The Vatican Runs The Clinton Playbook: Liner Notes

As of mid-morning, I have a new column posted at The Federalist, “The Vatican Is Using Bill Clinton’s Playbook To Defend Pope Francis,” which is pretty on-target as headlines go, though the defense is more broad than the current Pope.

What got left out for space? Perhaps a bit of leavening context about the fact that in prior church scandals, the conservatives were more likely to circle the wagons, underscoring the debate here is sadly more factional than would be ideal. Indeed, there’s even a bit of that in the Catholic League’s response to the Pennsylvania grand jury report, to the extent William Donahue still matters.

Also left out is the degree to which a “political” lens here is both narrower and broader than the story.  David French wrote about why Catholic scandals affect Protestants, but I’d suggest that it goes further, speaking to the large-and-small-P political problems that will arise if religious institutions begin to be viewed as corrupt (along the lines of my prior thoughts about social conservatives and the decline of institutional power).

I also might have mentioned that an institution based in Italy might be failing to fully grasp how this story is playing in America, if the response there to Weinsteingate is any indicator. Indeed, the reaction to Asia Argento’s allegations might have turned into an aside about the allegations now lodged against her don’t invalidate her original claims as part of noting the ecclesiastical whataboutism of the Church’s defenders. But word limits are what they are.

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Overplaying the Socialism Card: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist, asking: “Is Careless Talk About Socialism How We Get President Elizabeth Warren?” And unlike most headlines, the answer isn’t entirely “No,” though it’s certainly not the only way it would happen.  Essentially, the column argues that reflexively calling things “socialist” may have effect on the left similar to what decades of the left’s reflexive accusations of bigotry has had on the right leading to the current political moment. In addition to fueling polarization, the tactic also may backfire in the sense that it plays into a lot of modern ignorance of what socialism is.

What got left out for space? Some details, like Paul Krugman arguing that Obamacare could evolve into single-payer, which is relevant to whether the right was accurate in thinking the bill was socialistic.  The lefties thinking the right exaggerated tend to forget that at the time, there was a big push to include a “public option” intended ultimately to displace the private insurance market.  Or that center-left people like Michael Kinsley also saw the proposal as a government takeover.

Indeed, as Commentary’s Noah C. Rothman wrote recently, lefties now casually throw around ideas found in Engels, the Communist Manifesto, and the Soviet Constitution.  He got a fair amount of pushback for it on social media from lefties who obviously didn’t bother to read his column.  Which reminds me: if you want a discussion of the meaning of socialism, it was the primary topic of a recent Commentary podcast.

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The Democrats’ March Toward Jeremy Corbyn: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist, “Democrats Are Fielding Even More Anti-Semitic Candidates For Congress,” which is probably a bit stronger than I might have put it, but headlines gota headline. It surveys a slate of four new congressional nominees, most of whom have ties to the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement, and one of whom has co-written a book which makes Israel seem like SPECTRE.

What did I leave out? I could have turned the conclusion into a meditation on partisanship, because bigotry is also a problem within the GOP these days. And the media’s tendency to treat the latter as an overall narrative while ignoring it among the Dems one of its worst biases, inasmuch as bigotry ought not to be a partisan issue. And that consequently, the partisan focus on the issue by both sides ends up being a mitigating factor that at least gets the issue out in front of the public.

But I’ve written things that brush up against that thesis, at least one of which is linked in the column.  As a writer, I am always thinking about the balance between focusing on themes that I think are important to discuss while trying not to be writing the same three or four columns over and over. Some get away with that, but it seems a rather tedious method of operation.

Also, it would have been nice to have space to do even more of an explainer of BDS, in particular the the fact that anti-Semitic incidents tend to increase on campuses where it takes hold (though again, I’ve brushed up against that in past columns). People like Tlaib are careful enough to frame support for BDS as a free speech issue (as I address in the column). And we always want to be careful to avoid illegal or even undue censorship. But when a movement tries to retreat behind the idea that they are merely criticizing Israel’s policies or government, it is worth noting that this is often not true and theory and that the line frequently gets blurred in reality.

