Why Should You Care About the “Booty Kings”?: Liner Notes

So, a new column up today at The Federalist, titled “SNL’s ‘Booty Kings’ Video Mocks Sexist Rappers—And Their Woke Critics.” The lede gives you the hook:

Pete Davidson’s apology to Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw for mocking his war wound provided last weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” its viral moment (and rightly so). However, this overshadowed one of the sharpest segments SNL has produced since the 2016 presidential campaign.

The segment is a mock rap video entitled ‘Permission’ ” about the “Booty Kings” — a pair of rappers who are trying to get woke.

As the title of the column suggests, sexist rappers are the primary — and rich — target of the satire here.  Yet I suspect that the laughs also come from the fact that rappers trying to be woke strikes people as just plain silly, which says something additional about the culture, not only the audience for this type of rap, but those on a crusade to stamp it out.

What got left out for space? Tons. The woke ideal presented is consent, and obviously one could write many columns about consent being a necessary but insufficient basis for how society thinks about sex.  A longer column would delve further into the (barely) subtexts here about subjects like tolerating intolerance and the right to be wrong,the ways in which we struggle against or live in an uneasy relationship with the vices we recognize we have.  Or there could have been more on the relative merits of society evolving in a more gradual, Burkean fashion versus a more revolutionary imposition of cultural norms.  Or perhaps I could have written more about art versus propaganda, in the sense that the response to this video is both complex and visceral in ways that are not easily communicated in print, let alone evoked in a mass audience.  Or I could have focused more on how this mock video, like the “Black Jeopardy” sketch referenced in the column, not only speaks to populism and class, but to the instability of the major party coalitions in this more populist moment.

Of course, there’s also the old saying that a joke is like a frog: you can dissect it, but it tends to die on the table when you do.  In this case, however, I think there are enough layers to the comedy that it survives (and even resists) that dissection.

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2020 Democrats Without a Map: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist today, “The 2018 Midterm Results Leave Democrats Without A Roadmap For 2020.” It’s consistent with my pre-election “prediction” that “no one will learn anything” from the 2018 midterms, now bolstered by the results. The Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter has a piece up today making the roughly similar point that this week did not produce a “frontrunner” for Dems.

Since submitting my piece, it appears we will get a recount in Florida and possibly Georgia.  I tend to doubt any change in the results, but even if there were, my analysis wouldn’t change much. That’s not partisanship or confirmation bias. Nate Silver, making an adjustment for uncontested 2018 races, produces a possible 2020 map where Georgia remains red and Florida remains Florida. A Dem win in one of those two states might affect their internal debate or struggle over choosing a presidential nominee, but it probably should not for the reasons discussed in the column and just stated here.

An additional point about the identity politics faction of the party was left out of my column for reasons of space and flow.  I refer to “identity politics––or, to put it less pejoratively, representational politics.”  That last phrase is there because it’s not like African-Americans like Stacey Abrams don’t have a point in their critique of their party.  Georgia Democrats have offered up nepotistic candidates who were the relatives of old white Dems who won in GA once upon a time — and they’ve lost quite a bit.  Given that history, it’s entirely rational to at least try a different approach. Laboratories of democracy, let 100 flowers bloom, etc.

I also could have written more about how Beto O’Rourke, for all of his faults, exposed some underlying issues in Texas.  Fortunately, John Daniel Davidson made that dive in a piece at The Fed yesterday.  I would add that some of the problem in Texas was weak candidates with scandal baggage — but that too is a symptom of an overly complacent state party.

I could have further analyzed Sherrod Brown — one of the few Dems who won a marquee race — as an exception to what was otherwise a bad cycle for Dems in Ohio.  The Buckeye state seems like it may swing further right (at least during the Trump era) in a way that’s more like neighboring West Virginia than neighboring Pennsylvania.  The fact that PA Dems had a very good night (not to mention MI, WI, even IA and MN) should serve as a warning to the GOP, but they weren’t the focus of today’s’ column.

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My Midterm Prediction?


Okay, I’m kidding, but taking Mr. T out of context is vague enough that it probably works as a midterm prediction.

