Young Alinskys (Extended Dance Remix)

Today, The Federalist is running “How Millennials’ Experience With Boomers’ Broken Institutions Affects The Right,” which you can think of as the extended dance remix of Monday’s WHRPT, “Cultural Conservatism and Young Alinskys.”

Or:  If you end up liking it less than the original, you can think of it as a “Special Edition.” I blame George Lucas, as I do for most things.

When I started WHRPT, I noted that part of the point was to workshop pieces, themes and ideas for publication, so I guess I can hang a “Mission Accomplished” banner here.  But you you should read the extended edition, and not just as an exercise in considering the differences in style between a blog post for you hardcore folks and a column for a broader audience (though you could do that also).

I have added a couple of things to the original, beyond a couple of additional supporting links.  For example, I additionally tie in a connection between the original post and my hobby-horse about he ESPNization of politics and political media.

But more significant, I made a few small changes in the first part of the column to set up a new concluding section further considering the tension between traditional conservative ideology — and its traditional tactics — and the “But he FIGHTS!” mentality of Trump/Alinsky/Breitbart school.

The Federalist’s new headline suggests that part grabbed the editors.

Though I have not been a big fan of the “But he FIGHTS!” mentality,  the extended version of “Young Alinskys” works a little harder at trying to understand the #WAR perspective as more than the ends justifying the means, and perhaps even challenge my priors in the process.  Just as Monday’s post was the foundation of this Federalist version, the new conclusion may serve as the springboard for my further thoughts here.

At a bare minimum, it’s a good thing to keep examining my priors, which was another reason to establish this blog in the first place.


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Le Pen and Trump: Crossing the Streams

Yesterday, I was working on a column for a change.  So this post will truly be more like a blog post, recalling that brevity is the soul of wit (in someone else’s hands, maybe).

Ever since Marine Le Pen made the second round of runoffs for the French presidency — and beforehand, tbh — people have been discussing her similarities to and differences from Pres. Trump.  Here are the similarities and differences I find most interesting.

First, and foremost:

I suppose it’s possible that widespread voter apathy, especially from the far left, could still bring Le Pen within striking distance of a victory.  OTOH, Le Pen draws a fair amount of support from former communists, so it’s not clear to me that apathetic Mélenchon voters back Le Pen into the presidency by inaction.

This aspect also seems significant in a race against Macron, who isn’t great, but has that outsider vibe that seems in vogue (even moreso than Le Pen, whose family has been a fixture in French politics for years now).  Indeed, it’s further possible that Trump’s victory fuels the current anti-Le Pen vote to some degree.

Second, and secondmost:

Having just written about the generational politics of Trump, I was struck by the contrast.  But consider that the G.I. and Boomer generations that tend to like Trump and O’Reilly here are entirely different from this cohort in French history.  Their political experiences of WWII and the immediate post-war period are nothing like the triumphalism inculcated in Americans of the same age, no matter how arrogant the French can be.

Conversely, the political coming of age for French Millennials has been, if anything, worse than for American Millennials.  The French youth unemployment rate is roughly 25%, as opposed to 10% in the U.S.  And it’s younger Muslims who are most hardcore their faith and its relationship with the French government.

This is significant not only for this election, but future ones.  If the inexperienced Macron wins and takes that victory as a license to ignore or ridicule the economic and cultural concerns of Le Pen voters, French politics could turn more toxic in a few short years.

Lastly, and thirdmost:

Marine Le Pen has benefited greatly from a hostile press.  Given the American establishment media’s desire to draw parallels between Le Pen and Trump, this one is curiously not discussed much.

After the election, a professor of Italian heritage compared Trump to Silvio Berlusconi.  He wasn’t the first to do this (I recall Ben Domenech doing it when he wasn’t likening Trump to the Joker or Bane).  The professor argued that the opposition would be more effective focusing on issues over personalities.  But even the generally anti-Trump media is addicted to those sweet, sweet ratings that accompany the circus.  Sad!

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Cultural Conservatism and Young Alinskys

At the end of Friday’s post on Bill O’Reilly, I suggested that his particular shtick largely did not appeal to younger conservatives or to those focused more on fiscal conservatism, foreign policy, or even religious conservatism.

Later in the day, because great minds think alike, NR’s Ian Tuttle wrote a piece arguing that age was even more of an O’Reilly factor (ouch!), marking a divide between younger righties like Ben Shapiro, Katie Pavlich, and Ben Domenech from Fox News staples like O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.

Tuttle also touched on the idea of the pugnacious Trump/Fox News style trickling down to some younger so-called righties.  NR’s David French focused on this latter point, identifying Tomi Lauren and Milo Yiannopoulos as examples — while also noticing both have recently fallen as quickly as they rose.

