It’s easy to forget that both major parties are hot messes at the moment.

From Bare, Ruined Choirs in Commentary magazine (last November):

The collapse of the Democratic Party under Barack Obama occurred in three stages.

Stage 1:

From Inauguration Day in 2009 until July 2010, the Obama White House oversaw the passage of 1) the stimulus package, the most expensive piece of legislation in American history; 2) the second half of the TARP-TALF financial-bailout bill; 3) the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reforms; and 4) the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Not since 1933 had there been a more aggressive legislative and regulatory agenda, and Obama’s determined march not only featured $2.7 trillion in new spending but the wholesale revision of the nation’s health-care system.

It was too much, too fast, too soon, and there was a national uprising against it that came to be known as the “Tea Party.”

Stage 2:

In all, nine Democratic senators were axed in 2014, the largest swing since the Ronald Reagan election in 1980. What had happened to cause it? A year earlier, in October 2013, Obamacare had been rolled out—and computer systems and software costing $1 billion crashed and crashed hard. ISIS flowered malignantly in Syria and Iraq and began beheading Americans. There was a border crisis as thousands of children from Mexico and Central America made their way into the United States and were put up in makeshift housing. Republicans won by nationalizing their Senate races

Stage 3:

One might say that it began, oddly enough, with Obama’s 2012 victory. He got his second term, yes, but for the first time in presidential history, received fewer votes in getting reelected than he had in his first run. … A considerable part of it is in areas of the country where the Obama administration literally targeted heavy industries both venerable and brand-new—coal and fracking. Obama has spent his presidency favoring the environmentalist cause, which is popular with what the pollster Stanley Greenberg and the consultant James Carville called “the new progressive common ground,” over the continuing employment of the white working class in good-paying jobs. Obama and Clinton—who told an audience earlier this year with some pride that “we are going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”—were choosing not to expand the Democratic electoral coalition by bringing people with different interests together but to contract it ideologically. He and Clinton could do this, they believed, because a new and massive electoral coalition was taking the place of the old—one made up, in Greenberg’s words, of “young people, Hispanics, unmarried women, and affluent suburbanites.”

This is an example of the way in which Barack Obama sought to provide the left with a sense of cultural and moral superiority. He and they were working to be saviors of the planet, just as they were working to push America forward into a new ethical framework in which traditional morality was an evil to be overcome and new modes of being were not only to be embraced but to be forced upon resistant small-town birthday-cake bakers. Those who bought into it achieved a kind of blind triumphalism. They pooh-poohed any warning signs that the transition to Obama’s brave new world was creating new social fissures. Their unending political dominance was now a matter of demographic inevitability, as celestially mechanical as the monthly lunar cycle. Nothing could shake this conviction, even as they suffered through Stage One and were rocked by Stage Two. That “progressive common ground” just wasn’t common enough, it turns out. Its numbers weren’t quite large enough yet.

And even more important, it just wasn’t as motivated by a commitment to the progressive agenda as Obama and Clinton thought. …  it turns out what had truly mattered to the “coalition of the ascendant” was Barack Hussein Obama himself, and how he had made them feel about themselves back in 2008. It was summoned into existence by the idea of a President Obama, not by what he would do.

The results:

(T)he farm system of elected officials shrank over the course of the Obama era to a single minor-league team of coastal and urban politicians. The result is a Democratic Party even more doctrinaire in its cultural, social, and political attitudes. Gone is the pro-life Democrat, the gun-rights Democrat, the Democratic hawk, the Democrat who supported the traditional definition of marriage, the Democrat concerned with religious liberty at home—and good riddance to them, in the eyes of those who remain. J

The Obama years weren’t only a disappointment to those of us who did not drink the Kool Aid in the first place; they proved to be a disappointment to the very people Obama had celebrated by declaring that “we are the change we have been waiting for.” And they have been a calamity for Democrats everywhere but in the urban and coastal strongholds

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There are certain harms that are nonactionable

Good stuff on free speech in Friday’s WSJ, in which Richard Epstein argues that “curbs on ‘offensive’ speech are unworkable and would turn the public square into the grievance Olympics.”

Mr. Epstein cites with evident distaste a recent New York Times op-ed by K-Sue Park, a fellow in critical race studies at the UCLA School of Law. Ms. Park lamented that the American Civil Liberties Union had defended the right of the white-supremacy group behind the Charlottesville protest to organize its march. The ACLU, Ms. Park argued, needs to “rethink free speech” and stop standing up for people with offensive views.

