Wake Forest Faculty Throw a Tantrum

by George Leef

It’s a depressingly common story by now — supposedly “liberal” college faculty getting all hot and bothered over a non-leftist campus center funded by the Koch Foundation. The latest outburst is at Wake Forest, where the faculty senate has recommended extraordinary measures to curtail the work of Professor James Otteson and his Eudaimonia Institute. In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson looks at this nasty little fight.

Professor Otteson is a famous classical-liberal scholar. Among his books is The End of Socialism. While college professors can get away with espousing classical-liberal ideas (although they might get sneered at by “progressives”), when they do so with any money from the Koch Foundation, the Left erupts in fury. Last September, a $4 million Koch grant to the Institute was announced, but the Wake Forest faculty is demanding that the grant be rejected on the grounds that Koch money somehow undermines academic freedom and the university’s reputation.

Robinson explains:

Specifically, the Faculty Senate recommended freezing current hiring, canceling internal and external presentations, and even restricting the publication of any material to do with the Institute. Going forward, the Faculty Senate wants all of the Eudaimonia Institute’s academic decisions to be reviewed by an external committee — presumably so the committee can apply some sort of progressive litmus test to the Institute’s work.

There are leftist-funded centers at Wake Forest, but of course they elicit no complaints from these university “guardians.”

It’s as clear as anything can be that the academic Left just doesn’t like any expressions of sympathy for the free market and limited government, even if they might advance human flourishing, which is what the Greeks meant by “eudaimonia.” Any excuse to silence scholars who aren’t part of the “progressive” movement is good enough.

Stay tuned. We will keep on top of this.

Diversity Myths

by Roger Clegg

The Washington Post has a “Five Myths about . . . ” weekly series, and over the weekend Valerie Strauss focused on college admissions. Here’s her fifth “myth”: “Schools don’t need affirmative action to make diverse classes.”

Ms. Strauss begins by noting that [1] some schools have rejected racial preferences — a.k.a. affirmative action — and still improved racial diversity, and that some critics have pointed out that racial preferences “are [2] unfairly discriminatory and [3] don’t help minority students” and that [4] if “diversity” were really the goal of racial preferences, “’then preferences would be given on the basis of unusual characteristics, not on the basis of race.’”

So, how does Ms. Strauss refute 1, 2, 3, and 4? Well, as a matter of fact she doesn’t. She doesn’t even try. She just ignores them.

Instead, she simply asserts that racial preferences “do appear” to increase diversity, and she defines diversity to be simply the percentages of black and Hispanic students at some schools and how close they come to their percentages “in the general population.” In other words, she says that if you give an admissions preference to people of a particular race, you will admit more of them. Wow, that’s amazing.

She concludes with a paragraph that bemoans, “Today, affirmative action has lost much judicial support” and that public support is “mixed” (actually public support is much less than judicial support, but never mind). She’s unhappy that schools are stuck under Supreme Court precedent with having to use the “diversity” justification for racial preferences; she’d apparently prefer a compensatory rationale — a dubious one under any circumstances (since, for example, the overwhelming majority of blacks admitted to more selective schools are not from poor backgrounds), and especially now that Latinos outnumber African Americans among groups getting preferential treatment and that those losing out now are more and more likely to be Asian Americans.

And here’s Ms. Strauss’s last sentence: “Meanwhile, most minority groups remain underrepresented on college and university campuses, even though most students enrolled at the country’s K-12 public schools are minorities.” The “most minority groups” phrasing is to acknowledge that Asian Americans and Arab Americans, for example, are not underrepresented, which is why they are now discriminated against. And the reason that some groups are “underrepresented” on college campuses is not because of slavery, but because of the sad state of our public schools (the solutions for which are more likely to be conservative than liberal), the belief that studying hard is “acting white” (or, worse, acting Asian), and especially the fact that some groups have many more children growing up in single-parent families (which is, unsurprisingly, correlated with not doing well in school).

I should stress that Ms. Strauss’s aim of “making diverse classes” is a misguided one in any event. Forget bean-counting and admit the best qualified students, regardless of race or ethnicity. The notion that there are compelling “educational benefits” from racial and ethnic diversity is unpersuasive, as I discuss, here.

What Those Blaming the Freedom Caucus Are Forgetting

by Veronique de Rugy

This weekend’s coverage of the health-care debacle was interesting. The newspapers have been full of articles about who is to blame for the failure of the Republican bill in the House: President Trump, Speaker Ryan, the Freedom Caucus (or the son-in-law, Gary Cohn, or Reince Priebus). Ignoring that its members voted for an Obamacare repeal bill many times in the past, the Freedom Caucus is getting the brunt of the blame. As Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein writes:

They are being blamed for making the naive mistake of assuming that Republicans wanted to do what they were promising to do for seven years.

In this case, the hardliners were playing a productive role by pointing out the real policy consequences of the piecemeal approach being pursued by the House leadership. Though we’ll never know for sure how the numbers might have looked if a vote had taken place, it’s clear that many centrist members of the Republican caucus were also prepared to vote this bill down. House conservatives, if they could be blamed for anything, it’s for having the audacity to urge leadership to actually honor seven years of pledges to voters to repeal Obamacare. If anybody was moving the goal posts, it wasn’t Freedom Caucusers, it was those who were trying to sell a bill that kept much of Obamacare’s regulatory architecture in place as a free market repeal and replace plan.

That being said, the debate largely ignores two key points.

First, by focusing on the politics of who is to blame, the policy dimension of the bill’s failure is mostly ignored. Maybe that’s not all that surprising since Speaker Ryan, who has a reputation of being a policy guy, delivered a bill that was driven by politics and got a lot of the policy wrong. But let’s face it, as Klein mentioned in his article, the bill just wasn’t a good bill. It wasn’t a conservative or a free-market bill, either. Sure it had some merits — which isn’t saying much considering that Republicans had been supposedly working on this for seven years — but overall it had serious and lethal problems. As such, the blame should fall on those who put out a bad bill not on those who prevented it from going through the House. Again, I like how Klein puts it:

Sure, I know, Republicans had a narrow majority, and they could only pass something through the Senate by reconciliation, which imposes limitations. But the thing is, Republicans don’t hide behind the vagaries of Senate procedure during campaign season. Trump did not win the Republican nomination telling rallies of thousands of people, “We’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare — as long as it satisfies the Byrd rule in the judgment of the Senate parliamentarian!”

