A Good Week for Montenegro, a Slow Week for Neil Gorsuch

by Jim Geraghty

A Good Week for Montenegro, a Slow Week for Neil Gorsuch

Under Senate rules, any senator can request a one-week delay in any nomination. Because Democrats requested a delay on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the Senate won’t begin debate until the first week of April. Surely it’s an annoying delay for the administration and Republicans, but this means that after being unfairly maligned and judged by a group of self-righteous authorities, Gorsuch will rise to the Supreme Court around, er… Easter.

Instead, the Senate will turn to other business, and it appears that one of the first major changes to U.S. foreign policy in the Trump administration is likely to be… the expansion of NATO. Russia, if it will make you feel any better, we thought electing Trump would mean the end of Obamacare, so everybody’s getting the opposite of what they expected these days.

The Senate voted 97-2 on Monday in favor of allowing a vote later this week on the ratification of Montenegro’s NATO membership. Senate aides reportedly said they expected a final vote in the Senate on Tuesday or Wednesday and said they expect Montenegro’s NATO membership to get the required two-thirds majority.

Progress on Montenegro’s accession bid had been held up in Congress by two senators.

Besides the US, the Netherlands and Spain also have yet to ratify Montenegro’s membership. All members of the alliance must ratify a bid to join in order for the petition to proceed.

The loudest opponent to this move in the Senate is Rand Paul of Kentucky.

”Most Americans can’t find Montenegro on a map,” Paul said in a sharply worded Senate speech. “Are you willing to send your kids there to fight?”

Come on. If Americans’ ability to find a place on a map was our sole measuring stick of whether a country as a worthy ally, our only alliance would be with Australia. And that’s mostly because of Crocodile Dundee and Outback Steakhouse.

If you look at the map of NATO members, you’ll see Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia… in other words, Montenegro is already surrounded by NATO countries, so this doesn’t represent NATO expanding eastward. It does, however, represent another former Soviet state (really more of a region) wishing to be closer to the West. There’s one other wrinkle: Montenegro is the only country on the Adriatic Sea that is not a NATO member, and Russia doesn’t have a lot of warm-weather ports for its navy. Back in 2013, Russia requested “allowing Russian warships temporary moorage at the ports of Bar and Kotor for refueling, maintenance and other necessities.” The Montenegro government rejected the request.

In other words, bringing Montenegro into NATO limits the Russian navy’s ability to operate in the Adriatic Sea between Italy and the Balkans. Sure, Montenegro’s got a tiny military and gets dismissed as a “postage stamp of a country“, but sometimes foreign policy is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location.

The Tax-Revenue Raiders and the NFL’s Ominous Future

The National Football League is testing the patience of fans once again.

For the third time in fifteen months, an NFL franchise is moving to a new city. Last year the St. Louis Rams became the Los Angeles Rams; the San Diego Chargers moved up the coast to become the Los Angeles Chargers and will play next season in a converted soccer stadium. Monday, the league’s owners voted to approve the Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas.

The taxpayers of Nevada – or more specifically, hotel guests – are ponying up a large sum of cash to make the move happen:

The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee unanimously approved $750 million of public money to build a football stadium in Vegas, presumably for the Raiders, who have been lobbying for a move to Las Vegas.

The public money would be raised through hotel taxes.

“We are excited and thanks to the committee,” Raiders owner Mark Davis told USA TODAY after the committee vote Thursday.

How’s this for chutzpah? Davis asked Raider fans to come out and cheer until the team officially moves in 2019 or 2020 (depending on how fast they can complete the new stadium).

The Raiders were born in Oakland and Oakland will always be part of our DNA. We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry, but we hope that they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff. We plan to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, and hope to stay there as the Oakland Raiders until the new stadium opens. We would love nothing more than to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.