Slightly more seriously, I did want to keep to my habit of writing about elections beforehand, to help keep myself honest. So my midterm prediction is this this: No one will learn anything.

The reason that’s a prediction rather than a mere statement of fact is that we could have a Truly Unexpected Result. Democrats could pick up over 58 seats, or fewer than 20. The voters’ overall verdict would be clear beyond spin in those scenarios. But they are unlikely scenarios.

Absent an outlier result, we are likely to see something between a Blue Wave (not tsunami) and the GOP narrowly holding onto the House.  If the results land closer to one or the other end of that spectrum, the “losing” side’s activists will go into Green Lantern mode. “If only my party had fought harder, pursued my agenda, things would have been different,” they will say. “We were stabbed in the back.  If only those squishy establishment figures had clapped harder, Tinker Bell would be alive today.” Conversely, the “winning” side will tend to believe that their hyperbole and hysterics were validated by the voters before waiting to see whether the data bear it out.

To demonstrate how the midterm commentary is going and will go astray, consider Republican Trump critic Bret Stephens. He notes that: wages are rising, unemployment is at a multi-decade low, ISIS is largely beaten, Iran seems contained, Russia was sanctioned (rather than coddled), and Dems overreached in attacking SCOTUS nominee (now Justice) Brett Kavanaugh. His conclusion? “Democrats should be walking away with the midterms. That they are not is because they have consistently underestimated the president’s political gifts, while missing the deeper threat his presidency represents.”

If you hadn’t noticed, “Democrats should be walking away with the midterms” does not exactly follow from the political fundamentals Stephens catalogued.  “Jobs, Not Mobs” is a slogan with two components.  Attributing the GOP’s results solely to Pres. Trump’s culture war is the sort of thing one might expect more from Steve Bannon than Bret Stephens, but here we are.  Conversely, it would probably be a mistake to attribute the Dems’ results solely to their frothing anger when leadership has tried to keep their candidates focused on issues like health insurance.  If we do not get a Truly Unexpected Result, untangling these factors will take more work than much of the commentariat seems willing to do.

Beyond activists confirming their biases, let’s consider the Conventional Wisdom of Dems winning 30-40 seats in the House, along with a number of governorships and statehouses — while the GOP picks up one or two seats in the Senate. Because it’s the CW, there may be a tendency to be blasé about it.  But the GOP lost 31 House seats in 2006, burdened with the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, etc. To lose that many seats in 2018, amid peace and prosperity — and to gain only two Senate seats with the most GOP-friendly Senate map in recent memory — should be seen as a rebuke of Pres. Trump, while keeping in mind that Clinton and Obama got their rebukes (and W didn’t in 2002 mostly because of 9/11).

Despite those rebukes, Clinton and Obama went on to re-election, which is why there’s a limit to learning things from midterms, even a big wave election.  That said, Obama was the first president since Washington to get re-elected with less support than his initial election.  Trump, having threaded an Electoral College needle in 2016, has less margin for losing votes and yet continues to play to his biggest fans.  Nevertheless, even if that strategy were to fail tomorrow, he could still win 2020 if Dems learn enough of the wrong lessons from these midterms.

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Harvard’s Dishonest Affirmative Action Fuels Populism: Liner Notes

I start the week with another column at The Federalist: “How Harvard’s Dishonesty About Its Racial Discrimination Will Fuel Populism.” It’s an example of this sideblog helping me workshop things, as the basic idea comes from the liner notes to my previous column.

Not much got left out for space, per se.  I wound up only touching lightly on Harvard’s history of discriminating against Jews because really digging into that debate would have required another column, and perhaps more. Ultimately, Harvard’s current defenders reject the comparison primarily because the discrimination here is ostensibly well-intentioned. The question of whether such intentions eventually pave the road to Hell in this context is an important one, but ultimately beyond the scope of the column. In A Few Good Men, Col. Natahan Jessup has an argument to make about the value of a “code red.” He had lost that argument and continued to do what he wanted secretly. Anyone who has seen the movie or the play realizes that’s a problem.