Jonah Goldberg followed with a G-File, in general agreement with Tuttle and French, with two twists.  Goldberg attributes much of the current dynamic to “Alinsky envy,” noting that it’s ultimately difficult to argue that “[o]ur ideology has a monopoly on virtue, but in order for virtue to triumph we must act like people we claim are virtueless.”  He also worries that the young and ostensibly right-wing Alinskys have more appeal to young conservatives than Tuttle does.

I’ve previously written about the tension between Alinsky tactics and having any ideology beyond amassing power for oneself, so I’ll focus more on the generational argument and the twining of these two threads.

Having already written that Trump-friendly voters are more comfortable with New Deal/Great Society America than “true conservatives,” I agree with Tuttle’s general claim that such voters will tend to be older than the generations that grew up when Reagan Republicanism had become the status quo.

I don’t think that the political overlay is the only one at work, however.  If Trump/O’Reilly fans are older, cultural conservatives, that conservatism is very small-c, not only in the sense of not wanting the existing New Deal/Great Society programs disrupted, but also in the sense of having a nostalgia for cultural norms and mores of that period.

If you’re reading a niche blog like this, I am going to presume you read many pieces in 2016 about Trump and Clinton representing different strains of this nostalgia: the Brat Pack vs. Woodstock, etc.

Younger conservatives are often a different animal.  As Ben Domenech told The Fifth Estate recently, his vision for The Federalist is one that may be critical of the progressives’ culture war, while remaining engaged with the culture itself.  He’s not interested in simply becoming a cultural scold.

I think similar attitudes in younger conservatives help explain the genius of  FNC’s recently-departed RedEye and the rocketing popularity of the Weekly Substandard podcast.  They generally lack the nostalgia of the disaffected cultural conservatives (nostalgia for Ultraman or Star Blazers is a different matter, even if Millennials like Sonny Bunch may not get it).

But Goldberg isn’t wrong in noting the appeal of cultural conservatism to at least a segment of younger conservatives.  I can think of a few things that help account for it.

First, there is one of my hobby-horses: the dumbing down of American education, especially regarding Western Civilization.  Cultural conservatism (e.g., the War on Christmas) is the easiest to understand absent a good education involving history, economics, philosophy, etc.

Cultural conservatism may also be the sort most likely to be transmitted from parents to their children.  When I was studying political science, your parents’ politics were the most solid predictor of your own politics over time.  And I would bet that’s not changed much; parenting matters.

Lastly, if we’re discussing generational politics, I’ll dip lightly into the generational theories of Strauss & Howe, even if I don’t put the same weight on them that Trump adviser Stephen Bannon apparently does.  In the Strauss/Howe typologies, Millennials, like Boomers, are generations that are ascendant during periods of upheaval (though arguably different types of upheaval).  Millennials are also generally the children of Boomers, so it’s not shocking that they would have a certain similarity of character.

The New New Left, then, may be seen as largely the spawn of the Old New Left.  Young people who are not drawn to the New New Left are probably the children of those non-Lefties who were coming of age when Nixon’s “silent majority” was beating the Old New Left (however temporarily).

Some non-Left Millennials may be attracted to the next iteration of Nixon/Wallace styles of politics — thus the attraction to pugnacity and perhaps even “dirty tricks.”  The fighting spirit during a period of cultural or secular tumult transcends the politics in which it manifests.

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Were Conservatives Too Quiet About Bill O’Reilly?

Unsurprisingly, Eric Boehlert of Media Matters thinks conservatives should have been harder on former FNC star Bill O’Reilly, dismissed amid charges of sexual harassment:

The cheap and easy response — to paraphrase the Partnership For a Drug-Free America — is that we learned it from you, Dad.

America’s cultural progressives mainstreamed sexual misconduct by the rich and powerful when they decided to defend the serial sexual misconduct of Bill Clinton (including lying under oath to a federal judge in a sexual harassment case about his exploitation of a 19-year-old intern).  His chief enabler was Hillary Clinton, who among other things was prepared to smear the intern and write the scandal off as a vast right-wing conspiracy.

Media Matters — according to the rabid right-wingers at The New New Republic — “had long ceased to be a mere [media] watchdog, having positioned itself at the center of a group of public relations and advocacy outfits whose mission was to help put [Hillary] Clinton in the White House.”  But Hillary managed to lose to Donald Trump, leaving Media Matters with less to do… outside of organizing an advertiser boycott of O’Reilly.

A skeptic might be forgiven for thinking Boehlert’s outrage is mostly an attempt to squeeze the last drops of juice out of that campaign.