“And then, we will leave.” As ESPN’s Mike Greenberg observed, this is like your spouse announcing they’re divorcing you in two to three years because they’ve found someone better, but they expect you to love them until they leave. His colleague Dan Graziano offered a twisted thought: If the Raiders, who made the playoffs last year, won the Super Bowl this year or next, would the city of Oakland throw them the traditional parade?

I am sure I disagree with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff on almost everything, but she’s completely in the right here when she says, “I am proud that we stood firm in refusing to use public money to subsidize stadium construction and that we did not capitulate to their unreasonable and unnecessary demand that we choose between our football and baseball franchises.” This came down to one city/state putting a ton of taxpayer money on the table, and another city/state refusing to do so.

Each time a franchise succeeds in getting a shiny, state-of-the-art, luxury-box-laden stadium heavily financed by the taxpayers, it increases the incentive for other owners to pressure cities for the same deal. Marcus Thompson II, writing in the East Bay Times (which used to be the Oakland Tribune) wonders which city will get a raw deal next:

One: will the other 32 owners just let the San Francisco 49ers expand its kingdom and have a top-five market to itself? All the while, the Raiders dip into the Los Angeles fan base.

Two: how long before another team in a small market — which just saw a major market open up with an abandoned fan base and a potential boon in revenue — tries to make a move on Oakland?

The Jacksonville Jaguars owner has plenty of money. Can the Titans survive long term in a college town in Nashville? How committed are the Bengals to Cincinnati?

Don’t give me the they-would-never speech. It’s been proven that emotional, fan-centered view is just a marketing ploy. The NFL owners will go where the money is.

Wait, there’s one more ominous angle, from a Deadspin commentator: Let’s take an NFL team, a roster of 53 athletic young men, some as young as 21 or so. Some of them are making enormous amounts of money; the league minimum is roughly $465,000. They are active from mid-to-late July to January, or February if they’re in the playoffs. Sometimes, when injured, they have significant amounts of time away from the regimented routine of the season… now let’s put all of those young men in Sin City, surrounded by casinos, clubs, strippers, and every other temptation under the sun. What’s the worst that could happen, right?

How many years until a player gets caught in gambling scandal?

There’s genuine reason to wonder if the future of the NFL is as bright as the owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell have come to expect.

The NFL went through a bout of sudden franchise moves in the mid-90s. The Raiders moved from L.A. back to Oakland, the Rams moved to St. Louis, the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and renamed themselves the Ravens and the Houston Oilers moved to Memphis and eventually renamed themselves the Tennessee Titans.

The NFL’s popularity wasn’t hurt by that franchise roulette, but the situation is different now. Back in the 1990s, the economy was running good-to-hot and the public was a less wary of giant taxpayer expenditures on stadiums to host ten to twelve home games a year. (And that’s counting the preseason.)

In 2016, the NFL’s television ratings were down nine percent from the previous year in the regular season and down six percent in the playoffs. Undoubtedly some of that represents exasperation with the likes of Colin Kaepernick. But there are a lot of complaints of fans that won’t go away if Kaepernick keeps his word and stands for the upcoming season: sloppy play, long commercial breaks, long instant-replay delays, too many games being played between the Thursday Night Game, Sunday’s games, the Sunday Night Game, and the Monday Night Game, overseas games in London starting at 9 a.m. Eastern…

One other major factor for the future of the sport: I occasionally see voices on the Right scoffing at parents who won’t let their sons play football, contending this is an example of overprotectiveness or “snowflake culture.” Well, 12 former NFL players are telling their sons and grandsons the same thing, players like Harry Carson, Mike Ditka, and Troy Aikman. At age 44, Brett Favre said he doesn’t remember his daughter’s soccer season. Most of us will go through life and never suffer a concussion, or only experience one or two. Former Jets receiver Al Toon was diagnosed with nine during an eight-year career. (Toon says he has lingering conditions but “nothing significant.”) How many concussions can a young man suffer before serious long-term damage occurs? When it’s your child, how many hits to the head seem like “too many”?