What’s so utterly disgraceful, is not just that Republicans failed so miserably, but that they barely tried, raising questions about whether they ever actually wanted to repeal Obamacare in the first place.

That’s correct. It also seems that the bullying tactics used to try to force the bill through were counter-productive. And leaving aside the fact that Republicans had seven years to be ready, one can also ask why this shouldn’t be viewed as a great opportunity to go back to the drawing board and get it right. There is no doubt that Obamacare needs to go, and doing nothing seems like the worst possible option.

Second, absent from the conversation is the fact that it was less than likely that this bill would have survived in the Senate. As such, talk about how it is a disaster that the bill was pulled in the House ignores its potential failure in the upper chamber and overstates the opportunity cost of its failure in the House.

I hope Republicans will learn a lesson or two from this experience: If your end goal is to improve health-care policy, start with health-care policies that will actually improve health care. If you promised to repeal Obamacare for seven years, repeal Obamacare.

ISIS Bears the Moral and Legal Responsibility for Increased Civilian Casualties

by David French

This weekend, the New York Times reported that American air strikes in Mosul may have killed up to 200 Iraqi civilians. The strikes – coming just as Iraqi forces are assaulting deeper into the last major ISIS-held city in Iraq – raised questions about a potential change in the rules of engagement governing U.S. forces. Here’s how the Times put it:

Taken together, the surge of reported civilian deaths raised questions about whether once-strict rules of engagement meant to minimize civilian casualties were being relaxed under the Trump administration, which has vowed to fight the Islamic State more aggressively.

American military officials insisted on Friday that the rules of engagement had not changed. They acknowledged, however, that American airstrikes in Syria and Iraq had been heavier in an effort to press the Islamic State on multiple fronts.

I have two responses to this news. First, the rules of engagement need to be relaxed. As is, they go well beyond the laws of war and provide the enemy with too much freedom of movement in civilian zones and effectively encourage the use of human shields. While commanders would of course still be free to refrain from striking based on military, diplomatic, and humanitarian concerns, they should also be free to attack in accordance with the standard laws of armed conflict.

Second, it’s worth remembering that unless American forces are refusing to discriminate between military and civilian targets – or use force disproportionate to the threat – that these casualties are ISIS’s moral and legal responsibility. The laws of war impose on both parties a duty of “distinction.” It is the combatants’ responsibility to not only distinguish between military and civilian targets but to facilitate that distinction with uniforms and clear markings. The party that fails to distinguish their forces (by looking like civilians, hiding in civilian buildings, using civilian vehicles) is at fault when their failure causes civilian casualties.

Indeed, the effort to impose heightened requirements on American forces when the enemy violates the laws of war defeats the very purpose of the laws of war. If it is better for a combatant to violate the law, they will, and our own rules – while arguably humane – make it much better for ISIS to keep defying international law.

I say our rules are “arguably” humane in part because it’s far from settled whether, in the long run, more civilians die when warfare drags on, and the enemy is permitted to burrow ever-deeper into the civilian population. With each new restriction, we enable more misconduct. It’s time for the international community to read headlines about civilian deaths and realize who’s really to blame.

On Trump Appealing to Democrats

by Jonah Goldberg

Response To...

The Bi-Partisan Option

I agree with all of Rich’s points below about the hard time Trump will have peeling off Democrats for some new bipartisan coalition. I will admit, one of my greatest fears of the Trump presidency is that he would come out of blocks trying to do exactly that. He hasn’t — and that’s a good thing, from a conservative perspective. Instead, he made the same mistake that Obama made at the outset of his administration.

I’ve long argued that the fons et origo of Obama’s problems was his refusal to co-opt a chunk of the Republican caucus with the stimulus. People forget that, at the time, Obama’s popularity was through the roof, and there was a legitimate sense of urgency in the country about the financial crisis. I remember political consultants and Hill people telling me how worried they were that Obama would offer something many Republicans would have to vote for. If a third of Republicans supported the Obama stimulus, then the lousy economy that followed would be a bipartisan failure (or maybe a success if it had worked better). But the Obama White House opted to eschew GOP buy-in, and the Republicans learned an important lesson: They could oppose Obama and not pay a political price.

If Trump had reached out to Dems the way Rich suggests and led with a massive FDR–style infrastructure program of the sort Steve Bannon says he wants, most Republicans and a good chunk of the Democrats probably would have gone for it. That would have split both parties and created a Trump coalition.

As it stands, that looks much more difficult. It is in the political interests of the Democrats to oppose Trump on everything, for the reasons Rich suggests.

But there’s another factor that is not Trump’s fault, but Obama’s. Where are these supposed moderate Democrats ripe for the plucking that people keep talking about? Let’s get their pictures on milk cartons ASAP.

The truth is that Obama hollowed out the Democratic party of any significant bloc of moderates. Support for Obamacare killed off a slew of more centrist Democrats, particularly in the Senate. What’s left is a far more ideologically committed urban and blue-state party. That means doing anything that attracts a Democrat will likely repulse at least an equal number of Republicans. As Ramesh said to me this morning, it’s not like it never occurred to John Boehner to find 30 Democrats to make up for losses among the conservative diehards, it’s just that such Democrats weren’t to be found (at least not without costing more Republican defections). The days of the Reagan Democrats, Blue Dog Democrats (and Gypsie Moth Republicans) are largely behind us.

That means if Trump is really determined to get Democratic support, he will have to move much further left to do so. And that will create a real crisis for a lot of Republicans, not just the House Freedom Caucus.

Chuck Schumer’s Made-Up 60-Vote Standard

by Dan McLaughlin

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made the rounds this weekend to push his theory that Neil Gorsuch needs 60 votes to be confirmed by the Senate. This is a novel theory without a basis in Senate history, which even the Washington Post gave “two Pinocchios”. It’s true, as a matter of Senate rules, that Schumer needs only 41 votes to filibuster Gorsuch. It’s equally true that if he does, Mitch McConnell needs only 51 votes to change the rules. So, as a matter of raw political power, Schumer is only half right. But as a matter of Senate history and tradition, he’s not even halfway to half right.

