Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Era of Trump

After a busy week, something a little lighter to launch the weekend.

As regular readers know, I’m a fan of National Review’s Political Beats podcast, on which co-hosts Scot Bertram and Jeff Blehar bring in guests from politics/journalism to talk about their favorite bands.  This week’s edition (with the Washington Examiner‘s Philip Wegmann) discussed the catalog of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

One of the great appeals of the series is that it generally is a refuge from politics.  That’s basically impossible when discussing CCR, which the gents acknowledge in mentioning the band’s work is the unofficial soundtrack for movies and documentaries about Vietnam.  The show wisely avoids having a political discussion about CCR’s political songs, but some of the discussion lends itself to some observations about the relationship of culture and politics, both then and now.  And I get to make them explicitly, whereas the podcast for reasons of format leaves them as subtext.

For example, Blehar correctly observes that John Fogerty’s most trenchant “political” songs, like “Fortunate Son” and “Don’t Look Now,” are as much about the politics of class as they are specifically about Vietnam.  This is (imho) related to another of the observations on the show, that CCR was from the Bay Area, but was never taken seriously by the San Francisco scene (despite having improved over the years at uncorking the occasional long jam live).

As Blehar notes, the psychedelic crowd, in their caftans and love beads, reeking of patchouli oil, had no time for the poorly-coiffed Fogerty and his flannel-wearing bandmates pretending to be from the South (and magnificently so on tracks like “Born on the Bayou” and especially “Proud Mary,” properly described as a song that sounds like a 100-year-old blues-folk tune).

I think this says something about the culture and politics of the late Sixties and the eruption of a schism between the class based politics of the Old Left, and the more culture/lifestyle-based politics of the New Left — an argument that continues on the left, even as that schism has contributed to the decades-long erosion of working class whites from the Democrats to the Republicans.

Moreover, I’d argue that this schism contributes to another phenomenon mentioned on the podcast — that CCR is generally perceived as a “singles” act, rather than an “albums” act (the latter carrying more prestige, among the sort of cultural cognoscenti, most of whom are drawn from the cultural left).

As the gents note, of Rolling Stone‘s Top 500 Albums of All-Time, only Willy and the Poor Boys makes the cut as an original LP, checking in at No. 309 (they are also correct that this is insane and that even if you were crazy enough to only rate one CCR album, it should be Cosmo’s Factory).  I don’t think they note that Chronicle — the main CCR singles compilation clocks in at No. 59, in a bit of a cheat, but a revealing one.

The conventional wisdom is slightly ironic, insofar as CCR remains (afaik) the band with the most No. 2 hits that never had a No. 1 single.  It’s also wrong because, as noted on the ‘cast, the fact that CCR’s albums are packed with potential hit songs really doesn’t distinguish them from, say, The Beatles.

The persistence of this off-base conventional wisdom is an artifact of the dominance of the cultural left in rock criticism among the pop culture, in the sense that the Jann Wenner aesthetic of Rolling Stone ultimately seized dominance over its competitors.  It’s something small in the grand scheme of things, but you can get meaning out of the small things, as anyone who has ever heard CCR can attest.

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Scott Walker and John Doe III: Electric Boogaloo Liner Notes

My latest column, “Bombshell Report: Political Persecution Of Scott Walker Swept Up High-Level GOP Officials,” is up at The Federalist.  Although the “swept up” bit refers more to a sort of “incidental collection” of messages while targeting others (here, Wisconsin GOP officials), it is a case where an already crazy story is shown in this report to be even crazier than we previously knew.

Conservatives may recall the “John Doe II” investigation in which partisan government employees harassed Gov. Walker’s supporters and seized their records — business and personal — in an effort to show they illegally coordinated their activities during Walker’s hotly-contested recall election in 2012.

This newly-unsealed report by the state’s Attorney General reveals three new aspects of the John Doe proceedings.

First, staffers from the state’s Government Accountability Board (GAB, since disbanded) appear to have repeatedly and flagrantly disregarded court orders meant to protect the privacy of the records (wrongly) seized from people targeted in the investigation.

Second, someone — most likely an attorney intimately familiar with the case — illegally leaked documents to The Guardian in an apparent effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision shutting down the investigation.

Third, the state Department of Justice’s investigation of the leak resulted in the discovery of a third secret “John Doe III” investigation into the Wisconsin GOP, evidence from which was filed away in some cases in folders marked “opposition research.”

