The Cannabis Candidate Goes Up in a Blaze: Liner Notes

It’s twofer Friday, as I have both a blog posting and a new column at The Federalist, asking “Will A Democratic House Candidate Facing Allegations of Abuse, Threats and Resume Inflation Be Saved by Stoners?”  Here’s your lede graf:

One of the great things about primary campaigns is that they offer almost limitless opportunities for previously private citizens to engage in very public acts of self-immolation. This is the story of Benjamin Thomas Wolf, a Democratic House candidate who burst on the political scene in a cloud of marijuana smoke, but now faces a firestorm of allegations including physical abuse, threats, and an almost comical level of resume inflation.”

People may alternately cringe and guffaw over Wolf’s defects, but there was more reason for me to write about him beyond the fact that his story jumped from my neck of the woods to the national media.

A recent Federalist Radio Hour with guest Daniel Hannan has a lot to recommend itself to those of you who read here because you’re concerned about the current state of American politics.  He is in the somewhat unusual position of being both a Brexiteer and being more classically liberal than populist.  But one of the things he said in passing was that, in his opinion. American primary elections do a better job in weeding out fringey candidates than the party list systems often found in Europe.  Those of us concerned about the conservative movement may not have been feeling that way about GOP primaries recently, so Hannan’s view from a distance may help us see there are silver linings even in stormy periods.

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Socialism Time and the Suicide of the West

While I’m working on some other pieces, here’s something about Elizabeth Bruenig’s recent WaPo column, “It’s time to give socialism a try.”

As you might imagine, the reaction from the right was basically, “No thanks.”  HotAir’s Ed Morrissey, for example, provided the standard economic and historical arguments against socialism.  I find myself in general agreement with them, as far as they go.

But there are two related points Bruenig raises which are worthy of a response.

First, she observes: “Contemporary supporters of liberalism are often subject, I think, to what I call ‘everyday Fukuyama-ism’ — the idea, explicitly stated or not, that the end of the Cold War really signaled the end of history, and that we can only look forward to the unceasing rise of Western-style liberal-democratic capitalism.”

Second, she observes:

In fact, both [Andrew] Sullivan’s and [Yascha] Mounk’s complaints — that Americans appear to be isolated, viciously competitive, suspicious of one another and spiritually shallow; and that we are anxiously looking for some kind of attachment to something real and profound in an age of decreasing trust and regard — seem to be emblematic of capitalism, which encourages and requires fierce individualism, self-interested disregard for the other, and resentment of arrangements into which one deposits more than he or she withdraws. (As a business-savvy friend once remarked: Nobody gets rich off of bilateral transactions where everybody knows what they’re doing.) Capitalism is an ideology that is far more encompassing than it admits, and one that turns every relationship into a calculable exchange. Bodies, time, energy, creativity, love — all become commodities to be priced and sold. Alienation reigns. There is no room for sustained contemplation and little interest in public morality; everything collapses down to the level of the atomized individual.”

Morrissey responds to this second point by noting Bruening “provides absolutely no evidence for her conclusions that capitalism causes shallowness, isolation, and a lack of ‘public morality’,” which again is true as far as it goes… but importantly, that doesn’t meant the claim is unique to “prior socialist thought,” either.

I’ve been making my way through Jonah Goldberg’s upcoming book, Suicide of the West — and enjoying it a lot — and it speaks to Bruenig’s points at length, from a variety of angles.   The book is apparently still on embargo (Hugh Hewitt notwithstanding), so I will be a bit general in my response here, based on the Amazon description of the book, related things I’ve already written and things Goldberg has discussed in Liberal Fascism and on The Remnant.

What we think of as classical liberalism, including economic freedom, emerges from the philosophy exemplified by English and Scottish Enlightenment thinkers.  It tends to think of people as a species where individuals act in their self-interest.  It seeks to create a space where people can pursue their own happiness (or meaning), but creates institutions that diffuse power to mitigate the malign influences of self-interest and faction (for more on that, I recommend the Constitutionally Speaking podcast hosted by Jay Cost and Luke Thompson).

However, both before and after the Enlightenment (and in the French Enlightenment and its descendants), there is a view that runs in the opposite direction.  It views human beings as essentially noble savages who find meaning in the tribe.  The impulse in human nature to find meaning in unity has gone by any number of names in different vessels — romanticism, nationalism, communism, socialism, fascism, collectivism, populism, etc.  And since the Enlightenment, whatever label it has taken, it is sold in part as a response to individualism, as a response to the alienation people can feel in any system that seems to privilege the individual over the tribe. (Alienation predates the Enlightenment, but that’s a much longer story, and it’s why I and others have noted the similarity of identity politics to religion.)

