, fear and loathing, resentments and grievances.” And the Orlando Sentinel didn’t exactly welcome the event to its city. “We’re getting a new breed of 21st century conservatives, who, instead of focusing on economic policy and foreign affairs, obsess over fables of stolen elections and delusions of victimhood,” the paper wrote.
A bipartisan bill to begin fixing Wisconsin’s messed up unemployment insurance system was passed and signed by Gov. Tony Evers on February 26th. The bill passed the Senate 27-3 and the Assembly 89-0. The bill begins the process of finding a vendor to replace the state’s aging UI computer system at an estimated cost of $80 million. While the votes were encouraging, Republicans and Democrats continued to point fingers at each other about who was to blame for the system crashing under the strain of the pandemic unemployment rate.
Manchin Picks His Cabinet
It was obvious when the Democrats took back the Senate, only because Vice President Kamala Harris would provide the deciding vote, that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) would become the second most powerful man in the country. That’s on full display now as Manchin has assured that Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) will become Interior Secretary (with his support) and that Neera Tanden will almost certainly not be the next OMB director (without it).
How to Keep the Extremes Out of Power
In a piece posted on February 25th in the New York Times, legal scholar Richard Pildes discusses election reforms that might produce less ideological parties. He suggests ranked choice voting, redistricting aimed at producing the most competitive races and campaign finance reform.
Bi-Partisan Effort On Sexual Assault Evidence
On February 25th, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul and Rep. David Steffen (R-Green Bay) have teamed up on a bill that would set standards and procedures for the processing of sexual assault kits. The bill aims to make sure that the backlog of some 7,000 untested kits discovered in 2014 does not recur. A similar bill stalled last session, when the Assembly loaded it down with unrelated partisan provisions, but Steffen has removed those.
How to Make Better Hamantaschen
In this February 22nd piece, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens takes on the increasing intolerance of the left. He writes about the over the top reaction to a six year old article in Bon Appetit in which the author dares to suggest that hamantaschen could be better. “Behold in this little story, dear reader, the apotheosis of Woke,” Stephens writes. “No transgression of sensitivities is so trivial that it will not invite a moralizing rebuke on social media. No cultural tradition is so innocuous that it needn’t be protected from the slightest criticism, at least if the critic has the wrong ethnic pedigree.” The vast majority of the comments following Stephens’ piece agreed with him — even among liberal Times readers.
A thoughtful analysis by educational researcher Eve L. Ewing in the February 22nd New York Times suggests that the research on charter schools is mixed, supporting neither their zealous advocates nor their dyed-in-the-wool detractors. “Unfortunately, the discourse about charter schools has become more of an ideological debate, split neatly into opposing factions, than it is a policy discussion informed by facts. As long as Democrats play by those rules, they miss an important chance to reframe the debate altogether,” she writes.
What’s Good For Myanmar is Good For Us
In their February 18th editorial opposing the military coup in Myanmar, the New York Times made an important, if seemingly obvious, statement. “What she (the deposed leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi) might have done had she wielded independent power cannot be known, but Myanmar’s chances of shaping an equitable coexistence of its many minorities have to be far stronger under a democratic, fully civilian government than under an illegitimate military junta,” they wrote. Too many activists in the U.S. view civil liberties as speed bumps in their fight for social justice. In this editorial, the Times is saying that social justice is best served by freedom and democracy. We assume that applies everywhere.
Ross Douthat, who hails from the right side of the New York Times opinion bench, has written one of the better assessments of the career of Rush Limbaugh, who died this week. In a February 20th piece, he writes that Limbaugh, “Made the right’s passionate core feel more culturally besieged, more desperate for “safe spaces” where liberal perfidy was taken for granted and the most important reasons for conservative defeats were never entertained.” Because he made it virtually impossible for the right to ever deal with the possibility of their own role in their failures, they became a weaker movement, Douthat concludes. In the same edition of the paper, Frank Bruni, who sits just to the left of Douthat, wrote that too many liberals were over the top in dancing on Limbaugh’s grave. “Our crudeness only perpetuates a kind of discourse that tracks too closely with Twitter: all spleen, no soul,” he wrote.
