Were Conservatives Too Quiet About Bill O’Reilly?

Unsurprisingly, Eric Boehlert of Media Matters thinks conservatives should have been harder on former FNC star Bill O’Reilly, dismissed amid charges of sexual harassment:

The cheap and easy response — to paraphrase the Partnership For a Drug-Free America — is that we learned it from you, Dad.

America’s cultural progressives mainstreamed sexual misconduct by the rich and powerful when they decided to defend the serial sexual misconduct of Bill Clinton (including lying under oath to a federal judge in a sexual harassment case about his exploitation of a 19-year-old intern).  His chief enabler was Hillary Clinton, who among other things was prepared to smear the intern and write the scandal off as a vast right-wing conspiracy.

Media Matters — according to the rabid right-wingers at The New New Republic — “had long ceased to be a mere [media] watchdog, having positioned itself at the center of a group of public relations and advocacy outfits whose mission was to help put [Hillary] Clinton in the White House.”  But Hillary managed to lose to Donald Trump, leaving Media Matters with less to do… outside of organizing an advertiser boycott of O’Reilly.

A skeptic might be forgiven for thinking Boehlert’s outrage is mostly an attempt to squeeze the last drops of juice out of that campaign.

The second-easiest retort is to note that Boehlert criticized RedState in particular for not being critical of FNC, although the site had been critical of O’Reilly (more than once, including on this subject), not to mention Sean Hannity and Eric Bolling (and any combo of these).  It takes a special kind of media watchdog to get into a Twitter fight with a site that was among the least guilty of going easy on O’Reilly or FNC.

But the fact that the issue was raised by a paid partisan troll and with enough hypocrisy to fill the Grand Canyon doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad question.

After all, if you think that the Clintonite Democrats should not drag all of our standards into the gutter, some self-reflection should be in order.  Aside from the corrosive effects of cultural progressivism, there are several other factors worth considering.

For example, Boehlert’s complaint seems to be that people in conservative media don’t want to cross FNC because of its role as a gatekeeper and because it is in some ways the top of the conservative media food chain.  Conservatives shouldn’t pretend there is no truth in that.  Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote back in 2010 about the problem righty media folk often face: sell out to the movement or sell out the movement.

OTOH, lefties might want to consider that this incentive structure for conservative journalists exists in no small part because the establishment media — media that Boehlert is paid to find too conservative — is in fact much more likely to hire from overtly liberal outlets than from conservative ones.  That would require progressives to recognize a type of privilege that doesn’t fit neatly into their identity politics.

That doesn’t mean conservative journalists cannot and should not aspire to be better; it just means the establishment media might aspire to the same.

Of course, the incentive structure for conservative journalists isn’t the only O’Reilly factor (ouch!).  As Dougherty and Rod Dreher pointed out in responding to Boehlert, O’Reilly appealed more to their parents than to them.  This is consistent with my note yesterday that the main demo for FNC primetime is white seniors.  If you’re the sort who who reads — let alone works for — Media Matters, it may not register that many — or at least some — righty writers don’t have a monomaniacal obsession with FNC.

As with most things, however, there is a flip side to this point.  As Issac Chotiner points out at Slate, O’Reilly was always much less of a fiscal, foreign policy or religious conservative than someone motivated by cultural conservatism and his own “unrepentant solipsism.”

Regarding this latter point, also listen to John Podhoretz on the Commentary podcast (wherein JPod — can I call him JPod? — also places O’Reilly’s solipsism in the broader context of non-fiction “star vehicles” on TV).  But let’s more closely examine the former point.

I would submit that a substantial segment of the conservative media outside FNC didn’t spend much time thinking or caring about Bill O’Reilly because they really didn’t think or care much about the sort of cultural conservatism that drove O’Reilly’s show.  Some still don’t.  They missed the O’Reilly story because they weren’t invested in him or his issues.

But that’s part of How They Missed Trump, too.  And that’s why I’ve written about the need to take “dumb news” seriously.  When the better minds don’t, we shouldn’t be surprised when the provocateurs fill that vacuum, generally to bad results for the Right.

In sum, there are plenty of reasons why conservative writers didn’t opine as much as they might have about the allegedly scandalous exploits of Bill O’Reilly.  But it’s never too late for righties — and lefties — to learn from it.

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Us and Them and Decline Porn

In “Decline Porn,” Commentary’s Noah C. Rothman argues that “[i]n the nation’s elite political media, an initially well-meaning effort to understand the voters who handed the president the keys to the White House has morphed into something closely resembling exploitation.”

I hadn’t planned on writing about this, as I tend to think there is a large measure of truth in it.  But I found myself asking why I agreed with it.