If you are looking for evidence that modernity contributes to alienation, one need look no further than the periodic eruption of the various movements or philosophies grounded on the idea.  Or, to put it bluntly, to the fact that people like Bruenig would still look to socialism in the face of the historical evidence Morrissey compiled.  People gravitate to these movements (sometimes ideological, sometimes not) because they are based on exploiting that sense of alienation among a swath of the public at any given moment.  The tribal desire for unity is such that the historical record of totalitarian systems doesn’t matter to them.

Classical liberalism — and capitalism — are, in the vast sweep of human history, relatively new concepts.  And they have improved the lot of humanity on countless dimensions, as noted in Steven Pinker’s useful (if flawed) Enlightenment Now.  But as Goldberg (among others) has noted elsewhere, there is no impersonal force of History that we will inevitably move toward.  If humanity wants to preserve and improve on the gains we have made under a regime of classical liberalism and capitalism, we will have to work for it.  Those who believe in the End of History have been too lazy and too often incompetent.  (If only there were more Morrisseys running our institutions.)  There will always be people like Rousseau or Marx or Mussolini who want to overthrow the regime in favor of some form of totalitarian subjugation to the will of a tribe.

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The Media’s Toxic Bias Regarding Farrakhan and the Left: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist, “The Media Decision To Ignore Democrat Ties To Farrakhan Reveals Toxic Bias,” about the establishment media’s reluctance to cover the association of Democratic Members of Congress and leaders of the Women’s March with one of America’s most notorious racists and anti-Semites.

In fairness, I note that while the column was moving through editorial, the WaPo has at least published an op-ed about the controversy, and New York magazine and Vox have run pieces.  Good for them, though I’ll note that the WaPo barely mentions the problem in Congress, while NY mag and Vox avoid Congress altogether (and to one degree or another focus on how this story is a problem for the March in building an “intersectional” movement). Salon published a piece this morning while I was writing this note, again focused on the March.  Locally, the Chicago Tribune‘s editorial board criticized Rep. Danny Davis without addressing the breadth of the problem.

Moreover, as I note in my column, the question remains as to why they were so slow off the mark; the Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson first interviewed Davis over a month ago.  Indeed, I wonder whether the story would have died if the Women’s March not issued a statement that avoided denouncing Farrakhan.  It is another sign — if one were needed — that a left-leaning establishment media still believes that even the worst forms of identity politics can be overlooked so long as they benefit the left, even as they blame the election of Pres. Trump on white resentment of said politics.  And it is part of a much larger story of how a dysfunctional elite negligently empowers the polarization it bemoans.

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Mike Huckabee’s Gun Fight with the Country Music Association: Liner Notes

My latest column at the Federalist is “Country Music Executives Slammed The NRA In Push To Oust Huckabee.”  If you’re as big a Huckabee fan as I am, don’t worry: the column isn’t really about him.

Rather, as longtime readers know, I find it useful to use stories about people (that many like to read) to really write about ideas (that fewer like to read).  The column is really about the history of country music has traditionally been a voice of cultural conservatism, but only became a voice of political conservatism as the left started making cultural conservatives uncomfortable with the Democratic Party — not unlike what happened to the NRA, ironically.

The past couple of years of school shootings — and the Las Vegas shooting, having targeted the Harvest Music Festival — is causing some in the country music business to rethink their prior support of or silence about the NRA, even if there’s little evidence the genre’s audience has moved much on the Second Amendment.  Moreover, while country music of the 1960s and 1970s used to have room for more diversity in its politics, the polarization that moved their audience rightward may force those in the biz who favor even modest gun control measures into some of the “binary choices” that are now de rigueur in politics.

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Dick’s Sporting Goods’ Odd Gun Decision: Liner Notes

I have my third column up at The Federalist to end the week, “Why Dick’s Decision To Ban Some Rifles (Again) Might Backfire.”  The chain has tried this before, only to quietly retreat at a small spinoff-chain, most of which is located in places that won’t like their decision.

Of course, it’s possible Dick’s thinks this might boost non-gun sales with particular demographics like Millennials.  This sort of thinking is something I’ve written about before regarding ESPN, and (indirectly) Patagonia (one of Dick’s competitors).

But the polling suggests that this sort of thing might be popular in the abstract, gun sales bans may not appeal particularly to the young.  Indeed, while the piece was in editorial, Pew released a poll about generational politics suggesting that while Millennials are more progressive on most issues, gun control is an issue where the difference is modest.