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Jordan Peterson’s Appeal is a Political Paradox: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist, re-named “Why The Intellectual Dark Web Should Stick With Culture And Not Shift To Politics,” which is an apt headline, though perhaps Peterson’s name would generate more clicks.  The paradox of Peterson and his fellow travelers in the “Intellectual Dark Web” is that they are reaching people with their conversations and ideas — an essentially political endeavor — while de-emphasizing “politics” (other than to oppose identity politics that turn everything into “politics”).

What got left out?  A bit about how conservative institutions “failed” by never serving this sort of function after classical liberalism was routed from cultural institutions, which regular readers have seen before.  A bit on role technology plays in the phenomenon — how something like the IDW would have been difficult to pull of before the development of streaming technologies.  Perhaps people as different as Paul Harvey and Tom Wolfe could be considered oblique forerunners of this phenomenon, but there’s no direct lineage there, obviously.  And perhaps a bit about how the devolution of journalism into infotainment — particularly the Punch & Judy form of staged conflict on cable news and talk radio — created a space for podcasters both within and well outside the IDW to provide a deeper alternative.  Maybe even a bit about how podcasting might be in a very small way be reviving interest in middlebrow culture in a way not seen since the 60s.

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What Weigel Tells Us About Journalism and Politics: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist, “How Dave Weigel Made A Career Of Highlighting The Right’s Kooks And Mainstreaming The Left’s,” which is a bit of an overstatement, but headlines gotta headline.  Moreover, as is usually the case, the column is about something a bit larger than the headline might suggest.

Regular readers here know I believe that, in a very general sense, a mass audience is drawn to stories about people before stories about events before stories about ideas.  So my point in writing about Weigel’s career is not really to critique Weigel per se, but to explain larger ideas about American political journalism and politics (as with columns I have written about Joy Reid, Jeffrey Toobin, etc.).

Weigel’s career, at least until recently has been to caricature the non-left by exaggerating the worst elements that attach themselves to conservatism, libertarianism, the GOP, etc.  As such, it was a career that operated as a caricature of American political journalism, the establishment of which otherizes and marginalizes the non-left, and is unduly credulous in conflating the non-left with its fringe elements.

As noted in the column, Weigel and his fellow travelers may view the ascendancy of Pres. Trump as vindication.  But that attitude is another reflection of the left’s problem with their role in the dysfunction of American politics.

I believe in personal responsibility, so the non-left should take the lion’s share of it when they associate themselves with racists, conspiracy theorists, etc.  But as I’ve also noted previously, the left’s exclusionary behaviors and broad smears unfortunately tend to desensitize the non-left to such criticism, while providing media oxygen to inflammatory elements of the non-left (and of the left, by the converse process of normalization).  It’s not pretty, but I take the political world as I find it.  It is an unfortunately widespread phenomenon in American political journalism.  Weigel just tends to personify it more than most, which is how he wound up as column’s focus.

What got left out?  I could have written more about the role of the conundrum in our current free speech debate in this context.  I judge Weigel by his own apparent view that giving people or stories exposure fuels them, regardless of the tone of coverage.  That view is not entirely consistent with the conventional wisdom that the solution to bad speech is more speech.  But it is consistent with progressives’ growing realization that their movement is not consistent with traditional American views on freedom of speech.  And it’s consistent with social studies suggesting that confirmation bias is so powerful that exposing people to contrary evidence can cause people to dig in on their priors.  There was no chance that I was going to resolve that debate in the column any more than I was going to do so here, but at least it’s something you can chew on further in your spare moments.

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Owens, Jeong, and Twitter Censorship: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist, titled “Jeong And Owens Prove Twitter Censorship Weighs More Heavily On Conservatives.”  And it is mostly about that, but ultimately more than that (following my general inclination to use a news peg to talk about larger ideas or phenomena).

What got left out?  This column was written largely be request on an effective deadline of a few hours, so not much.  But insofar as I ultimately make a point about the Left’s rather slippery attitude on the issue of systemic or institutional bias, I would note that I could write an entire column or series about the Left’s ever-evolving theories on racial issues.  A few of my recent columns have been pushing the idea that the Left really does not care much about rules, while other writers remain stuck on the idea that there are old rules and new rules , with the Left operating on a double standard under their new rules.