Perhaps you see the problems here. “There are certain harms that are nonactionable,” Mr. Epstein says, “and offense is one of them. If I say something that you find duly offensive, you may protest, you may speak—but what you may not do is to sue me in order to silence me, or to get compensation from me.” Counterspeech is “the appropriate ‘remedy’ under these circumstances; suppressing speech is not.”

Mr. Epstein imagines a society in which “offensive” speech is curbed: “Everybody offends everybody a large fraction of the time. So, if I am insulting to you because you’re a progressive and you’re insulting to me because I’m a conservative, and if we allow both people to sue, then neither can talk.” Those who advocate controlling speech, he says, tend to want only their sense of what’s offensive to count, and nobody else’s. Yet the “fundamental tenet of classical free-speech law is that the rules ought to be ‘viewpoint neutral.’ Nobody can use force against anybody, regardless of his viewpoint; but anybody can express his opinion, irrespective of how offensive everybody else will want to regard it.”

Even more complicating, controversial speech often isn’t conducted between two people alone but is shouted from a soapbox. How much offense is required before government pulls the plug? “The moment people start to speak publicly,” Mr. Epstein says, “there are 20 different views that you can take. Some will be deeply offended, some indifferent, others will be strongly pro. And the last thing you want to let the government do is to decide which of the two, the three, or the 10 interest groups is the one that ought to be able to dominate and to control the particular discourse.”

Some on the left, purporting to be mindful of the First Amendment, insist that what matters is severe offense. Mr. Epstein points to “the weird incentive effects” this creates. “People now have every motivation to ratchet up their level of indignation in order to say, ‘Look, you really hurt me,’ ” he says. “As a result, you make racial, ethnic, religious and social sensibilities an art form.” One recent technique of doing this is calling out the “microaggression,” by which he says people mean: “You may think that it’s small, but it goes to the very core of my particular being, and so it’s wrong and shouldn’t be allowed.”

Microaggressions make Mr. Epstein despair. Once you allow them, he asks, “are you going to allow them against everybody? At which point nobody can talk. So, you have to have preferences.” He fears what will come next: “You drop the ‘micro,’ keep the ‘aggression,’ and announce that since you’ve aggressed against me, I can now use force against you in self-defense.” This is part of the “modern left-wing First Amendment law,” he says, which holds that “anything you say that offends me is a form of violence, to which I can respond by the use of force.” The American left, he adds, “has become very solipsistic, and so all of their particular harms are enormous. And for those who are on the other side of this arrangement, they don’t care at all.

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Ike’s opinion of Lee – interesting

Rod Dreher shares President Eisenhower’s opinion of Robert E. Lee in Duty, Dishonor, and the South:

“Respecting your August 1 inquiry calling attention to my often expressed
admiration for General Robert E. Lee, I would say, first, that we need to understand that at the time of the War between the States the issue of secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.

“General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.

“From deep conviction, I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s calibre would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the Nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.

“Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.”

Mr. Dreher adds:

If the aggrieved men and women of the South — and of the United States of America — had even a third of the character that Robert E. Lee had, we would be in much better shape than we are. The problem is not the persistence of the graven image of Robert E. Lee in American life. The problem is the profound lack of Lee’s character traits in American life.

Mr. Dreher also offers a defense of the modern South.  (One with which I agree, fwiw.  I saw more racism in my 2 years in Boston than I have in 25 years in the South.)

It’s wrong to generalize from one’s particular experience, of course, but insofar as what happened to me is a reliable guide to education in the rest of the South, the problem is not that we were indoctrinated with a romanticized view of Southern history. The problem is that so many of us were given little to no history at all… Something happened with our parents’ generation. That knowledge, and that consciousness, was not transmitted. I think there are at least three reasons why:

1.  As with the Christian faith, they wrongly assumed that this knowledge was part of the cultural wallpaper, and did not require any special effort to transmit to the next generation;

2. They were the first generation in which mass popular culture became a vigorous reality, propelled in large part by the spread and ubiquity of electronic media; this caused a profound cultural shift that they could not really understand, given that it was unprecedented in history, and they were in the middle of it; and

3.The Civil Rights movement, and the defeat of Southern white segregationists, made it difficult to talk about the War and Southern history

This is why I think the idea that most Southern white people want to preserve Confederate monuments because they are Lost Cause racists is way off base. Nobody down South takes the “South Shall Rise Again” types seriously, and certainly not as seriously as jittery Northerners do. This is just my intuition, but it seems to me far more likely that the Southern sentiment comes out of an instinct that says, By attacking these statues you are attacking our ancestors, which is to say, you’re attacking us. I don’t know how serious whites are about defending the statues. In New Orleans, whatever white folks felt privately, there wasn’t much on-the-street resistance to removing the Confederate statues, and not enough political resistance to stop the city from doing it. Now that the Take ‘Em Down NOLA activists are pushing further, we’ll see what happens.

