Author: Steve Prestegard

Santayana 2022

George Santayana famously said that “Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.

That appears to include Democrats now campaigning as if Trump were on the ballot, along with a lot of Republicans, as Hugh Hewitt writes:

Five years after Hillary Clinton titled her latest memoir, “What Happened,” the revolution that hit American politics in 2016 remains little understood. When the former secretary of state joined me on air to discuss her book in 2017, she’d worked out in her own mind what drove the most improbable upset in modern political history.

Clinton told me. “I understand the resentment. I understand the very strong feelings that a lot of people in our country have about everything from the economy to race to immigration to national defense.”

But the cataclysm of 2016 is more complicated than that. Even now, do any of us who live inside the Beltway bubble or who swim in the waters of “elites” really understand?

Now comes an explanation from Walter Russell Mead, a scholar of U.S. foreign policy, national politics and national security as well as a past professor at Yale, who gets very close to the answer. I have no idea how Mead votes. To me, he’s always been a respected voice whose wide-ranging interests and scholarly credentials are not in question. He’s not a political analyst in the way the term is used today.

So it was a surprise that Mead used the final chapter of his latest book, “The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People,” to reexamine what happened in 2016.

Mead’s whole book deserves an in-depth read, but for those in the political analysis business, the final pages are worth the cover price. “Getting to grips with the Trump presidency is a trying task,” concedes Mead. “Trump was such a unique and controversial figure that both his achievements and his failures defy conventional analysis.”

“Yet with all his many shortcomings,” Mead continues, Trump “understood some important truths about international politics and the state of the world that eluded his establishment critics.

“To millions of Americans, [Trump] was like the little boy who dared to cry out that the emperor had no clothes — that the American elite had lost its way and had no answers for the problems of the United States, much less for those of the world beyond our frontiers.”

The folks caught most unaware of the undertow in 2015 and 2016? Republicans like me, categorized by Mead as Sun Belt Republicans, not so because of where we lived but because of our broad commitment to “optimism, laissez-faire conservatism, free trade, and a vigorous promotion of American values abroad and at home.”

We were blindsided by Trump, both his march through the primaries and his eventual upset in November 2016. The “Republican establishment, both intellectual and political, were the ones to suffer defenestration as Trump stole the Republican Party out from under them in 2016,” Mead observes.

Trump tallied 63 million votes in 2016, and he collected even more — 74 million — four years later. He lost the popular vote to Clinton by almost 3 million and to President Biden by 7 million.

Why were voters pulling the lever for Trump? They expressed their disapproval of who had come to govern American life, left, right and center, and what those “elites” had set as their priorities.

“If the mid-century model of an American economy built on the growing success and stability of a middle class no longer worked, what kind of society was the United States? … And if the United States could no longer see itself as a providential nation with a global mission,” Mead writes, “what did it mean to be an American?”

Similar forces are at work in other Western countries. Democratic electorates across the globe have been voting since World War II, Mead explains, to govern themselves via people like themselves who share their values. They have voted again and again against elites, especially elites embodying different morals and world views, he said. Even Ukraine’s struggle against Russia can best be understood in this context of “self-rule first,” Mead told me Monday.

Finally, he writes, a broad cross section of voters “wanted less and less to do with conventional Republican foreign policy. They still scorned Democratic talk about multilateralism and international institutions, but they no longer saw establishment Republicans as trustworthy opponents of the Democratic agenda at home or abroad.

“By 2016, millions of GOP voters were ready to strike out in a new direction. Donald Trump was in the right place at the right time.”

Read Mead. He has provided the balanced, persuasive short course on all that we need to understand.

Presty the DJ for Sept. 29

The number eight song today in 1958, one week or almost a month after the end (depending on your definition) of summer:

Today in 1967, the Beatles mixed “I Am the Walrus,” which combined three songs John Lennon had been writing. The song includes the sounds of a radio going up and down the dial, ending at a BBC presentation of William Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Lennon had read that a teacher at his primary school was having his students analyze Beatles lyrics, Lennon reportedly added one nonsensical verse, although arguably none of the verses make much sense:

The number 71 …

… number 51 …

… number 27 …

… number 20 …

… number eight …

… number six …

… number three …

… and number one singles today in 1973:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Sept. 29”

Expect disaster anyway, but …

William Otis:

The midterms are six weeks away. There appears to be a consensus that Republicans, currently with 210 seats, will win a House majority (218), although there’s a good deal of debate about the margin. The Senate is up for grabs, partly because in several closely divided states, Republicans have nominated seemingly non-optimal candidates, and partly because of simple math: Republicans have many more seats overall to defend.

