The FBI vs. conservatives

Julie Kelly:

During his recent book tour, ex-FBI Director James Comey made it clear that he detests Donald Trump.

Comey mocked Trump’s appearance—commenting on his “orange skin” and the bags under his eyes—and compared the president to a mob boss. He saidTrump is unfit to be president, and even questioned his marriage. On Twitter, Comey taunts the president with self-aggrandizing tweets and suggests Trump’s day of reckoning will soon arrive. During an interview last spring, Comey’s wife admitted she and her daughters voted for Hillary Clinton and attended the Women’s March to protest Trump’s presidency the day after the inauguration.

But as the old saying goes, a fish rots from its head, and that certainly is the case with Comey’s FBI. (Trump fired Comey in May 2017.) Several passages in the Justice Department’s Inspector General report on the agency’s handling of the Clinton email investigation illustrate the FBI’s culture of contempt for Trump, before and after the election.

Comments from key law enforcement officials—lawyers and investigators—about Trump were vile, demeaning, and childish. But their ridicule was not isolated to Trump. These public servants were unsparing in their contempt for the voters—the very people who fund their salaries and pensions.

Let’s start with Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the FBI lovers who are connected to the Clinton email probe, the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. We know from previously-reported text exchanges that Strzok and Page harbored a deep disdain for Trump and a political preference for Clinton. The IG report confirms their bias after reviewing more than 40,000 messages between the two:

These text messages included political opinions about candidates and issues involved in the 2016 presidential election, including statements of hostility toward then-candidate Trump and statements of support for candidate Clinton. Several of their text messages also appeared to mix political opinions with discussions about the Midyear [Clinton email] and Russia investigations, raising a question as to whether Strzok’s and Page’s political opinions may have affected investigative decisions.

While Strzok was working as the lead investigator on the Clinton email probe, he and Lisa Page, then an FBI attorney, exchanged dozens of messages that were critical of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Strzok called Trump “an idiot” on several occasions in the spring of 2016, and Page concurred: “He’s awful. This man cannot be president.” After he won the nomination, their scorn intensified. Page called Trump a “d*****” and Strzok called him a “disaster” and a “f****** idiot.” They both worried he might win. In referencing a news article the day before the election, Strzok sent a panicked message to Page: “OMG THIS IS F****** TERRIFYING.”

(When questioned by the IG’s office about the tone of the texts, Strzok insisted they were merely “personal opinion talking to a friend and that “the political opinions he expressed in the text messages never transited into the official realm.”)

But that’s a bit hard to believe since Strzok started conspiring in the summer of 2016 about how to respond if Trump won. When asked by his inamorata to assure her Trump would not be the next president, Strzok replied: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

And while considering whether to join Mueller’s team in May 2017, Strzok fantasized about his role in an “investigation leading to impeachment.” When Page told Strzok in March 2017 that she had just finished reading All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s account of the Watergate scandal, she noted how the president resigned at the end. Strzok replied, “What?!?! G**, that we should be so lucky.”

The lovers also criticized Republicans, conservatives, and Trump voters. In early 2016, they complained about the annual March for Life. Page told Strzok, “I truly hate these people. No support for the woman who actually has to spend the rest of her life rearing this child, but we care about ‘life.’ Assholes.” (Strzok then joked about canceling the permit for the event.) During the primaries, Strzok remarked, “the Republican party is in utter shambles. When was the last competitive ticket they offered?” Then in August 2016, Strzok texted Page, “Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support . . . .”

Buried toward the end of the report are shocking comments from three unnamed FBI officials. The inspector general slams the three—as well as Strzok and Page—for “conduct [that] has brought discredit to themselves, sowed doubt about the FBI’s handling of the Midyear investigation, and impacted the reputation of the FBI.” Two FBI agents repeatedly referred to Trump as “drumpf.” In an exchange in September 2016, one agent joked about not wanting to spend time with his colleagues: “i (sic) would rather have brunch with trump and a bunch of his supporters like the ones from ohio that are retarded.”

The day after the election, one FBI official lamented, “Trump’s supporters are all poor to middle class, uneducated, lazy POS that think he will magically grant them jobs for doing nothing. They probably didn’t watch the debates, aren’t fully educated on his policies, and are stupidly wrapped up in his unmerited enthusiasm.”

An FBI attorney responded: “I’m just devastated. I can’t wait until I can leave today and just shut off the world for the next four days.”