At the outset, I probably agreed because I had written previously about why such coverage was likely doomed to fail.  The New York Times already had tried what Jonah Goldberg called “gorillas in the mist” coverage of conservatives in 2003-04, only to find themselves blindsided by 2016 (though stereotypical Trump voters are less conservative than many Republicans).  Iowahawk’s hilarious “Heart of Redness” skewers similar coverage from the Washington Post after Pres. Bush’s re-election.

Ironically, it’s the WaPo’s Alexandra Petri who provides the comedic version of Rothman’s argument in 2017, jabbing both the journalists sojourning into the Trumpian hinterlands and the people interviewed by them (whether she meant to jab her colleagues is debatable, but the effect is the same).

It’s not entirely fair, however, to portray the media as having become fascinated with the decline of rural American towns only after the election.  There were similar anthropological pieces before the election, because the media knew the path to any Trump victory would run through the Rust Belt.  This was discussed frequently.

Moreover, related stories, like the opioid epidemic that seems concentrated in Trump-friendly regions, received extensive coverage during the 2016 cycle.  This coverage was mostly sparked by Gov. Chris Christie’s moving speech on the issue — one that inspired candidates as far apart as Sen. Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton to weigh in.

That the media did not start this coverage recently, however, does not mean that it is not on some level exploitative.  Rothman posits that such coverage isn’t particularly useful absent statistical or empirical context, absent debate over how to fix the problems of such people.  Again, my impulse is to largely agree.

OTOH, when I read coverage of the problems of Chicago’s West and South sides so lavishly produced by elite outlets like the New York Times, I find I could offer a similar critique.  The media’s coverage of police shootings tends to be similarly lacking in context or solutions.  The media’s reliance on this arguably exploitative genre is more equal opportunity than it might seem at first blush.

The reason people — and conservatives in particular — may not immediately pick up on this may be that we subconsciously expect the left-leaning establishment media to be more exploitative of the problems of the non-white underclass, given their usual orientation toward Democrat-centric identity politics.

Conversely, there would be a tendency to reflexively impute suspect motives when left-leaning outlets turn to address the problems of the white underclass, particularly given how late they have been to this party (and often hostile to authors like Charles Murray who were earlier to the party).

So while I tend to agree with Rothman, I find myself doing so from the perspective that perhaps he’s drawing back the curtain a bit on some larger issues.

The unstated premise of this mode of coverage (regardless of sympathetic or exploitative intent) is that the mission of the so-called elite media inherently focuses on “national” political coverage.

An essentially progressive media will tend to assume that it has the expertise and skill necessary to provide the breadth of coverage necessary for a nation as vast as the United States.  Yet for all of the progressive fetishization of diversity, so-called elite journalists have a distinct knowledge problem here.  They generally aren’t well-equipped to understand Englewood or Fishtown.

As a result, these scribes generally can do little beyond bear witness, however imperfectly.  This is endemic to most journalism, tbqh.  We just notice it more when the subjects are sensitive and controversial.  And we tend to notice it through whatever personal and political lenses we bring to the viewing.

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Political Journalism and Political Science: Still a First Date

At Poynter, James Warren writes about last weekend’s meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, focusing on a panel titled, “The Media and the 2016 Election: A View from the Campaign Trail.”  While I appreciate the journalists who would show up to such a thing, if Warren’s report is any indication, even the journalists interested in political science still have a lot to learn from it.

Steve Peoples of the Associated Press suggested the 2016 election was leading him to question all of his assumptions, which is probably a good practice for most people in general.  But Warren reports that Peoples wondered what journalists would do if you cant trust the polling.

If this was Twitter, I’d be hashtagging that sentiment #facepalm and #headdesk for several reasons.

First, it is usually the case that post-election seminars feature journalists confessing that too much of election coverage is focused on the horse race.  Political scientists would tell you there’s good reason to be concerned about it:

“Patterson (1993; 2005) and others fear that the focus on the game over substance undermines the ability of citizens to learn from coverage and to reach informed decisions in elections or about policy debates. Capella and Jamieson (1997) argue that the strategy frame portrays candidates and elected officials as self-interested and poll driven opportunists, a portrayal that they show promotes cynicism and distrust among audiences. Farnsworth and Licther (2006) go so far as to suggest that horse race coverage in the primary elections results in a self-reinforcing bandwagon effect with positive horse race coverage improving a candidate’s standing in subsequent polls and negative horse-race coverage hurting a candidate’s poll standings.”

The 2008 and 2012 elections had much the same problem.  And 2016 was no different, with horse race coverage accounting for most of the reason a candidate like Donald Trump got mostly positive coverage.  Indeed, while Nate Silver is a data journalist rather than a political scientist, his analysis supports the bandwagon thesis: the media covered Trump well in excess of his poll standings, ultimately driving those standings higher despite bad favorability numbers.