Paul will tell you that I’m nobody’s version of an optimist. Since we met in law school 50 years ago, I’ve been regaling him with one jeremiad after the next about impending doom. But I’m optimistic about the coming election, in which I think Republicans will have a net gain of 27-30 seats. I see it this way basically for two reasons.

First, Biden is way underwater, and the “in” party for decades has had a very rough road when its incumbent President is below 50% approval, losing an average of 37 seats. Second, the dominant issue, the economy, is in worse shape than is ordinarily reported. We are in a recession, and over the next month and a half I expect it to get visibly worse and more painful in ways the press will be unable to conceal. Already, we see the stock market diving deeper in the tank almost every day; interest rates high and climbing; real wages plummeting; labor force participation at pitiful levels (which is why you see Help Wanted signs everywhere you go); and housing prices headed through the roof.

(1) The overall political landscape is toxic for the Democrats.

None other than the Washington Post delivered the news two days ago. Here are some of the juiciest items from the poll it reported:

BIDEN and the MIDTERMS – The president’s standing customarily is critical to his party’s fortunes in midterms – and Biden is well under water. Thirty-nine percent of Americans approve of his job performance while 53 percent disapprove, about where he’s been steadily the past year. Specifically on the economy, with inflation near a 40-year high, he’s at 36-57 percent, a 21- point deficit.

Each election has its own dynamic. But in midterm elections since 1946, when a president has had more than 50 percent job approval, his party has lost an average of 14 seats. When the president’s approval has been less than 50 percent – as Biden’s is by a considerable margin now – his party has lost an average of 37 seats.

Oooooooops. At 39 percent approval, Biden isn’t even within shouting distance of breaking even.

If Donald Trump is the face of the Republican Party, as the MSM relentlessly (and hopefully) tells us he is, then Joe Biden is even more clearly the face of the Democratic Party — which in an odd way is good news for it, since it could easily be Nancy Pelosi or Bernie or AOC. But the “good news” is only so good, as the Post poll makes painfully clear (emphasis added):

Looking two years off, just 35 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents favor Biden for the 2024 nomination; 56 percent want the party to pick someone else. Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, for their part, split 47-46 percent on whether Donald Trump should be their 2024 nominee….

In a head-to-head rematch, the poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds a 48-46 percent Biden-Trump contest, essentially tied. Among registered voters, the numbers reverse to 46-48 percent. That’s even while 52 percent of Americans say Trump should be charged with a crime in any of the matters in which he’s under federal investigation, similar to views after the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

Translation: The odds are that Trump would win a head-to-head contest with Biden even though the MSM constantly, loudly and viciously (although quite possibly accurately in a sense) paints Trump as a predatory, democracy-bashing criminal.

But wait! Looking at the the House races specifically, the news for the Democrats goes from grim to lethal. Buried far down in the report of the Post/ABC poll is this lonely but dynamite sentence:

Among those living in congressional districts that are rated as at least somewhat competitive by ABC’s FiveThirtyEight (neither solid Republican nor solid Democratic), registered voters favor Republican candidates by a wide 55-34 percent – nearly as big as the Republican lead in solid GOP districts (+24 points).

It’s a commonplace by now that control of Congress depends on which party wins the swing districts. When the Republicans are twenty-one points ahead in those districts, as the Post poll says they are, they’ll be winning all of them or very close to all of them. And that as much as anything will tell the tale of this election.

(2)The economy and inflation — the most important issues to voters — are at DefCon 5 for the Democrats.

National Review has the news, and it’s worse than grim. I perforce quote it at length.

“Based on what I’m hearing throughout all the industries that I work with, this month’s job report might be brutal. People are getting skinny everywhere they can, so that they don’t lose their [butts]. Unfortunately, that means huge groups of people getting fired….”

Meta — you know, Facebook — plans “to cut expenses by at least 10 percent in the coming months, in part through staff reductions.” Google is eyeing similar cuts, with CEO Sundar Pichai characterizing it as “being a bit more responsible through one of the toughest macroeconomic conditions underway in the past decade.” Twilio has announced plans to lay off 11 percent if its workforce, and Snap has announced plans to lay off 20 percent of its workforce.

A lot of big companies, even outside the tech sector, are announcing the elimination of executive positions. The Gap is eliminating 500 corporate jobs. Boeing has announced that it will eliminate about 150 positions in finance and accounting in October. Last month, Walmart announced that it would eliminate 200 corporate jobs.