And the kicker is that the “John Doe” investigators so poorly mishandled all of the records they swept up in their dragnet that it is virtually impossible to charge any particular individual with a crime.  The report instead recommends judicial discipline in one case and contempt proceedings against others for defying court orders in the proceedings.

Given how complex and nutty the story is, some things had to be omitted.  For example, I wasn’t fully able to develop the hubris of the GAB bureaucrats, who launched this political persecution based on theories that were no longer supported by the law and got angry whenever judges or district attorneys told them so.

Also, because I wanted to highlight some of the worst abuses, I had to skip the almost comedic breadth of the sweep in the John Doe III investigation.  It’s not clear what even the most vicious partisans were going to do with 1,000 emails about a Bible study group, the email chain regarding the sale of a mini-refrigerator on Craigslist, drafts and corrections to a Christmas letter, or pictures of women seeking opinions about how a new dress or shoes looked on them, to name a few examples.  But there it all was.

Lastly (for here), the part I may most regret having to exclude had to deal with the way the Wisconsin judiciary behaved in this manner.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected the AG’s offer to investigate the leak to The Guardian and the retention of John Doe evidence.  The Wisconsin Assembly ultimately requested and authorized the investigation.

A reader might also conclude that sealed material in the case was not secured well by court personnel, some of whom initially resisted court orders allowing the AG’s office access to court files and materials filed under seal.  The report ultimately ruled out court personnel as a source of the leak to The Guardian, based on the nature of the particular materials leaked.  Nevertheless, it may not bode well for any judicial disciplinary action recommended by the AG in this sorry affair.

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Trump’s Monumental Declarations: Liner Notes

I have a column up today at the Federalist, “No, Patagonia, President Trump is Not ‘Stealing Our Land’,” about the lawsuit the retailer has threatened (or similar lawsuits) over Trump’s decision to reduce the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.

For those who want a deeper dive into the issues raised by the Antiquities Act of 1906, which also more broadly addresses some of the legal questions raised by the aggressive monument designations made by Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama, the AEI analysis by John Yoo and Todd Graziano linked in the column may be your cup of tea.  I am not as persuaded as they seem to be by analogies that arise from the executive’s exercise of his or her own power, as opposed to power delegated by Congress.

That said, Yoo and Graziano have a point that discretion Congress delegates to the President is not supposed to be micro-managed.  And I do tend to think that the theory that the presidential discretion here is only “one way,” while finding some support in Congressional intent, does tend to run contrary to the general idea that delegated authority can be used to revisit the work of prior administrations (which is how past administrations have tended to view it).

Moreover, even if you view AEI’s analysis as advocacy (and you probably should, tbh), the effort and breadth is superior to the recent report issued by the Congressional Research Service, which is both brief and bland.  Nevertheless, if you’re further interested in the issue you may want to read the CRS report, which will likely be cited in the upcoming public debate over this issue.

As I’ve suggested — and similarly noted in prior liner notes posts — the column format inevitably means making choices about what to omit.  Here, I’ve focused on President Trump’s authority and ignored ancillary issues, e.g., the scope of authority granted to the Secretary of the Interior under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

Also, I mention the irony that the left here is arguing for a narrow interpretation of a Congressional delegation of power, while the right is pushing the broader interpretation.  This is not really a problem for Trump and I should add that even GOP administrations tend to favor positions that maximize their authority.  Trump has been rolling back regulations.  But his administration and the GOP, for all of the rhetoric about dismantling the administrative state, have not been pursuing the legislative structural reforms that might tame it.

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On “Understanding the Voters”

In this populist environment, we hear a lot of discussion about how we must try to understand the voters.  But there is more than one way to understand them and getting the mix right can be tricky.

Indeed, this was the subtext of something I wrote two weeks ago about the theory that alleged teen-loving Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy demonstrated the endpoint for conservative distrust of the media.  I noted that the establishment media does not make a habit of listening to voters who might be outside their core audience and thus often lack insight into what makes them tick.  But I also noted:

On the issue of Moore’s candidacy and ongoing scandal, the media-as-villain is a sideshow.  There are plenty of awful so-called conservatives taking the position that they don’t care whether the allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore are true.  That’s the tell here, repugnant as it may be.