In contrast, you can check Jack Shafer‘s 2008 hot take defending horse race coverage to see how much worse it sounds now than then (and it sounded bad then).

Second, while there was a small systematic error in the 2016 polling, Nate Silver explained before the election why his model showed a 28.6% chance of Trump winning and the reasons he gave pretty much explained in advance what happened.  And even if you don’t buy the precision of a model like Silver’s (and you probably should not), it was Sean Trende (who holds a poli sci degree) noting that a 25% chance was like flipping a coin and having it come up heads twice in a row — hardly shocking.

Instead, journalists and more conventional pundits tended to see 25% — or even 14% — as 0%, when in fact, sometimes unlikely results occur.  That does not wipe out the laws of probability.  The chances of rolling a six on one die are only 16.67%, but it still happens and when it does, it doesn’t mean the die is loaded or defective.

Third, polling isn’t the only thing political science has to offer journalism.  Political science could also offer a number of fundamental reasons — 2016 being an open seat election in a mediocre economy involving two poor candidates and a Democratic Party that had been losing white working class voters for decades — that helped account for Trump’s victory, all of which could have been considered and incorporated into journalists’ thinking well in advance of election day.

Molly Ball and Nia-Malika Henderson apparently commented on the sorry state of the Democratic Party.  Ball thought it was “hard to underestimate how screwed the Democrats are,” but noting their situation wasn’t hopeless, recalled that Barack Obama was a little-known state senator before the 2008 election.

I’m hoping Warren mischaracterized Ball, as this is almost entirely incorrect, and any good political scientist would have been able to correct her.

First, by the time of the 2008 cycle, Obama had been elected to the U.S. Senate and had been the highly-publicized and highly-lauded keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.  Political scientists would identify such a person as a rising star, well positioned to compete in the “invisible primary” of party officials, donors and influencers that occurs before a single vote is cast.

And in fact, Obama proved to be a prodigious fundraiser from both Wall Streeters and small donors alike.  While it was certainly possible that he could have fizzled had he lost the Iowa caucuses, political scientists would have predicted he could mount a strong challenge to Hillary Clinton.

[Aside: The fundraising is usually crucial because of the cost of paid media.  In 2016, Donald Trump entered the race with high name-ID and a press willing to provide free media well in excess of his poll numbers.]

Second, as for the Democrats being screwed, Jay Cost (another political scientist by education, iirc) has observed that “[i]f the Republican party were a publicly traded company, January 20 would be the day to sell, sell, sell.  This may sound counterintuitive, but the verdict of history is clear, if not quite unanimous: The moment a party achieves total control of the government is the moment just before power begins to slip through its fingers.”

Finally, Ball apparently wants to know if there has been a lasting realignment of the parties, or whether 2016 was an anomaly.  Trende’s book, The Lost Majority, would tell you no such thing truly exists.  See also Jay Cost:

In addition, while the panel apparently noted that Hillary did well with college-educated whites, I have noted previously that Trump was outpolled by down-ticket GOPers in many races, often by appealing less to working-class whites and more to college-educated whites.  John Judis — a progenitor of the Emerging Democratic Majority theory — noted the GOP’s overall improvement with white voters, but particularly college-educated white voters, back in 2015.

The GOP having Trump as its public face might change those trends in time, even if it did not occur in 2016.  But a political scientist would tell you that’s where the analysis starts.

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“Fake News” Checking and Fake “News Checking”

You may have read that Google plans to include “Fact Checks” of its news search results, much as Facebook has taken to doing with its news feeds.  And like Facebook, Google is farming out the job to so-called “fact-checkers” including Politifact, Snopes and the Washington Post.

The left-leaning biases of these organizations is well documented, but let’s briefly review them.  Politifact is essentially forced run lengthier explanations to justify the site’s disparate treatment of Left and Right, and treated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton quite differently, despite consistent polling showing most voters found them both dishonest and untrustworthy.

Most recently, Politifact retracted a 2014 article that found Obama Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s claim that “we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out” of Syria to be “Mostly True.”  Politifact handed out that rating despite the fact that there were discrepancies in the accounting and some stockpile sites lacked even an agreement for inspection.   It turns out that the assurances of Democrat politicians and global bureaucrats are assertions, not facts.

Snopes hires as fact-checkers alumni from various left-wing news sites like Raw Story.  And they are not very transparent when asked about their practices.  So it’s not surprising that the Snopes coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal contained only a few fact checks, almost all of which reviewed claims other people made about it, rather than Clinton’s numerous and obvious false statements about it.  Even The Guardian managed to fact-check Hillary.