Save Us From Seattle
In a February 19th post, New York Times columnist Timothy Egan writes that the most significant parts of the Biden agenda are overwhelmingly popular and could lead to a long-term Democratic majority. Unless the far left messes it up. “What could doom Democrats is fellow Democrats. “(The Seattle) City Council is never far from a bad idea. A recent proposal would make it the first city in the nation to appear to incentivize misdemeanor crime. Assaults, trespass, stalking — all could be excused if their offense is linked to poverty or a behavioral health disorder,” Egan writes.
Can the GOP be De-Trumped?
In a piece posted on February 18th, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about the need to have two responsible parties and he said that his own Republican Party under Trump had become, “intellectually and morally bankrupt.” He encouraged young Republicans to struggle to regain control. “This is a struggle to create a Republican Party that is democratic and not authoritarian, patriotic and not nationalistic, conservative and not reactionary, benevolent and not belligerent, intellectually self-confident and not apocalyptic and dishonest,” Brooks wrote.
McConnell Was Wrong Before He Was Right
Center-right columnist Jonah Goldberg takes Sen. Mitch McConnell to task for not voting to convict former Pres. Donald Trump, but he gives McConnell credit for trying to distance his party from Trump in post-acquittal statements. In a February 17th column, Goldberg also lambasts Sen. Lindsey Graham for sticking with Trump. “Graham personifies political cowardice. Whether cowardice can lead to “winning” remains to be seen. And whether such winning is worth the price the Republican Party is willing to pay, only history can answer,” Goldberg writes.
This is the Times that Tries Men’s Souls
New York Times media columnist Ben Smith takes on the drama in his own news room in this February 14th post. He recounts the ill-advised mixing of a hard-bitten veteran journalist with entitled kids from elite high schools in a Times sponsored educational trip to Peru. The kids were offended by the reporter’s unvarnished candor and the journalist got fired. Smith worries for his paper’s future. “This intense attention, combined with a thriving digital subscription business that makes the company more beholden to the views of left-leaning subscribers, may yet push it into a narrower and more left-wing political lane,” Smith writes.
Biden Needs to be Biden
In this oped posted on February 14th, occasional Wall Street Journal contributor Rahm Emanuel makes the case that President Biden needs to work with Republicans because the promise of bipartisanship is a big part of what voters expect of him. Emanuel believes that Biden can get away with a Covid relief package passed with only Democratic votes, but that in the long-run he needs to find common ground with moderate Republicans on infrastructure, immigration and other issues.
In These Times
I used to love the New York Times for its adherence to high journalistic standards. Now I only read it because I have to and I often cringe at its story selection and obvious bias. What’s happened to the nation’s self-proclaimed, “paper of record”? In its winter, 2021 edition, the quarterly City Journal does a deep dive into the fight for the soul of the Times, which seems to have been won by “post-journalism.”
Closing the Overton Window
An alert reader brought to our attention the concept of the “Overton window.” Named after a writer name Joseph Overton, it was an obscure concept in political science until recently. It’s really a simple idea. The window is just the sum of ideas that are considered acceptable in mainstream politics. So, politicians and influencers on the edges are said to be opening the window wider. Bernie Sanders made it acceptable to talk about socialism while Donald Trump enabled open talk of white nationalism. As a moderate, I suppose I’d feel better if the window were closed just a bit. It’s getting cold in here.
America’s divisions have become so stark that sometimes we don’t even understand the very words the other side is using. Two examples of terms that a lot of people find befuddling are “equity” and “Latinx.” In this piece posted on February 12th in the Wall Street Journal, Black intellectual Shelby Steele gives his take on the meaning (or lack of it) of “equity.” And in this February 14th article from the Sacramento Bee, “Latinx” is explained.
Stiff Upper Lip, People
In a piece posted on February 11th, Wall Street Journal conservative columnist Peggy Noonan sides with those who would convict Donald Trump, but she makes a more fundamental case for reason over emotional arguments. “Democratic floor managers were at their best when they were direct, unadorned, and dealt crisply with information and data, as they did most of the time,” she writes. “They were less effective when they employed emotional tones to move the audience. Here is a truth: Facts make people feel. People are so unused to being given them. They’re grateful for the respect shown in an invitation to think.”