In fact, six nominees to be Supreme Court Justices, including two members of the current Court, have been confirmed with less than 60% of the vote:

  • In 2006, Samuel Alito was confirmed 58-42.
  • In 1991, Clarence Thomas was confirmed 52-48.
  • In 1888, Lucius Lamar was confirmed 32-28.
  • In 1881, Stanley Matthews was confirmed 24-23.
  • In 1858, Nathan Clifford was confirmed 26-23.
  • In 1837, William Smith was confirmed 23-18 (Smith ended up declining to serve).

Moreover, the fact that there were 42 votes against Alito and only 37 against Elena Kagan and 31 against Sonia Sotomayor says nothing about the nominees; it simply reflects two facts: one, Senate Democrats were earlier adopters of partisan voting on Supreme Court nominees than Senate Republicans; and two, the Kagan and Sotomayor nominations were voted on while the Democrats (for one Congress) had 59 and 60 Senators in their caucus, respectively.

As I have detailed at some length before here and here, only once in Senate history, in 1968, was a Supreme Court nomination thwarted by less than a majority of the Senate, when the nomination of Justice Abe Fortas to Chief Justice (and the concurrent nomination of Homer Thornberry to replace Fortas as Associate Justice) was put to a cloture vote, and got 45″yes” votes and 43 “no” votes. Notably, Fortas and Thornberry didn’t get 50 votes, and as LBJ’s top domestic-policy aide, Joseph Califano, has recounted, this was a face-saving vote for Fortas and Lyndon Johnson after damaging new information about Fortas’ ethical troubles emerged:

Johnson nodded sadly. He was silent for a long minute. Then, he said, “We won’t withdraw the nomination. I won’t do that to Abe.” Though we couldn’t get the two-thirds vote needed to shut off debate, Johnson said we could get a majority, and that would be a majority for Fortas. “With a majority on the floor for Abe, he’ll be able to stay on the Court with his head up. We have to do that for him.” Fortas also wanted the majority vote.

After Tennery’s testimony, as Johnson had predicted, [Senate Minority Leader Everett] Dirksen withdrew his support and announced he would not vote to shut off debate. On October 1, after a strenuous White House effort, a 45-43 majority of senators voted to end the filibuster, short of the 59 votes needed for cloture, but just barely the majority LBJ wanted to give Fortas. Later that day, Fortas asked the President to withdraw his nomination.

Under those circumstances, it’s not even clear that Fortas would have had a majority for confirmation, as LBJ was twisting arms of his fellow Democrats just for a talking point on cloture. Fortas’ critics were vindicated when his compounding ethical issues led to his resignation from the Court seven months later. The Fortas precedent supports caution and delay on election-year nominations and nominees with emerging ethical scandals, but it offers no support to Schumer’s 60-vote threshold. In fact, neither party filibustered any nominee to the federal bench who had clear majority support until the Schumer-led filibuster of Miguel Estrada to the DC Circuit in 2003: “On seven cloture votes, Estrada received majority support each time, but never enough votes for cloture.” As you will recall, the Estrada filibuster was nothing for Democrats to be proud of:

In November 2001, as Democrats debated whether to undertake an unprecedented filibuster of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees, liberal groups met with Senate Democrats….In one purloined email, an aide to Dick Durbin told his boss that liberal activists in the meeting “identified Miguel Estrada (D.C. Circuit) as especially dangerous, because he has a minimal paper trail, he is Latino, and the White House seems to be grooming him for a Supreme Court appointment.”

Four Democrats broke ranks from that filibuster, one of whom (Bill Nelson) is still in the Senate.

Schumer’s nuclear strategy is tendentious enough that even the Judiciary Committee’s former Democratic Chairman, Vermont arch-liberal Patrick Leahy, now says that “I am not inclined to filibuster, even though I’m not inclined to vote for him.” Leahy is a big defection, since he voted with Schumer to filibuster both Alito and Estrada, but voted against the 1986 filibuster of William Rehnquist’s nomination to be Chief Justice. Of course, if Schumer wants to show his base that his caucus is putting up a fight but needs more reinforcements, and doesn’t want to trigger McConnell abolishing the filibuster, the best outcome for him may be to attempt a filibuster and lose the cloture vote due to the defection of elderly Democrats from safe states, like Leahy. But it still puts embattled Trump-state Democratic Senators who face re-election in 2018 (many of whom have already indicated their willingness to vote for cloture) in a no-win situation, on the basis of an argument that is transparently false.


Talking Linda, Talking WFB

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

On a few occasions over the years, Linda Bridges talked WFB and history on NRO. Here, three years after he died, we talked about him and the book she put together with Roger Kimball: Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations: A William F. Buckley Jr. Omnibus.

I asked her about his faith – “Bill was remarkably comfortable with piety, for such an intellectual, wasn’t he? What accounts for that?” She answered:

I suspect because it was so much a part of him, so much a part of the world that shaped him. His parents were both devout, and besides loving them deeply he had a very high regard for them. So it always seemed natural to him that very bright people should be religious. He later, of course, came to meet many who were not, but that never shook his own faith. He didn’t proselytize, but if a reference to God or to Christian teaching was relevant to his argument, I suspect it never occurred to him not to use it.

And when asked, she offered this advice to aspiring writers: 

First, be yourself. Don’t try to copy WFB’s sentence structure or vocabulary; find your own. Now, you may need to work on that self a bit before going public with it — like the candidates, you need to inform yourself; and you need to listen to yourself and watch out for signs of ranting or sloppy thinking. Second, be specific. WFB never went far in generalization before he brought in an example to make it vivid for the reader. That’s what I found so memorable about “Dead-Red”: sentences like “An individual human being can sustain only so much grief, and then bereavement becomes redundant. If my wife, son, mother, brothers, and sisters are killed, I have little capacity left to grieve over the loss of my college roommate’s uncle.”