As for the Washington Post, consider that the WaPo discontinued fact-checking during the first two years of the Obama administration, when Democrats also held large majorities in Congress.  Fact-checking resumed at roughly the same time a GOP Congress regained control in 2011.  The Washington Post sees itself as speaking truth to power…unless it’s untrammeled Democrat power.

Indeed, the Washington Post recently exercised no editorial control when Dana Milbank published a column based on claims about judicial filibusters less accurate than claims which previously had been awarded two and three Pinocchios by the WaPo fact-checker.  This approach is fact-checking for thee, not me.

None of this is surprising because so-called “fact-checking” is not so much about establishing facts but imposing a particular Truth.  And it is not about being restrained by their own Truth as it is about imposing it upon the Other.

While I do not agree with BuzzFeed’s EIC Ben Smith on everything, he is certainly correct to note (as Charlie Sykes has) that left-leaning Big Media is desperate to try to retain the “gatekeeping” power they enjoyed in the pre-internet age.  They, with the help of complaining left-wingers, have managed to cajole some of the biggest players in the internet media cartel into helping them.

I suspect that trying to impose authority rather than earning it will merely perpetuate the cycle of distrust that has already brought the media to new lows.

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Gorsuch Will Live. Norm Will Die.

For months, there’s been plenty of talk about candidate and Pres. Trump destroying various political and cultural norms.  Fair enough.  Most of this talk, however, comes from Democrats (or the Left broadly), who are in the process of upending a political norm themselves.

The nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to serve as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court was favorably voted out of the Senate Judiciary Cmte yesterday on a party-line vote.  It seems likely that the Democrats will filibuster his nomination when it reaches the Senate floor, which in turn will likely cause Senate Republicans to change the rules to eliminate the filibuster for SCOTUS nominations and to confirm Gorsuch by majority vote.

The GOP will be entirely justified in changing the rule.  Gorsuch is eminently qualified for the position.  No credible complaint has been lodged against his ethics.  His record is overwhelmingly in the majority of the panels on which he has served for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.  His opinions are generally well-founded and lively in language.

In contrast, the Democrats’ opposition has been an incoherent mess.  Much of it has been an improper, results-oriented attack on his decisions, continuing the losing claim of Hillary Clinton’s campaign that courts should decide cases based on identity politics.

OTOH, when they aren’t painting him as an extremist, they’re conceding he’s really pretty mainstream, but cannot be confirmed after the way the GOP refused to hold hearings on Pres. Obama’s election-year SCOTUS nomination of Merrick Garland (an approach previously endorsed by Dems like Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer).

Further, Dems are supposedly alarmed that Gorsuch might reconsider precedents like Chevron v. NRDC, or even Roe v. Wade, which Democrats have taken to calling a “super-precedent” (a term as imaginary as a unicorn).  But they are also alarmed that he would be unwilling to reconsider precedents they don’t like, such as Citizens United v. FEC.  Again, a completely political, results-oriented approach that itself departs from the historic norm for judicial nominations.

Ending the filibuster for SCOTUS picks is the next step after Senate Democrats ended the filibuster for judicial nominations to lower courts.  Republicans had blocked a number of Pres. Obama’s judicial nominees, but it must be noted that this was in part a response to the Democrats’ filibuster of prior GOP nominees like Miguel Estrada, a highly-qualified  jurist blocked more than once for no other reason than Dems’ fear he eventually would be appointed to the SCOTUS.

The GOP was also responding to the attempted filibuster of Samuel Alito’s SCOTUS confirmation.  While unsuccessful, the Alito filibuster was supported by Senate Democratic leadership and by then-Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John Kerry, to name a few.

Indeed, it could be said the Democrats have been attacking the norms for judicial nominations since at least the Reagan-era nomination of Robert Bork, an episode so egregious that the man’s name became a verb signifying a political smear.  Even after the Borking, Republicans attempted to adhere to the traditional norm of supporting well-qualified SCOTUS nominees despite philosophical disagreements, as can be seen by the near-unanimous vote for Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  The GOP got nothing for their consistency.

In this sense, the GOP tried to maintain the norm of confirming well-qualified jurists; the Dems are trying to destroy the remnant of that norm after decades of effort.

And in a way, none of this should surprise anyone much, as Democrats are by nature not particularly fond of norms  — at least not those they are establishing and imposing.  Progressivism is at its heart a philosophy that is not fond of Constitutional norms, as Woodrow Wilson made plain before and during his Presidency.  And in general, they are not disposed to ask why a fence exists before removing it.

Of course, some societal norms are worth junking.  Jim Crow is one obvious example, though progressive Democrats will crow much more about their role in ending it than their prior interest in eugenics (some of which still turns up in the unguarded thoughts of abortion advocates).  Fewer are interested in examining less obvious examples.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that in politics, people’s concern about norms is usually as situational as their position on any other question.  It would be far better if those purporting to be concerned about norms were willing to have an adult conversation about why certain fences might exist, regardless of which partisan tribe holds a temporary majority.  But that norm appears to have been knocked down long ago.