Third Wave Antiracism
A reader shared with us this thoughtful and provocative piece by John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia and a contributor to the Atlantic. It was posted on the website Persuasion on February 8th. McWhorter, who is Black, critiques what he calls “Third Wave Antiracism.” He writes, “Third Wave Antiracism is losing innocent people jobs. It is coloring, detouring and sometimes strangling academic inquiry. It forces us to render a great deal of our public discussion of urgent issues in doubletalk any 10-year-old can see through.” The piece is part of McWhorter’s book on this subject, The Elect: Neoracists Posing as Antiracists and their Threat to a Progressive America.
First They Came For Facebook
Cutting off Internet access to its citizens is one of the first things a repressive regime will do, according to a study reported by the Associated Press on February 12th. “Last year there were 93 major internet shutdowns in 21 countries, according to a report by Top10VPN, a U.K.-based digital privacy and security research group. The list doesn’t include places like China and North Korea, where the government tightly controls or restricts the internet,” the AP reported. The story notes that the Internet is now a key organizing tool for opposition movements, akin to what TV and radio stations might have been a generation ago.
China Tightens Reins on Free Speech
In a story posted on February 11th, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese government has blacked out the BBC there. The paper reports that the BBC has limited reach in China and that the blackout doesn’t impact Hong Kong where the BBC is widely viewed. According to the report, “For days, Chinese officials have criticized as unfair specific BBC news coverage of Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus, its treatment of ethnic Uighurs and a national-security law in Hong Kong that limits some personal freedoms.” So, while this might have limited impact, it is the continuation of a trend toward tightening restrictions on press freedom even among foreign reporters in China.
In a February 11th post, New York Times‘ liberal columnist Ezra Klein takes California liberals to task for signaling their virtue while practicing conservative policies designed to protect their lifestyles. He points out that San Francisco has some of the highest private school enrollments in the country. Most of those schools have reopened (with documented benefits to their students) while public schools, which are only 15% white, remain closed. The school board recently voted to rename 44 schools because of serious or tenuous misdeeds by their namesakes. “This is why the school renamings were so galling to so many in San Francisco, including the mayor,” Klein writes. “It felt like an attack on symbols was being prioritized over the policies needed to narrow racial inequality.”
Wall Street Journal Blasts Trump
In a scathing editorial posted on February 10th, the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which had President Donald Trump’s back for four years, wrote that, whether or not the former president is convicted, he has brought shame to his party. “Now his legacy will be forever stained by this violence, and by his betrayal of his supporters in refusing to tell them the truth. Whatever the result of the impeachment trial, Republicans should remember the betrayal if Mr. Trump decides to run again in 2024.”
Bipartisan Support for Families and Kids
A proposal tucked into the COVID relief bill would provide families with cash payments of $300 per child — permanently. It’s not a one-time payment, like the $1,400 stimulus check that is getting most of the attention. Here’s the surprising thing: it’s very likely to become law because it has the support of Democrats and at least some Republicans. The measure’s most active supporters include conservative Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), moderate Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and progressive Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The payments are estimated to cost $120 billion a year, but one researcher claims that child poverty costs the U.S. up to a trillion dollars per year in lost economic potential.
Which Wonks Will Win?
This piece by reporter Neil Irwin, posted on February 8th, in the New York Times lays out the internal divide among top liberal economists. Irwin writes that center-left advisors, like Larry Summers, “view themselves as rigorous, careful and pragmatic. Many liberals view them as excessively moderate, too deferential to Wall Street and clueless about the political dynamics that could make for durable policies to help the working class… In a sense then, the debate over pandemic aid isn’t entirely about output gaps or risk trade-offs. It’s about which mode of policymaking ought to prevail in the Democratic Party.” Right now, Irwin reports, the liberals led by Janet Yellin, seem to have Biden’s ear.
Russian Opposition Takes a New Tack
The opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a strategic decision to back off on street protests for now and focus instead on the next round of elections, according to this story posted on February 7th in the Wall Street Journal. Developments in Russia, Hong Kong and Myanmar are important for moderates to keep an eye on because they all involve fights for fundamental liberal values, like free speech and the rule of law.
Cash For Kids
In a piece posted on February 6th, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat makes a case for Sen. Mitt Romney’s proposal for a direct monthly cash payment to parents. Romney would provide up to $1,250 per month for families below a certain income level and would pay for it by eliminating current related programs and tax credits. Douthat speculates that there will be bipartisan support — as well as bipartisan opposition — to Romney’s proposal. It is good to be talking about something that can’t be readily placed into a liberal or conservative box.