You can go through life with a sore knee. You need a functioning mind for the rest of your life, long after your playing days are over. Parents and grandparents being extremely wary about concussions on their sons’ developing brains doesn’t strike me as being overprotective. It strikes me as being extremely careful about the risks and rewards.

ADDENDA: My old coworker from our States News Service days, David Enrich, went on to bigger and better things at the Wall Street Journal. Now David’s got his first book, a nonfiction epic about one of the biggest financial scandals in world history, entitled The Spider Network: The Wild Story of a Math Genius, a Gang of Backstabbing Bankers, and One of the Greatest Scams in Financial History. You’re probably thinking, “Eh, I don’t care about bankers.” Trust me, it’s an engrossing, enlightening tale that reveals some depressing details about the financial and regulatory world. Key figures are convicted, but the resolution may not fit your definition of justice. It’s a wild ride featuring mildly-autistic mathematicians, coke-snorting “Wolf of Wall Street” ids in suits, investigators, lawyers, families… David puts it, “The banking industry does a really good job of making itself seem more complicated than it really is. (It’s a convenient way to keep peddling mediocre products to clients and to justify sky-high profits and bonuses.) The reality is that much of finance, when boiled down to its essence, is pretty intuitive, and one of my goals with this book is to demystify things for laypeople.”

The Tax-Revenue Raiders and the NFL’s Ominous Future

by Jim Geraghty

From the Tuesday Morning Jolt:

The Tax-Revenue Raiders and the NFL’s Ominous Future

The National Football League is testing the patience of fans once again.

For the third time in fifteen months, an NFL franchise is moving to a new city. Last year the St. Louis Rams became the Los Angeles Rams; the San Diego Chargers moved up the coast to become the Los Angeles Chargers and will play next season in a converted soccer stadium. Monday, the league’s owners voted to approve the Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas.

The taxpayers of Nevada – or more specifically, hotel guests – are ponying up a large sum of cash to make the move happen:

The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee unanimously approved $750 million of public money to build a football stadium in Vegas, presumably for the Raiders, who have been lobbying for a move to Las Vegas.

The public money would be raised through hotel taxes.

“We are excited and thanks to the committee,” Raiders owner Mark Davis told USA TODAY after the committee vote Thursday.

How’s this for chutzpah? Davis asked Raider fans to come out and cheer until the team officially moves in 2019 or 2020 (depending on how fast they can complete the new stadium).

“The Raiders were born in Oakland and Oakland will always be part of our DNA. We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry, but we hope that they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff. We plan to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, and hope to stay there as the Oakland Raiders until the new stadium opens. We would love nothing more than to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.”

“And then, we will leave.” As ESPN’s Mike Greenberg observed, this is like your spouse announcing they’re divorcing you in two to three years because they’ve found someone better, but they expect you to love them until they leave. His colleague Dan Graziano offered a twisted thought: If the Raiders, who made the playoffs last year, won the Super Bowl this year or next, would the city of Oakland throw them the traditional parade?

I am sure I disagree with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff on almost everything, but she’s completely in the right here when she says, “I am proud that we stood firm in refusing to use public money to subsidize stadium construction and that we did not capitulate to their unreasonable and unnecessary demand that we choose between our football and baseball franchises.” This came down to one city/state putting a ton of taxpayer money on the table, and another city/state refusing to do so.

Each time a franchise succeeds in getting a shiny, state-of-the-art, luxury-box-laden stadium heavily financed by the taxpayers, it increases the incentive for other owners to pressure cities for the same deal. Marcus Thompson II, writing in the East Bay Times (which used to be the Oakland Tribune) wonders which city will get a raw deal next:

One: will the other 32 owners just let the San Francisco 49ers expand its kingdom and have a top-five market to itself? All the while, the Raiders dip into the Los Angeles fan base.

Two: how long before another team in a small market — which just saw a major market open up with an abandoned fan base and a potential boon in revenue — tries to make a move on Oakland?