When I asked her about what she missed most about Bill, she said:

Personally, his vibrant energy, his sense of fun, his generosity. Publicly — that is, as an American conservative — his sense of perspective, and his ability to help others see things in a proper context. His ability to cut through nonsense, and to express things in a way that at least got other people to listen. And his ability to steer a straight course when others were urging tactical deviations.

A few years earlier, I asked Linda what her favorite WFB books was, she shared, with great loving reflection: 

I guess I’d have to say Miles Gone By, since that’s a collection of so many favorite pieces. To name just a handful: his Yale 40th reunion; “The Last Years of Whittaker Chambers”; his account of his childhood at Great Elm in Sharon, Connecticut; his first meetings with ten people who would become close friends; his obituary of his mother; and the piece he describes as “my Hamlet, my Gettysburg Address, my Ninth Symphony”: “Why Don’t We Complain?”

But I’d also have to list some of the novels, especially Saving the Queen, Stained Glass, See You Later Alligator, and The Redhunter — this last the story of Joe McCarthy, with a wonderful subplot about the Senator’s fictional sometime assistant, Harry Bontecue.

And The Unmaking of a Mayor, an offbeat gem of a campaign book. And the one he called, while he was writing it, “my Catholic book,” Nearer, My God. And . . . No, I’d better stop there.

Speaking of Catholic things, she once, at my request, explained an infamously misunderstood part of National Review history involving a Pope John XXIII encyclical. As I would always find myself asked about it, I was especially grateful.

I wish I did more of those interviews with her.

When we lose friends and colleagues we are reminded that life and time are precious and short. Consider all gift and give them time while we still have time.  


Remembering Linda, Keeping Her in Prayer

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

On Friday night, I heard a laugh I hadn’t heard in a very long time. I was while I was about to walk back into National Review’s offices on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The laugh was unmistakable. It was the consoling laughter of Dorothy McCartney, longtime research director of National Review. She had died a number of years ago now; she found out about her cancer just as she had cared for her parents in their final years.

I can’t explain to you why I heard her laugh – maybe it was someone on the street, though there was not anyone near I could see. Or maybe it was a reminder that the veil is rather thin between heaven and earth when we desire to pay attention.

I thought of that incitement of memory — or whatever it was — when news came that Linda Bridges had died at Calvary Hospital on Saturday night. Linda and Dorothy were such a part of National Review’s living history for so long. To see them go feels like the continuing ending of an era. They were the go-to people for institutional memory. For reading Bill Buckley’s handwriting. For remembering.

And in the case of both of them – and the Buckley years – there’s perhaps nothing more important for history to know about than the rootedness. Their faith got them to work in the morning, it was the reason they cared about the people and causes they did. (Dorothy was lovingly devoted to her brother, a Catholic priest in Rockville Center.) Flowing from their love of God was gratitude, graciousness, and dedication to truth well-told and beauty in culture and life. From none of these three (Bill, in the center of it all) did you ever get the sense politics was the most important thing in the world.

Speaking of laughs, I’ll never forget Linda’s when I shared the hope we’d find something unpublished by Bill on his pilgrimage to Guadalupe, something like his Lourdes visit that became a cover story for NR that never made it into print. Everything got published, Linda assured me. I remembered how he had deadline writing for his column down to a 20-minute art form. No more daydreaming for me.

In recent years, Linda would be the editor who took care of my syndicated column when it ran on NRO on Mondays. It may have taken a few times before I shook off the flashback nervousness about making the cut; I would be reminded of the first time WFB himself took his red pen to an editorial paragraph or two I had written, back when he would guest-edit an issue once a year, long after retiring as editor.

I don’t think she was ever without a complementary – and complimentary – word or insight.

When I would see her name in my inbox, I would think back to the first time she took time to explain the dos and don’ts of editing “On the Right,” the print magazine section with Bill’s syndicated columns. An earnest young editorial associate thought she had hit jackpot usefulness when she circled “MacNeil Lehrer Newshour,” knowing Robert MacNeil had retired, since I was dork enough to have been watching since sixth grade or so. Bill calls it the “MacNeil Lehrer Newshour.” And so it remained. There seemed something eminently conservative about it.

When her lifelong friend Alice died some months ago, who she described to me as a “sister,” she, even in her sadness about the unexpected loss — expressed her delight that I was in her parish church. St. Mary the Virgin was an episcopal church which she loved and often told me was some of the best of the high church Anglican traditions, with architecture that keep you looking up, for the more God wants and has in store for us.

Requiescat in pace.

How Low Can Unions Go?

by George Leef

How low can unions go in using their political clout to grab more money from unwilling individuals? Pretty low, such as inducing a friendly governor to sign an order declaring people who receive funds through a state program so they can give health care to sick or disabled family members in their homes to be “state employees.” Then, the union contrives to win an election with only mail-in ballots so it becomes the “representative” for all these people, and then siphons off 3 percent of the funds they counted on for their dues.

That was the scheme run by the SEIU in Minnesota and when individuals were startled to see that some of the money they were getting was being siphoned away into union dues, they started to fight back — and encountered a state bureaucracy that was not interested in helping.

For more details, see my latest article in Forbes.

The comments are full of troll-type stuff about how wonderful unions are for employees. Even if that were true (and it’s mostly false), it has nothing to do with the facts here. Leftists who dislike business cronyism should also oppose unions when they do the same thing.

The Supreme Court ruled against a very similar scheme in Harris v. Quinn (in another blue state, Illinois) but Big Labor never lets the law get in the way of achieving its goals.

The Bi-Partisan Option

by Rich Lowry

One possibility being bandied by the White House is finding a way to peel off Democrats to build a bipartisan coalition for legislation. There are a couple of problems with this: 1) It’s a lot harder to do now than in January. Trump could have given an inaugural address that was more explicitly unifying in tone and he could have invited Chuck Schumer to the White House and said, “Chuck, you’re not leaving the room until we agree on an infrastructure package.” Then, Trump could perhaps have rolled a Republican leadership wary of crossing a newly elected Republican president. But now Trump has spent months antagonizing Democrats and has less political capital to use pushing around GOP leaders than he did a few months ago. 2) Democrats hate Trump’s bullying personal style, his tweets, and his attacks on the media and other critics. This distaste is likely to overwhelm any substantive agreements on legislation. 3) A left-wing “resistance” movement is in full swing and will target any Democrats who contribute to any Trump success.