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What the NYT Newsroom Needs to Hear About the Editorial Page: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist, “NYT Reporters Upset The Editorial Page Includes Conservative Voices Need To Hear This.” And while some of you may already know the backstory, it’s easier for me to excerpt the beginning of the piece:

The head of The New York Times editorial page is under siege by the paper’s own journalists.

James Bennet’s crime? Hiring NeverTrumper Bret Stephens and Israel defender Bari Weiss as columnists, as well as publishing op-eds by people whose views offend the newsroom staff. Bennet has held at least three internal town-hall meetings in an attempt to respond to his critics, but the level of acrimony only seems to have increased. A different approach is needed.

Bennet should consider delivering remarks along the following lines when he opens his next in-house gripe session…

And what follows is a quasi-humorous rant about a situation in which the patients are trying to run the asylum.  When this topic first came under discussion, it was my pitch to do it is a rant because: (a) I don’t usually write rants much these days and they can be fun to write; (b) more serious pieces had already been written on the value of the NYT editorial product diversifying, however slightly, as well as the problems with the internal complaints; and (c) it seems manifestly obvious that the internal complainers have no interest in having an adult conversation about what an editorial page is or does and why it’s really not the reporters’ business to try to supervise Bennet.

The problem with ranting is — because it’s fun — it’s difficult to stop.  As long as the column is, you wind up having to leave stuff out about the mentality of people who think debating what to do about climate change makes someone a denier, while also wanting to question that modern capitalism has been the greatest single engine in eliminating poverty the world has ever seen.  The former is about long-term simulations and predictions, while the other can be answered by looking at a any serious history book, or a nighttime satellite photo of North and South Korea.  Not surprising from a paper that spent the year whitewashing Soviet Communism for its 100th anniversary, but still.

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Joe Scarborough vs Free Speech: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist today, “Only Joe Scarborough’s Ego Can Explain His Gun Control Flip-Flop,” the headline perhaps overstating the point, as headlines often do.  It was prompted by his recent attack on NRATV, a question that has more to do with freedom of speech than the right to self-defense.

Regular readers know I’m a fan of the old adage that “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; [and] small minds discuss people.”  So when I write something focused on a person, I at least try to be making a larger point.  In this case, it is that while Scarborough claimed his conversion on some gun issues represented a triumph over ideology, the tendency is that one shift tends to beget others in a new ideological direction.

Also, as Jonah Goldberg notes in The Tyranny of Cliches, the claim that one is abandoning ideology for pragmatism is generally a rhetorical cover for progressivism.  This was another difficult aspect about writing the column.  As a general rule, I try to avoid focusing questions of personal motive.  Unfortunately, Scarborough claims his shift on some second amendment issues was based almost entirely on certain personal motivations, which renders it almost impossible from an analysis of his various shifts in position.

Sadly, Scarborough’s conversion is of a piece with what we are seeing in the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Parkland, where activists and the media are choosing to make traumatized teens the face of their arguments, such as they are.  By mashing people’s emotional hot buttons, those pushing their position — or changing it — attempt to immunize themselves from having to defend their position — or shift thereof — on the merits.

And argument from emotion — a staple of progressivism inherited from Rousseau — becomes an addictive crutch.  What starts out as two flips on guns becomes a disregard for the speech of people who support the second amendment or the due process rights of people who would like to purchase guns.  And from there, it becomes all too easy to make political claims based on whatever stokes one’s emotions at the moment, regardless of what one may have said before.

In this case, as a consequence, rather than discussing proposals that at least have a prospect of bipartisan consideration, Scarborough and others flack for an assault weapons ban — a cosmetic exercise with no demonstrable effect on gun violence.

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Parkland and the Public Duty Rule: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at the Federalist, “Could The Police Legally Do No Wrong In The Parkland Shooting?”  It’s about a legal rule called the public duty doctrine, one of the obstacles to suing someone like the police officer (or department) who failed to enter Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during last week’s horrific mass shooting.  In the piece, I allude to the way in which the doctrine has bedeviled even the courts largely responsible for its existence, including Florida courts.

Should you want a deeper dive on the subject — and the issues surrounding suing local government in general — I might recommend the Illinois Supreme Court’s opinions in Coleman v. East Joliet Fire Protection District, a 2016 case in which the court abandoned the public duty rule, though not without dissent.  Fun fact:  Justice Bob Thomas, the author of the dissent, was a kicker for the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, San Diego Chargers and New York Giants.  I mention it because it’s not mentioned in his official bio.