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The Unpopularity of Racial Preferences in College Admissions: Liner Notes

In a busy week, I have yet another column up at The Federalist, “Why The Media Will Never Tell You 85 Percent Of Americans Oppose Race-Based College Admissions.”

The backstory here is mildly amusing. I had written about the Beto hangover as the result of a mini-rant I had circulated by email (knowing there might be interest at the Fed in dunking on Beto). Part of that column relied on the newly-released “Hidden Tribes” study, coverage of which was generating traffic, particularly at The Atlantic. I mostly wrote about the study’s findings on political correctness, with just a line or two on affirmative action.

But before it got published, Joy Pullman’s piece on the study ran, so my working assumption was that my column might not run. And Joy’s column also seemed to generate a lot of traffic. Accordingly, I pitched The Fed on a similar column focused on the study’s equally lopsided finding regarding racial preferences. Now both this column and the Beto column have run and there is a certain thematic consistency as a result.

What got left out for space? In retrospect, while I use the word “now” in a few places, I probably could have emphasized that race preferences in college admissions have become widely unpopular over the course of the past five years or so. You can tease that out if you construct a timeline of the additional polling Alice Lloyd cited at TWS. Accordingly, the questions I ask about why the policy is unpopular are a bit less rhetorical than some may think. That the policy is now unpopular with many liberals and members of minority groups suggests something more than the rise of white identity politics is at work here, but it’s not clear what has changed. But few are thinking about it because of the media bias at work here. (I’m still less enthused than some — and less enthused than I once was — in the typical media bias rant. But it is interesting in cases where the media seems out of step even with typical liberals.)

Also, since writing the column, Avik Roy cites a WSJ piece to point out the essential dishonesty of Harvard’s claim that it is simply looking at qualities like applicants’ personalities. In my column, I do try to get at the notion that those who do support these racial preferences would seemingly prefer to do so on grounds the Court has put off-limits. As a result, schools act dishonestly to circumvent the law, while the media acts dishonestly to avoid talking about the dishonesty of the schools.

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The Beto Hangover: Liner Notes

I have another column up this week at The Federalist, “Beto O’Rourke Is A Perfect Picture Of Democrats’ Misalignment With Voters.” To be frank, I thought that maybe they had taken a pass on this one, inasmuch as dumping on Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and those with a crush on him suddenly became an entire subgenre in the days since I submitted it. But this piece has a little bit of a twist, so I’m glad they ran with it, quite apart from the payment.

To be sure, some of the other coverage of this topic focuses on the media’s love affair with #ElectoralJesus on a partisan or ideological level. But what has struck me is that this time is how much the media’s mania dovetails with their current tendency to pretend that the United States is not a union of states. Granted, the left has been tired of states since the New Deal — and Jim Crow seems to have discredited the idea of federalism entirely on the left. The stain of segregation, however, does not change the structure of the country or the structural barriers that render changing it a near-impossibility. Perhaps even more relevant here, the fact that we have a national economy and the ability to transmit the same popular culture throughout has not completely erased cultural differences in states or regions in a vast, sprawling nation of hundreds of millions of people. In this piece, I focused on the Hispanic vote because that is one of the main ways in which the political press tended to analyze Beto’s plight, to the extent that they recognized he had a plight — but the same principle largely applies regardless of demographic.

Yet the left’s dominance of establishment journalism and their general impulse to nationalize all the things tends to dull their senses when it comes to figuring out that a politician marketable in Massachusetts might be less so in Texas, even in a political year that’s likely to be bad for the GOP in the House and even governorships. They occasionally seem to get this on an intellectual level, but fail to truly internalize it. If I’d had more space, I probably would have expanded on the theory that the left is simultaneously running against Trump while adopting attitudes that seem pretty nationalist (in the sense of rejecting federalism and the union) and populist (in the sense of rejecting anti-majoritarian institutions). But maybe I can get a column out of that phenomenon later.