Just Change the Subject
In a January 20th piece, Atlantic writer Anne Applebaum had a provocative idea to reduce polarization in America: talk about something else. More to her point, do something else. For example, she suggested that re-establishing AmeriCorps or building roads in a big infrastructure program might get us working together toward a common goal, instead of stewing over our differences. She reports that a similar strategy worked in Northern Ireland and in other former hot spots. Her main point is that we have to work it out because, whichever side you’re on, the other side isn’t going away.
How Did It Come to This?
In his podcast of February 5th, New York Times columnist Ezra Klein interviews Yuval Levin of the American Enterprise Institute. Levin offers some deep insight into the history of the Republican Party and how it got to where it is today.
Maybe This Is The Answer
In a February 5th column, New York Times columnist Timothy Egan writes about a promising idea to marginalize the extremists in both parties. In Washington State, and in a couple of others, the two top vote getters in a Congressional primary advance to the general election. It’s a simple idea, but the result is that candidates have a big incentive to move to the middle, instead of the extremes. It’s no accident that of the 10 brave GOP House members who voted for Trump’s impeachment, two were from Washington. That’s because they are almost certain to be rewarded for their votes with re-election because they can win with moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats.
Danforth Wants His Party Back
In an interview on the February 3rd PBS News Hour, retired Missouri Sen. John Danforth said he was disappointed in his successor Josh Hawley’s role in challenging election results. He went on to say that the current GOP is not a party he recognizes but is a “grotesque caricature”. He wants to rebuild a traditional conservative party.
Why Moderation Loses in the “Attention Economy”
In a New York Times interview posted on February 4th, Michael Goldhaber, a retired theoretical physicist who has had prophetic insights into social media and the Internet, suggests an answer to why moderate politics is so out of fashion right now. To quote the Times, “While Mr. Goldhaber said he wanted to remain hopeful, he was deeply concerned about whether the attention economy and a healthy democracy can coexist. Nuanced policy discussions, he said, will almost certainly get simplified into “meaningless slogans” in order to travel farther online, and politicians will continue to stake out more extreme positions and commandeer news cycles. He said he worried that, as with Brexit, “rational discussion of what people stand to gain or lose from policies will be drowned out by the loudest and most ridiculous.””
Conspiracy Theories Aren’t Just For Conservatives
In his usual thoughtful (and long) Thursday column, posted on February 4th, New York Times contributor Thomas B. Edsall tries to get to the bottom of the psychology behind conspiracy theories. His primary conclusion is that people who feel (or, in fact, are) powerless are more likely to engage in them. The evidence is that this is true for both liberals and conservatives, though the recent spate of conspiracy mongering by Donald Trump has made things much worse on the right than they ever were on the left.
How Much is Enough?
This sober analysis of the COVID relief proposals from President Biden and Senate Republicans was posted on February 2nd in the Wall Street Journal. It is by William Galston, a Brookings fellow and a Democrat. He suggests a compromise that focusses on immediate health needs and sets aside structural changes, like an increase in the minimum wage. He also points out that Washington has already spent $3.5 trillion on COVID relief since the crisis started and that, as a result of these efforts, personal savings rates are very high, suggesting that the lower payments to individuals and families in the GOP plan might suffice.
Dear Conservatives/Dear Liberals
In a friendly exchange of open letters, New York Times columnists Bret Stephens and Nicholas Kristof each end up pleading for some understanding and compromise between the warring sides in American politics. The columns were posted on February 1st and January 27th, respectively. “My unsolicited advice: Like Republicans, Democrats do best when they govern from the center. Forget California, think Colorado. A purple country needs a purple president — and a political opposition with the credibility to keep him honest,” writes Stephens.
Nobody Likes to be Preached At
One of the hallmarks of the current political debate is that there really is no debate at all. Each side just screams their opinions at the other and calls them stupid for not conceding the iron clad logic of the screamer’s position. In this piece posted on January 31st in the New York Times, an organizational psychologist describes a method he calls “motivational interviewing.” It’s about asking questions, rather than making an argument.
Harriet Tubman, Conservative?
In an oped posted on January 31st, a guest columnist for the Wall Street Journal makes a conservative case for replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. He claims that Tubman backed Republicans (not surprising since it was a Republican who ended slavery) and that she would have been a Second Amendment zealot because she used a gun on the underground railroad. That seems pretty thin evidence that Tubman would support private ownership of assault weapons or arming teachers, but hey, we’ll take any claim to bi-partisanship on any issue these days.