I would suggest that the Left’s reliance on the motte and bailey fallacy on racial matters is in itself quite close to Calvinball.  But it goes deeper.  As noted elsewhere at The Federalist today — and previously at any number of outlets — the Left is much bigger on equality of results than equality of opportunities, and this drives their thinking on racial issues. This should be evident from the change in emphasis by the Left following the enactment of the civil rights acts (which focused on opportunities, not results).

And now that the Left has iterated that thinking to the point of concluding America is built on plunder and the preservation of white supremacy, such that it is impossible to be racist regarding whites, one should not rule out the likelihood that the Left’s definition of racism will continue to evolve so that it remains fine to attack whites, regardless of how much power they hold.  The notion that the Left has “rules” is a narrow sort of viewpoint based on looking at a snapshot in time, rather than the fluid approach the Left has taken over the course of time.

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The NYT and Sarah Jeong’s Racist Tweets: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist about The New York Times hiring of Sarah Jeong, asking: “Why wouldn’t the Times hire someone with an antipathy to white people?”  It makes two basic points.  First, progressives care so little about “rules” that they redefine racism to exclude themselves from responsibility.  Second, a common progressive view of race — exemplified by the veneration of Ta-Nehisi Coates — explains why the NYT would not have any problem other than style to hiring someone with a long trail of public statements comparing whites to dogs and goblins.

What got left out?  I forgot to expressly mention that I generally oppose the practice of social media mobs trying to collect scalps and ruin careers.  My regular readers know this, but I should have explicitly included it for casual readers.

I also forgot to mention that before hiring Jeong, the NYT hired and quickly fired Quinn Norton for a tech writing job.  Norton’s case was complicated and similar to Jeong’s situation.  But Norton slurred blacks and gays, while Jeong attacked white people.  Again, as I note in the column, it would be tempting to view this through the lens of hypocrisy or double-standards, when the reality is that progressives like those running the NYT play Calvinball.  There are no rules, including for the definition of racism.

Given space limitations, I also omitted contrasts with other commentary on this story that would have illustrated my argument.  For example, I agree with much of what Robby Soave wrote on this subject, but disagree with the suggestion that this is a story about Jeong experiencing any sort of personal growth.

Similarly, I agree with much of what Kevin Williamson wrote about it, but not with the assumption that this was an institution “taking a stand” against social media mobs.  My column argues that the progressive march through the institutions explains why they do not take principled stands in general.  The NYT’s “stand’ here is situational and serves its politics, as the Norton firing illuminates.  They have the right to do that, but we should not fall into the trap of thinking the NYT is being heroic.

Lastly and relatedly, I am reminded of one of progressives’ favored historical riffs.  Progressives like to claim that in the early 20th century, they saved capitalism from communism.  In reality, many progressives were mightily impressed with the Soviet system and thought it was the wave of the future.  The threat of communist revolution was in part a version of the classic “good cop, bad cop” tactic, which successfully cowed the business class into submission.  The nature of the implied threat of mob action may have evolved over time, but the left still finds it useful.

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James Gunn, Brett Kavanaugh, and “Rules”: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist, “James Gunn And Brett Kavanaugh Illustrate The Left’s Disregard For Playing By The Rules.” That headline is accurate, as far as it goes.  But the column is also an argument against the idea of “making the Left play by it’s rulebook.”  That’s not a viable tactic when the Left does not find the idea of playing by rules to have any great power or authority in their worldview.

So what got left out?  An illustration I wish I had thought of before submitting the column is the Left’s attitude toward Pres. Trump in general.  On one hand, he is this terrible vulgarian trampling all sorts of political and societal norms (and he is).  On the other hand, plenty of Leftists thought it perfectly acceptable to physically mob an harangue members of the Trump administration at restaurants, outside their homes, etc.  When Rep. Maxine Waters publicly advocated for these tactics, the pushback from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and from the media was weak.  Waters paid no real political price for advocating a march to the precipice of political violence.  The tendency is to view this sort of thing as hypocrisy, but that presupposes the alleged hypocrite actually has some investment in the standard or rule being violated.  More and more, this is not the case on the Left.

And this is creeping in on the non-Left as well.  The Left does not like judicial nominees applying the umpire model of judging. A segment of Trump fans continues to be distraught at the umpire model of judging Trump and his administration.  The Alinskyite embrace of “make the enemy live by its rules” not only misunderstands how Alinsky and the Left view rules, but also embraces the model that your rival or opponent is your enemy.  Unless we’re discussing Vladimir Putin, apparently.