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Why Mitt Romney Accepts Pres. Trump’s Endorsement

Utah Senatorial candidate Mitt Romney:

Also Mitt Romney:

What’s up here, aside from “Also Mitt Romney” flexibility being one of Mitt Romney’s calling cards?  I think part of the answer can be found in the one sentence above that’s not about Trump.

Romney might have been able to get away with rebuffing Trump’s endorsement, or so the conventional wisdom would have it.  Utah is very Republican, but weak on Trump.  As of last month, only 70% of Utah GOPers approved of how Trump was doing his job; that’s still a lot of Utahns, but Romney seems more popular in the state than Trump.

To date, the main knock against Romney running for Senate — both from his democratic opponent and from in-state Trump supporters (including the UTGOP chair) — has been that Mitt is a carpetbagger.  Romney sold his Utah home before his 2012 run (though he bought property there again in 2013).

Romney seems sensitive to the charge.  At his first campaign event — a Utah county GOP dinner — he skipped a speech in favor of taking questions from the audience.  He left the event alone in a pickup truck.  He’s been visiting a dairy farm and a restaurant, not to mention door-knocking.  Dare we call it a “listening tour”?

Utahns may or may not care a ton whether Romney accepted Trump’s endorsement.  But you can bet Trump would care.  (Indeed, one might speculate that Trump was sold on endorsing him because he knew it would put Mitt in an awkward position.)  Had Romney rebuffed the endorsement, you can bet Trump would have enjoyed skewering him on Twitter and perhaps in the regular media.

A Romney-Trump fight is one of national politics.  Romney is trying to run a local campaign.  Not all politics are local, but Romney wants them to be in this case.  So he accepts the endorsement on Twitter, which relieves him of having to answer questions directly or at length on camera, and he moves on.

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Why Don’t Trump Supporters Care About Russian Meddling in American Campaigns?

I’ve seen variations on this question raised in traditional and social media.  At the mass level, the easy answer is partisanship.  So long as Pres. Trump associates’ contacts with Russia are under investigation, Trump will be inclined to dismiss said investigation and his supporters will follow.

At the elite level, I think there’s more at work.

More traditional foreign policy conservatives may be the faction that feels most alienated by Trump’s nomination, election, and administration — even more so than fiscal conservatives, which is saying a lot.  Trump’s success was in significant part a rebuke of Dubya-era foreign policy, at both a mass and elite level, coming from people whose disposition (stated or otherwise) may range from the alt-right to paleocons to libertarians to Jacksonians.  And it could be argued that foreign policy conservatives also may be the faction with the least attachment to the GOP, which makes it easier for them to lash out rhetorically.

From the point of view of many Trump supporters — rightly or not — checking Russia simply ranks pretty low on their list of political priorities.  Moreover, many of them may consider Pres. Bush looking into Putin’s heart, or Pres. Obama’s ill-fated “reset” and figure Trump was simply being more honest about America’s attitude toward Russia than capital-N Neocons were.  And they may wonder why some conservative critics are still freaking out after Trump’s first-year record of adding to sanctions imposed by Obama in 2014-16 (including Magnitsky Act sanctions), seizing Russian diplomatic property, opening arms sales to to Ukraine, and LNG and Patriot sales to Poland.

Mind you, if you get further into the weeds on those issues, or look at what Trump’s policy (if any) is in Syria, I think the Trump supporters’ p.o.v. is debatable.  The thing is that there is very little debate about it within the conservative commentariat, let alone the GOP.

Some of Trump’s loudest critics on foreign policy focus on his intemperate tweets and comments, and his trying-to-look-guilty-of-collusion behavior regarding Russia and the Trump-Russia probe and — while those things are troubling — it echoes the “How could you?” response so many had to Trump’s comments and behavior all through the campaign.  It should have become apparent long ago that “How could you?” is not really an argument, let alone one that moves Trump supporters.

Trump’s critics might get further focusing on their specific, substantive disputes with Trump’s foreign policies than joining the establishment left’s fixation with an investigation that so far has yet to implicate anyone in direct collusion with the Russians during the 2016 campaign (though Junior, Jared, and Manafort went to a meeting where top-secret Russian dirt on Clinton was supposed to be on offer).  If such direct evidence emerges, the critics will be well-positioned politically.  If it does not, they will have wasted a lot of time that could have been used trying to persuade their fellow conservatives or Republicans they are correct, instead of rhetorically taking their ball and going home.

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