All of this means that Trump may be an ideologically heterodox Republican who naturally should be working with Democrats in theory, but he won’t be able to pull it off in practice.

The Outsider Enters Boldly and Trips Over His Own Shoelaces

by Jim Geraghty

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

The Outsider Enters Boldly and Trips Over His Own Shoelaces

“There’s a new sheriff in town” is a pretty popular power fantasy. We find ourselves stuck in a circumstance where everyone seems to be running amok, pursuing their own selfish or petty agenda, acting in complete disregard of the needs of others or the community as a whole. Our patience is exhausted, we’re fed up with it, and we make a bold, impossible to ignore, vaguely threatening gesture that demonstrates our supreme power. ENOUGH! Everyone freezes. We declare that order has returned. We begin dictating orders to others, to put everyone in their place. Cowed and intimidated, everyone dutifully returns to their proper place as part of a well-organized machine.

Saturday, Mike Allen shared a rather revealing anecdote about the way the Trump administration is approaching the task of getting legislation passed:

When the balky hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, this was Steve Bannon’s opening line, according to people in the conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building:

“Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.”

Bannon’s point was: This is the Republican platform. You’re the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But people in the room were put off by the dictatorial mindset.

One of the members replied: “You know, the last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn’t listen to him, either.”

“You have no choice…” Except, the members did. Perhaps at Breitbart.com, Bannon got used to negotiating with people he could fire. The president and his team can’t make a member vote for a bill, particularly one the member thinks is terrible or severely disappointing.

I wrote Friday that one glaring, unavoidable problem for the White House is that the president was trying persuade reluctant members of the House without really understanding why they were objecting. Our old friend Tim Alberta offered a vivid anecdote:

Thursday afternoon, members of the House Freedom Caucus were peppering the president with wonkish concerns about the American Health Care Act—the language that would leave Obamacare’s “essential health benefits” in place, the community rating provision that limited what insurers could charge certain patients, and whether the next two steps of Speaker Paul Ryan’s master plan were even feasible—when Trump decided to cut them off.

“Forget about the little s***,” Trump said, according to multiple sources in the room. “Let’s focus on the big picture here.”

The group of roughly 30 House conservatives, gathered around a mammoth, oval-shaped conference table in the Cabinet Room of the White House, exchanged disapproving looks. Trump wanted to emphasize the political ramifications of the bill’s defeat; specifically, he said, it would derail his first-term agenda and imperil his prospects for reelection in 2020. The lawmakers nodded and said they understood. And yet they were disturbed by his dismissiveness. For many of the members, the “little s***” meant the policy details that could make or break their support for the bill—and have far-reaching implications for their constituents and the country.

Maybe to Trump these details about the bill were “the little s***.” But to the members in front of him, this was the make-or-break criteria of what makes a good reform bill. You would think the author of The Art of the Deal would have understood the importance of knowing the other side’s priorities. I seem to recall impassioned, insistent assurances during the 2016 Republican presidential primary that Trump was the ultimate dealmaker. Now we’re assured by Trump fan Bill Mitchell, “Trump is prescient and a brilliant strategist; therefore, the death of today’s bill was part of his long term strategy.”

We’ve seen the growing enthusiasm for “outsiders” in American politics in recent years.  A pratfall like this isn’t the only potential outcome with an outsider, but it’s a strong possibility. They either think they can completely rewrite how the system works, haven’t bothered to study how the system works, or don’t care how the system works. But they don’t actually change how the system works.

Like most of my colleagues, I found AHCA pretty “meh” at best. (With all the bashing going on right now, it’s worth remembering that the bill did offer flexibility to the states on Medicaid, did reduce the deficit, would reduce premiums in the long term if not the short term, and constituted the biggest effort at entitlement reform in a generation.) But because of the impossibility of getting 60 votes in the Senate, it didn’t include tort reform, insurance companies selling across state lines, and a couple of other big elements of the conservative health care reform agenda. It’s quite possible that had this bill been enacted, most Americans would feel like nothing had changed or improved by November 2018.

This was always a thorny, multifaceted problem. But the president and congressional Republicans were quite clear in their promises in 2016. They told us they could handle this, and they made fixing it sound easy. At what point is it fair to conclude their self-assurance was evidence they had no idea what they were talking about?

Monday links

by debbywitt

This collection of Vintage Celebrity Endorsements is pretty funny, if you’re old enough to remember the celebrities.

Where to Hide If a Nuclear Bomb Goes Off In Your Area.

This Man Built an Entire Church Out Of  Live Trees.

Two Infographics: Spring Cleaning Checklist and Best Ways to Die.

How Big Can a Land Animal Get?

10 Origin Stories of Famous Sports.

ICYMI, Friday’s links are here, and include the history of dentures, a set of uninspirational quotes, flying water taxis in Paris, and why barns are painted red.


by Jay Nordlinger

In today’s Impromptus, I hopscotch around, as usual. I begin with the Republicans and health-care reform, and end with Linda Bridges, our late colleague here at NR.

I’d like to publish some mail touching on previous columns. A reader from Toronto wrote to say that he thought of me while reading his program at the National Ballet of Canada. They were doing a new Pinocchio, choreographed by Will Tuckett, the distinguished Englishman.

Over the years, I have railed against what I call “safe-zone violations” — the intrusion of politics where it doesn’t belong. (I have an essay on this subject in my new collection, Digging In.) Also, in a column this month, I railed against “relevant” as maybe the most bogus word of our time.

The National Ballet of Canada had a Q&A with Tuckett in its program. Here is one exchange:

Q. “While this has always been a children’s story, Pinocchio seems to have been showing up in American politics a lot of late. Will this Pinocchio have any political overtones?