Then this gem: “I honestly feel like there is going to be a lot more gun issues, too, the crazies won finally. This is the tea party on steroids. And the GOP is going to be lost, they have to deal with an incumbent in 4 years. We have to fight this again. Also Pence is stupid.”

Keep in mind, these are the idiots sending messages like this on government devices.

All of the FBI officials cited in the report claimed their personal and political views did not impact their professional work. Incredibly, Inspector General Michael Horowitz seemed to agree. His report concludes that his team “did not find evidence to connect the political views expressed in these messages to the specific investigative decisions that we reviewed.”

But Americans know better. The public and private comments by top law enforcement and intelligence officials in the Obama Justice Department demonstrate a level of contempt for Trump that resulted in a bogus counterintelligence operation into his presidential campaign; the leaking of classified information to hurt Trump associates; and a special counsel investigation that has roiled the presidency and divided the country.

And now we know they hate us, too.

Remember when liberals were suspicious of the FBI?

 

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Well, that was fast

National Review:

President Trump said Wednesday that he would sign an executive order, drafted by Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, ending the practice of separating children from their parents after families are caught attempting to cross the border illegally.

Trump indicated that he would sign the order to end his administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration-enforcement policy, which has thus far separated roughly 2,000 children from parents who are awaiting trial. The order is expected to ensure that families remain together in specially equipped detention centers during their prosecution.

“I’ll be signing something in a little while that’s going to do that. I’ll be doing something that’s somewhat preemptive and ultimately will be matched by legislation I’m sure,” Trump told the White House press pool.

Administration officials reportedly expect a legal challenge in the event that they try to keep children with their detained parents, due to a 1997 order that mandates children be released from federal custody after 20 days.

The president’s comments came moments after Speaker Paul Ryan announced that the House will vote Thursday on immigration legislation that, in addition to increasing funding for border security and granting amnesty to Dreamers, would end the family separation policy and fund family detention centers. In a concession to conservatives,  the House is also expected to vote Thursday on a more hardline immigration bill that does not address family separations; though neither bill has the requisite Democratic support to pass.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has already said nothing will pass, because 60 votes are required in the Senate, and Democrats think voters will vote against Republicans on this issue, irrespective of where immigration sits among nonaligned voters in terms of priority.

 

On the freak show that is my hometown

James Wigderson promises something that everyone should endorse:

I want to promise my readers something, and I swear it’s a promise that I’ll never break. It’s a promise that I make to my immediate family, my friends, and my mother. I will never ride a bicycle through Madison completely naked.

Apparently this is an annual protest against something, and a bunch of people rode their bicycles on Saturday past the farmers market in their birthday suits. I’m not sure if Madison Mayor Paul Soglin was with them and, despite my dedication to you readers, I am not going to look through the photos online to check.

Have you noticed that the people you would never want to see naked are often the ones at naked protests? And who will disinfect the rental bicycles that were used by the protesters? Yes, I’ll bet you’ll think twice now before hopping on one of those blue bicycles in Madison.

I’m sure the naked bicyclists were hoping for some sort of reaction other than, “eewww.” That upon seeing the unmentionables we would all suddenly go, “Oh, I get it. From now on, I’m going to believe like a Hollywood lefty that these naked people are right about everything.”

Instead, the reaction I saw from most people was, “Madison.” As in, I’m in Madison, and therefore the inmates of the asylum are running the place.

As they bicycled through Madison’s farmer’s market on Saturday (“Harold, do you think the melons are fresh?”) I’m guessing that never have been so many people been bored by nudity since Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman starred in Eyes Wide Shut.

Somebody forgot to tell the organizers that nudity as a protest model has not only been done, it’s now cliché. So the Madison Left will have to find some other way to shock us to seek attention for whatever it is they’re seeking attention other than themselves. And in doing so, they’ll just be a reminder of how puerile the Left has become.

It’s all about them, you know. “How do I attract attention to me so everyone can see how noble I am? What can I do so that everyone knows I care because I’m special?” And it’s usually followed by, “Can’t everyone see I’m much more enlightened than THEM?”

THEM being whatever rubes voted for Governor Scott Walker, President Donald Trump, or even Hillary Clinton instead of Bernie Sanders and whomever is the best friend of John Nichols at The Nation this week.

