The first amendment covers sketch comedy

Jonah Goldberg writes about Hillary Clinton’s funny appearance on SNL, and also remembers Nixon’s pioneering efforts on Laugh-In.

The first amendment covers sketch comedy. And it’s hardly as if Clinton is the first presidential candidate or politician to take advantage of Saturday Night Live or some other entertainment show.

In 1968, Richard Nixon had many of the same challenges Clinton faces today. He was seen, rightly, as stiff, aloof, conspiratorial and too self-serious. That’s why he went on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In and said “sock it to me.” Nixon, didn’t win the very close presidential election because of one five second bit on Laugh In. But he probably wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t followed the advice of a 28-year-old media consultant wunderkind named Roger Ailes, who helped choreograph Nixon’s image makeover, and the “sock it to me” moment was arguably the most significant part of that effort. (Note: Ailes now runs Fox News where I am a contributor). George Schlatter, the producer of Laugh In, later apologized for helping Nixon get elected.

If Hillary Clinton is elected president in 2016, I very much doubt that Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of Saturday Night Livewill express similar regrets.

And that’s fine, too.

Again, Saturday Night Live, has the same first amendment rights as The New York Times, The Washington Post and this newspaper. But you know who else has the same free speech rights as the mainstream media? You and me — and George Soros, Charles and David Koch, and every other citizen of the United States.

And that’s why the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United was correct. In that decision, the Court held that everyone has the right to get their views and opinions out into the public conversation.

In the arguments before the court, the Obama administration took the position that the government could even ban books during election season if those books amounted to “express advocacy” for a candidate, even if that advocacy took the form of a single mention of a candidate.

The court rejected that argument and President Obama, along with most liberals, have never forgiven the justices. Hillary Clinton is so opposed to the ruling, she has made amending the First Amendment a cornerstone of her campaign.

Why do liberals hate Citizens United so much? No doubt there are many explanations, but one seems particularly obvious. In a world where only powerful institutions in the mainstream media have an unfettered right to make their case during elections, then the conversation is going to go in their favor. Even if Fox News and Rush Limbaugh were the monsters liberal claim they are, the scales still lean inarguably leftward when you include the biggest newspapers, the major TV networks, National Public Radio, and popular programs like The Daily Show and 60 Minutes.

None of these outlets would consider their editorials, news coverage and comedy sketches to be “in kind donations,” but from the perspective of political campaigns, that’s a distinction without a difference.

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Chicago democracy

Jim Geraghty writes that We’re Living in Post-Deliberative Democracy.  Maybe.  Or maybe it’s just Chicago-style politics, with the “radical” Alinsky tactics deployed on a grander scale.  Is it temporary or will its success breed imitation?   That’s the thing with tactics that coarsen the political process:  the ends are ephemeral but the means live on.

Michael Gerson, gun control supporter, argues that Obama’s Thursday night tantrum did measurable damage to the cause of gun control and to America’s system of political decision-making itself:

With his last election behind him, Obama is free to be Obama. And it appears that he is, deep down, a liberal commentator of the MSNBC variety — perhaps providing a preview of his post-presidency. The only apparent purpose of his gun speech was to incite the faithful by expressing a seething arrogance.

But it matters when the president of the United States decides that democratic persuasion is a fool’s game. It encourages the kind of will-to-power politics we see on the left and right. In this view, opponents are evil — entirely beyond the normal instruments of reason and good faith. So the only option is the collection and exercise of power.

When the main players in our politics give up on deliberative democracy, it feels like some Rubicon is being crossed. Our system is designed for leaders who make arguments for their views, seek compromise and try different policy angles to break logjams. And when they lose, their proper recourse is … to make more arguments, seek other compromises and try different policy angles.

It’s a great point, but Obama’s disinterest in seriously engaging with those who disagree been obvious for some time now – going back to his “I won” declaration in his first negotiations with Congressional Republicans. When the president wanted to pass Obamacare, he resorted to the Cornhusker kickback and reconciliation, as public skepticism and opposition remained solid. Immigration reform is enacted by executive order. The Iran deal gets rammed through despite House and Senate majorities opposing it; Obama dismissed opponents as warmongers who have “common cause” with Iranians chanting “death to America!” When the Senate wouldn’t confirm his nominees, he just declared them “recess appointments” even though the Senate isn’t in recess.