FedEx is enacting a hiring freeze and closing more than 90 FedEx Office locations.

It’s not just big brand companies: It’s also an ice-cream plant in New York; it’s also a slew of hospitals nationwide. God help you if you work in real estate: “Some of the biggest players in the real estate industry, including RE/MAX, Redfin and Wells Fargo, have announced layoffs in recent months totaling thousands of jobs. Industry analysts are projecting the cuts could eventually be on par with what was seen during the housing crash of 2008.”

None of these individual company moves, by themselves, are likely to make a big difference in the national jobs numbers, and you can find companies announcing layoffs in any month. But cumulatively, these announcements suggest that we’re in a period of not-so-subtle belt-tightening. Businesses doesn’t know what to expect in the coming months, except higher costs to heat their facilities this winter. The stock markets are jittery. Sooner or later, those rising interest rates will reduce customer demand — which should reduce inflation, but will also lower sales, profits, and eventually, jobs.

This is not to mention the certainty of rising energy prices as cold weather spikes demand for heating oil, and the increasing grip of Biden’s anti-growth policies takes effect. Nor have I scratched the surface of the housing shortage, and consequent climbing prices, both for rental and owner-occupied dwellings.

Yes, there are drags on how well Republicans will do on November 8. Donald Trump keeps talking and talking (most recently with the observation that he can declassify documents through telepathy), and there is evidence that the backlash against Dobbs is real. But both longstanding historical trends and the current political and economic realities point to to a resounding Republican win.

Paul Mirengott adds a Wisconsin touch:

I agree with Bill’s analysis of the battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives. It seems highly likely, FiveThirtyEight notwithstanding, that the GOP will retake the House.

However, I question whether Election Day will truly be a happy one for America if Republicans are unable to gain control of the Senate. I like to think I’m a glass-half-full guy. But a half-full glass is only half satisfying.

Bill’s election analysis correctly focuses on well-founded concerns about the economy. Another factor helping Republicans is well-founded concern about crime.

That concern certainly concerns Democrats. The Washington Post acknowledges this in a front-page article called, in the paper edition, “GOP focus on crime stirs fears among Democrats.”

According to the Post, Democratic candidates and their media cheerleaders have a two-prong response to the GOP’s focus on crime. First, the candidates argue that they are tough on crime. Second, their surrogates claim the GOP’s focus on the issue is racist.

These two contentions aren’t logically inconsistent. In the real world, however, they cannot be reconciled.

It is precisely because Democratic candidates subscribe to BLM’s view that a focus on fighting crime through traditional tough measures is racist — or are afraid to resist this line — that Democrats have not been, and still are not, tough enough on crime.

The Post’s prime example of a Democrat under fire for softness on crime is Mandela Barnes, the Dems’ candidate for the Senate in Wisconsin. According to the Post, Barnes is running ads “seeking to assure voters he will fight crime and support law enforcement.”

Barnes accuses Republicans of lying when they say he wants to abolish ICE and defund the police. Yet, as the Post admits, Barnes was photographed wearing a T-shirt that said “Abolish ICE.” You can’t be much more clear than that. Barnes also advocated cutting what he called “over-bloated budgets in police departments.”

Johnson’s focus on the issue of crime appears to be helping him. Polling in August had Barnes in front by 2-7 points. (Trafalgar was the poll that showed a lead of only two points). In September, four of the five polls reported by Real Clear Politics have Johnson ahead. The other poll, by Democrat-leaning PPP, has the two candidates tied.

The worsening economy, especially the declining stock market, undoubtedly has contributed to this turnaround. However, the director of the Marquette Law School poll tells the Post that Johnson’s crime-focused ads have come “fast and furious” and have probably contributed to the worsening of Barnes’ numbers.

Naturally, the Post sympathizes with the Democrats’ claim that the GOP’s focus on the crime issue is racist. It quotes a black pollster who worked for Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. He calls the GOP’s ads “Willie Horton 2.0.”

This, of course, refers to a highly successful attack ad against Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign. Horton was an inmate at a Massachusetts corrections facility serving a life sentence for murdering a man when he received a weekend pass thanks to a prison furlough program maintained by then-governor Michael Dukakis over the objection of the state legislature. While out of prison, Horton twice raped a Maryland woman after pistol-whipping, knifing, binding, and gagging her fiancé.