The second-easiest retort is to note that Boehlert criticized RedState in particular for not being critical of FNC, although the site had been critical of O’Reilly (more than once, including on this subject), not to mention Sean Hannity and Eric Bolling (and any combo of these).  It takes a special kind of media watchdog to get into a Twitter fight with a site that was among the least guilty of going easy on O’Reilly or FNC.

But the fact that the issue was raised by a paid partisan troll and with enough hypocrisy to fill the Grand Canyon doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad question.

After all, if you think that the Clintonite Democrats should not drag all of our standards into the gutter, some self-reflection should be in order.  Aside from the corrosive effects of cultural progressivism, there are several other factors worth considering.

For example, Boehlert’s complaint seems to be that people in conservative media don’t want to cross FNC because of its role as a gatekeeper and because it is in some ways the top of the conservative media food chain.  Conservatives shouldn’t pretend there is no truth in that.  Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote back in 2010 about the problem righty media folk often face: sell out to the movement or sell out the movement.

OTOH, lefties might want to consider that this incentive structure for conservative journalists exists in no small part because the establishment media — media that Boehlert is paid to find too conservative — is in fact much more likely to hire from overtly liberal outlets than from conservative ones.  That would require progressives to recognize a type of privilege that doesn’t fit neatly into their identity politics.

That doesn’t mean conservative journalists cannot and should not aspire to be better; it just means the establishment media might aspire to the same.

Of course, the incentive structure for conservative journalists isn’t the only O’Reilly factor (ouch!).  As Dougherty and Rod Dreher pointed out in responding to Boehlert, O’Reilly appealed more to their parents than to them.  This is consistent with my note yesterday that the main demo for FNC primetime is white seniors.  If you’re the sort who who reads — let alone works for — Media Matters, it may not register that many — or at least some — righty writers don’t have a monomaniacal obsession with FNC.

As with most things, however, there is a flip side to this point.  As Issac Chotiner points out at Slate, O’Reilly was always much less of a fiscal, foreign policy or religious conservative than someone motivated by cultural conservatism and his own “unrepentant solipsism.”

Regarding this latter point, also listen to John Podhoretz on the Commentary podcast (wherein JPod — can I call him JPod? — also places O’Reilly’s solipsism in the broader context of non-fiction “star vehicles” on TV).  But let’s more closely examine the former point.

I would submit that a substantial segment of the conservative media outside FNC didn’t spend much time thinking or caring about Bill O’Reilly because they really didn’t think or care much about the sort of cultural conservatism that drove O’Reilly’s show.  Some still don’t.  They missed the O’Reilly story because they weren’t invested in him or his issues.

But that’s part of How They Missed Trump, too.  And that’s why I’ve written about the need to take “dumb news” seriously.  When the better minds don’t, we shouldn’t be surprised when the provocateurs fill that vacuum, generally to bad results for the Right.

In sum, there are plenty of reasons why conservative writers didn’t opine as much as they might have about the allegedly scandalous exploits of Bill O’Reilly.  But it’s never too late for righties — and lefties — to learn from it.

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Upheaval at Fox, But It’s Still Rupert’s Empire

Bill O’Reilly is out after 21 years of holding the flagship position on-air at Fox News Channel, as the sexual harassment charges and settlements piled up.  But no one should seriously doubt that Rupert Murdoch remains the Palpatine of his media empire.  Indeed, the turmoil at the network even now proves it.

To be sure, people will opine that O’Reilly’s ouster represents a victory for Rupert’s sons, James and Lachlan, bolstered by senior executives at other divisions within the Murdoch empire who chafed at the seeming special treatment for the man with the falafel.  And it is nice that 21st Century Fox is being dragged into the late 20th Century.  I know people who still work there and the HR office doesn’t need to be run by Roger Sterling and Don Draper.

But what Rupert understands is money.  Not just the relatively small-to-him sums being paid out to settle claims brought against O’Reilly or former program honcho Roger Ailes, or to buy out their contracts.

Rather, he’s likely looking at the threat posed by FNC’s highest-rated show being boycotted by prestige advertisers.  FNC’s primetime has always been based on the model of talk-radio-with-pictures; Rupert undoubtedly noticed what happened to the revenues and clearance for the entire conservative talk radio sector once a similar boycott stuck to Rush Limbaugh.

But the turmoil that has gripped FNC over the past year largely has been caused by Rupert’s control over his vision for the operation, both before and after yanking O’Reilly off camera.

The general narrative has been one of Rupert fighting his sons over the direction of the network he created with Ailes many years ago.  As right-leaning talk video, it has attracted largely the same demographic as right-leaning talk radio: white seniors.

James and Lachlan would like to start the transition that will be inevitable as its core audience literally dies and is replaced by another generation that may not have the same politics as the current one.  Rupert sees the current FNC as a yuge cash cow and is loath to fuss with the formula.