A. “… I don’t think people will be going to see Pinocchio hoping for a treatise on the global political situation. I hope people will be thinking that it will be great to go to the theatre and have an enjoyable evening where nobody is dictating what they should think. One of my least favourite words is ‘relevant’ in terms of art. As soon as you’ve said that awful word, you watch the project get up and run off the table into the land of irrelevant. …”

My hero, Will Tuckett.

In my Impromptus on Friday, I had an item on the National Enquirer, which seems to me the epitome of fake news — Cruz and JFK and all — but is not one of the publications that President Trump labels “fake news.” On the contrary, he treats it with great respect (and they have been great to him).

A reader writes,

My husband grew up in Florida and says that a large number of nationally recognized writers would take a sabbatical from their jobs at the Washington Post or wherever and come work for the National Enquirer, where they would make more in a couple of months than they made in a year at the regular job. He used to watch them sit around in a bar and dream up outlandish stories for the Enquirer, and said it was wonderfully entertaining, but he always understood why they never wrote for the Enquirer under their real names.

Well, I may be taking a sabbatical soon. I have some entertaining ideas, and I could think of ways to spend the dough …

On Heath Care, Most Republicans Are Nowhere on the Ideological Spectrum

by Peter Spiliakos

The collapse of the American Health Care Act has Republican pointing fingers in all directions. Some want to blame the House Freedom Caucus for opposing an Obamacare repeal that did not repeal enough of Obamacare. Some want to blame Republican moderates for opposing any repeal that would have thrown too many people off the insurance rolls. Everybody seems to be blaming the GOP congressional leadership. I would suggest that we spend too much time thinking about GOP health-care policy in terms of liberals, moderates, and conservatives. The real problem is that, on health-care policy, most Republicans are neither conservative, nor moderate, nor even liberal.

Sometimes it makes sense to talk about political cleavages in terms of a left–right spectrum. On taxes, conservatives want less and liberals want more. There are other axes of disagreement (flat taxes, progressive taxes, consumption taxes, payroll taxes), but the generalization holds true. It is the same on guns. The left position is greater restriction on the private ownership of guns, while the right position involves fewer restrictions on private gun ownership. You can be to the “left” on one issue but to the “right” on another. Prior to running for president, Bernie Sanders was to the left on taxation and most other issues, and to the right (relatively) on guns.

It is possible to speak of intra-party GOP health-care debates in terms of an ideological spectrum. On the right, you have conservatives who would accept a full repeal of Obamacare even in the absence of a replacement. They are willing to accept that millions would lose coverage to be a price worth paying. On the left, there are Republican moderates who are so supportive of Obamacare’s coverage expansion, and so fearful of getting rid of some popular Obamacare regulations, that they are basically willing to let the law stay as it is.

In the middle, you have a group of reformist conservative wonks who want to replace Obamacare with a combination of universally available catastrophic health-care insurance (through automatic enrollment of the uninsured combined with an opt-out clause), health savings accounts (pre-filled for the indigent), and high-risk pools for that portion of the uninsured with pre-existing conditions. This is to be combined with market reforms to force medical providers to be open about their pricing and the elimination of barriers for new medical providers.

Unlike the Republican Left, this middle group hates Obamacare for worsening everything that is already broken about America’s system of using third-party insurance as comprehensive pre-payment for routine health-care costs. Unlike the Republican Right, they accept that market health-care reform that expands catastrophic coverage is going to involve higher government spending than the pre-Obamacare system does.

If it was just these three groups, we might be fine. People who hold each of these viewpoints can have a productive conversation. There might be a compromise, or one side might prevail.

The problem is that most GOP voters (and, I would suggest, most GOP members of Congress) are nowhere on that ideological spectrum. They don’t like Obamacare, but they also don’t like the trade-offs involved in any of the Republican left, right, or center alternatives to Obamacare.

No, that’s not quite right. It isn’t just that they don’t like the trade-offs. It is that they don’t want to think about the trade-offs — or even to think about health-care policy at all.

It didn’t start this year. It didn’t even start with Obamacare. Rank-and-file conservatives have been uncomfortable talking about positive health-care-reform proposals for decades. They could explain to you why missile defense systems and capital-gains tax cuts were good, but when they were asked about alternatives to Democratic health-care plans, things got awkward. There was mumbling about tort reform, followed by some way to derail the conversation.

These Republicans were comfortable attacking Democratic proposals but could not agree on any alternative and did not want to think about any alternative. America already had the greatest health-care system in the world — until Obama messed it up.

That was the formula. Praise American health care, attack the Democrats for wanting to socialize medicine, and change the subject as quickly as possible.

The passage of Obamacare made that strategy obsolete, but the habits didn’t die. This group spent seven years opposing Obamacare without thinking about what a post-Obamacare health-care policy should look like.

Much more than the House Freedom Caucus, or the skittish moderates, or the wonks, it is this last (and largest) group that sets the tone for the GOP on health care. Like this largest, unideological group, Republicans spent seven years failing to agree on even the broad principles of an Obamacare replacement, spent a few weeks flailing around, and now want to use the failure of the AHCA as an excuse to move on to real issues like tax reform. The GOP was never more itself than when its response to failure borne of the refusal to think seriously about health care was to think about something (anything) other than health care. For the average Republican, health care is nails on the chalk board. Tax cuts are a warm bath.

We will know that the Republicans are serious about health care when the great mass of Republicans shake off the habits of the last 40 years and pick a side on health care policy.

Charles Murray Finally Fights Back Against the SPLC

by David French

The once-valuable (and now hateful and vile) Southern Poverty Law Center has long labeled Charles Murray an “extremist” and a “white nationalist.” The SPLC’s label not only contributes to lazy headlines and borderline-slanderous reporting, it also seems to have partly inspired the violent attack against Murray at Middlebury College. After years of ignoring the SPLC’s claims, Murray finally chose to address them, in detail, and his response is devastating.