Democrats howled “racism” and have been invoking the Horton spot for decades in order to ward off ads attacking them for being soft on crime. This amounts to an attempt by Democrats to escape the dire consequences of their lenient social engineering projects by shouting “racism.”

The stunt has succeeded in part because of Republican cowardice, but mostly because crime receded dramatically thanks to tough-on-crime policies adopted after Dukakis’ defeat.

Now that crime is again rampant — thanks in large part to the abandonment of tough-on-crime policies — invoking Willie Horton isn’t going to deter any sensible Republican candidate.

Nor should it. The Willie Horton was neither illegitimate nor racist. Dukakis’ decision to release Horton, in violation of the wishes of a liberal state legislature, directly led to multiple felonies and serious injuries.

Dukakis endlessly claimed credit for “the Massachusetts miracle.” This was an economic upsurge due mainly to national trends and Reaganite policies. (The alleged economic miracle would end while Dukakis was still governor.) Why shouldn’t he have been held accountable for the consequences of his unilateral decision to release a convicted murderer for a weekend?

Nor was the use of Horton’s picture in the ad racist. Horton was a scruffy-looking black man. There’s little room for doubt that the ad would have used his picture if he had been a scruffy-looking white man.

If the 2022 campaign finally ends more than three decades of Republicans being cowed by unfair blowback against the Willie Horton ad, this will be a happy biproduct of what, I hope, will be a happy midterm election.


Surveys said …

J.D. Tuccille:

Americans don’t much like each-other and many are willing to fight each other over their differences. But what do the opposing factions believe in? When it comes to economic systems and whether production and consumption should be dictated from above or guided by free exchange, a growing number of Americans don’t seem to believe in much at all. Both capitalism and socialism are losing support, especially among Democrats.

“Today, 36 percent of U.S. adults say they view socialism somewhat (30 percent) or very (6 percent) positively, down from 42 percent who viewed the term positively in May 2019,” Pew reports. “And while a majority of the public (57 percent) continues to view capitalism favorably, that is 8 percentage points lower than in 2019 (65 percent).”

Among Republicans, support for capitalism declined from 78 percent to 74 percent, and for socialism from a rock-bottom 15 percent to a slightly rock-bottomier 14 percent. With Democrats, capitalism became a minority taste, dropping from 55 percent support to 46 percent, while socialism’s favorable standing eroded from 65 percent to 57 percent.

“Much of the decline in positive views of both socialism and capitalism has been driven by shifts in views among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents,” acknowledges Pew. That still leaves the GOP as a market-oriented political party (despite the oddball 14 percent lobby for adding Lenin to the partisan pantheon alongside Lincoln and Reagan). The Democrats have become a lukewarm socialist party, to judge by the sentiments of supporters.

“Americans see capitalism as giving people more opportunity and more freedom than socialism, while they see socialism as more likely to meet people’s basic needs, though these perceptions differ significantly by party,” Pew notes in partial explanation of the disagreement. OK, but that’s aspirational; do Americans really understand the differences between the economic systems?

Fortunately, in 2019 Pew asked respondents more detailed questions about their opinions of capitalism and socialism. Unfortunately, that poll was also terrible about defining terms, but at least it allowed people to describe their impressions of the systems in their own words.

Supporters of free markets “mention that capitalism has advanced America’s economic strength, that America was established under the idea of capitalism, or that capitalism is essential to maintaining freedom in the country,” the 2019 report offered. “Critics of socialism point to Venezuela as an example of a country where it has failed. People with positive views of socialism cite different countries, such as Finland and Denmark, as places where it has succeeded.”

That’s helpful because Venezuela’s government has largely seized the means of production and dominates the economy; it’s socialist. The country is ranked at 176 in the 2022 Index of Economic Freedom as a “repressed” economy. By contrast, Finland is ranked at ninth as a “mostly free” economy, along with Denmark (10th), and the United States (25th); all are countries where private enterprise prevails. Yes, both Scandinavian countries are considered somewhat more capitalist than the U.S.; but they have expensive welfare states and tax the hell out of their private economies to pay for them.

“I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy,” then-Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen commented in 2015. “The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security for its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish.”

“So, what is the catch you might ask. The most obvious one, of course, is the high taxes. The top income tax in Denmark is almost 60 percent. We have a 25 percent sales tax and on cars the incise duties are up to 180 percent. In total, Danish taxes come to almost half of our national income compared to around 25 percent in the U.S.”

