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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joe Scarborough vs Free Speech: Liner Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Parkland and the Public Duty Rule: Liner Notes

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

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

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Why Mitt Romney Accepts Pres. Trump’s Endorsement

Utah Senatorial candidate Mitt Romney:

Also Mitt Romney:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Millennials Rebel Against Boomers… And Imitate Them

It’s a good thing I have read Christina Hoff Sommers — at least one book and numerous articles — because her recent tweeting about generational politics seems… completely off.

To begin with, how Boomer do you have to be to be infuriated by these dang Millennials and not consider that perhaps they are rebelling against the establishment that Boomers largely built?

Second, how Boomer do you have to be to be to think Boomer “rebels” did not engage in moral panics, workshops, and grievance circles?  Does the phrase “Don’t trust anyone under 30” ring a bell?  It  originated as a response to the establishment’s moral panic about the possible manipulation of youth movements (e.g., by Communists), but quickly became an expression of the youth movement’s own moral panics.

Indeed, the counterculture was a seething mass of moral panics — some justified, others not — against a multitude of manifestations of The Man.  That so many of the leaders of the counterculture seamlessly transitioned into Masters of the Universe in the 1980s — a phenomenon nicely mocked in The Big Chill — is an indication of how weak The Man really was and how comfortably the counterculture would embrace the materialism they once considered the root of all evil.

The New Left was not obsessed with organizing and grievances?  This would be news to any number of 60s-era college administrators.  As Ross Douthat wrote a few years back:

The radicals moved quickly to dismantle the vestiges of moral conservatism on campus — the in loco parentis rules that still governed undergraduate life, for instance. But their real mission was actually a kind of remoralization, a renewal of the university as a place of almost-religious purpose, where students would be educated about certain great truths and then sent forth to live them out.

Indeed, the counterculture continued in these sort of behaviors well after they became the culture.  The “sex, drugs, and ‘rock & roll” crowd wound up with Al & Tipper Gore crusading against the “rock & roll” part (at least until they realized they would need showbiz support for a presidential run).  And that was one of the more benign examples.  On the scale of scary moral panics and witch hunts, the Satanic daycare child abuse delusion — which sent many innocent people to prison — ranks pretty highly (or lowly).

The idea that most branches of Boomer politics in the 70s were lacking in workshops and grievance circles is amusing.  Progressive Boomer politics of the era often seemed like an endless procession of workshops and conventions, of internecine factional battles, of the endless issuance of declarations and proclamations by self-appointed authorities.

Sommers comes closest to being correct when you consider that today’s campus radicalism resembles another iteration of what Boomer elites did.  In that sense, it is less rebellious, though the people whose careers have been destroyed by immature identity politics and another generation of cowardly administrators might disagree.

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Of Course Campus Radicalism Matters

I am not a big fan of the claim that “if I’m getting flak, I must be over the target.”  It is often the case that people who take flak eminently deserve it.  But the apparent pushback trying to dismiss the problem of campus radicalism is the first kind of flak.

Noah Rothman argues that on one level, it does not matter whether campus radicalism is all that widespread, and that’s an alright argument at a more abstract level.  But Andrew Sullivan makes the stronger case about the way in which the trappings of campus radicalism, e.g., microaggressions and the like, have in fact seeped into the general society in ways that retard social progress, e.g., taking the justified moral panic of Weinsteingate and MeToo to places where it will erode popular support.  And it certainly seems that it has seeped in at the bullpen of the New York Times.  Or at Google, or any number of other large corporations.

Those interested in downplaying this are not always motivated by the desire to get about their agenda without debate.  But plenty of them are.

Sullivan’s headline writer goes too far (as headline writers often do) in claiming “We All Live On Campus Now.”  There is a large group of Americans who believe this to be true.  There is also a large group of Americans who, as the kids might say, do not want.  And some of the former would like to use the totalitarian methods tolerated on many campuses to silence the latter group.

The second group reacts against the tactics of the first group, though not always wisely.  The first group succeeded so well that there has been (as I have written) a shallowing of the conservatism in America. Or, to paraphrase Gabriel Rossman from yesterday, the de facto purging of conservatives from many faculties results in a vacuum of responsible conservative mentoring.  Those who invite Milo to campus also make their way into the real world (fortunately, those at UCLA reconsidered).

This is what happens when academia is corrupted from transmitting the accumulated wisdom of the Enlightenment to the inculcation of pre-Enlightenment tribalism and totalitarianism.

That roughly half of America would like to make the other half live on campus with them — and the backlash that generates — is a tidy summation of American society today.

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Our Useful Idiot Media

You may have noticed over this Olympic weekend that the establishment media gave a big thumbs-up to the North Korean propaganda effort led by Kim Jong Il’s sister and the gulag nation’s “cheer squad,” despite having warned of said propaganda effort earlier.  Much of the right, however, is misinterpreting this shameful episode of media misbehavior to Trump Derangement Syndrome.