While I might prefer the sons’ vision for FNC, I can’t blame Rupert for the impulse to not fix what isn’t broken, especially when you have to answer to stockholders.  That said, there is also an argument that you can stagnate and lose when you don’t take the initiative to innovate from time to time.  And it is very much a question of timing that is probably unknowable.

All of that said, consider that the departures of Ailes and O’Reilly were basically forced upon Rupert by the circumstances, not by choice.  OTOH, Rupert chose to let Megyn Kelly leave last year — and FNC’s schedule would have been far more stable had he met her asking price.

That choice was quite consciously one in the direction of a Trumpier FNC, as is yesterday’s decision to give Eric Bolling a show while moving the rest of The Five to primetime.  And it is most evident in the meteoric rise of Tucker Carlson, who has surfed the shock waves at FNC from weekends to Greta Van Susteren’s slot into O’Reilly’s chair.

Carlson is nothing if not flexible.  He has been a middle-of-the-road conservative for CNN, a provocative prankster at the Daily Caller, a libertarianish righty for MSNBC, and now a Trumpian tribune for Fox (even dropping his signature WASPy bow tie in favor of more proletarian neckwear).

As Carlson told McKay Coppins recently: “I’m not much of an economic conservative, and I’m not conservative at all on foreign policy.  If your politics don’t change when circumstances do, you’re an idiot, you’re a reactionary.”

I could write a longread deconstructing that quotation alone, but today is not that day.

Rather, the important thing now is that Carlson’s chameleon-like adaptability has provided him with an opportunity, but one that comes with its own inherent challenge — and one Rupert has imposed on FNC in general.

The challenge of boarding the Trump Train is that it doesn’t run on tracks.  You have no idea where it’s going to make stops.  Indeed, Trump has recently been making a raft of policy shifts seemingly away from populism and nationalism, and toward a far more conventional Republican approach.

Carlson’s reaction has been to do things like debate Lindsey Graham for agreeing with Pres. Trump’s new position on Syria, and to bring Ann Coulter on to chastise Trump.*

Carlson thus seems (so far) to be taking the Bannonesque position of holding Trump accountable to that segment of his core voters who were really serious about Trump’s advertised nationalism and populism.

But what if that’s not a yuge segment of Trump voters, let alone Fox News viewers?  What if Trump’s support is driven more by the tribal drums of traditional partisanship, by GOPers who voted for Trump because he was a better choice than Hillary Clinton, who like his recent turn towards more traditional Republicanism, and are just more inclined to side with the President over some griping talking head on Fox?

Carlson has changed his politics to fit what he thinks are vastly changed circumstances.  But he’ll be judged by an audience that may become less incline to cheer New Tucker at the very moment he’s received the big promotion.

And again: Rupert runs a capitalist empire; he won’t think twice about demoting Carlson if the ratings decline — or dispatching any of the people at FNC who have trimmed their sails to the Trumpian winds of months past.  In that regard, Rupert is the alpha chameleon of his empire.  It’s not easy being green, but that’s his preferred color.

*[Aside: Carlson’s inferior knowledge of the Middle East compared to Graham, much like his flailing idiocy about capitalism when trying to debate Mark Cuban, tends to prove my point that Carlson should debate tomato cans less, to keep in shape.  I reiterate this even though the New New Left’s collegiate antifa are a major symptom of what’s wrong with America these days and need to be exposed.  Carlson’s taking the big chair and will need to up his game if he wants to stay there.]

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Us and Them and Decline Porn

In “Decline Porn,” Commentary’s Noah C. Rothman argues that “[i]n the nation’s elite political media, an initially well-meaning effort to understand the voters who handed the president the keys to the White House has morphed into something closely resembling exploitation.”

I hadn’t planned on writing about this, as I tend to think there is a large measure of truth in it.  But I found myself asking why I agreed with it.

At the outset, I probably agreed because I had written previously about why such coverage was likely doomed to fail.  The New York Times already had tried what Jonah Goldberg called “gorillas in the mist” coverage of conservatives in 2003-04, only to find themselves blindsided by 2016 (though stereotypical Trump voters are less conservative than many Republicans).  Iowahawk’s hilarious “Heart of Redness” skewers similar coverage from the Washington Post after Pres. Bush’s re-election.

Ironically, it’s the WaPo’s Alexandra Petri who provides the comedic version of Rothman’s argument in 2017, jabbing both the journalists sojourning into the Trumpian hinterlands and the people interviewed by them (whether she meant to jab her colleagues is debatable, but the effect is the same).

