A Roundup of Other Moderate Voices
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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