The Jacksonville Jaguars owner has plenty of money. Can the Titans survive long term in a college town in Nashville? How committed are the Bengals to Cincinnati?

Don’t give me the they-would-never speech. It’s been proven that emotional, fan-centered view is just a marketing ploy. The NFL owners will go where the money is.

Wait, there’s one more ominous angle, from a Deadspin commentator: Let’s take an NFL team, a roster of 53 athletic young men, some as young as 21 or so. Some of them are making enormous amounts of money; the league minimum is roughly $465,000. They are active from mid-to-late July to January, or February if they’re in the playoffs. Sometimes, when injured, they have significant amounts of time away from the regimented routine of the season… now let’s put all of those young men in Sin City, surrounded by casinos, clubs, strippers, and every other temptation under the sun. What’s the worst that could happen, right?

How many years until a player gets caught in gambling scandal?

There’s genuine reason to wonder if the future of the NFL is as bright as the owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell have come to expect.

The NFL went through a bout of sudden franchise moves in the mid-90s. The Raiders moved from L.A. back to Oakland, the Rams moved to Saint Louis, the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and renamed themselves the Ravens and the Houston Oilers moved to Memphis and eventually renamed themselves the Tennessee Titans.

The NFL’s popularity wasn’t hurt by that franchise roulette, but the situation is different now. Back in the 1990s, the economy was running good-to-hot and the public was a less wary of giant taxpayer expenditures on stadiums to host eight to twelve home games a year. (And that’s counting the preseason.)

In 2016, the NFL’s television ratings were down 9 percent from the previous year in the regular season and down 6 percent in the playoffs. Undoubtedly some of that represents exasperation with the likes of Colin Kaepernick. But there are a lot of complaints of fans that won’t go away if Kaepernick keeps his word and stands for the upcoming season: sloppy play, long commercial breaks, long instant-replay delays, too many games being played between the Thursday Night Game, Sunday’s games, the Sunday Night Game, and the Monday Night Game, overseas games in London starting at 9 a.m. Eastern…

One other major factor for the future of the sport: I occasionally see voices on the Right scoffing at parents who won’t let their sons play football, contending this is an example of over-protectiveness or “snowflake culture.” Well, 12 former NFL players are telling their sons and grandsons the same thing, players like Harry Carson, Mike Ditka, and Troy Aikman. At age 44, Brett Favre said he doesn’t remember his daughter’s soccer season. Most of us will go through life and never suffer a concussion, or only experience one or two. Former Jets receiver Al Toon was diagnosed with nine during an eight-year career. (Toon says he has lingering conditions but “nothing significant.”) How many concussions can a young man suffer before serious long-term damage occurs? When it’s your child, how many hits to the head seem like “too many”?

You can go through life with a sore knee. You need a functioning mind for the rest of your life, long after your playing days are over. Parents and grandparents being extremely wary about concussions on their sons’  developing brains doesn’t strike me as being overprotective. It strikes me as being extremely careful about the risks and rewards.

On “Moving On” From Health Care

by Yuval Levin

There is much to be said, in due course, about the sorry fate of the AHCA. But one particularly striking feature of many conversations with Republicans on and off Capitol Hill about it today had to do with a peculiar facet of the way the debate about the bill came to an end. Again and again, people expressed surprise at how the language of “moving on” from health care appeared to have been taken by some observers. 

For some, that surprise took the form of bemusement at various things written by analysts on the left about how Republicans were done trying to repeal Obamacare and now it was here to stay. But as the day went on, I think people on the right came to the view that this idea was being taken too seriously—not only by liberals and (therefore) by many journalists, but by some on the right, and perhaps even by the president. 

When Trump said late last week that he had lost his patience with the health-care debate and would move on to something else if the bill didn’t pass, most of the people he was talking to took him to be trying a hard sell. After all, he had only really been engaged in the debate for a couple of weeks, a number of policy challenges seem likely to force some kind of action on Obamacare this year, and in any case there wasn’t really anything else ready to move to. 