Point is, I believe it’s a mistake to assume that white support for leaving the monuments is about defending white supremacy. It probably has more to do with fear of dispossession. As I wrote in my Samuel Huntington post on iconoclasm, citing the political scientist Carol Swain — an African-American who has written on white nativism — a variety of powerful forces are coalescing now to raise and to concentrate white racial consciousness. Among them is a sense among a certain class of whites that they have no roots — a conviction that leads them to find identity in victimization.

The real tragedy in all this, it seems to me, is that you can’t really be dispossessed of the things you’ve already thrown away.

Again, I say: they can’t steal from you what you already threw away. That’s something none of us in this country — white or black, rich or poor, North or South or East or West — want to talk about. It’s so much easier, and so much more politically useful, to complain about what They are doing to us. Think, people!

And you monument iconoclasts, you think to about what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. Yes, it’s so much easier to tell yourself that as soon as a statue comes down, your life will improve, and America will be greater for it. Your life won’t improve one bit, and because you will have made some of the most hard-up-against-it people in the country hate you, and our common problems that much more difficult to solve, you will have made America worse.

I should add here that if there were no Confederate monuments today, I would not support building any. But the fact that they do exist means that at some point in our history, for good or for ill, people — or at least the power-holding majority — believed that what those men fought for should be honored. I am not 100 percent opposed to removing statues, but I think it should not be done rashly, out of a mob’s passion. How could we be certain that statues we erect today, to honor the people and the causes we believe to be honorable, won’t be ripped down tomorrow when our descendants judge us?

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When “individuals are abstract and utopian fantasies regnant”

Michael Auslin sees similarities in the current moment to the 1905 Russian Revolution:

In the months before the 1905 Revolution in Russia, students had walked out at all of the empire’s universities. As they debated whether to resume classes in the autumn, an article in one of the leading socialist journals exhorted them to return to the lecture halls, but not for study. As quoted by the historian Richard Pipes, in his magisterial The Russian Revoution, the Social-Democratic journal Iskra (Spark) urged the students to “[transform] universities and institutions of higher learning into places of popular gatherings and political meetings.” In other words, to radicalize the university and make it a focal point for social revolution. After the universities reopened, Pipes notes, “Academic work became impossible as institutions of higher learning turned into ‘political clubs’: non-conforming professors and students were subjected to intimidation and harassment” (p. 36). Plus ca change.

America is not in a pre-revolutionary moment, but its colleges and universities are depressingly, if not unsurprisingly aping their Russian forebears. The world’s richest and most comfortable institutions of higher learning have declared themselves all but committed to the eradication of non-politicized education, the abolishment of free speech, and rule by mob. Craven administrators and ideologically sympathetic professors have abdicated all responsibility for enforcing norms, order, and the pursuit of knowledge. Our universities are, for all intents and purposes, in a pre-revolutionary state. What is worse, as Heather Mac Donald shows in her recent Wall Street Journal article, “Don’t Even Think about Being Evil,” the aggressive radicalism of the educational campus is now flooding past ivy walls and iron gates, and washing over the corporate campus. Google’s firing of James Damore is just the latest proof of the “conveyer belt of left-wing conformity,” as Mac Donald labels it, that enforces right thinking, right speaking, and right action — all defined by today’s increasingly intolerant progressive Left.

Unlike in 1905 Russia, the students are not allied to the workers; if anything, American workers today are ideologically opposed to the immature, selfish victim-posing of university students. Nor is American government, as corrupt and inefficient as it is, comparable to Tsarist autocracy. Yet in the unholy alliance of radical students with radical corporate leaders, an ill-wind is blowing in America. Not only will economic innovation and risk taking suffer as the punishment for thinking outside the accepted boundaries increases, but one day our smarter and morally stronger workers will figure out that there are other, greener fields in which to ply their trade. The constant nanny-stating and harassment by private corporations of their workers may slowly lead to an exodus to more business-friendly climes. The same might even one day happen in the universities, as Jillian Melchior revealed in the case of the University of Missouri. That, of course, will leave the inmates in charge of dwindling asylums, on both types of campuses, but like all revolutions in which individuals are abstract and utopian fantasies regnant, the carnage they leave in their wake will long litter the American landscape.