It’s not entirely fair, however, to portray the media as having become fascinated with the decline of rural American towns only after the election.  There were similar anthropological pieces before the election, because the media knew the path to any Trump victory would run through the Rust Belt.  This was discussed frequently.

Moreover, related stories, like the opioid epidemic that seems concentrated in Trump-friendly regions, received extensive coverage during the 2016 cycle.  This coverage was mostly sparked by Gov. Chris Christie’s moving speech on the issue — one that inspired candidates as far apart as Sen. Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton to weigh in.

That the media did not start this coverage recently, however, does not mean that it is not on some level exploitative.  Rothman posits that such coverage isn’t particularly useful absent statistical or empirical context, absent debate over how to fix the problems of such people.  Again, my impulse is to largely agree.

OTOH, when I read coverage of the problems of Chicago’s West and South sides so lavishly produced by elite outlets like the New York Times, I find I could offer a similar critique.  The media’s coverage of police shootings tends to be similarly lacking in context or solutions.  The media’s reliance on this arguably exploitative genre is more equal opportunity than it might seem at first blush.

The reason people — and conservatives in particular — may not immediately pick up on this may be that we subconsciously expect the left-leaning establishment media to be more exploitative of the problems of the non-white underclass, given their usual orientation toward Democrat-centric identity politics.

Conversely, there would be a tendency to reflexively impute suspect motives when left-leaning outlets turn to address the problems of the white underclass, particularly given how late they have been to this party (and often hostile to authors like Charles Murray who were earlier to the party).

So while I tend to agree with Rothman, I find myself doing so from the perspective that perhaps he’s drawing back the curtain a bit on some larger issues.

The unstated premise of this mode of coverage (regardless of sympathetic or exploitative intent) is that the mission of the so-called elite media inherently focuses on “national” political coverage.

An essentially progressive media will tend to assume that it has the expertise and skill necessary to provide the breadth of coverage necessary for a nation as vast as the United States.  Yet for all of the progressive fetishization of diversity, so-called elite journalists have a distinct knowledge problem here.  They generally aren’t well-equipped to understand Englewood or Fishtown.

As a result, these scribes generally can do little beyond bear witness, however imperfectly.  This is endemic to most journalism, tbqh.  We just notice it more when the subjects are sensitive and controversial.  And we tend to notice it through whatever personal and political lenses we bring to the viewing.

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Don’t Know Much Tax Policy

Sub-head: The Mortification of Sam Cooke.

As Tax Day approached, the Washington Post and NPR were among those publishing pieces on Americans’ ignorance of tax policy.  The headline of the WaPo piece conveyed the general attitude: “People don’t like paying taxes. That’s because they don’t understand them.”

In fairness, the author of the WaPo piece doesn’t actually make that claim.  And it would be a line of argument more absurd than claiming that the reason people don’t like visiting the dentist is because they don’t understand the purpose of doing so.

NPR went so far as to commission an Ispos poll to quantify our ignorance.  But the poll may say as much or more about the likes of NPR or the WaPo as it does Americans’ knowledge of tax policy.

Indeed, as one reviews the poll results and NPR’s analysis, you might wonder: “If only there were people whose job it was to inform the public about public policy…”

NPR starts by noting that 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was basically correct in observing that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay federal income tax, but people seem to have forgotten it.  Perhaps that’s because the establishment media is only interested in this sort of statistic when it can be used as a cudgel against a Republican.  Left-leaning journalists don’t highlight the number of people who don’t pay individual income taxes.  Stop the CMSes.

According to the poll, a majority of Americans also think low-income people pay too much in income tax, despite most of that 45-47 percent being low-to-middle income.  Again, you could see why a left-leaning media is largely uninterested in correcting that misconception.  But NPR helpfully conjectures that maybe people would support even more tax transfers to the poor, “regardless of how the current tax code looks.”  So why do we care whether Americans know these details again?

NPR then had Ispos a true or false question: “For the highest earners, the percent of federal income taxes they pay now is significantly higher than it was in 1980.”  NPR seems to have deduced after the fact that this was a bad question.  If “percent” is taken as the “rate,” the correct answer is “false”; if “percent” is taken as “share,” the answer is “true.”  That doesn’t stop NPR from choosing the former as the “correct” way of reading the question in its accompanying graphic, which tells you how NPR saw it before they got the answers.

However, if the point is to demonstrate an ignorance of tax policy, the real question is why NPR cares about the marginal tax rate for the highest earners.  Individual income tax revenue as a share of GDP was an identical 8.7 percent in 1980 and 2015 (the last year for which we have final figures), despite the top marginal rate being 70 percent in 1980 and 39.6 percent in 2015.  And the share was lower in the 1950s, when the top marginal rate was 90 percent.