In Reason, historian Johan Norberg pointed out that Sweden, in particular, dabbled with state economic control. The experiment was abandoned after the economy tanked. Then the country “deregulated, privatized, reduced taxes, and opened the public sector to private providers.” Impressions of socialist Scandinavia are “stuck in the 1970s,” he added. Sweden also has a welfare state and very high taxes.

Americans probably mostly understand capitalism because they live in a generally market-oriented society, even if it’s often cronyist and overregulated. Flaws, including politically favored businesses, and companies supporting ideological goals under regulatory pressure, undoubtedly tarnish impressions of the system. It wouldn’t be surprising if recent arguments over “woke” corporations explain mildly cooling enthusiasm for capitalism on the right. But when it comes to socialism, too many advocates want a unicorn; they ask for socialism but point to capitalist models. Other sources offer some insight.

“The vast majority of Republican voters—85 percent—believe anyone who works hard can get ahead, while 53 percent of Democrats feel that way,” a recent Wall Street Journal poll reveals. “Democrats often say that hard work isn’t sufficient for all Americans to advance, partly due to systemic hurdles based on class or race, and that the government should help. … Republicans, by contrast, say the government should as often as possible get out of the way of efforts by individuals, businesses and charities to help people advance economically.”

Republicans, then, retain faith in individual effort, which is fundamental to free-market capitalism. Democrats want some sort of government thumb on the scale, which isn’t socialist state control of the economy (and perhaps this helps explain declining support for socialism), but which is welfare-state-ish. So maybe they do want Scandinavia as a model—at least for favored groups.

“There are so many socioeconomic differences in the country,” one Democratic voter complained to the Wall Street Journal. “It really depends where you were born on the strata.”

But the same poll suggests grounds for more strife. The Journal found 61 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of independents agree they are “one of the people the elites in this country look down upon.” Just 40 percent of Democrats concur. So, Democrats don’t trust capitalism, are losing faith in socialism, but want government to play a bigger role. Against them are Republicans and independents who think the ruling class that would pick winners and losers despise them; they’re unlikely to envision themselves among those a hostile government would help.

In terms of capitalism and socialism, Americans may not entirely know what they’re talking about, but it seems clear that many of us have very different visions for the country in which we want to live. If there’s one thing on which we can agree, it’s that we’ll continue to strongly disagree.

But James Freeman points out one area of agreement:

This column is still waiting for someone to name a great civilization built by progressive leftists. But just because the wokesters don’t create anything of enduring value, that doesn’t mean they aren’t highly competent when it comes to transmitting their grievances via modern media. In fact, so successful have they been in promoting the false idea that America is an unjust society that these days one can feel almost subversive expressing unapologetically patriotic views.

So it’s nice to get a regular reality check. The latest to arrive is a Wall Street Journal poll showing a solid majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents who understand that we live in an exceptional meritocracy. Yes, it’s important to note the usual caveat that polling is not an exact science, if it’s even a science. But these results appear to be well outside the margin of error.

Specifically, the survey found that a full 74% of participants agreed with the following statement:

America is the greatest country in the world.

Not just above average, not just great, but the greatest.

According to the WSJ survey results, nearly as many people also think that the right to rise is alive and well in the U.S. A sturdy 68% of respondents agreed with the following statement:

If people work hard, they are likely to get ahead in America.

Some readers may be distressed that the number isn’t even higher. Still, given the number of voluble politicos and pundits who’ve spent so much of the last several years claiming that U.S. society is rigged and racist, it’s notable how decisively they have failed to persuade. The logical conclusion is that the progressive left’s critique of the free society doesn’t square with the experience of people who live in it.

Perhaps patriotic Americans are just too numerous to cancel!

Presty the DJ for Sept. 26

The number one song today in 1960:

The number one song today in 1964:

Today in 1965, Roger Daltrey was fired from The Who after he punched out drummer Keith Moon. Fortunately for Daltrey and the Who, he was unfired the next day. (Daltrey and Pete Townshend reportedly have had more fistfights than Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.)

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Sept. 26”

Presty the DJ for Sept. 24

We begin with an odd moment today in 1962: Elvis Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker, declined an invitation on Presley’s behalf for an appearance before the Royal Family. Declining wasn’t due to conflicting film schedules (the stated reason) or anti-royalism — it was because Parker was an illegal immigrant to the U.S. from the Netherlands (his real name was  Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk), and he was afraid he wouldn’t be allowed back into the U.S.

Number one in Britain today in 1964:

Number one in Britain …

… and in the U.S. today in 1983:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Sept. 24”

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