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Abolishing the Supreme Court: Liner Notes

I have a new column at The Federalist today, “Abolishing The Supreme Court Isn’t The Left’s Most Extreme Idea For Weaponizing Courts.” Vox interviewed Harvard law prof Mark Tushnet about abolishing judicial supremacy, the idea that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what the Constitution means. My column notes that Tushnet is more influential than the average Harvard law prof, the idea of abolishing judicial supremacy was advanced by Robert Bork (for almost the opposite reasons Tushnet has), and Tushnet has advanced more extreme yet more feasible ideas for further transforming the Court into another purely political branch of government.

What got left out? Mostly details and examples that would have enriched the main points. For example, I note that Tushnet was present at the birth of a school of legal thought called “critical legal studies” (CLS), the essence of which is the idea that “law is politics.” I did not have space for stories like this one, which can be found at that first link in this graf:

“Mark Tushnet was the spokesman for the Marxists and he gave a speech at the end of the first day in which he said no serious theory of law is possible without the labour theory of value. When Mark made the speech there were only about 35 people in the room, but you could see just about a million different expressions. This is what provoked Galanter, Macaulay and Friedman to basically walk out. They didn’t actually walk out; they just didn’t come back for the remaining sessions.”

So I had to make due with Tushnet’s more well-known and recent quote about using the courts to advance socialism — which makes the point, though I would have loved to tell that story with its kicker: “Mark actually abandoned the labour theory of value soon thereafter.”

It also would have been nice, for example, to note that one of the cases Tushnet would overrule for being “wrong on day one” is Bakke, the case which both allowed yet limited the use of affirmative action in higher education. Affirmative action is also widely unpopular, except with the far-left bloc that dominates academia, Big Media, etc. According to a newly-released report from More in Common (not a right-wing organization), progressive activists comprise a mere 8% of Americans and hold views out of step not only with moderates and conservatives, but other liberals and core demographics of the Democratic Party base. Progressive activists are the least racially diverse group, except for the most devotedly conservative 6% of Americans. The report found that 85% of Americans believe that race should not be considered in decisions on college admissions. Even 72% of traditional liberals are against the practice. Yet 60% of progressive activists support it. So while progressives are trashing institutions for not reflecting the popular will, understand that the popular will is merely the left’s justification when convenient. And that populism really serves the popular will less than it serves some faction.

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Darth Vader, Liberal Fascist: Liner Notes

I have a Friday column up at The Federalist, “Why Darth Vader Is The Archetypal Liberal Fascist.” Don’t worry, this is not one of these columns that decides to judge a popcorn entertainment through a political lens. Rather, because the generally bad prequels address the politics of the Galactic Republic, I have a little fun with how Anakin Skywalker views politics (and perhaps why). A tangentially related Twitter chat caused me to run the idea past Ben Domenech, who is an impressive Star Wars nerd, and we were off to the races. But in the process, I get to remind people of the common features of fascism and how easy it can be to shift from one flavor to another.

What got left out? To sustain the column’s conceit, I don’t get much into the nanny state of liberal fascists versus the bully state of traditional fascists. The films don’t get much into the question of whether the Republic has a social safety net and I didn’t want to get into ancillary products like books that may or may not be canon for hardcore fans. For reasons of space (no pun intended), I did not discuss Vader’s offer to Luke to kill the Emperor and rule the galaxy as father and son. Was this simply an offer to act as the Sith might — a master and apprentice? Or was this family again asserting itself as Vader’s main motive, in which case the ideology of the Empire might have shifted? such counter-factuals just went too far afield.

Lastly, it remains implicit in the column that a key concept to any free, non-fascist society is the right to be wrong. I have written here about how politics without compromise isn’t really compromise, and part of that is embracing the idea of making peace with those you believe to be wrong at any given moment. Moreover, politics without compromise looks like the pre-Enlightenment model that lacks the separation of church and state. This appears to have been a problem a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

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How “Write-Throughs” Risk History: Liner Notes (and Air Drumming)

Hey, another new column from me at The Federalist: “The New York Times Stealth-Edited The First Draft Of History On Brett Kavanaugh.” If you’re feeling oversaturated with Kavanaugh stories, note that my larger point (and I almost always have one) is about the long-standing journalistic practice of “write-throughs” — a holdover from the pre-internet era in greater and greater need of re-examination.