The dismissal of the well-reported Washington Post story (and ensuing stories by other outlets) is simply a more palatable rationalization for some than arguing the misconduct can be condoned.  If the media were not being attacked by this segment of Republicans, it would be the accusers themselves and the Democrats assuming the role of the big baddies.”

Since then, the dynamic has moved more in this direction.

As the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack wrote, based on the evidence to date: “To disbelieve that Roy Moore dated high-schoolers as a man in his 30s, you not only have to disbelieve all the women and some of their friends and mothers—you must essentially disbelieve Roy Moore.”  And recall that Moore previously could not even convince a Hannity panel of his truthfulness.  Yet, as McCormack reports, Moore campaign chairman Bill Armistead has dismissed one of the accusers as a “problem child.”  Moore himself is now claimingcontra his own prior statements and mounting evidence — that he didn’t know any of these women.

Accordingly, while 71% of Alabama Republicans say the allegations against Roy Moore are false, and those who believe this also overwhelmingly believe Democrats and the media are behind the allegations, this is not really about distrust of the media (after all, if Republicans cannot trust a Hannity panel…).  Moore’s rivals tried to nail down these rumors and had they succeeded, the story would be about the evil GOP establishment trying to take down Moore.

This is the story of a party that wants to “fight” and “win” like Democrats trying to avoid the utilitarian morality that comes with that philosophy.

Similarly, when people on both sides suddenly shift the poll numbers on the Russian threat or the value of trade without any change in the fundamentals, we know what’s at work: partisanship.  Partisans are really good at rationalization.

There’s a lot of value in listening to the voters.  But it would be a mistake to believe that listening to the voters is always the same as understanding them.

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There is No Return to Normal

For the past year or so, and particularly again in the past few weeks, here’s been a lot of punditry and social media chatter that seems based on the notion that Pres. Trump needs to go so that things can “return to normal.”  Mostly it comes from folks on the left, occasionally from Trump critics on the right.

It’s not happening, not only because Trump is unlikely to be going anywhere anytime soon, but also because there is no “return to normal.”

That is a corollary to there being no “right” or “wrong” side of history.

To be sure, whenever Trump does leave the political stage, some things may again seem as they did before he was elected.  Many of the strangest things about the current political environment seem unique to him, while his administration continues to do mostly Republican things and even Congress is about to enact a fairly typical Republican tax law (even if it’s not one of their better efforts).

Other things may not ever be quite the same.  Electing someone as morally and ethically questionable as Bill Clinton had consequences that helped pave the way for electing Trump, so it’s a fair bet that having elected Trump will have a ripple effect we can’t quite imagine in its full dimensions a decade or two from now.

The flip side to this realization is how temporary the “new normal” of the Trump era may be.  Considering the GOP coalition as I’ve noted before — The Party of Reagan was not the Party of Nixon.  And I’d argue the Party of George W. Bush wasn’t entirely the Party of Reagan, either.  Similarly, the Party of Obama was not the Party of Clinton and the Democrats are going to spend years actively arguing about the Party of the Next Democratic President.

What the GOP After Trump looks like is unknowable, starting with the fact that we don’t know how he will succeed or fail.  And even if he was a two-term success, his most likely successor would be VP Mike Pence, whose appeal and coalition would not be quite the same.  If the right starts arguing about the Party of the Next GOP President a bit early, it may be wheel-spinning, but by no means the end of the world.

A week ago, I tried to reassure readers with the notion that all of this has happened before.  But the idea that also none of this has happened before shouldn’t be unduly unnerving.  We may lose and we may win though we will never be here again.  So take it easy.

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Matt Lauer vs John Conyers (But Really Roy Moore vs Al Franken): Liner Notes

Today, I have column up at the Federalist, “Should Congress Handle Sex Harassment Cases Like Business Does?,” which takes the perhaps unpopular views that: (a) public employees may need more due process in terminating their employment than private employees; and (b) that such may be warranted even when considering Congresspeople and Senators.

For reasons of assigned length, one is almost bound to leave things out, and this is particularly tough when addressing a sensitive, hot-button topic.  For example, when addressing (a), I probably should have added at least a sentence noting that the Supreme Court may require due process in terminating public employment in certain cases.  Instead, I focused on the issue of campus kangaroo courts because: (1) those are the sorts of cases more likely to resonate with a more conservative audience; and (2) they demonstrate the value of due process where the state or state money is implicated regarding people who are more sympathetic accuseds than politicians are.

