A Contrarian Take on Biden’s Abortion Flip: Liner Notes

My latest column at The Federalist is “Don’t Assume Biden’s Abortion Flip-Flop Will End His Campaign.”

There really wasn’t anything left out for space, though since I submitted it there have been two polls suggesting Biden’s flip on taxpayer-funded abortions has hurt him.

Rather, the twist here is that immediately after the clumsy pivot, there was some chatter online speculating that perhaps the Democrat-controlled House might follow. So I mentally gamed out what a trainwreck it would be if Dems were dumb enough to pass spending bills without the Hyde Amendment.

However, by Monday, it became clear there was no appetite in the House or among pro-choice interest groups to push for taxpayer-funded abortion. Rather than drop the subject, I decided to recalibrate and think about what it meant that Biden had flipped on an issue where there’s no real support for change. From this perspective, much of the doomsaying about what it meant began to look a bit too convenient, which became the basis for today’s column.

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MLK vs Call-Out Culture: Liner Notes

I have a new column posted at The Federalist today, “In Ignoring Nasty FBI Info, Are The Media Protecting MLK Or ‘Call-Out Culture’?” And it was the second possibility that motivated me to write.

When I was part of the old school blogosphere, I wrote about media bias with some frequency, but these days I tend to avoid it unless there is something more to be said than pointing out the media leans left. Such was the case in my prior column about the strange reviews of HBO’s “Chernobyl” mini-series.

In this case, recent salacious allegations about Martin Luther King Jr. in recently released FBI files find the establishment media both abandoning basic journalistic instincts (esp. in the world of clickbait journalism) and shooting the messenger. The latter in particular is a sort of tell about the particular form of groupthink at work. When Big Journalism decides a respected biographer must be personally attacked for reporting material in FBI files — even while noting the material may be inaccurate — it is worth asking why. The media has reported on MLK’s shortcomings in the past, so what interested me was the possibility that “call-out culture” affected the American media’s approach to the story — and if so, whether the media was reluctant to defend MLK in a way that would argue against call-out culture.

What got left out for space? Probably a closer examination of how the media reported on MLK’s flaws in the past, which would have underscored how strange the response was here. Also, even the Politico piece which did the best job on this story includes a “conservatives pounce!” critique worthy of comment. In the first place, even the conservative media did not cover this story much. In the second place, lurid allegations will attract a certain amount of tabloid-style coverage, particularly in the internet’s attention economy. In the third place, the “pounce” frame is a terribly lazy construction of left-leaning journalism which presupposes that it is somehow illegitimate for the right to be political.

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Reviews of “Chernobyl” Downplay Socialism: Liner Notes

I have a new column posted unexpectedly fast at The Federalist, “HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’ Indicts Soviet Socialism. Establishment Reviews Downplay It.”

I played catch-up with the HBO/Sky mini-series on the Soviet nuclear disaster — which is odd, given my background. I studied Russian language, culture and literature for many years, even visiting the USSR during the Brezhnev era. But perhaps because I did, and lived through the Chernobyl catastrophe, I did not feel a sense of urgency about watching immediately. And “Chernobyl” is as good as the buzz around it, capturing both the dystopian system and the stoic people who lived under it (if the system did not kill them).

My delay in viewing also meant that I delayed reading reviews, because I usually like to watch as fresh as I can. The bizarre, “let’s not talk about the socialism in the middle of the room” quality of the response struck me enough to do an old school media bias piece on it. “Chernobyl” should be a lesson to viewers in part about just how evil the Evil Empire was in its heyday, but the establishment entertainment media generally seem to address it (if at all) in oblique terms, much as the Soviet press did. But the Soviet press at least had the excuse of living in a totalitarian state, whereas our modern media merely likes to pretend America is one because they loathe President Trump. [I’m still not a big fan, but I’m also not delusional.]

Perhaps the thing which got left out for space is the related observation that this sector of media has largely taken up politics, in the “everything is political” sense of fashionable identity politics. TV and movie reviews are frequently filtered through a progressive lens, even when it is a stretch to do so. Yet many reviewers elide “Chernobyl”‘s blatant political content, presumably because it makes them uncomfortable. On the other hand, with the notably wrong exception of the New York Times, most reviewers cannot deny the quality of the work, so they grope to make the drama about something else more congenial to their politics.

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Herman Wouk, RIP: Liner Notes

My latest column at The Federalist is posted: “Why Herman Wouk’s ‘War’ Novels Deserve Remembrance Today.” The great author passed away last week, but rather than do a complete overview of his work, I focused on his World War II epics: “The Winds of War” (1971) and “War and Remembrance” (1978).