Earlier this year, he dismissed his opponents as “the crazies.” His discussion of ISIS featured a lecture to Christians to get of their “high horse.”

Obama’s entire presidency is marked by statements and behavior that suggest he’s willing to engage and negotiate with the world’s most brutal regimes, like Iran, but he finds his American critics and opposing lawmakers too silly, extreme, or malevolent, inherently beyond the pale.

The man who bowed to the Saudi King is the same man who called on Latinos to “punish our enemies.”

The president who is so eager to pronounce “Pakistan” “Taliban” and “Koran” in the authentic style of locals dismisses his domestic critics as “teabaggers.”

There’s little sign this will change. The entire apparatus of the Democratic party – from DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to MSNBC to the New York Times editorial board carry this same conviction that their opposition is self-evidently evil and not worthy of a real debate. Obama most likely successor, Hillary Clinton, goes long stretches without serious questioning from journalists and is proposing changing the nation’s gun laws through executive action.

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Nice summary of college costs

Nice summary of college costs by VDH:

The vast spike in college costs — which have risen far faster than the annual rate of inflation — is due to the growth of administrative bloat (much of it in diversity bureaucracies), the expansion of universities into lifestyle landscapes, from upscale rec centers to advocacy programs and outreach (including the sort of guest lecturing in which Ms. Clinton is paid $300,000 for a 30-minute talk), and universities’ lack of fiscal restraint due to federally guaranteed student loans.

It’s a fun piece in which he quotes Johnny Cash/NIN’s “Hurt.”

The problem with all of Ms. Clinton’s advocacies is not that the liberal positions she supports are unusual; indeed, her proposed solutions to these problems are standard progressive orthodoxy.

The rub instead is that almost every issue that Ms. Clinton has raised and every position of advocacy that she now embraces are direct refutations of either her present or her past behavior — and sometimes both. Surely she is aware of that? …

We all understand the principles of medieval liberal exemption. Progressives often voice abstract anguish to win psychological absolution and political cover for their own moral lapses and hypocrisies: The louder the condemnation, often the greater the guilt and the need for absolution…

Hillary Clinton has developed a strange but habitual tic of railing and remonstrating about hot-button issues and egregious behaviors that offer windows into her own plagued soul, past and present. It is as if Hillary has become an ailing Johnny Cash singing “Hurt” — draped in black at the end, a faint simulacrum of his once combative self, seeking new resonance through a rocker’s lyrics for the confession of his own sins: “I wear this crown of s— / Upon my liar’s chair.”

In her Freudian calls for solutions to the sort of ethical and moral transgressions that have defined her own long career, near the end of it, Hillary Clinton seems to be asking in vain of her dissipating cadres of true believers, “What have I become?”


As she limps along, wounded, on the campaign trail, her flat, half-hearted sermons are best translated as, “You could have it all, / My empire of dirt. / I will let you down. / I will make you hurt.”

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For Donald Trump to win…

Handicapping the race over at The Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last quotes Stuart Stevens: “For Donald Trump to win, everything we know about politics has to be wrong.

Barack Obama has become the transformational president he aspired to be. Among the things he has transformed is the nature of the political compact between the rulers and the ruled in our republic.

Before Obama, citizens hoped that their elected leaders would be wise, independent, and disinterested leaders—but they never really counted on utopian vision. What they banked on was that the people they elected would, at the very least, be self-interested vote-seekers—so that if voters started punishing politicians for a specific course of action, the politicians would abandon it.

The passage of Obamacare broke this arrangement. And the impending passage of the Iran nuclear deal, in the face of voter discontent will cement this new relationship as the norm. In both cases, Democratic law makers went along in processes that were highly irregular (the nuclear option for passage of Obamacare; no treaty ratification with Iran); with initiatives they largely disliked on the merits; that voters demonstrably disliked in polling; and that had (or are likely to have) negative outcomes not just in the real world, but in the political world, too. This sort of power dynamic is new in American politics.