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The Debate Over NATO and Montenegro Is a Sideshow

Don’t get me wrong: the current debate regarding the status on NATO and Montenegro’s membership is interesting.  But while plenty of pundits are having that discussion, it’s worth pointing out that it is essentially a sideshow and a distraction from more urgent questions.

This most recent round of debate kicked off with Fox’s Tucker Carlson asking Pres. Trump about the purpose of NATO (ostensibly): “Membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member that’s attacked. So let’s say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked. Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?”  Trump answered: “I understand what you’re saying, I’ve asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.”

In the real world, Montenegro’s accession to NATO is a treaty matter; that’s what the “T” stands for.  The matter was submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification by Pres. Obama, but the ratification vote (97-2, btw) wasn’t held until March 28, 2017 — when Trump was President.  And yet Trump did not blow up the ratification.  To the contrary, he signed certifications to satisfy conditions attached by the Senate to the ratification.

Accordingly, the main issue raised by the Carlson-Trump exchange is not the wisdom of Montenegro joining NATO.  Rather the question is whether Trump is too shallow to understand the foreign and defense policies being pursued by his administration, too weak and lazy to force his administration to conform to his policy opinions, or both (spoiler: it’s probably both).

The immediate question raised thereby is how much Trump undermining NATO — an exercise in collective security and deterrence — becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And this sort of concern can be generalized to Trump’s larger agenda, given how often his public (and private?) pronouncements are at odds with the policies being pursued by his administration.

From there, another question might be why those who seemed most concerned with the “deep state” never seem to find a critical word for the obvious disconnects between the President, his advisors and Cabinet officials.

Given that people are increasingly realizing that one of the reasons Congress is dysfunctional is because it has too many Members who are more interested in being pundits instead of legislators, still another question might be what happens when the President also starts acting as a pundit, commenting like a bystander on the policies for which he is ultimately responsible?

And putting on my media critic hat for a second, the fact that none of the above questions are particularly pleasant for partisan Republicans may explain why Carlson went along with the farcical notion that Trump is not as responsible as anyone for Montenegro being a member of NATO.  Conversely, the hyperbole of the establishment media avoids the same basic questions.

That sophisticated debate other people are having about NATO? Trump isn’t having it, nor has he ever demonstrated he’s capable of it.  The debate is a sideshow.  The ringmaster ocupies the center ring, leaving the lions, tigers, and bears largely unattended.

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Jeffrey Toobin’s Supreme Meltdowns; Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist, “Jeffrey Toobin’s Clueless Supreme Court Meltdowns Should Embarrass CNN,” mostly about his strange claim that the stakes for Supreme Court nominations are higher now because the framers of the Constitution thought everyone was dying in their 50s — a view that misunderstands vital statistics and misleads as a matter of history.

What got left out?  I was writing on a de facto ASAP deadline, so one thing I neglected to note that John Adams nominated two Justices who served over 30-year terms — one of whom was Chief Justice John Marshall.  Jefferson and Madison also nominated Justices who served more than 30 years, including the famous-among-lawyers Joseph Story.  Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who burdened us with the Dred Scott opinion, served over 30 years due to Andrew Jackson.

It would be fair to say — as Jeffrey Rosen has — that while the average term for a Justice is roughly 15 years, it has increased to 25-26 years in the period since 1970.  But this math doesn’t really help Toobin.  To the contrary, the timing suggests that the tendency of Presidents to nominate younger Justices who can serve longer terms has little to do with increases in life expectancy, but a lot to do with the late Warren Court and early Burger Court appropriating power and converting the Court into the sort of political institution the framers worried about.

I also wound up leaving out the bigger picture, though it’s one familiar to WHRPT readers.  Here you have Toobin, CNN senior legal analyst, sounding more like the network’s progressive talking heads like Neera Tanden — despite the fact that the “finalists” were known well in advance, allowing Toobin plenty of time to research their records and philosophies.  Why does that happen?  In large part because news has devolved into infotainment, a problem accelerated by Jeff Zucker’s tenure at CNN.

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