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When nuance is unacceptable and clarity essential

h/t Roger Clegg from Other Thoughts on Charlottesville

First, liberals should condemn lawless and violent behavior by those on the Left, and conservatives should condemn lawless and violent behavior by those on the Right.  There is a temptation when this is done on both sides to temper that criticism by adding a “But . . . ” — that is, to say, “Of course, it is wrong to kill the police, but we must recognize that black lives do matter,” etc., or “Of course, it is wrong to ram a car into a protestor, but many protestors on the Left are violent types, too,” etc.

The trouble is that, if you do this in reaction to something that is indefensible — like a murder or a riot — then the other side will understandably feel that you are not only tempering your criticism but excusing it or at least signaling that it’s understandable and therefore forgivable. And so the other side will get really upset. Again, this is true on both sides: Conservatives didn’t like it when liberals added a “but” sentence in their response to riots and police murders, and that’s why liberals (and others) are upset with President Trump’s equivocations here.

It’s okay, of course, to make these broader and more nuanced points in some other context, but not when the action being discussed and in our face is one where nuance is unacceptable and clarity is essential.

…bear in mind that the media love drama and have a vested interested in convincing the public that the end of the world is at hand and so it really needs to keep watching the television, buying the newspaper, visiting this website, etc.  Extra, extra, read all about it!  That’s not to say that what happened in Charlottesville was not newsworthy, and I do feel a little bit like Frank Drebin in this clip when I urge people not to obsess about marching and murderous neo-Nazis; what’s more, a president’s pronouncements can on their own raise issues bigger than what he is pronouncing on. Nonetheless, a few extremist kooks and one bad weekend with one murder in one town do not a Weimar Republic make.

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Astronomy pictures of the fortnight, LXXII – solar eclipse edition

Just about everyone knows to check out Monday’s eclipse?  We’ll get a couple more chances in the not-too-distant future (10.14.23 & 4.8.24) but it’s a rare event not to be missed.  Who knows what you’ll be up to in the future?


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RCAAs and Plutonomies

h/t Daniel Henninger it the WSJ, from Liberalism’s Summer of ’17:

 (M)any of these urban revivals are producing a phenomenon economists now call “racially concentrated areas of affluence,” or RCAAs.

An area gets RCAAed when the residents who pack themselves into it are mostly white people whose median incomes are unprecedentedly greater than the city’s poverty level. Some of the most RCAAed cities are liberal duchies like Boston, Baltimore, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Economists for Citigroup have called cities like New York and San Francisco “plutonomies”—urban economies propped up by a plutocratic minority, which is to say, young professionals inured to both taxes and nearby poverty. But they vote their “consciences.”

Progressives are acutely aware of this embarrassing reality in cities under their control. A writer for In These Times identified the problem as “a lack of revenue caused by the refusal of Wall Street banks, big corporations and millionaires to pay their fair share in taxes.” Put forth solutions, he said, “to make them pay.”

“Make them pay” might work if the U.S. were East Germany, so that the wealthy could be captured and jailed as they tried to escape across the border.

We’re not living yet under a President Sanders or Warren, so the steady, documented outflow of residents will continue from New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, California and New Jersey.

Many of those now climbing over the Democrats’ blue walls were willing to live under the original liberal governance model that existed before 1960 because it recognized the legitimacy of private economic life. The wealthy agreed then to pay their “fair share.”

Today, private economic life, especially that of the urban middle class, is no longer a partner in the liberal model. It’s merely a “revenue source” for a system whose patronage is open-ended welfare and largely uncapped public-employee pensions. I’d describe the liberal-progressive governing strategy as ruin and rule…

Residents of the northeastern slab from New Jersey to Boston have been living off infrastructure created by their grandparents and great-grandparents during the golden age of American capitalism.

They are now asking the federal government, meaning taxpayers who live in parts of the U.S. not hostile to capitalism, to give them nearly $15 billion to replace the 100-year-old train tunnel beneath the Hudson River. Why should they? Why send money to a moribund, dysfunctional urban liberal politics that will never—as in, not ever—clean up its act or reform?

Maybe we need a new default solution to the urban crisis: Let internal migration redistribute the U.S. population away from liberalism’s smug but falling-apart plutonomies.

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