I did make sure to include was my opinion that so far, these cases do not appear to be shaping up as witch hunts, about which I have two additional thoughts.

First, it’s notable that the way these cases are being evaluated by the public so far roughly tracks the way the law might: we are giving weight to cases where there are multiple accusations by women who don’t know each other, often establishing a pattern of behavior by the accused, often corroborated by “prompt outcry” witnesses (people other than the authorities to whom accusers reported the alleged incidents, often at the time they occurred) or those who can corroborate circumstantial aspects of the accusations (e.g., people familiar with Roy Moore’s behavior at the Gadsden mall).

Second, the fact the public is evaluating the allegations in a generally rational way should underscore the importance of continuing to do so, rather than let a moral panic run wild and immediately validate cases that may have weaker evidence.  As Bari Weiss noted the other day, “ ‘believing all women’ can rapidly be transmogrified into an ideological orthodoxy that will not serve women at all.”

I also thought it worth at least starting to think about (b) now, because this is where the news is probably headed.  While the case of Rep. John Conyers neatly teed up the special problem of elected officials, the real issues will probably arise in the Senate, particularly if Roy Moore is elected in the face of credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.

The Senate Ethics Cmte reportedly has already opened a preliminary inquiry into allegations that Sen. Al Franken is a serial groper of various women over the years.  If Moore is elected, partisanship (and fairness) will probably require that Moore receive what ever process Franken gets.

If the Senate is forced to address both cases, it will also have to wrestle with two seeming differences: (1) the accusations against Moore seem more serious than those against Franken because they involve minors; and (2) Moore will have been elected with knowledge of these accusations, whereas voters were not aware of the accusations against Franken when he was re-elected.

Regarding the first issue, a court of law would be well-equipped to distinguish between the two cases, though the misconduct is serious in both.  In the Senate, if there are Senators from both parties in the dock, one fears politics may unduly influence that calculus in some way by either political party.

Regarding the second issue, a court of law would not care, but the Senate may care a great deal, given the respect afforded to election results, as discussed in the column.  Personally, I would be fine with the Senate expelling Moore if its investigation concluded that sanction was warranted.  While legislators arrive in Congress as essentially free agents, each chamber is entitled to expel someone upon a two-thirds vote as a collective expression of the standards expected of each chamber.

Lastly, the column notes that the Congressional Office of Compliance, while intended to help legislative employees in cases like this (and in total fairness, likely is an improvement on what existed before), has failed to provide voters or Congress with the sort of information that would allow them to address cases of sexual misconduct.

It’s certainly not the first time that a reform has turned into its own scandal, in part because the regulated and their attorneys are often more nimble in subverting or avoiding reforms than a government body is in responding to those subversions or evasions.  And one might argue that this is where the private sector should be deemed superior.  But you would not, for example, want to live in a world where the IRS can alter what it does instantly because it doesn’t like how you took a deduction or exemption.  A bedrock principle of due process is knowing what the rules are.  Post-Weinstein, the rules are changing in an instant.  That’s fine for private businesses, but you probably don’t want to place that much power in the hands of politicians, even where the accuseds are also politicians.

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The Party of Trump and the Child Tax Credit

Yesterday, Ross Douthat went on a widely-noticed Twitter rant chastising Pres. Trump and a certain segment of populists for not championing the proposal by Sens. Marco Rubio and Mike Lee to make the Senate tax bill’s expansion of the child tax credit 100% refundable for working families versus supporting lower corporate tax rates.

My comments here won’t be drilling down in the wonkish details of the child tax credit.  If you’re interested in the policy debate, I’ll note that Douthat is adding some caveats to his rant today, and that Daniel McCarthy and Megan McArdle have argued various aspects of Douthat’s complaint.

Today, I prefer to look at Douthat’s rant from the perspective of pure politics.  Douthat himself concedes that the Rubio-Lee proposal isn’t going to fix the baby bust or even have a major effect on birthrates.  Conversely, beyond the pundit class, the average Republican probably would support Trump if he backed Rubio-Lee every bit as much as they support him not backing it because tribalism is a helluva drug.

From a purely political perspective, what the intraparty argument does is validate the inevitable attacks from Democrats that the GOP’s tax reform effort prioritizes relief for corprorations over working families and small businesses (the latter being Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) issue).