In reality, the establishment media’s soft spot for leftist dictators and totalitarian states is a long tradition.  I’m old enough to remember Ted Turner creating the Goodwill Games because the U.S. had the gall to boycott the 1980 Moscow summer Olympics after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan (which in turn caused the Soviets to boycott the 1984 Olympics in L.A.).  Or when ABC, CNBC and various other outlets made Soviet apologist Vladmir Posner a mainstay.  Or the general tendency of the establishment media to ignore prominent Democrats in Congress cozying up various Soviet client (or fellow-traveling) regimes in Nicaragua, Grenada, and so forth.

And that’s just from the the 1980s.  The list stretches back through all of those in the media that thought Alger Hiss or the Rosenbergs were victims.  And all the way back through the outright admiration expressed for the early Soviet Union, exemplified — but by no means limited to — the New York Times covering up the forced starvation of Ukraine.  It’s the media mythology about the state of healthcare or literacy in Cuba, continuing even after the fawning obituaries for Fidel Castro have run.

For righties, this may all stand out more when a Republican is president.  But it’s really no different when the media cheerfully allowed itself to serve as the Obama administration’s “echo chamber” for an Iran Deal that will do little to stop that theocracy’s nuclear ambitions while funneling truckloads of cash to Hezbollah.  And not much different from the media’s continuing sympathy for the corrupt terrorists running the Palestinian authorities over democratic Israel.

The media does not get these attitudes from the ether.  They got it from institutions of academia that have been corrupted and captured by the loony left.  Much of the supposed ruling class, having these vile attitudes normalized during their formative years, cannot help but fall back into the habit of swooning over thugs and mass-murderers who can muster even the barest veneer of the civilized world, betraying the civilized world in the process.

They cannot help themselves.  They cannot internalize the gap between North and South Korea any more than they could the gap between East and West Germany (except by blaming the West for it).

All of this was cemented in place well before Donald J. Trump appeared on the political stage.  The black humor to be mined here is that a swath of those offended by Trump’s emphasis on nationalism cannot help but serve as synchronized cheerleaders for North Korea during the Olympics, missing only the matching outfits of those forced to cheer out of fear for their lives, and those of their families.

In today’s outrage culture it is easy to think that the media loathing Trump has produced some new low.  But the establishment media has had this in them ever since progressives decided our Constitution stood between us and Utopia; the collapse of Communism simply dried up opportunities to indulge themselves.

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Come Visit the Land That Fiscal Irresponsibility “Built”

When Katherine Miller wrote “Donald Trump has an unusual kind of power: He reveals weakness,” she wasn’t writing about the latest Congressional budget deal, but it fits easily within her next words, “This quality he extends to all things — people, traditions, movements.”

One thing Pres. Trump campaigned upon was a distinct lack of interest in fiscal responsibility.  And as I noted last May, “[i]t’s been plain for years that Republicans aren’t big on decreasing government spending outside foreign aid and welfare; but Trump made this inconvenient truth impossible to ignore.

So here we are.  And it’s an attitude not limited to Trump or Congress, or Republicans writ large.  From Rush Limbaugh to Ross Douthat, the national debt is lo longer a priority because we are not standing on a fiscal precipice.  Such is the allure of short-term thinking focused solely on federal finances.

Come to Illinois.  Visit the Land of Lincoln and witness its deadbeat government.  Come see a system so dysfunctional that after a lengthy budget deadlock, the chosen fix will likely make the problem worse.  A place where the next big idea is to borrow even more and bet on the stock market, just as interest rates start increasing again.

Illinois is merely the poster child for a six trillion dollar problem of unfunded liabilities for government pensions and retiree healthcare benefits.  And it’s not just deep blue states like IL, NJ, and CA near the top of the list.  It’s also red states like KY, MS, LA, SC, AL, OH and the Trumpy state of WV.

The federal government has more options than the states in dealing with unfunded liabilities.  They can inflate the currency, which worked sooo well to finance guns-and-butter policies in the 1970s.

But when the bill comes due for our ongoing federal binge-spending, expect voters to be every bit as intransigent as the government employees in these states have been — perhaps moreso, as the larger bloc will have more clout.  It’s also entirely possible that the unpopular policies adopted to fix problems with states and localities will operate as de facto political constraints on federal solutions.

Of course, the folks spending your money and your kids’ money and your grandkids’ money today will likely be long gone when that bill comes due, just as they are in Illinois.  And they’re just doing the current voter pool’s bidding.  It is an extravagant display of weakness by all involved.  The Trump era has merely made it difficult to avert the eyes.  But not impossible!

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