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The Less Said About Steve King

For a brief moment, I considered writing directly about Rep. Steve King’s comments on immigration and such, but the hog wrassling factor is simply too high.  Nevertheless, some of the punditry surrounding those comments lead me to a few observations about this constellation of topics.

Nationalism vs. Patriotism: In yesterday’s Commentary magazine podcast discussing King’s comments, Abe Greenwald called nationalism “patriotism on the cheap.”  I wouldn’t put it quite that way, but it is a close companion point to my prior observation that the Left’s efforts to marginalize or purge Western Civilization at colleges and universities (and a similar effort to convert our already poor K-12 civics curriculum to left-wing activism) also made conservatism shallower.

Multiculturalism:  The rise of simple nationalism on the non-Left is thus at least partially attributable to the rise of multiculturalism on the Left, and especially with the New New Left.  Although the immigration debate is far too complex to be reduced to a single point, the axis of “assimilation vs. multiculturalism” is certainly key.

As a country, we ought to be able to reach a point between the melting pot and the salad bowl that’s a nice dish of gumbo; historically that’s where we have tended to meet.  America still tends to be pretty good at assimilation, though we still have notable issues even with the second generation of, for example, Muslim-Americans.

Unfortunately, are there things about the Left’s approach that tend to make compromise difficult, if not impossible.  Some of these are often discussed, such as the Left’s (premature at best) reliance on the Emerging Democratic Majority theory breeding the suspicion on the Right that the Left would like an amnesty for a generation or two of political benefit.  But today, let’s keep things at a higher altitude.

Multiculturalism and Transnational Progressivism:  Multiculturalism, and the New New Left’s adoption of intersectionality as a functional religion, are closely related to the Left’s overarching vision of transnational progressivism.  Although I am not a fan of comparing the Brexit vote and the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan of “Stronger Together” was an obvious lift of the Remain campaign’s “Stronger in Britain” slogan.

This school of politics is built on a contradiction.*  On one hand, it seeks to present a Utopian vision of unity that spans all demographics.  On the other hand, it is a politics built around conflicts based on the fundamental racial, sexual, religious, generational and cultural elements of people’s identities.

This contradiction is probably reconciled only through totalitarian means (thus the appeal of intersectionality), which is why many rebel against it.

Accordingly, the Utopian facade is maintained primarily by making the campaigns for this vision largely empty.  In the Brexit fight, the Remain campaign asked people to be solely focused on economic factors.  Hillary Clinton ran a largely policy-free campaign on television after going months without facing the media.

Say what you will about nationalism, it taps into powerful cultural and emotional wellsprings that are naturally intended to unify one group against all others.   In contrast, the emotions tapped by left-wing identity politics are specific to each demographic, and each demographic is atomized by intersectionality.

Thus, while transnational progressives still hold the levers of power in many places, they may have difficulty fending off the nationalist appeal over the medium term.  Indeed, as noted, transnational progressivism and multiculturalism are built on the types of conflict which invite and fuel nationalist politics.

In their post-election angst, American progressives who previously disdained concepts like the separation of powers and federalism as the old, dysfunctional ideas of dead white males seem to be giving these concepts a second look.  If they were being more than situational, they might find in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution a patriotic and universalist vision that may be more competitive with nationalism.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen, because progressivism ultimately requires unlimited government power.  And progressives are more likely to attempt to coopt the nationalists’ white identity politics than reject their own.

*[This contradiction is not the only one between progressivism and multiculturalism, but it’s the one most relevant here.]

Update: Vox’s Zack Beauchamp — who created the infamous Gaza bridge — wrote today about the ineffectiveness of economic appeals as a response to rightist nationalism.  Strange days indeed.

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Trumpcare Will Likely Pass. It Won’t Be Pretty.

Let’s start with tweets, then additional thoughts.

The Federalist’s co-founder Sean Davis:

I tend to agree with this.  It is basically how Obamacare was enacted.  But not exactly.

Pres. Obama began buying off “stakeholders” (affected industry groups) before there was draft legislation. This was a key difference from the way Hillary Clinton ran her failed healthcare task force in the1990s.

Also, while Obama did not submit a draft bill for Congress to consider, he had signaled his position on key issues, e.g., exchanges, acceptance of individual and employer mandates, and a possible “public option” competing with private insurers in the exchanges.

It does not appear that the House GOP consulted insurer or hospital groups, while a tweet from Pres. Trump panicked trading in pharma stocks.  The American Hospital Association issued a letter of opposition to the bill.