As the GOP has become the Party of Trump (for at least the duration of his tenure), it is doing a lot of validating.  The Senate candidacy of Roy Moore is causing Republicans, especially social conservatives to squander their moral authority in the medium-to-long term for a perceived short term political hold (even if Democrat Doug Jones won, as now seems less likely, it is difficult to see him retaining the seat at the next regular election).  The Democrats will claim the party’s support for Moore validates their portrait of the GOP as a collection of Elmer Gantrys.

Trump’s post-Charlottesville comments that there were some “fine people” on both sides of the violence between white supremacists and the antifa will feed the Democrat/media narrative of the GOP is callous on racial issues.

During the 2016 campaign, one of the criticisms from conservatives was that Trump, as someone for whom Republicanism or conservatism was like speaking a third or fourth language, tended to campaign as a Democratic stereotype of a Republican.  The tribal performance of the GOP since Trump’s inauguration tends to demonstrate how comfortable much of the party’s rank-and-file is comfortable with Trump governing as a Democratic stereotype of a Republican.  The degree to which anyone outside the GOP base finds that appealing will be tested next year.

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From the Tea Party to Trump (With a John Boehner cameo)

Returning to the most recent episode of The Remnant, with Jonah Goldberg interviewing Matthew Continetti about the history of modern conservatism, I have thoughts about another brief interlude (~51:30-55:00 or so) in which Goldberg suggests that one of the signal moments pointing toward our current, more populist moment was the Tea Party, but specifically how that movement was treated.

He notes that the Tea Party, devoted to fiscal responsibility and Constitutional conservatism, was about the only populist movement he could ever back.  Goldberg observed that while many Tea party leaders were African-American and the focus was on excessive spending, the left (and the media particularly) nevertheless chose to paint the movement as fascist and racist.  He theorizes this was responsible for a “psychic break” that led to Trumpian populism.

I think this is part of the story, but not all of the story.

Looking back at this April 2010 NYT/CBS poll with a large subsample of Tea Party supporters tells part of the rest of the story.  The major concerns of the subsample remained the economy and jobs; the budget deficit ranked fourth, behind “politicians/government.”  A near-majority disapproved of their own Representative in Congress.  They were far less likely to blame the Bush administration or Wall Street and more likely to blame Congress for the Great Recession.

A majority of Tea Party supporters described themselves as “angry” with the way things were going in DC, but a majority didn’t want a third party.  Those who were angry were angriest about the government not representing the people and Obama’s healthcare reform than government spending.

Over 90% of Tea Party supporters wanted a smaller government, with 73% agreeing even if that meant cuts to Social Security, Medicare, defense and education.  But they preferred cutting taxes to cutting the deficit.  And 62% thought Social Security and Medicare were worth the cost — less than the 73% approval among the general sample, but not drastically so.

While 78% of Tea Partiers prioritized economic issues over social ones, they were significantly more concerned about illegal immigration, significantly less concerned about global warming, significantly more opposed to same sex marriage, significantly more pro-life and pro-Second Amendment.

And though Goldberg is correct that the Tea Party generally welcomed African-Americans, esp. wrt leadership, only 16% thought white people have a better chance at getting ahead than blacks and a majority thought too much had been made of the problems facing black people.  Both of those findings are markedly different from the overall sample.

This data does not show the Tea Party was fascist.  It does tend to underscore how much concerns of about “the swamp” were driving things above and beyond concerns about spending in particular.  The data doesn’t establish the Tea Party was racist, either — but it might suggest that the potential for white identity politics was there despite the popularity of figures like Heman Cain, Ben Carson, or Allen West.

Another part of the story might be seen anecdotally in a Peggy Noonan column on the Tea Party I have referred to previously.  In writing about the “yardstick” and the “clock” she sketched the portrait of a movement that viewed the GOP apparat as always losing to the forces of big government in the face of conditions they “fear[ed] will end America as we know it, as they promised it to their children.”  How far a drive is it from this description to MAGAworld and the Flight 93 election?  Not very far at all.

Goldberg is probably right that the media’s demonization of the Tea Party helped push them that extra mile.  But I’d suggest that the way they were treated by the GOP apparat was just as important.

To illustrate this point, I’d recommend a re-read of the somewhat viral POLITICO profile of fmr House Speaker John Boehner.  Therein, Boehner refers to Rep. Jim Jordan, the founding chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, this way: “A terrorist. A legislative terrorist.”  Someone who speaks of a duly-elected member of his caucus this way, even as casual hyperbole, probably is not going to be good at managing his caucus.  And his inability to manage his caucus was why Pres. Obama and Sen. Maj. Ldr. Harry Reid didn’t take him seriously.