The top marginal rate does not come close to telling the story, given the complexity of the Internal Revenue Code.  And the remarkable stability of individual income taxes as a share of GDP over the decades since WWII might have a story about economics and politics to tell NPR, however much the staff may not want to hear it.

Instead, NPR would like to spin its cherry-picked statistic as a tale of income inequality instead of a tax code that has become far more progressive — one of the most progressive tax systems in the world.  That’s far more comforting than facing the possibility that there is a practical limit on how much one can tax “the rich” to fund an ever larger and more intrusive government.

NPR also reaffirmed that Americans overwhelmingly agree that “The tax rate on income from work should be lower than the tax rate on income from wealth.”  NPR added: “This is another result that might make the richest Americans squirm,” because apparently making “the rich” squirm is the true aim of American tax policy.

If NPR was truly interested in our collective ignorance about tax policy, they might have asked how many Americans understand that capital gains taxes are: not indexed for inflation; a double tax on income; and encourage present consumption over future consumption.  Or that U.S. cap gains tax rates are above the average for other developed nations.

NPR’s poll then finds 49 percent of Americans think 75 percent of the federal government’s revenue comes from personal income taxes (when it’s really about 47 percent).  NPR then notes: “Of all the taxes Americans pay, income tax probably requires the most thought. After all, payroll tax comes automatically out of each paycheck. Sales tax is imposed at the cash register. And so on.”

If NPR wants to complain about Americans’ ignorance about taxes, it might have considered whether government prefers less transparent, more automatic taxes — withholding payroll taxes being the classic example — precisely because politicians want Americans to be ignorant of how deeply they’re reaching into our pockets.

Lastly, NPR is miffed that the GOP’s efforts to rebrand the estate tax as a “death tax” is effective in making it less popular, especially among Democrats.

Of course, the progressive bias of the media is not the only reason outlets like NPR don’t really want to cover tax policy in depth.  I’ve previously invoked the old adage that “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; [and] small minds discuss people.”  It’s much easier to draw an audience obsessively covering the circus atmosphere of the Trump administration, or a doctor dragged off an airplane, or the doctor’s lawyer’s press conference than tax policy.

Moreover, I suspect the establishment media privately thinks as I do:  that public opinion on taxes is basically governed by the notion of “I would prefer that someone else pay more taxes, while I pay fewer.”  This extends to the olds burdening the youngs with a future higher tax burden to support their entitlement programs.  The establishment media really doesn’t want that to be the big story.

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The Root Cause of Campus Authoritarians

Saturday’s clash of Trump supporters in and New New Leftists in Berkeley, CA may be the latest headline.  While this Weimar-as-farce violence is to be condemned, the April 12 Wellesley News editorial defending restrictions of free speech on campus is ultimately more important.

In some ways, the student editorial is no different from past attempts to justify the New New Left authoritarianism growing at America’s colleges and universities.  It relies on at least two common yet bogus propositions.

The first is that whatever these Che wannabes deem to be “hate speech” is not free speech and thus not protected by the Constitution.  Even Politifact has figured out this is false.

The second, equally bogus proposition is that someone engaged in “hate speech,” however defined, somehow infringes on the rights of students in a manner justifying physical violence.  However, as infamous right-wing writer Adam Gopnik once put it in a conservative cesspool called The New Yorker:

It is not merely that an assault on an ideology is different from a threat made to a person; it is that it is the opposite of a threat made to a person.  The whole end of liberal civilization is to substitute the criticism of ideas for assaults on people.”

Gopnik was referring to the Islamist attacks on Charlie Hebdo, but the point is equally applicable here.  As many others have noted, it’s Orwellian for campus Maoists to claim they are creating “safe spaces” when said spaces are created by mob violence or the the threat thereof.

Yet, I noticed — albeit anecdotally via social media — there was much more progressive pushback against the criticism of this editorial than after the prior riot at UC Berkeley or the assault on author Charles Murray and battery of Professor Allison Stanger at Middlebury College.

It would be easy to attribute the difference in pushback on simple cowardice.  Many liberals know what the violence the New New Left promotes is not widely accepted and they are ashamed to be associated with it.  So a few may write against it, but many will simply close their mouths and look the other way, lest they be shunned or targeted by fellow travelers.

But I suspect that one of the reasons more progressives are touchy about the Wellesley editorial is something noticed by Patterico and Allahpundit — the abysmal quality of the student editors’ writing. “We have all said problematic claims?” Well, that phrase is certainly problematic.

And consider this sentence: “Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech.”  That sentence is garbled garbage that almost certainly denotes something close to the opposite of what the authors intended.  If you’re going to make an ridiculous claim, at least try to sound sophisticated.