The AARP supported ObamaCare because it was trading off Medicare cuts for expanded coverage that was potentially quite lucrative for AARP.  The powerful seniors’ lobby is opposed to the House GOP proposal.

Meanwhile, the lack of coordination between the White House and Congress appears to extend to this first major legislative effort.  Indeed, on Monday, Trump claimed that “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” suggesting a certain lack of engagement with the subject.

VP Mike Pence told Congress that “this is the bill,” wile being “open to improvements.”  OMB Dir. Mike Mulvaney, otoh, is stressing the latter, though it seems as if he’s telling conservatives to propose amendments and daring them to vote against the bill if those amendments fail.  Unity!

There also seems to have been no outreach to conservative groups like Heritage, Americans For Prosperity, FreedomWorks, etc., who largely blasted the draft bill.  And the communications strategy seemed non-existent, as House leadership scrambled to explain that this proposal was only the first step or “phase.”

Absent these failures, the House GOP might not be in the position it is now.  Moreover, given Tuesday’s reaction, I would not assume the draft bill resembles an “okay final deal,” even if it might have been on Monday.

In addition, the general lack of White House guidance potentially distinguishes this effort from the Obamacare effort in another way.

With eight GOP Senators raising objections to various major provisions of the House proposal, there is the risk that the bill — or some disputed positions — will die in the Senate.  Some House members will be loath to climb out on a limb that may be sawed off.

This brings us to the unstated common denominator between Obamacare, which passed, and the BTU tax which died (and Hillarycare, and the 2009 cap-and-trade plan that died in the Senate).   Now that repeal/replace/repair/whatevs is on the table, Obamacare is finally sort of popular, albeit by only a few percent. In fairness, much depends on how you ask the question:

But even if you assume that support for O-care is rising in part because the Left now feels it can’t pout over not getting a single-payer system, some of it may also be from people fatigued with disruption of their healthcare arrangements, or those who don’t trust the government to make things better after falling for past promises.

It cannot have escaped the Congressional GOP’s notice that Congressional Dems once delivered on what they promised their base, ramming through a sweeping bill that altered a broad sector of our economy, only to be defenestrated by angry midterm voters.  It’s a big part of why many of those Republicans hold office today.

Running a similar game plan now has to be unnerving.  Arms will probably have to be twisted to the breaking point at the end of the process.  Getting the policy right, and the comms strategy right, and the coordination right would be helpful to those looking for nerve at the beginning.

UpdateThe AMA opposes the House bill.  There will be people who think that interest group opposition is a feature, not a bug.  It viscerally appeals to me as well.  But the White House and Congress aren’t making passing a bill any easier.  People generally trust their doctors, who will be hearing bad things from the AMA.  This is the sort of thing that helped doom Hllarycare.

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Conservatives Still Sorting Themselves in the Trump Era

A brief recap of where the sorting among conservatives stands now, then some additional thoughts.

Tevi Troy does a fairly nice job in laying out the broad strokes.  There are the Ever Trumpers, including those who focus on criticizing Pres. Tump’s critics and those trying to build an intellectual infrastructure for Trumpism.  There are the Conservative Trump Critics, including those implacably opposed to the Trump presidency and those picking their battles over specific issues.  And there are the Safe Space Conservatives, the anti-anti-Trumpers who (for various reasons) focus on attacking or criticizing Trump’s opponents and critics, but seemingly reluctant to affirmatively defend Trump.

Jonathan V. Last proposed a largely similar framework, adding the possibility of anti-anti-anti-Trumpers.  Last argues that perhaps the media and the professional Left are not qualitatively different than they have been in the past and that “focusing on the excesses of the anti-Trump forces means focusing on a meta-issue rather than the primary issue.”

Charles C. W. Cooke took issue with JVL’s seeming limitation of anti-Trumpers to those like David Frum who are concerned about being or becoming a soft authoritarian.

Cooke’s point is well-taken, especially since — as David French, no Trump fan, has pointed out, Trump is so far less authoritarian than Pres. Obama on a number of fronts.

Yet I don’t know that Cooke is correct in describing himself as anti-Trump, either.  He has taken the position that he will criticize Trump when he’s wrong (from a conservative perspective), praise him when he’s right, and keep a tally of each.  This is why I tend to prefer Troy’s admittedly less felicitous “Conservative Trump Critics.”

Even within that category, there will be some friction, but I would reconcile Troy and Last by noting that one group is essentially implacably opposed to the Trump presidency not only because of Trump’s occasional rhetorical nods toward authoritarianism, but also out of broader concerns regarding his character, seeming indifference to corruption (or the appearance thereof), and so forth.