He took the entire SPLC entry and copy edited it — providing additional context when necessary, correcting misrepresentations, and generally dismantling their argument. Here’s a sample, when he corrects the SPLC’s assertion that Murray tries to link social inequality to “genes” and claims that he bases his own work on “the work of explicitly racist scientists.” After noting that his book, The Bell Curve, “never attempts to link social inequality to genes,” Murray says this:

Actually, you’ve got to change this whole sentence. The attempts to link IQ to social inequality are contained in Part II of The Bell Curve, “Cognitive Classes and Social Behavior.” It consists of eight chapters, each of which examines the relationships among IQ, socioeconomic status (SES) and various social behaviors. The topics of the eight chapters are poverty, schooling, unemployment, marriage and nonmarital births, welfare dependency, parenting, crime, and citizenship. In each chapter, Herrnstein and Murray review the relevant technical literature and then use data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) to conduct regression analyses of the relevant social behavior using as independent variables cognitive test scores and an index of SES. Here’s the point: The NLSY analyses for all eight chapters are based exclusively on samples of non-Latino whites. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to invoke the use of “racist scientists” to discredit findings based on original analyses conducted by Herrnstein and Murray using samples of whites. No?

Murray’s post systematically picks apart the SPLC’s assertions, and in so doing, he reminds us of The Bell Curve’s key predictions:

In this penultimate chapter we speculate about the impact of cognitive stratification on American life and government. Predicting the course of society is chancy, but certain tendencies seem strong enough to worry about:

An increasingly isolated cognitive elite.

A merging of the cognitive elite with the affluent.

A deteriorating quality of life for people at the bottom end of the cognitive ability distribution.

Unchecked, these trends will lead the U.S. toward something resembling a caste society, with the underclass mired ever more firmly at the bottom and the cognitive elite ever more firmly anchored at the top, restructuring the rules of society so that it becomes harder and harder for them to lose. Among the other casualties of this process would be American civil society as we have known it. Like other apocalyptic visions, this one is pessimistic, perhaps too much so. On the other hand, there is much to be pessimistic about.

Murray remarks, “As predictions from 1994 go, you’ve got to admit these aren’t bad.”

The SPLC and others have twisted words like “extremist” into meaninglessness. Yes, they (and the rest of us) can properly identify the Klan and Klan-like groups as hateful, and those groups are certainly worth monitoring, but it takes a special kind of ideological fanaticism to apply the same label to people like Murray and groups like my old employers at the Alliance Defending Freedom. The SPLC can do whatever it wants with its fundraising riches. No one, however, has to pay any attention to them, and the next reporter who relies on its “research” to describe or discredit decent men and women will out himself as lazy, biased, and possibly even malicious. 


by Rich Lowry

She was a sterling editor, a storehouse of institutional knowledge, and a wonderful colleague. Whenever some nettlesome stylistic issue came up, or a question about our history, or anything related to WFB, my first impulse was, Ask Linda. By the end, she probably knew more about Bill Buckley than Bill Buckley did. Her career spanned an enormous swath of our life as a magazine–we have lost someone made us who we are. Somewhere up above she and Bill are enjoying a laugh over a glass of wine, and probably having an animated conservation about the merits of the serial comma. RIP.

Linda Bridges, RIP

by Jack Fowler

Our colleague, who worked at National Review for over four decades, including as Managing Editor, Senior Editor, and Editor-at-Large, and as a personal assistant to William F. Buckley Jr., passed away this evening at Calvary Hospital in The Bronx, after a nine-month battle with esophageal cancer. She was 67. Her cousin Gail Dow wrote the following obituary:

* * *

Linda Kay Bridges entered this world on April 25, 1949 in Los Angeles, California, the first of two children born to Beulah Lorene (Stromsmoe) and Roy Gordon Bridges. She was a precocious child — an early indication of the high intelligence she exhibited throughout her education, career, and life. Although Linda was genetically only half Norwegian, she was heavily influenced by her maternal grandmother, Gena Sophia (Brekke) Stromsmoe, who lived with the Bridges family until her death in 1977 at age 91. Linda learned early on the pleasures of baking and eating Norwegian foods, especially lefse and pastries. It was a taste she savored her entire life.

As a youth, Linda was a horse-lover and rider, and the proud owner of two horses: Play Girl, which she described as “a palomino of unbeatable color,” and Princess. Her brother, Don, suspects that the family’s decision to move from Pico Rivera to a new home with acreage in La Puente, California, was heavily influenced by her desire to keep her own horses in that locale, rather than just board them there.

Linda was also an accomplished pianist, and a life-long devotee of classical music, including opera and ballet. This was a love she shared with her long-time friend and roommate, Alice V. Manning. Other passions they shared were travel — including exotic trips on the Orient Express, skiing in Gstaad, Switzerland, and annual ski treks to the mountains of Vermont. Perhaps skiing was not such a stretch for this southern California native: Linda’s Norwegian ancestry is rife with ski-makers and cross-country racers. Indeed, the ancestral Brekke home in Norway is Morgedal, in Telemark province — a small mountain town that Norway has christened “The Birthplace of Modern Skiing.”

After schooling at Mary Miller Junior High School (where she studied Latin — a language she adored), she went on to graduate with honors from El Monte High School, then matriculated at the University of Southern California, from which she graduated summa cum laude in 1970 with a major in English Literature and a minor in French. While a junior in college, she dared write to National Review to point out and quibble with what she considered to be a grammatical error that had been used repeatedly in the magazine. Her letter intrigued none other than William F. Buckley himself, who responded to her letter, requesting that she send additional samples of her writing. She did, and was offered a position as a summer assistant. He so approved of her style, her extensive vocabulary and inveterate skill at word-smithing, and her content (Linda was a life-long conservative) that he quickly offered her a job at the magazine upon her graduation. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Linda moved to New York City immediately upon graduation from USC, and entered the employ of National Review as a contributing writer/journalist. Over the years, she rose through the ranks to Senior Editor, and finally to Editor-at-Large at the magazine. She also served as a personal editor for her mentor and father-figure, William F. Buckley, from 2004 until his death in 2008, organizing and preparing for publication his many writings and memoirs. Among the books she authored over the years were The Art of Persuasion: A National Review Rhetoric for Writers; Strictly Right: William F. Buckley and the American Conservative Movement; and Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations — A William F. Buckley Jr. Omnibus.