The awful writing helps put a spotlight on the incoherent “thinking” undertaken by budding totalitarians in our nation’s supposedly elite institutions.  It also draws attention to how deep the rot is at these institutions.

As I’ve previously noted, much of this rot stems from prior successes in eliminating or minimizing Western Civilization in curricula.  The ideological conformity in American education deprives students of an appreciation of the West’s virtues, and left-leaning students of the ability to effectively critique the West’s vices (hence the need to suppress their opponents).

Unfortunately, this is just one particularly pernicious aspect of the overall dumbing down of American education.

So when the poorly-educated but self-righteous staff of the Wellesley News moons the world, progressives feel more obligated to defend what is effectively The Establishment.  The Federalist’s publisher, Ben Domenech, recently asked readers to “Consider The Possibility That We Are Led By Idiots.”  If there’s anything progressives want you to consider less than that, it’s the idea that so-called elite institutions are simply creating another generation of idiots to succeed them in “leadership.”

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Political Journalism and Political Science: Still a First Date

At Poynter, James Warren writes about last weekend’s meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, focusing on a panel titled, “The Media and the 2016 Election: A View from the Campaign Trail.”  While I appreciate the journalists who would show up to such a thing, if Warren’s report is any indication, even the journalists interested in political science still have a lot to learn from it.

Steve Peoples of the Associated Press suggested the 2016 election was leading him to question all of his assumptions, which is probably a good practice for most people in general.  But Warren reports that Peoples wondered what journalists would do if you cant trust the polling.

If this was Twitter, I’d be hashtagging that sentiment #facepalm and #headdesk for several reasons.

First, it is usually the case that post-election seminars feature journalists confessing that too much of election coverage is focused on the horse race.  Political scientists would tell you there’s good reason to be concerned about it:

“Patterson (1993; 2005) and others fear that the focus on the game over substance undermines the ability of citizens to learn from coverage and to reach informed decisions in elections or about policy debates. Capella and Jamieson (1997) argue that the strategy frame portrays candidates and elected officials as self-interested and poll driven opportunists, a portrayal that they show promotes cynicism and distrust among audiences. Farnsworth and Licther (2006) go so far as to suggest that horse race coverage in the primary elections results in a self-reinforcing bandwagon effect with positive horse race coverage improving a candidate’s standing in subsequent polls and negative horse-race coverage hurting a candidate’s poll standings.”

The 2008 and 2012 elections had much the same problem.  And 2016 was no different, with horse race coverage accounting for most of the reason a candidate like Donald Trump got mostly positive coverage.  Indeed, while Nate Silver is a data journalist rather than a political scientist, his analysis supports the bandwagon thesis: the media covered Trump well in excess of his poll standings, ultimately driving those standings higher despite bad favorability numbers.

In contrast, you can check Jack Shafer‘s 2008 hot take defending horse race coverage to see how much worse it sounds now than then (and it sounded bad then).

Second, while there was a small systematic error in the 2016 polling, Nate Silver explained before the election why his model showed a 28.6% chance of Trump winning and the reasons he gave pretty much explained in advance what happened.  And even if you don’t buy the precision of a model like Silver’s (and you probably should not), it was Sean Trende (who holds a poli sci degree) noting that a 25% chance was like flipping a coin and having it come up heads twice in a row — hardly shocking.

Instead, journalists and more conventional pundits tended to see 25% — or even 14% — as 0%, when in fact, sometimes unlikely results occur.  That does not wipe out the laws of probability.  The chances of rolling a six on one die are only 16.67%, but it still happens and when it does, it doesn’t mean the die is loaded or defective.

Third, polling isn’t the only thing political science has to offer journalism.  Political science could also offer a number of fundamental reasons — 2016 being an open seat election in a mediocre economy involving two poor candidates and a Democratic Party that had been losing white working class voters for decades — that helped account for Trump’s victory, all of which could have been considered and incorporated into journalists’ thinking well in advance of election day.

Molly Ball and Nia-Malika Henderson apparently commented on the sorry state of the Democratic Party.  Ball thought it was “hard to underestimate how screwed the Democrats are,” but noting their situation wasn’t hopeless, recalled that Barack Obama was a little-known state senator before the 2008 election.

I’m hoping Warren mischaracterized Ball, as this is almost entirely incorrect, and any good political scientist would have been able to correct her.

First, by the time of the 2008 cycle, Obama had been elected to the U.S. Senate and had been the highly-publicized and highly-lauded keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.  Political scientists would identify such a person as a rising star, well positioned to compete in the “invisible primary” of party officials, donors and influencers that occurs before a single vote is cast.

And in fact, Obama proved to be a prodigious fundraiser from both Wall Streeters and small donors alike.  While it was certainly possible that he could have fizzled had he lost the Iowa caucuses, political scientists would have predicted he could mount a strong challenge to Hillary Clinton.

