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.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

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.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

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.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

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.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

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.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

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.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

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.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

Is Progressive Ideology Incompatible With The First Amendment?: Liner Notes

That’s the title of my latest column at the Federalist analyzing a law review article mentioned in that recent New York Times “news” story about conservatives “weaponizing” free speech.  Georgtown’s Prof. Seidman argues that the free speech right as conceptualized in American law is at its core not progressive, and I’m inclined to agree, even if his account of the history of the law and his understanding of how media works are flawed.

What got left out for space?  In a column about a substantial article discussing a complex topic, plenty.  I’ll mention some historical items here.

For example, something Seidman barely alludes to — and which I don’t really mention as a criticism — is that the Supreme Court did not get into the business of judging whether state laws violated the first amendment (through its “incorporation” against the States via the fourteenth amendment) in a serious way until after 1925.  That’s not the only reason America’s free speech jurisprudence was less libertarian through the mid-20th century.  But the fact that the Court was necessarily considering fewer speech claims through much of our history was a factor in how often the Court was obliged to wrestle with the essentially libertarian ideas at issue.

Seidman’s account of history also skips WWII, during which FDR was certainly keen to prosecute seditionists, but was moderated by his Attorney General, the need to preserve wartime secrets, and other factors.  FDR was more successful in employing other tactics of censorship, though the Court was not bad on speech-related issues, including the Pledge of Allegiance case.  All of this is covered in an article by Prof. Geoffrey R. Stone.  Given that the Court was in other ways pliant to FDR’s wartime agenda, its fairly libertarian record on speech issues is notable, even if it does not fit Seidman’s odd retelling.

Indeed, had Seidman simply acknowledged a general long-term trend toward a libertarian reading of the first amendment (albeit not a purely straight-line path thereto), he could have more strongly made the case that the core of the text was quite likely to lead the Court where it did — which is why he thinks the first amendment can’t be progressive.  He chose instead to present a more convoluted tale that seems designed to pitch fellow progressives on the idea that the Court has rarely been useful to them, even though he concedes in his introduction that it has been on occasion.

OT: Tomorrow’s the Fourth of July, so I’ll re-link to my piece on “(Fictional) Advice to John Adams.”  Happy Independence Day!

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

The Ungrateful Left Dumps on Justice Kennedy: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist today: “The Left’s Spite Against Justice Kennedy Should Warn Anyone Who Tries To Please Them.”  Essentially, it argues that progressives know they’re unlikely to get a new Supreme Court nominee that’s better for them than Kennedy, but can’t help dumping on him because ingratitude is a core progressive trait.

What got cut for space? Virtually nothing, because this was me ranting to some people and those people saying I should write it as a column.  So I did, though I don’t think the tone is particularly ranty.  There are rants like this that tend to write themselves, as evidenced here by the fact that the very end manages to close a circle with the very beginning.

If I wanted to add anything, I suppose i could have pointed out that the Left has the same sort of ungrateful and counter-productive attitude toward Trump skeptics on the Right.  If you’re a progressive, the only option that should be open to such skeptics is to vote Democrat, even if the skeptics disagree with almost all of the progressive agenda.  It doesn’t occur to them that the effect would be to shrink the GOP to Trump supporters, which doesn’t serve conservatives’ medium-term interests.  Or Democrats’ for that matter, unless they think that having to cling tightly to Bill Clinton after the 1994 midterms served their medium-term interests (spoiler: it did not).

Janus v. AFSCME: Liner Notes Plus

I have a new column up at The Federalist on the Supreme Court’s opinion in Janus v AFSCME.  It’s mostly an explainer, I wrote over lunch yesterday when it might have been needed on a “breaking news” basis —  but Justice Kennedy’s retirement moved it to today.  That said, people (esp. non-lawyers) interested in walking through what the Court actually decided may find this useful; the media has already told you about the political fallout (though I have attached some numbers to that piece of the story also).

Given the circumstances, there really wasn’t much that got cut for space.  I could have expanded on the conclusion, which addresses how the Court found itself addressing the remarkably timely issue of compelled speech.  Ed Morrissey and Guy Benson have both expanded on this aspect and are both worth reading.  Whatever you might say about the retiring Justice Kennedy, his legacy beyond same-sex marriage will be mostly about freedom of speech.  The dissenting liberals in Janus seem upset that upholding the First Amendment may get in the way of progressives’ economic and regulatory agenda, but that’s because freedom of speech (and relatedly freedom of religion) are the core freedom on which America is based, the one we most need the Second Amendment to protect.