Can We Talk?
Probably the most important meeting of his young presidency will take place this evening in Joe Biden’s White House. As reported by the New York Times on February 1st, Biden has invited the 10 Republican senators who have offered to negotiate on the COVID relief package over for a talk. It seems like a long shot, but if Biden can cut a deal with these 10 centrists, that would bode well for progress on all kinds of issues in the future.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) appeared on Meet the Press on January 31st to talk about his attempt to take back his party from Donald Trump. Kinzinger was one of ten GOP House members to vote for impeachment. He has started a website called country1st.com. His statement at the top of his website is encouraging: “Our country’s future is truly unlimited. After all, we are the party that ended slavery, secured women’s suffrage, and won the war against communist tyranny. Now we must be the party that lifts up the rural town and the inner city. We must be the party that empowers every student to soar and every family to thrive.”
And, Yet, There’s More
Still can’t get enough of Sec. 230? Well, we aim to please. Here are two more opeds, which appeared in the January 31st edition of the Wisconsin State Journal. The first is by Steven Hill an advocate for repeal and the second from a supporter of the current law, Will Duffield. Hill is a writer and former director of the Center for Humane Technology while Duffield works for the Cato Institute.
Everything You Need to Know About Sec. 230
Got all weekend? Good. Then you might want to settle in with this very dense analysis from a Columbia law school professor of the famous (or infamous) section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which appeared in the January 30th Wall Street Journal. This law has been the center of controversy recently because it forms the basis for big tech’s argument that it isn’t liable for what gets posted on its platforms on the one hand, and it also can freely censor what is or might be posted, on the other. Be ready for a pop quiz next week.
Where’s the Line?
In an editorial posted on January 29th, the Wall Street Journal warned of a liberal penchant for restricting free speech. The excesses of the Trump administration that culminated in the violent Capitol insurrection have led to an understandable (my word) backlash against social media companies and news outlets that promulgate falsehoods and conspiracy theories. But where do you draw the line and when does it all become just suppression of legitimate conservative ideas and who gets to decide what’s legitimate?
A Portman in Any Storm
In a January 28th post, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan writes about her recent conversation with retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Portman has been a voice of reason and moderation. But he says that his announcement of his retirement has sparked an outpouring from those who appreciate his brand of sensible politics. To quote Noonan’s piece: “It’s a crazy world right now, and this decision I made I thought normal, but the response was abnormal. I think people are really yearning for some renewed bipartisanship and cooperation.” Potential candidates for his seat have called to say they want to be like him. “It’s been crazy,” he laughs, “like dying a good death.”
Lose Your Moderates, Lose Your Mind
In an oped posted on January 28th, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman offered a succinct description of what happens when moderates are driven out of any organization. “This opens the door to a process of self-reinforcing extremism (something, by the way, that I’ve seen happen in a minor fashion within some academic subfields). As hard-liners gain power within a group, they drive out moderates; what remains of the group is even more extreme, which drives out even more moderates; and so on. A party starts out complaining that taxes are too high; after a while it begins claiming that climate change is a giant hoax; it ends up believing that all Democrats are Satanist pedophiles.”
How The Left Left the Working Class Behind
The January 27th Wall Street Journal carries a review of “Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class,” by Paul Embery. The book is about British politics but its themes easily apply to the United States. George Bernard Shaw said that he, “had no other feeling for the working classes than an intense desire to abolish them and replace them by sensible people.” “Embery suggests that Bernard Shaw’s enormous condescension is now the dominant ideology of the progressive intelligentsia, which embraces every subcategory of identity politics except class identity,” according to the review.
A Compromise Proposal on the Filibuster
Filibuster is a Dutch word meaning “pirate.” As it applies to the U.S. Senate, it’s a way for a minority to steal an issue that the majority is in favor of. An interesting piece by two law professors in the January 27th New York Times provides a relatively simple way to limit its use, which has skyrocketed in recent years. The answer, they say, is to bring back Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In that 1939 film, Jimmy Stewart was forced to actually hold the senate floor by speaking on his feet until he collapsed. The professors suggest that that rigorous requirement be simply reinstated, so that senators can no longer kill legislation just by threatening to filibuster without ever having to leave the comfort of their offices.