In part, that was because Memorial Day and the 75th anniversary of D-Day are looming. But it was also because they are among my favorite novels — so much so that my pseudonym is borrowed from them (with fairly heavy irony).

What got left out for space? Perhaps that a sprawling tale like this, with a large cast of characters, also required Wouk to have an excellent sense of structure. To be sure, he was bound by the history of 1939-45. But there were still a world of choices to make in terms of how to shift between all the different strands of the narrative.

I also hope I did not fail to convey the degree to which, in addition to telling the story of WWII, and ultimately the Holocaust, Wouk’s “War” novels have plenty of romance and action that keep the pages turning.

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Iran Hysteria: Liner Notes

My latest column at The Federalist is “Is Iran Hysteria The New Russia Hysteria?.” Busy week!

The basic point is that Pres. Trump, having run as a non-interventionist, is much more inclined to get out of international situations — or try to, anyway — than he is to start a war of choice against Iran (or Venezuela, for that matter). And the hook here for Federalist readers is to ask whether the media blitz on this story is more about trying to Make Trump Scary Again after the Russian collusion story petered out in the Mueller report. [Which is a bit silly, given that there are better angles on that tactic.]

The trick from a writing standpoint is submitting something on the hot story that won’t be overtaken by events as it moves through the editorial process. In this case, I lucked out. The subtext of the column is that this is mostly about national security adviser John Bolton being aggressive and that Trump was not inclined to that approach. Sure enough, after submitting this column, the Washington Post ran a story reporting on Trump’s annoyance with Bolton (though he says he still likes Bolton). I probably should have gone out more on a limb in this regard; after all, there was a similar story about the Trump-Bolton dynamic when Venezuela was on the front pages.

It also appears the administration is declassifying a picture of an Iranian missile on a small boat in the Persian Gulf , presumably to bolster a planned briefing for Congressional leaders. In light of the skepticism already shown by our allies in Europe, this move currently seems aimed more at explaining actions the administration has already taken than at selling a shooting war.

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Joe Biden, Disrupting Identity Politics: Liner Notes

My third column of the week is posted at The Federalist, “Will Joe Biden’s Black Support Squash ‘Identity Politics’ In 2020?

This piece was more or less written by request, based on Biden cleaning up in the latest poll out of South Carolina. Internally, there was a joke (or was it?) that this is my “beat.”

I have no particular brief for Biden; I have watched his bad decisions for decades. But I suppose the story of the Democrats becoming more of an “upstairs/downstairs” party than ever could be called one of my “beats” — and it turns out to be driving the 2020 campaign at the moment.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s notes, when returning to a familiar theme, I do try to look for fresh twists, ways to advance the analysis and conversation. In this piece, I explain why it’s not really correct to say — as many pundits do — that Biden is relying on the Democrats not moving on from the Party of Obama. The party is starting to move on, but Biden is not relying on Obama’s coalition — aside from the key bloc of black voters discussed in the column.

In writing about the pragmatism usually shown overall among black voters, I might also have added a sentence or two about black Democrats in Virginia having a more mature (or resigned) attitude when top Democratic officials turned out to have blackface photos in their pasts. I have mentioned this once or twice previously, but it is part of the larger pattern at work in Democratic politics today.

I also mention in passing that Bernie Sanders also generally eschews identity politics (the subject of a prior column). It may be a function of experience and name ID that the two most likely Dem nominees are straight, old white dudes who are not into identity politics — or perhaps not. Either way, circumstances have thrown an obstacle in the path of the identity politics crowd in this cycle. And like the 2016 GOP primaries, the collective action dilemma may make that obstacle even more difficult to overcome.

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Twofer Monday: Liner Notes

Today — the rare day when I have a preexisting commitment — I have not one, but two columns up at The Federalist today: “AOC, Bernie Sanders Want Post Office To Be A ‘Public Option’ For Banking,” and “Coverage Of Valerie Plame’s Run For Congress Ignores Her Anti-Semitism.” What they have in common is falling into the category of “breaking news, but it’s the weekend and will it still be fresh Monday?” Accordingly, both pieces try to dig a little deeper than the quick hit pieces some conservative outlets ran on Friday.