It’s still not entirely clear what Trump had in mind, but it does seem that he genuinely did lose his patience after a couple of weeks. Perhaps he really does think he will now move on from health care, or that he actually has the option to just sit back and let the law “explode,” as he put it. 

But other Republicans don’t seem to want to move on. So I would expect that in the course of the next few days we will see statements from various Republican quarters backing down from claims about moving on and making it clear that they’re still engaged in health care conversations, which they expect to continue for some time. 

That doesn’t mean things would simply pick up from the rejected bill. The various factions of the House Republicans certainly made some progress toward each other over the past few weeks despite the bill’s considerable failings, and they (and Senate counterparts) will likely try to build on that, but the process they will pursue seems likely to be a good bit slower, less intense, and less leadership-driven. It may have trouble aligning with reconciliation schedules, at least as they now stand, and its relation to any efforts toward tax reform will need to be thought about as things proceed. 

This is also not to diminish or understate the damage done by last week’s epic failure. It has surely left Republicans in Washington with less confidence in one another and complicated the entire Republican agenda for the year. The failures of policy development, salesmanship, and brinksmanship by the self-proclaimed masters of each in the party will not soon be forgotten. And the bizarrely hurried schedule—originally adopted with a very different (dual-reconciliation) strategy in mind and then retained largely by sheer inertia—did a lot of needless damage to the ultimate prospects for replacing Obamacare. 

Failure in that effort is certainly possible in time. But it has by no means come already, and it is surely avoidable. Back in January, when that first dual-reconciliation strategy was still the aim, I argued that it seemed likely to fail, and that it might not be the only failure along the way, but that a year of intense action on health care was only beginning. That still seems likely, on the whole. 

Krauthammer’s Take on Putin-Linked Death: ‘Installing Hot Tubs Is Not a Known Cause of Defenestration’

by NR Staff

Charles Krauthammer pointed out recent crimes likely committed by the Putin’s regime in Russia, and he argued that the trend of mildness toward Putin in the West harms our values and our interests:

This is a malign regime. And the statement by the White house was a fairly mild one. But think about what just happened in the last couple of days: Last Thursday a Kremlin opponent who took refuge in Ukraine — he’s against the Ukraine operation — was shot dead in the street in broad daylight. Two days earlier, a week ago on Tuesday, another critic of the regime who represents the Magnitsky family, the one of another guy who died on orders of the Kremlin, he falls out of a four-story window, according to the regime, while installing a hot tub in the fourth-floor apartment. Now I don’t know about Russia, but in the United States, installing hot tubs is not a known cause of defenestration, so this is a little bit suspicious.

And we have a president who talks about his guy, who is a killer — we are talking about Putin here. He kills his opponents, there are at least a dozen who are well known, and speaks about it flippantly. It doesn’t mean you start a world war with this guy, it doesn’t mean that you have to oppose everything he does, but this is a regime of which the Trump administration has spoken very mildly, and I think it is an affront to our values. It’s also against our interests. There are Europeans like the leading candidate for president in France who was just in Moscow; she smoked a peace pipe with Putin, she spoke glowingly of him. This is Russia extending its influence in a way that will be very much detrimental to us and to the West.

All Hail Fowler the Great!

by Rich Lowry

The NRI ideas summit provided an occasion to toast Jack Fowler, our esteemed and beloved vice president and publisher emeritus. NRI board member Peter Travers was the toaster:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen.  I am Peter Travers.  On behalf of the Trustees of the National Review Institute, I join Lindsay in welcoming you, and thank you for your support of National Review

More particularly, however, I would like to seize a brief moment to draw your attention to the immense contributions over many years to National Review and to the conservative movement of our Publisher-Emeritus and newly-minted Vice President — the estimable and sometimes ineffable, Jack Fowler.