I understand those concerns, which is why I keep referring to the possible Clinton scenario taking hold among the GOP and the conservative movement.  The Clintons — and the norms they destroyed in our politics — opened the door for the Trump administration.  It is not irrational to recoil at the thought of which doors Trump may open for future administrations.

Yet I find myself more in the second group of critics with Cooke and John Podhoretz (Troy’s example).  Trump is the President.  I can root for him to make conservative decisions and criticize the progressive ones.  As a populist — and a narcissist — he may respond to public opinion.  The longer-term consequences of his election are largely baked into the cake now, though they may hinge somewhat on how successful he is.

That key question of success brings me to the anti-anti-Trumpers.  Although I write media criticism from time to time, I want to stay out of this camp.  Here’s why.

Trump will either succeed or fail.  If Trump is successful, the odds are that conservatism will find itself even more marginalized in the GOP and our politics generally.  If Trump fails, the odds are that he will have damaged the only political party that represents conservatives (despite not being all that conservative already), thereby marginalizing conservatism as a political force.

I’m not That Guy who thinks people should be forced to state their opinions on everything, even people who have less excuse to avoid an opinion than, say, Taylor Swift.  And I don’t expect anti-anti-Trumpers should care whether they disappoint me.

But maybe some of them have children, or nieces and nephews.  If anti-anti-Trumpers really believe conservatism will make a better future, I wonder what their explanation to those kids would be for having said little about Trump when he’s wrong.  Perhaps something about the lesser of two evils.  After all, it’s never too early for cynicism.

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Sean Connery’s Advice on Trump, Russia, and Wiretapping

No, it’s not “one ping only.”

I considered really digging in on Pres. Trump’s allegation that fmr Pres. Obama wiretapped him, based on an article at Breitbart.  Although this article was based on old news stories, it was apparently all news to Trump, who then leapt to an accusation not fully supported by it.

Nevertheless, Trump’s claim served the political purpose of getting the right to focus more on the idea that the investigation(s) of contacts between people associated with his campaign may have been politically-motivated.  After all, the Obama administration abused its administrative and investigatory powers in other cases, so why not here?

My guess is that anyone reading this is already interested enough to have an opinion and that for me to add value, I would have to get very deeply into the weeds, perhaps mind-numbingly so.  Accordingly, I will try to add value by not talking about it.

Instead, I will observe that many of the people I see raising their blood pressure over this allegation (and the larger Trump/Russia narrative) tend to be at least eight years younger than I, and frequently considerably younger.  Of course, that may just reflect that I’m down with the kids.

People of that age generally have little direct and visceral memory of the time in which many conservatives thought Clinton White House Counsel Vince Foster was murdered.  Or that Pres. Clinton had some connection to a drug-running enterprise operating from Mena, Ark., and that there were mysterious deaths connected to it.

Conservatives were inclined to believe such things not only out of partisan passions, but also because the Clintons tended to be surrounded by a cloud of scandals.  The odds that Hillary Clinton turned $10,000 into $100,000 as a novice trader of cattle futures were indeed so astronomical as to defy belief.  There was evidence to suggest Hillary was involved in the firing and smearing of White House Travel Office employees in a classic bit of cronyism, even if the independent counsel declined to prosecute.

The independent counsel, however, did convict 15 people in the Whitewater scandal, including Bill and Hillary’s business partners in the the ill-fated real estate venture.  That investigation stalled when those same business partners, even after they were convicted, refused to discuss the Clintons’ role.

And there was Bill lying under oath in a sexual harassment case, the selling of the Lincoln Bedroom, and so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby.

The point is that when people have a shady track record, whether it be Clinton, Obama or Trump, partisans may be inclined to believe even crazy things about them.  Or at least believe them enough to want them investigated.

In fact, sometimes you don’t even need the shady track record.  I’m also old enough to recall when Very Serious People investigated whether George H. W. Bush flew in an SR-71 Blackbird jet to Paris to interfere with the Iranian hostage negotiations.  They also investigated whether he was involved in drug-running with the Contras in Nicaragua.  Apparently, if you have been director of the CIA, there is no limit to your capability for evil.

I mention this not to tell so many of those excited by the allegations against Trump or Obama to get off my lawn, Eastwood-style.  It is to observe that it is far different to have lived through the events described above than to hear or read about them.

People who have not been immersed in that sort of political climate may not understand the feeling of them.  They may not understand on an emotional level how easy it is to convince yourself that that things which seem crazy now seemed so much more reasonable to consider seriously at the time.

Given the track records of Trump and Obama, it may not be crazy to consider that there may be something (even if it’s a very soft version of the hysterics now) to the allegations against either man or their associates.  But maybe we’ll look back and — with the benefit of hindsight — conclude that some or all of it was indeed crazy.