Later in the profile, Boehner chooses to blame partisan media and social media for the polarization he believes doomed his Speakership:

He continues: ‘I always liked Rush [Limbaugh]. When I went to Palm Beach I would always meet with Rush and we’d go play golf. But you know, who was that right-wing guy, [Mark] Levin? He went really crazy right and got a big audience, and he dragged [Sean] Hannity to the dark side. He dragged Rush to the dark side. And these guys—I used to talk to them all the time. And suddenly they’re beating the living shit out of me.’ Boehner, seated in his favorite recliner, lights another cigarette. ‘I had a conversation with Hannity, probably about the beginning of 2015. I called him and said, “Listen, you’re nuts.” We had this really blunt conversation. Things were better for a few months, and then it got back to being the same-old, same-old. Because I wasn’t going to be a right-wing idiot.’

Does Boehner have a case?  Sure.  But isn’t the fact that he used to talk to those guys all the time a tell here?  Having: (a) one conversation; (b) with Hannity, easily the most pliable of the three; (c) in early 2015 sounds like an entirely inadequate response needed to the populist rage that had already been boiling on talk radio and among the Republican base for several years.

It’s not that Boehner had no case to make to the angry mob; he did.  But when you view this segment of your base as terrorists, you’re probably not inclined to make it.  The result was a vicious cycle: Boehner cutting deals that fueled the anger at the GOP Congress, kept the pressure on Freedom Caucus types to oppose him, and ultimately opened the door for a Trump (or a Cruz) to exploit fury over so-called “failure theater.”

Of course, hindsight is 20/20.  But the road to Trumpist populism was always there and the degree to which that road was being paved by the GOP establishment was noted by pundits like Noonan in real time.  Whatever my opinions about Limbaugh, Hannity, or even Levin (the last onboard the Trump Train, it should be noted), they were reflecting their audiences as much or more than they were driving them.  The “psychic break” Goldberg describes can be laid at the feet of the GOP apparat as much as it can be pinned on a scornful establishment media.

Moreover, while I have placed blame with Trump for his inability to lead a Congress that is ostensibly of his own party, the Congressional dysfunction that has marked 2017 (so far — we’ll see how they ultimately do with tax reform) also looks a lot like the Congressional dysfunction that existed before Trump’s election.  I don’t envy the Congressional leadership’s task in managing their coalition (or, more broadly, the GOP coalition).  But someone may want to rethink their approach, lest the midterms look especially ugly.

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But Whatabout Whataboutism?

I could have sworn I had written directly about “whataboutism” before, but it turns out I have not; I have merely mentioned it periodically.  Given the frequency with which the term is being thrown around — and the seemingly multiplying opportunities to do so presented by the current carousel of sexual misconduct allegations involving Pres. Trump, Sen-wannabe Roy Moore, Sen. Al Franken, and Rep. John Conyers (to name a few) — I’m jotting these notes down now for future reference.

What is “whataboutism”?

The WaPo’s Dan Zak once called whataboutism “a durable old Soviet propaganda tactic” of “short-circuiting an argument by asserting moral equivalency between two things that aren’t necessarily comparable.”  But Zak’s example was Pres. Trump “wonder[ing] whether the removal of a statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville — where white supremacists clashed this weekend with counterprotesters — would lead to the teardown of others.”

One problem with labeling Trump’s comments as whataboutism is that folks on the left responded to Charlottesville — and Trump’s question — by proposing tearing down statutes of Washington and Jefferson.  And the Jefferson Memorial specifically.  And Mount Rushmore.  I suppose one could sidestep this problem by arguing that these lefties merely took Trump’s whataboutism bait, but the reaction tends to suggest the comparison he made wasn’t nearly as sketchy as a Soviet propagandist responding to complaints about the gulag by raising lynchings in the Jim Crow era.

Mind you, I did not think much of Trump’s post-Charlotesville comments.  But not every political dodge or re-framing — and Trump was trying to change the subject from the very worst aspects of his early comments on Charlottesville — should count as whataboutism in my book.