Thompson Opts for Practicality
At a recent forum, UW System President Tommy Thompson said that, while he would prefer a tuition increase, he won’t pursue it because it would doom his budget proposal before the Republican-controlled legislature. As reported on January 26th on WPR, Thompson said he “can’t afford to lose” in his attempt to increase state support for the UW by $96 million.
Whit Airs It Out
Long-time Republican strategist Whit Ayres appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered on January 26th. “January 6th was the start of the battle for the soul of the Republican Party,” he said. Ayres says the battle is between “Governing Republicans” and “Populist Republicans.” He claims that most Republicans in office are of the Governing variety and he expressed some confidence that they would win the fight.
Trim the Sails as We Go
Jason Furman, a former member of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, suggests in this January 25th Wall Street Journal oped that President Biden’s stimulus plan should be toggled to economic indicators going forward. For example, he suggests that Biden’s proposal for an additional $400 per week for unemployment insurance should be continued after September (when they would expire under his plan) or cut back before then based on how well the economy is doing.
Ideas for Compromise on Health Care
In an oped in The New York Times on January 26th, fellows at the Hoover and American Enterprise think tanks proposed three steps that would expand health care for more Americans and could achieve bipartisan support. They propose automatic enrollment in programs like Medicaid and Obamacare (millions of Americans simply fail to take advantage of programs they’re eligible for), giving states more flexibility on Medicaid expansion (Republican legislatures and governors need a way out of their dug-in opposition to expansion), and price transparency (allowing the market to work by giving consumers more information on what everything costs).
The Firing Squad Forms a Circle
In a January 24th editorial the Wall Street Journal takes the Arizona GOP to task for passing resolutions rebuking three of its most prominent members: Gov. Doug Ducey, former Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, John McCain’s widow. All three are right-center moderates, which is anathema to the extremists who control the party in Arizona and many other states. The Journal points out that this sort of thing will ensure Democratic control in Washington for years to come.
Anatomy of Moderation
If there’s anything being a moderate is not, it’s easy. Being a moderate takes an appreciation of the nuances and the gray areas. That applies to not just politics but other areas of life as well. I thought about that as I read this excellent piece in the January 24th New York Times about the Otto Preminger classic film from 1959, “Anatomy of a Murder.” To quote from the Times review, “It’s a legal drama that trusts audiences to dwell in gray areas — what one character calls the “natural impurities of the law.” “As a lawyer I’ve had to learn that people aren’t just good or just bad, but people are many things,” Paul Biegler (Jimmy Stewart) says late in “Anatomy of a Murder,” in a line that is as close as the movie comes to stating its animating principle.”
Who You Callin’ a Girl?
Writer Abigail Shrier wrote a provocative piece on January 22nd for the Wall Street Journal in which she makes the case against a Biden executive order requiring schools that get federal money (all public schools) to allow biological boys who identify as girls to play sports in the girls’ leagues. She reports that 300 high school boys have better times in the 400 meter sprint than the fastest woman on the planet. Ms. Shrier’s prediction that this means the end of girls’ sports may be a little overwrought, but she does make an interesting case for balance and common sense.
Turning to Cancel Culture
Now that attacks on free speech from the right (the press is “the enemy of the people”) may fade with Donald Trump and his banishment from both the White House and social media, there’s room to worry more about the attacks coming from the left. In this thoughtful piece on cancel culture posted on January 15th on the site NewEurope, professor of European Studies Stefano Braghiroli deals comprehensively with the current enthusiasm in the academy for eliminating classical literature and philosophy before it can even be considered. He criticizes the clear-eyed moral certitude of the academic censors and quotes Voltaire, “Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”
Let’s Hear It For Apathy
Moderate New York Times columnist David Brooks writes in a January 22nd piece that he has hope that Joe Biden can deliver on his promises of unity. The most provocative line from Brooks: “Frankly, we need more political apathy in this country.” What he means, in context, is that the Trump years have been marked by pitched battles over every issue. He argues that Biden really can do what he promises to “lower the temperature” and that prospects for actual policy making are better than a lot of people think.
Where To Now For the GOP?
On the January 21st Wall Street Journal editorial page, long-time GOP strategist Karl Rove lays out his ideas for getting the Republicans reconnected to political reality after Trump. Among his recommendations are for the party to distance itself from conspiracy theories and groups like the Proud Boys and Qanon, to recruit more women and people of color as candidates, and to return to classic conservative themes like personal responsibility, limited government and individual freedom.