Many years ago, our founder William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote an effervescent little book about his season as an American delegate to the circus at Turtle Bay.  United Nations Journal: A Delegate’s Odyssey was Bill’s delectable evisceration of the insufferable pomposities and unearned moral pretensions of the United Nations.  I read the book four decades ago, but Bill’s description therein of the sainted junior senator from New York was, as he would say, lapidary: his brother Jim, Bill wrote, was “a benign presence before whose phlegmatic charm razors are blunt and arrows detumesce.”  Well, it may be that Jack has not always achieved the Full Phlegmatic, but his disarming affability and avuncular manner have put so many of us at ease, and so often blunted the sharpness of the exigencies confronting the great enterprise National Review.

I first encountered Jack in 1989 when, having fallen into a bit of financial good fortune, I thought to pass some of it along to my favorite magazine (an impulse, come to think of it, I heartily encourage all of you to indulge.) I had begun reading National Review in 1965, and it had been instrumental in my education, and influential in my understanding of the American Project.  Jack was so nice and made such a fuss over my trifling gift that I was taken with a bit of concern that perhaps National Review was in greater need of funds than I had thought.  But, in fact, Jack understood profoundly that there was a community of us out in the country who were an essential part of this patriotic and idealistic venture, and who deserved as much attention as he could muster.  And, he has been doing that for 36 years.  Simply put, my first encounter with Jack so many years ago confirmed my belief that any organization with such an outstanding fellow as this must be just as excellent as I had imagined.

Through the years, I have had many more occasions to observe, chat, work and interact with Jack.  Each has deepened my appreciation for his rumpled tenacity and organic good-guyness: one might even say, yes, his phlegmatic charm. There is no way to sugarcoat it: Jack has been a stalwart for National Review, keeping the lights on, the cruisers cruising, the presses rolling, the coffee brewing, through thick and thin. All the way through, as many of you know well, Jack has been a blessing to his friends, colleagues and family.

Recently, I was reading through the most recent National Review related book, and Fowler project, A Torch Kept Lit, in which James Rosen has gathered many of Bill’s obituaries for friends and luminaries.  In one entry, there was a typically discerning Bill comment that, again, made me think it might have been written about Jack Fowler: “It is awesome to extrapolate,” Bill wrote, “from one’s own experience of his goodness the sum of what he did for others.”

So, my big idea to contribute this evening is to pronounce that these proceedings will henceforth be recorded as the “Jack Fowler National Review Institute 2017 Ideas Summit.”  And, in the spirit of our founder, I offer to Jack on behalf of the National Review Nation this “exiguous token” of our great esteem.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to raise your glasses and offer with me a toast to my friend, the redoubtable Jack Fowler.  

Here is Jack accepting said exiguous token:

And here is the token itself, wherein Jack gets the Roman Genn treatment:

If You Can’t Fire Government Workers, You Can’t Run Government Like a Business

by David French

The latest effort to run government like a business — or, more precisely, to import business principles into government management — is set to launch:

President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises — such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction — by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.

The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements.

There are innumerable challenges to treating government like a business. One of the most consequential is the fact that you can’t treat government employees like private sector employees. Aside from the tiny slice of presidential appointees, government workers enjoy extraordinary job security, and many of them take full advantage of their freedom to fail. As USA Today discovered a few years back, in some agencies the workers are more likely to die than get laid off or fired. This means that workers can weather virtually any reform effort by merely keeping their heads down and waiting for the latest fad or fashion to pass.

There is no substitute for meaningful incentives, and right now success or failure is more abstract for public employees than it is for private-sector workers. If Google or Facebook should one day falter, they can’t appropriate money from taxpayers to stay in operation. There’s no act of Congress that mandates and protects their existence. So we’re left with a world where employees largely don’t lose their job for individual incompetence, and Congress itself protects agencies from the effects of collective incompetence. I wish Kushner well as he tries to make government great again, but I fear he’s been given a task that he doesn’t have the tools to complete. 

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.  

R.I.P.

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.

Pinocchios

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.