Instead, I would define whataboutism as a form of hypocrisy that results in defining deviancy down.  For example, a common form of whataboutism on the right today is to respond to some media criticism of Trump by noting that the media didn’t care enough to criticize something Pres. Obama did similarly.  Given the leanings of most journalists, I would not be surprised if they tended to dismiss things on an apples/bananas basis without seriously considering whether both examples were fruit.

But even assuming that the comparison being made was relatively fair, the whataboutism arises because (to take a most trivial example) someone who ostensibly used to care that Obama often golfed as president will now claim that we should not care that Trump often golfs because the media didn’t care when Obama did it.  If presidential golfing habits are a problem (I tend to think not, but whatevs), then they are a problem regardless of party and the whataboutist is now hypocritically demanding a lower standard.  This is arguably more insidious than a simple, obvious dodge.

I mention this because I’ve recently felt compelled to include asides in various posts explaining why bringing up certain comparisons was not whataboutism (as I see it).  I also was inspired by the bizarre social media reaction to a segment I saw Monday on CNN.

Mary Katharine Ham, a Federalist colleague, appeared to discuss the way Trump was handling the allegations of sexual misconduct against Roy Moore.  Unsurprisingly, she was largely critical of Trump’s approach and the morally incorrect position it reflects.

However, MKH was accused of whataboutism by progressives on Twitter because she also mentioned House Minority Ldr Nancy Pelosi’s cringeworthy evasions in seeming defense of John Conyers on last Sunday’s Meet the Press.  What she said, however, was that morally, we are witnessing a race to the bottom of the barrel.  She added that Trump was an opportunist who would likely use the accusations lodged against Conyers — and Pelosi’s evasions — as part of his rationalization to support Moore.

Ham was not engaging in whataboutism; she described it and criticized it.  Unfortunately, because the segment was not expressly about whataboutism, she didn’t use the term to describe it.  Accordingly, it seemed as though it would be useful to set forth they way I would define the term.

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All of This Has Happened Before…

Whether one associates that phrase with Ecclesiastes, Peter Pan, or Battlestar Galactica, here’s something mildly soothing with which to ease into the post-holiday/pre-holidays,

The most recent episode of The Remnant, with Jonah Goldberg interviewing Matthew Continetti about the history of modern conservatism, is something I could probably mine for at least a week’s worth of material, and perhaps I will.  What I want to mention today is a fairly brief interlude (~36:30 thru 39:00).

Continetti observes that in studying the archives of National Review, he was struck by how much debate there was within the magazine over the presidential aspirations of George Wallace.  Although George Will’s first NR cover (in 1969  was an apparently savage attack of Wallace, there were also pieces by people like Jeffrey Hart touting Wallace and even a Wallace/Reagan ticket (circa 1972).  Elsewhere in the podcast, Continetti more broadly observes that since William F. Buckley Jr’s first Mayoral campaign in 1965, the ideas of conservative intellectuals found more support among the hardhats, people in rural areas, and urban ethnics than among other intellectuals.

It is a good thing to remind ourselves of this history for at least two reasons.

First, given the current fractiousness within conservative media, it is useful for Pres. Trump’s supporters and skeptics alike to realize this fractiousness is not unprecedented.  It may seem more painful because we have become more tribal, and so the real question may be whether the problem is fractiousness or tribalism.  When we read columns and such from either side, we should strive to realize NR and other conservative outlets are not in the business of producing a homogenized product and never have been.

Second, for those who think Trump’s supposed nationalist populism is the future of the GOP, note that it has to some degree been the past of the GOP.  That’s not to say I completely buy the thesis of Henry Olsen’s The Working Class Republican — that Pres. Reagan was always more of a blue-collar populist and lingering New Deal Democrat than a Goldwaterite.  As Goldberg (iirc) notes during the podcast, Reagan once told NR’s William Rusher that he considered Barry Goldwater as the John the Baptist of the conservative movement (with the obvious humorous implication regarding Reagan himself.  And if you want a deeper dive on this topic, I’d recommend Ben Domenech’s interview of Olsen.)  But it is true that Reagan was always careful to remember and pitch to the working class.

For that matter, Pres. Nixon was at least as much of an anti-Left, anti-media populist as he was a conservative; Tom Wicker’s One of Us makes the case fairly persuasively.  Indeed, little of this should surprise us in light of all the discussion there has been of 2016-17 as carrying echoes of 1968-69.

There is no “right side of history.”  All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.

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