Other things are new, too. Such as having the understanding of marriage dating back thousands of years redefined by a single unelected justice. Or having the rule of law downgraded to the level of executive discretion (on Obamacare, on marijuana, on immigration, etc). Or having an economic recovery that, seven years in, still feels like a recession. Or having a stretch of four presidential terms in which you could plausibly argue that at the end of the term the country has been in worse condition than it was at the beginning.

So maybe this time is different and maybe everything we know about politics is, if not wrong, exactly, then is changing.

But maybe not. As altered as the political order looks today from what it had been, there are two other recent moments at which the world changed in fundamental ways, too. In 1989, with the end of the Cold War, and in 2001, with 9/11 and the war against Islamic terrorism. If “everything we knew about politics” was ever going to be wrong, it should have been in the 1992 or 2004 elections.

But in the end, both of those races turned out to be reasonably conventional.

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“Is Obamism Correctable?”

VDH writes that “Here and abroad, the Obama administration damages whatever it touches,” and asks, “Is Obamism Correctable?

On the rule of law:

There will be a temptation for a reform president to use the lawless means that Obama has bequeathed — executive orders to unconstitutionally bypass Congress; arbitrary suspension or simple non-enforcement of laws, depending on where we are in the national election cycle; exemption of party loyalists from legal accountability — to achieve the noble aim of restoring legality. But such short-cuts to reform would be a terrible mistake.

It would be quite illegal to ignore emissions standards the way Obama has ignored the Defense of Marriage Act; or to reduce, by fiat, the EPA to the present toothless status of ICE; or to allow a new sort of “sanctuary city” to refuse to marry gays, in the manner of San Francisco’s refusing to hand over illegal immigrants; or to arbitrarily remove particular owls and newts from the protection of the Endangered Species Act as Obama has picked and chosen which elements of the Affordable Care Act at any particular time he considered legally non-binding. Payback is very tempting, but eight more years of it would ensure that we would become another Zimbabwe or Venezuela. Instead, the next president must, as never before, obey both the spirit and the very letter of the law to restore to us what Obama has almost destroyed.

On the Alinsky-style politics:

In some sense, Obama proved a captive of his own political matrix. The Obama election strategy — successful in 2008 and 2012, a failure in 2010 and 2014 — was predicated on upping the polarizing rhetoric, extending social services, and embracing hip popular culture to achieve historic minority voter turnout and unprecedented block-voting patterns.

But in the blowback, the liberal Congress and many of the Democratic state legislatures were wiped out, and the country has been split apart. Obama’s legacy to the Democratic party is the loss of the white working classes, and the permanent need to achieve massive minority turnout and absolute liberal fealty at the polls. To do that will probably require institutionalized open borders, habitual racial haranguing, and the courting of the Al Sharptons of the race industry. Whether Obama knew that such racial voting would not be completely transferrable to his Democratic successors, while the hostility it engendered most certainly would be, remains a mystery. But that paradox raises what is perhaps the central issue of his presidency: whether he was a short-sighted incompetent naïf or a mean-spirited and narcissistic nihilist. Or both?

On collateral damage to political coverage:

There is not much of an idea any longer of investigative journalism. The press for the last seven years has largely chosen to become a Ministry of Truth. One reason why Donald Trump soars is that, after the press’s canonization of Obama, the public relishes Trump’s contempt for the media — and the latter have now lost the moral credibility to critique any candidate on the grounds of dishonesty, hypocrisy, narcissism, mendacity, or polarization of the electorate.

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Sympathy for medieval stasis

George Will is at his rhetorical best in this piece, writing that Pope Francis doesn’t know how to cure poverty since “he embraces ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false, and deeply reactionary.”

The saint who is Francis’s namesake supposedly lived in sweet harmony with nature. For most of mankind, however, nature has been, and remains, scarcity, disease, and natural — note the adjective — disasters. Our flourishing requires affordable, abundant energy for the production of everything from food to pharmaceuticals. Poverty has probably decreased more in the last two centuries than it has in the preceding three millennia because of industrialization powered by fossil fuels. Only economic growth has ever produced broad amelioration of poverty, and since growth began in the late 18th century, it has depended on such fuels.

Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, notes that coal supplanting wood fuel reversed deforestation, and “fertilizer manufactured with gas halved the amount of land needed to produce a given amount of food.” The capitalist commerce that Francis disdains is the reason the portion of the planet’s population living in “absolute poverty” ($1.25 a day) declined from 53 percent to 17 percent in three decades after 1981. Even in low-income countries, writes economist Indur Goklany, life expectancy increased from between 25 to 30 years in 1900 to 62 years today. Sixty-three percent of fibers are synthetic and derived from fossil fuels; of the rest, 79 percent come from cotton, which requires synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. “Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides derived from fossil fuels,” he says, “are responsible for at least 60 percent of today’s global food supply.” Without fossil fuels, he says, global cropland would have to increase at least 150 percent — equal to the combined land areas of South America and the European Union — to meet current food demands…

As the world spurns his church’s teachings about abortion, contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage, and other matters, Francis jauntily makes his church congruent with the secular religion of “sustainability.” Because this is hostile to growth, it fits Francis’s seeming sympathy for medieval stasis, when his church ruled the roost, economic growth was essentially nonexistent, and life expectancy was around 30.

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Fundamentally transforming

Michael Barone has an excellent piece in today’s Washington Examiner about “the transformer.”  He concludes, a president who came to office with relatively little experience has managed to tarnish experience, incumbency and institutions. A fundamental transformation indeed.”

Longer excerpt:

In 1960 Richard Nixon, after eight years as vice-president and six in Congress, campaigned on the slogan, “Experience counts.” No one is running on that theme this year.  Nixon could, because over the preceding quarter-century most Americans mostly approved the performance of incumbent presidents. Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower still look pretty good more than 50 years later.

Barack Obama doesn’t. His deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes recently said that the president’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran was as important an achievement of his second term as Obamacare was of the first. Historians may well agree.

These two policy achievements have many things in common.

Both were unpopular when proposed and are now. In March 2010 Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that people would discover, and presumably like, what was in the bill after it was passed. But most Americans didn’t like it then, and most don’t today, five and a half years later. As for the Iran deal, Pew Research reports it has only 21 percent approval today, much lower than Obamacare in 2010.

Both Obamacare and the Iran deal were bulldozed through Congress through legislative legerdemain. Democrats passed Obamacare by using the temporary 60-vote Senate supermajority gained through a Minnesota recount and the wrongful prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens. After they lost the 60th vote, they resorted to a dubious legislative procedure.

This year Obama labeled the Iran treaty an executive agreement and Congress concocted a process requiring only a one-third plus one rather than a two-thirds vote for approval. Only 38 percent of members of Congress supported it. Many, like House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, did so only after saying that they never would have accepted it in negotiations.

In 2008 Obama promised he would “fundamentally transform” America, and Obamacare and the Iran deal are indeed fundamental transformation of policy — transformations most Americans oppose.

Obamacare assumed that financial crisis and recession would make most voters supportive of or amenable to bigger government. But as National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru points out, polling doesn’t show that. Obama assumed that if America “unclenched its fist” and propitiated enemies like the mullahs of Iran, they would become friends with us. Most Americans think that’s delusional. No wonder voters are angry.

Republican voters are frustrated and angry because for six years they have believed they have public opinion on their side, but their congressional leaders have failed to prevail on high visibility issues. Their successes (clamping down on domestic discretionary spending) have been invisible. They haven’t made gains through compromise because Obama, unlike his two predecessors, lacks both the inclination and ability to make deals.

So Republicans who imposed harsh litmus tests in previous presidential cycles — Did you ever support a tax increase? Have you ever wavered in opposing abortion? — are flocking to Donald Trump, a candidate who would fail every one of them. They are paying little attention to candidates — Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal — who advance serious proposals to change public policy.

In polls Democratic voters have stayed loyal to the president. But to listen to their candidates (and maybe-candidate Joe Biden) you would think we are in our seventh year of oppression by a right-wing administration. You don’t hear much about the virtues of Obamacare or the Iran deal — or “choice.”

Most Americans hoped the first black president would improve race relations. Now most Americans believe they have gotten worse.

And so a president who came to office with relatively little experience has managed to tarnish experience, incumbency and institutions. A fundamental transformation indeed.

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