What we do know is that there are investigations that will ultimately produce findings.  Regarding those results, as Sean Connery said as Jim Malone in The Untouchables: “Don’t wait for it to happen.  Don’t even want it to happen.  Just watch what does happen.”

Not that anyone will take that advice when there is punditry to be had.

Update: If you do want to get into the weeds on this issue, Stephen Hayes lays out what we know — and what we don’t know — at TWS.

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The Sessions Sessions and the Return of Fight Club

I started this blog in part to upload (and thus mentally offload) thoughts on the news of the moment, as such pieces often aren’t amenable to the editorial process for a freelancer.  Nevertheless, the past month of news — and the public reaction to the news — has been illuminating of certain broader themes in our politics.

The latest kerfuffle over Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking to Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the campaign, specifically the accuracy of his comments to the Senate Judiciary Cmte during his confirmation as AG, further illustrates one of the underlying problems with the politics of the Trump era.

This story, largely overhyped in Big Media, is not one of Sessions perjuring himself.  Viewing his comments on his contact with the Russians in context, they seem at worst to be unintentionally misleading, distinguishing his conversations as a Senator from his lack of contact in his capacity as a Trump campaign surrogate.

Based on the known record, if he’s guilty of anything, he’s guilty of the kind of sloppiness that did in fmr national security adviser Mike Flynn, minus the element of publicly embarrassing the Vice President.

All of that said, Sessions is entirely correct to recuse himself from any investigation of people who were part of a campaign for which he served as a surrogate.  This would be true even if his own contacts with Russians were not part of an investigation.

From the standpoint of legal ethics, recusal is a no-brainer.  It should be a no-brainer as a matter of politics and policy to oppose clear conflicts of interest (as the GOP rightly did in criticizing the Justice Dept’s approach to investigating Hillary Clinton).

Yet for many supposed righties on social media, and for some in Trump-friendly media, it is somehow not a no-brainer.  The sentiment from this bloc is: “Does the GOP not understand that their failure to fight is How We Got Trump?”

We’ve seen this before in the bloc of Trump primary voters who could always be found arguing asserting, “But he FIGHTS!”  We’ve seen it in the argumentum ad masculinum that elevates Donald Trump to the position of favored strongman.  It’s just metastasizing now.

The reason it is metastasizing is because the conservative movement, let alone the GOP, has become shallow and risks becoming the mirror image of the postmodern New New Left, right down to its substitution of entertainment for education and its valuation of power above all else.

The GOP’s failure to fight unwinnable battles and its treatment of politics as an exercise in making friends and influencing people — as opposed to an opportunity to punch opponents in the face — is Not How We Got Trump.

The key to Trump’s victory was in persuading people who voted once or twice for Obama.  These are people who are concerned about their financial situations and the health of their communities, not partisan food fights.  Trump won because of fatigue with the incumbent party, sluggish economic growth, concerns over terrorism, Democrats’ lack of concern for the white working class, and an awful opponent under FBI investigation.

As I also noted yesterday (and previously), Trump was was outpolled by most conventional GOP Senate candidates and the average GOP House candidate, most of whom weren’t saying inflammatory and ridiculous things, or picking fights that would disadvantage them against their opponents (most of whom weren’t as frightening to people as Hillary Clinton).

Moreover, the history of the last eight years is of an “in your face” President destroying his own party, while the supposedly cowardly opposition got as strong as it had been in almost a century.

People who don’t like CNN or the NYT were already inclined to vote Republican.  And I doubt anyone voted for Trump because they wanted Jeff Sessions to be a conflicted AG instead of Loretta Lynch being a conflicted AG.

Certainly, there are those who gravitated to Trump because of his pugnacious style and his political incorrectness.  But if GDP had been growing at 3% or better, ISIS had been routed, or Democrats had a better bench, Trump likely would have lost the Electoral College as well as the popular vote.  The narrative then would have been about how the GOP blew a fundamentally winnable race by nominating a toxic blowhard.

BTW, where was the “But he FIGHTS!” bloc after Trump’s address to Congress?  That was a speech aimed at softening his image.  Not very fighty.  Where was the criticism from the Fight Club about that speech?

The answer is that the speech went well, which gets counted as a win.  And the Fight Club is all about winning.  They often don’t much care about what they’re winning, or are reluctant to tell you what they think they’re winning, or can’t defend what they’re winning on the merits.  But contra Trump, they won’t ever tire of all the winning.

The losses, however small or however deserved, will be blamed on others, those who haven’t joined Fight Club.  It is an exercise in the Green Lanternism that infects partisans on both sides.  For those of you who are not comics nerds, the power of a Green Lantern is a manifestation of willpower.  Outside the comics, you usually don’t want to live under a system that is governed by the force of will.

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