In the case of postal banking, there’s a bit more history of the idea. And for the companion proposal of capping credit card interest, there’s the point not raised elsewhere that the financial sector has securitized that debt as they do with mortgages, with implications for the broader economy. Further, as a note about writing, I led with the postal banking plan because it sounds goofy on its face and thus is more clickable than the interest rate cap, which is probably the more significant part of the bill.

The Plame column again highlights the growing acceptance of anti-Semitic candidates — at least as long as they’re Democrats. That’s a theme I’ve hit several times. The unique part of this story may be the way that the scandal which made her famous is probably part of How We Got Trump. The writing challenge here was cramming in a lot of material. The Federalist always thinks about Millennial and Gen Z readers, so I had to give the background of the Plame affair, but in a condensed form to leave space for that which the establishment media left out.

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AOC Gets Climate Polls Wrong: Liner Notes

I have a new column up today at The Federalist: “AOC’s Insistence Americans Care About Climate Change Heavily Distorts The Polling.”

This piece originated in a short goof I had emailed, and it was greenlit as a short piece, so there was not much left out. Indeed, the problem became that when I write about polling, doing the “show don’t tell” with the numbers tends to inflate the length, requiring self-editing to whittle it back down to a shortie.

What interested me about this particular AOC gaffe (among her many gaffes) is that it made me realize her fixation on climate change is part of the much larger story I’ve been writing about for months: the schism in the Democratic Party being caused by a small faction of the exceedingly woke. Her election is itself is part of this story, as I was recently reminded by Jonah Goldberg (and his major domo, Jack Butler) in a recent episode of The Remnant podcast. It makes complete sense, therefore, that she would prioritize an issue compelling to that demographic, but of only ephemeral interest to others.

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De-Platforming is Not Really About Free Speech: Liner Notes

My latest column has posted at The Federalist: “Kicking People Off Online Platforms Is About Control, Not Free Speech” — the headline being a nice reminder to me that “de-platforming” is not (yet) a common term.

What got left out for space (or structure)? One subtext (or text in passing) here is that we might think of addressing the problem of radicalization of white nationalists and associated violence with the sort of methods being tried in the context of battling radical Islam. This was in fact my original idea for the column, but that frame led me to the column I actually wrote.

Why? Because one strategy used to fight radical Islam is to offer forums to address the grievances and loneliness of vulnerable populations before they become radicalized and violent. And one lesson of the past few years of our domestic politics is that the left is mostly of the mind that the “deplorables” are also irredeemable. They greatly prefer to directly attack or silence such people, which is part of how they wind up in subreddits, or at sites with “chan” in the title, or even worse. This is part of the classic argument for free speech, but as the left walks away from that principle, such arguments fail to persuade them.

The other thing that got left out was further examples of the sort of toxic speakers the establishment remains comfortable giving a platform. Those in the column were selected to provide a variety, so I had to cut some good, but similar examples.

At the end of the column, I anticipate the response that the argument is “whataboutism” (or its sibling, “bothsidesism”). I have addressed “whataboutism” here at the blog, and made clear that I think people should not point a finger to define standards down. But it is also the case that we should not avoid discussing what the standards are — if any. Increasingly, the charge of “whataboutism” gets invoked as a way of saying “I don’t want to admit that the standard I think is being violated has never really been observed, especially by ‘my side’ of the political aisle.” And this mindset, like de-platforming itself, social media mobs, and victimhood politics, are all directed to various degrees at avoiding debate.

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Late-Night TV is Dead: Liner Notes

My latest column at The Federalist: “Late-Night TV Writers Know They’re Awful, But Their Solutions Are Worse.”

This was another case where I had the basic thrust of a column, based on the Mel magazine article quoting TV writers admitting late-night TV is unwatchable. But I was waiting for the news peg that would make the discussion timely and thus more likely to be published. Here, it was the White House Correspondents’ Dinner — and the great Andrew Ferguson’s column about it as an entry to writing about late-night.

What got left out for space? Solutions, other than the key ones: work harder and be funny. The TV writers complaining about late-night may also have a point about the format (though someone working harder and funnier might reinvigorate the standard format). I could have written entire section recommending TV folks look at the late lamented “Red Eye,” which ran in the dead of night on FNC — and in particular its run under Greg Gutfeld through 2015.

Lefty TV types don’t have to love that show’s politics (though they might hate them less than they think). But the show’s use of unconventional guests of varying politics, its employment of Andy Levy as an ombudsman, its parody of cable news, and the random viral videos (which recalled not only Monty Python, but also the sort of random experience we now get on social media) made for a fresh and funny viewing experience. Late-night could do worse; it already is.

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