John F. Kennedy said that, “When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.” That was never more true than it was today, January 20th, when the National Youth Poet Laureate recited her poem at President Joe Biden’s inaugural. You can read an interview and excerpt from Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” here. My favorite line from a poem filled with them was, “Our country isn’t broken, just unfinished.”
In a January 19th post, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens writes about Abraham Lincoln’s 1838 speech in which he predicts the rise of a man like Donald Trump — and what to do about it. “What’s the solution? Lincoln’s answer in the Lyceum Address is what he calls “political religion,” built on pillars “hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.” Scholars have noted a tension between Lincoln’s passionate faith in reason and a political faith that must be sustained by passions that reach beyond reason — what he later called “the mystic chords of memory.”“
Our Algorithms, Ourselves
Could it be that much of the polarization we see today is the product of social media just reenforcing the latest outrage? Wall Street Journal tech columnist Joanna Stern writes about how tech companies could switch their algorithms (or how users could do it for themselves) in this provocative column that appeared on January 18th.
It’s Not So Simple
The right too easily dismisses the reality of systemic racism while the left wants to believe that it accounts for 100% of every problem. Robert Woodson and Joshua Mitchell take a more sensible and convincing approach in this piece that appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal.
What Would MLK Have Said?
In time for Martin Luther King Day, the Wall Street Journal posted an editorial on January 17th regarding the report of the 1776 Commission. The commission was created in response to the New York Times effort to change the narrative of American history by establishing the founding of the country in 1619 when the first slaves were brought here as opposed to 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was adopted. It’s interesting to think about which narrative King would have chosen. The Journal thinks he might have chosen 1776. “Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate Monday, could make America better by insisting it be truer to its own founding principles,” writes the Journal.
Merkel Can’t Be Replaced
In a story published on January 16th, the New York Times reported on the competition within the Christian Democrats to take over for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is retiring in a few months. For a decade and a half Merkel has been the prototype moderate world leader: informed, calm, reasonable, fair-minded and supportive of classic liberalism. She’s a moderate in her principles but also in her personal style of leadership. The worst thing critics can say about her is that she hasn’t been dynamic enough for their tastes. It will take years for anyone who replaces her to earn the level of trust she had accumulated. Given the populist surge in the world, this will be a dangerous time for Germany and for Europe.
Another Republican Speaks Out
Dan Theno served as a conservative Wisconsin state senator from 1972 to 1986 and he later became mayor of Ashland. In a letter published in the Wisconsin State Journal on January 15th, Theno takes to task his fellow Republicans Tom Tiffany and Scott Fitzgerald for voting to object to Wisconsin’s electoral votes. He makes the point that they were elected on the very same ballot that they now say was, somehow, unreliable.
Conservative or Unhinged?
Center-left columnist S.E. Cupp makes the case in a January 14th column that it’s unfair to refer to the mobs that stormed the Capitol last week as “conservative.”
LeMehui Looks Promising
New Wisconsin State Senate majority leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) is starting out on the right foot according to a story in the January 11th edition of the Wisconsin State Journal. LeMahieu got his caucus to strip out highly partisan provisions inserted in a COVID relief package by Republicans in the Assembly. He says his goal is to pass something that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers can sign.
State Journal Rips Johnson, Tiffany and Fitzgerald
On January 10th, the centrist Wisconsin State Journal ran an uncharacteristically damning editorial calling for the resignations of Wisconsin congressmen Tom Tiffany (R-Minoqua) and Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Sen. Ron Johnson for supporting the effort to challenge Electoral College results. Johnson backed down after the Trump-incited riot, but Tiffany and Fitzgerald voted against accepting some results. Of course, none of the three will resign, but this is an example of a moderate paper, which splits its endorsements between the parties, having had enough of conspiracy theories and baseless charges of election fraud.
Chapman Sees Georgia as Win for Moderation
Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman wrote a piece that appeared on January 9th pointing out that the two new senators from Georgia, Rafael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, are hardly far left in their views. “Anyone panicking about the onset of socialism should switch to decaf,” writes Chapman. “The Senate will be dealing with a president who represents the moderate wing of the Democratic Party — and who has made it clear that his agenda will not be plagiarized from progressives.”
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