The most important thing to which Bill introduced Linda was religion. Although she came to a realization of Christian faith well into her adulthood, she embraced it with fervor. She was an active member of St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church in midtown Manhattan, served diligently on the church council and call committee, and participated fully in its programs and ministry.

Linda was a member of several august groups, including Phi Beta Kappa, The Philadelphia Society, the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, and The Anglican Society.

In addition to her parents, Linda was predeceased by her friend and room-mate, Alice V. Manning. She is survived by her brother, Donald W. Bridges, of La Puente, Calif. Her extended family is most grateful for the loving care of her many friends at St. Mary the Virgin, particularly Michael Merenda, Barbara Klett, and Curate James Ross Smith; and for the concern and support of her colleagues at National Review.

Memorials may be made in her memory to St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church, 145 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036.

The GOP Is Better Locally Than Nationally

by Charles C. W. Cooke

North Dakota has quietly passed “constitutional carry”:

BISMARCK, N.D. – Governor Doug Burgum today signed legislation allowing law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed handgun if they have possessed a valid North Dakota driver’s license or state ID card for at least a year.

In other words, those who wish to carry a concealed handgun in North Dakota no longer need the state’s permission to do so. North Dakota becomes the seventh state in two years to take this step, and the 13th overall. By the end of this year, that number will likely be 17.

This news broke at the same time as the news that the Republicans had flamed out in the first (maybe last?) attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. And the contrast underscored something I’ve noticed for a while: At the state level, the GOP has been remarkably effective at ushering in reform over the last seven years; at the federal level, by contrast, it has been able only to hold the line.

This, of course, is partly because the GOP has only just got full control of the federal government, whereas it has been running most of the states for half a decade now. But one can’t help but notice the difference in ambition. At the state level, Republicans have ruthlessly passed right to work legislation, even in unlikely places such as Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin; they have expanded charter schools; they have done yeoman’s work restoring the Second Amendment; they have cut taxes and regulation; and they have enacted as many pro-life measures as the courts have allowed. They have, in other words, lived up to their billing.

At the federal level, meanwhile, they have narrowed their intentions from the get-go. Under Donald Trump, there will be no entitlement reform, and possibly no healthcare reform either; there will likely be a massive, goodie-laden “infrastructure” bill, of the sort that GOP likes to rail against when a Democrat is in the White House; no departments will be shuttered, or radical structural changes made to the federal behemoth; and the promise of tax reform — that is, a substantial change to the way the system works — has already been replaced by “tax cuts.” How strange the difference in achievement between the local and the national.

The Endgame

by Rich Lowry

We’re starting to get reporting on the internal details of the health-care debate. This bit from Shane Goldmacher and Josh Dawsey at Politico on the final hours is notable:

But even as Trump and his top advisers wanted to forge ahead, they were showing sign of worry. Spicer no longer embraced the term “the closer.” GOP leadership pushed to drop what was now seen as a kamikaze mission. And a little after 3 p.m., Trump talked to Ryan again — the two had a 45-minute conversation late Thursday night about the law.

“He talked to Paul Ryan for a few minutes, who said he was at least 10 and 15 votes short,” one of the senior White House officials said. Ryan said he planned to pull the vote unless Trump objected, and Trump said he was OK with that.

Ryan explained soon after what it meant to a national television audience: “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

Trump got off the phone, scribbled down some notes and dialed up reporters to give his side before the full White House staff was even briefed. The president was most focused on the news coverage and how it reflected on him, as he had been throughout, telling advisers how much the criticism of the law on TV bothered him.

And our former colleague Tim Alberta has an excellent long piece for Politico magazine that describes how fuzzy Trump was on the details, which limited his persuasiveness. Here is his account of a meeting on Thursday:

Filled with hope once again, Freedom Caucus members were once again promptly disappointed. This meeting was yet another “take one for the team” seminar. The atmosphere was friendly, and the president had the group laughing with irrelevant riffs and stories of negotiations past, but it became clear, as soon as he made the “little shit” comment, that no serious changes were going to be made, because the president didn’t have sufficient command of the policy details to negotiate what would or would not be realistic for Ryan to shepherd through the House.

Through charm, force of personality and sheer intimidation, Trump did move some votes into the yes column. But GOP leaders were left wondering why he didn’t do more—why he didn’t send tweets, travel to congressional districts, put his famed dealmaking skills to work. The answer, to Republicans on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, is obvious: Because he lacked familiarity with the legislation itself, and thought it was Ryan’s job to sell the specifics.

“Trump is a business executive. When he tells his lieutenants to get something done, he’s used to it getting done,” one senior House GOP aide told me. “He’s really not used to getting involved himself.”


Don’t Give Up After 3 Lackluster Weeks

by Rich Lowry

Our editorial notes that a silver living is that progress was made on forging a party consensus on replace and urges the GOP not to quit after less than a month at this:

Cutting regulations could be key to finishing the unification of the party. The Congressional Budget Office has previously found that cutting down on Obamacare regulations would increase coverage, since it would make it possible for people to buy low-premium coverage they prefer. While some specific deregulatory measures make moderate Republicans jittery — even a careful relaxation of the rules governing pre-existing conditions would induce some queasiness — improving the coverage numbers would allay their main concern about replacing Obamacare. Expanding the tax credit for people making a little bit too much money to qualify for Medicaid could allay it more.

This basic approach would be compatible with a variety of legislative tactics. House Republicans could try to pass an aggressive bill without much regard for whether it can pass the Senate: At least they would have outlined and stood for a set of health-care policies that make sense, that offer something for conservatives and moderates, and that can serve as the basis for future action. Or they could work with the parliamentarian and with senators to see whether they could get a bill better than this week’s past the finish line.

If they went this route, Republican leaders would not spring a new bill on their followers and allies and tell them they have to vote for it posthaste. There would have to be more patient cajoling and less last-minute bullying. We know many Republicans on the Hill and inside the White House feel that they have already spent enough time on this issue. But we have no sympathy for this complaint. They have spent seven years saying they were going to replace Obamacare. They didn’t say they were going to spend a few weeks on a half-baked plan and then give up. Back to work, ladies and gentlemen.