This story is somewhat about media bias, but more about how the NYT decided — seemingly at the very top — that it could not afford to be seen as critical of a story in The New Yorker containing allegations against embattled SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh, such is the power of the #MeToo mood and the partisan desire to keep Kavanaugh off the court.

It’s that last bit that mostly got glossed over in the column for space considerations. But reporting on a partisan opposition research effort with thin substantiation is an interesting standard of newsworthiness. In contrast, Team Kavanaugh’s feints toward exploring a theory of mistaken identity regarding the allegations made against him was reported on quite negatively. Some of that negative coverage was entirely warranted, notably Kavanaugh backer Ed Whelan’s bizarre and unconvincing internet detective work on Twitter. But mistaken identifications can happen under circumstances where  you would think they would not. Given that several Senators have publicly said Kavanaugh must prove his innocence, it arguably would be incompetent for his team not to consider the possibility. Ironically, given that Kavanaugh’s detractors seem to want him to confess to something, a mistaken identity theory would be a concession of sorts on Kavanaugh’s part that something may have happened to his primary accuser. Anyway, even if you disagree with this analysis — or think it misguided politically — the fact that one side’s dirt-digging campaign gets much better coverage than the other side’s is indicative of what we’ve seen over the past weeks. Insofar as emotions are running high on all sides of the controversy, my column focuses more on the “write-throughs,” a problematic practice that knows no party or ideology.

And on an entirely lighter note, I forgot to note over the weekend that I wrote a short column critiquing Senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke’s air drumming skills. It wasn’t really my idea and didn’t realize my goofing around would turn into a column, but there it is. As noted above, even when I’m trolling a bit, I prefer to have a larger point. Here, the tone is a little satirical, but is making a point of what the political discourse becomes when we rely more on personality and “cool” and less on issues.

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Journalism Loves Absentee Landlords: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist today (busy week!), titled “What Journalists Want From Media Billionaires: Lots Of Money, No Influence.” It would be easy — and semi-accurate — to describe it as a goof or a troll, and some took it that way:

It would be a bit more accurate, however, to classify it as “kidding on the square.” Perhaps it is a function of age, but along lines noted earlier this week, we do seem to be going through a period vaguely like the late 60s or early 70s, in which the young feel entitled to tell the old how to run things without adult supervision. Not surprising really, as both periods feature failing institutions and a resulting widespread distrust of said institutions. That said, one could debate the pluses and minuses of that dynamic for institutions at length.

For those who may find the piece a bit too trollish, I would quote the fictional Pres. Andrew Shepherd:

“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free” ‘.”

As recently as 1995 this was stirring rhetoric for liberals, classic and modern. Shepherd was Hollywood’s fantasy version of Bill Clinton (and a widower, which maybe contained a message for Democrats in 2016, but I digress).

Does anyone think that today’s Big Media institutions buy into this ethos? Do you think that they believe people not only have the right to kneel during the national anthem, but to criticize at the top of their lungs those who do? Or cheerfully engage those who think such protests are merely bad tactics? Does anyone think a profession where only 7% will admit to being Republican celebrates those who stand center stage advocating that which the vast majority of journalists do not believe will “make the world a better place”? As a general matter, I do not (there are always exceptions and I applaud them).

But most of all, it’s grating that this sort of hubris dares taking offense when their hypocrisy is noted. If Rupert Murdock walked into the Wall Street Journal bullpen today and announced he wanted them all to focus on putting evil banksters out of business, one suspects the staff would cheer, not revolt.

What got left out? I forgot to include WSJ staffers leaking the full interview Gerard Baker conducted of Pres. Trump. And this was pure oversight, as I’m sorta sympathetic to why it was done, despite the obvious insubordination. But that’s the point: the fact that I may be sympathetic does not mean that the move was ultimately not a politically-motivated tantrum that in the longer run keeps the professions reputation in a ditch.

And for reasons of flow, I would up skipping A.J. Liebling’s classic quote: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” That’s a hard fact for today’s journalist class, but no less real today.

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