A Roundup of Other Moderate Voices
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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