So we get Robert De Niro dropping the F-bomb at awards shows, John Legend dropping F-bombs on House Speaker Paul Ryan on Twitter while Legend’s wife pulls a Kelda Roys to get attention, and even Kathy Griffin has returned to drop F-bombs on First Lady Melania Trump.

Locally, One Wisconsin Now’s Scot Ross has the mouth of a sewer and yet he manages to get quoted in everyone’s publications. The protesters carry signs trying to shock people being “woke” and now we have bicyclists tempting skin cancer.

Too often people on the Right like to hyperventilate over some of these things, and some on the Right even try to emulate the Left’s tactics of using shock over substance. When that happens, we’re just giving these spoiled babies what they want: attention.

But just as we don’t take seriously a three-year-old running through the house naked after a bath, we should stop taking the Left’s antics seriously, too. When they actually have something intelligent to say and want to be taken seriously, perhaps they’ll follow the sage advice of Frau Blücher, “I suggest you put on a tie!”

This prompted a reader of Wigderson’s to post:

Note to self: Never buy a used bike seat from Madison.

Given that motorcycle riders are counseled to dress for the fall, not the ride, one wonders how many injuries Madison Fire Department paramedics had to handle from bike riders whose birthday suits met pavement.

 

Redirected redistricting

David French reports that yesterday …

… the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Gill v. Whitford — better known as the “Wisconsin gerrymandering case” — and the plaintiffs lost, at least for now. Wisconsin will not have to redraw its legislative districts. But the court didn’t rule for Wisconsin on the merits. Instead, it held that the plaintiffs hadn’t established Article III standing in the case. They hadn’t established a concrete, particularized, individual harm. Instead, they were arguing that they had suffered harms because they were Democrats, and Democrats as a whole were underrepresented in the Wisconsin legislature. The plaintiffs didn’t just want to fix their individual districts (the conventional response to an individualized harm). They wanted rework the entire system.

Justice Roberts, writing for a unanimous Court, explained the problem:

The plaintiffs argue that their legal injury is not limited to the injury that they have suffered as individual voters, but extends also to the statewide harm to their interest “in their collective representation in the legislature,” and in influencing the legislature’s overall “composition and policymaking” . . . But our cases to date have not found that this presents an individual and personal injury of the kind required for Article III standing. On the facts of this case, the plaintiffs may not rely on “the kind of undifferentiated, generalized grievance about the conduct of government that we have refused to countenance in the past.” Lance, 549 U. S., at 442. A citizen’s interest in the overall composition of the legislature is embodied in his right to vote for his representative. And the citizen’s abstract interest in policies adopted by the legislature on the facts here is a nonjusticiable “general interest common to all members of the public.”

The plaintiffs rested their case on a “theory of statewide injury to Wisconsin Democrats.” Thus, “It is a case about group political interests, not individual legal rights. But this Court is not responsible for vindicating generalized partisan preferences. The Court’s constitutionally prescribed role is to vindicate the individual rights of the people appearing before it.”

Ordinarily, when plaintiffs lack standing, the Court dismisses the case. But this time the Court remanded it back to the District Court “so that the plaintiffs may have an opportunity to prove concrete and particularized injuries using evidence — unlike the bulk of the evidence presented thus far — that would tend to demonstrate a burden on their individual votes.” Justices Gorsuch and Thomas objected to the remand, arguing that the plaintiffs had their opportunity to present their standing argument, and failed.

So, the plaintiffs live to fight again, but this time they’re going to have to prove exactly how their individual districts are “packed” (too many voters of one party unnaturally jammed in one district) or “cracked” (voters are split from their districts to dilute partisan representation) and then seek a remedy for their specific districts. In other words, it just got much more difficult to seek a statewide revision of an allegedly partisan gerrymander.

Also [Monday], the court issued a second unanimous opinion (this one per curiam) in a case brought by Maryland Republicans challenging a Democratic gerrymander. In Benisek v. Lamone, Supreme Court held that the district court didn’t abuse its discretion when it denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, but did so without opining on the merits of their case. SCOTUS held that the plaintiffs had failed to pursue their claims with “reasonable diligence” and that an injunction could have “chaotic” and “disruptive” effect on the electoral process.