[Aside: The fundraising is usually crucial because of the cost of paid media.  In 2016, Donald Trump entered the race with high name-ID and a press willing to provide free media well in excess of his poll numbers.]

Second, as for the Democrats being screwed, Jay Cost (another political scientist by education, iirc) has observed that “[i]f the Republican party were a publicly traded company, January 20 would be the day to sell, sell, sell.  This may sound counterintuitive, but the verdict of history is clear, if not quite unanimous: The moment a party achieves total control of the government is the moment just before power begins to slip through its fingers.”

Finally, Ball apparently wants to know if there has been a lasting realignment of the parties, or whether 2016 was an anomaly.  Trende’s book, The Lost Majority, would tell you no such thing truly exists.  See also Jay Cost:

In addition, while the panel apparently noted that Hillary did well with college-educated whites, I have noted previously that Trump was outpolled by down-ticket GOPers in many races, often by appealing less to working-class whites and more to college-educated whites.  John Judis — a progenitor of the Emerging Democratic Majority theory — noted the GOP’s overall improvement with white voters, but particularly college-educated white voters, back in 2015.

The GOP having Trump as its public face might change those trends in time, even if it did not occur in 2016.  But a political scientist would tell you that’s where the analysis starts.

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Meet the New Boss…

…Same as the old boss.  But then, you’ve probably heard The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” many times already.  Pete Townshend’s power chords and sardonic lyrical commentary on revolution, perfectly paired with Roger Daltrey’s epic scream of frustration.  IIRC, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once offered a similar viewpoint, albeit without the groundbreaking sequenced synthesizer, the rolling thunder of Keith Moon on the throne, or the double threat of John Entwistle keeping the time and soloing throughout.

Although it’s really still too early for confident conclusions, the conventional wisdom now seems to be that the Trump administration carries the whiff of a failed revolution before reaching the arbitrary but much-hyped 100-day mark.

Pres. Trump entered the White House vowing to drain the swamp of our nation’s capital.  In recent days, however,  Trump has decided that it’s worth bombing Syria over chemical attacks on civilians, Syrian strongman Assad must leave power at some point, Russia is not going to be our best bud, NATO is not obsolescent, China is not a currency manipulator, Fed Chair Janet Yellen may not be worth dumping, and the crony capitalism of the Ex-Im Bank is perfectly tolerable.

Also, there is the seeming decline of Stephen Bannon, Trump’s nominal senior counselor and wannabe nationalist philosopher.  He’s been removed from his perch at the NSC and losing internal battles to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.  He’s just some guy who works for Trump now.  Bannon’s post-government future is being imagined, if not expedited.

I could discuss the merits of these apparent flip-flops and policy shifts, as many will.  Some are quite welcome and defensible, from my perspective, e.g., China really isn’t a currency manipulator now (if it ever was) and dropping that kerfuffle in return for China’s help with North Korea (as seems likely) is a good trade, imho.

Instead, let’s look at the larger picture.  If the current trends hold — a somewhat risky assumption when the mercurial Trump is under discussion — the portrait that emerges is of an insurgent, outsider campaign suddenly giving way to a largely establishment GOP (perhaps even Wall Street Democrat-influenced) administration.

I could argue that this isn’t shocking, that Trump was historically a New York Democratic donor who opportunistically went RINO to capture a nomination from gullible folk who listen to talk radio or who mistook reality TV for reality and took the grossly excessive media coverage of his campaign as validation of its seriousness.

Rather than sip from a hearty mug of schadenfreude, however, I want to focus on the notion that Trump’s seeming quick-change act is a bad thing, even if I think I might like the policies better than those we would get from the Full Trump.

After all, in a representative Republic, people that voted for Trump ought to get what they voted for, even in the Menckenesque expression of the idea.  Similarly, all of those who supported or voted for other Republicans, particularly more establishment candidates, cannot help but feel they were cheated by the passions of the star-struck and the gullible.  Trumpists may not get much of what they want, while others will get their policies as executed by someone whom most thought lacked the experience or temperament for the job.

In many respects, it seems like the worst of both worlds.

To the degree that Trump’s rise and ultimate victory is a byproduct of Americans’ precipitous decline in trust of our institutions — especially political institutions — the “meet the new boss” dynamic will only fuel that distrust and potentially make our politics even more toxic in the future.  Trump fans may become more alienated and perhaps more radical, while his skeptics may get to see their ideas discredited by the incompetent execution of an amateur.

Americans who have been voting for change cycle after cycle for perhaps as long as 16-20 years may reach the Daltrey-esque primal scream moment.  I can’t say I would blame them much.

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