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A Roundup of Other Moderate Voices

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.

Charter Fight

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.

Limbaugh’s Legacy

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.

Say What?

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.

California Dissing

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.

Country First

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.

Poetry Cleanses

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.”

Lincoln’s Prescience

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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