Benisek is largely meaningless. Gill, however, is of some consequence. The case — while a “punt” on the merits — does have a clear purpose. It demonstrates once again that there’s no easy judicial path through what is (at its heart) a tangled political morass. When districting is delegated to the political branches of government, it will be — hold on to your hats — thoroughly political. States can choose different ways to district, but when a state chooses the political path, the Supreme Court’s default position should be to defer, absent clear and unequivocal constitutional violations. And, by the way, there is no constitutional right to a legislative composition that matches each party’s share of the vote.

Moreover, while there is no doubt packing and cracking in any political districting process, we can’t forget that the American people are in the midst of their own, voluntary gerrymander. The number of “landslide counties” (where one presidential candidate wins by 20 points or more) keeps increasing. People are packing themselves, and this “Big Sort” means that no judicial decision can deliver the sweeping solutions that many activists crave.

An actually important issue, as opposed to political issues today

Romina Boccia:

The Social Security Administration released its annual trustees report this week, and the prognosis is not good.

Trust fund depletion—the date when Social Security’s reserves will be exhausted and the program will only be able to spend what it receives in payroll taxes at that time—is approaching at a rapid pace. This year, Social Security will dip into its reserves for the first time since 1982.

Simply put, the trust fund is being drained.

The Social Security trustees report is a key pulse check on the single largest federal government program—the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance program—and its sibling, the Disability Insurance Program.

Americans should be made aware of the true state of Social Security so they can better understand why reforming the program is not only necessary, but absolutely essential.

Here are five takeaways from the most recent financial report:

1. $41 billion cash-flow deficit in 2017.

Social Security is still considered solvent and able to pay full benefits because it has accumulated a $2.9 trillion trust fund, but since the entirety of its trust fund consists of IOUs, cash-flow deficits must be financed by general revenue taxes or new public borrowing.

Since 2010, the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance program has taken in less money from payroll tax revenues and the taxation of benefits than it pays out in benefits, resulting in cash-flow deficits.

2. $16.1 trillion in unfunded obligations.

The trustees report that Social Security’s unfunded obligation has reached $13.2 trillion. That’s the difference between what the program is expected to receive in income, and what it’s expected to spend over the next 75 years.

But this figure assumes that the $2.9 trillion in trust fund reserves are available to be spent. The problem is that these reserves represent liabilities for the U.S. taxpayer.

The payroll revenues have already been spent and the trust fund has been credited with U.S. bonds, which represent claims on the American taxpayer. So, the actual unfunded obligation is $16.1 trillion.

3. Insolvent by 2034.

Social Security is only legally permitted to spend more than it takes in until its trust fund is depleted. And, based on current projections, the Social Security Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance trust funds will be depleted by 2034.

When that happens, Social Security payouts will automatically be cut to the amount the programs will receive in revenues, regardless of benefits due at that time.

4. Automatic 21 percent cut in benefits.

Once both Social Security trust funds are depleted, the programs will only be able to pay out 79 percent of scheduled benefits, based on payroll and other Social Security tax revenues projected at that time.

What this means for beneficiaries is that in the absence of congressional action, benefits could be delayed or indiscriminately cut across the board by 21 percent.

5. Delaying reform comes with a high cost.

In their report, the trustees highlight that if Congress waits until the trust funds become exhausted, the cost of making the program solvent will be as much as 40 percent higher. That means much deeper benefit cuts and higher tax increases for workers and beneficiaries.

If Congress opted to raise the payroll tax rate to cover the shortfall, without adjusting benefits, workers would need to part with 16.3 percent of their covered earnings, up from the current rate of 12.4 percent.

What Congress Can Do

There are several key reforms Congress should pursue in order to preserve benefits for the most vulnerable beneficiaries, without increasing the tax or debt burden on younger generations. The longer Congress waits the act, the more painful the changes will be down the road to address Social Security’s looming insolvency.

The Social Security Reform Act of 2016, introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, presents a reasonable, targeted, and fiscally responsible approach to begin reforming Social Security.

Johnson’s plan would enhance the progressive features of the Social Security benefit formula, focusing benefits on American workers with lower incomes, while reducing benefits for upper-income earners who are better able to provide for their own retirement needs through savings and investment.

Johnson’s proposal would also gradually raise the full retirement age to 69. Americans would be encouraged to work longer, if they can, through the accrual of higher benefits for those who wait until 72 years of age to collect benefits.

These and other policies in the Johnson bill demonstrate that commonsense reform is possible and can be done without requiring higher taxes.

The growing Social Security crisis is not going away, and the president and Congress must work together to begin to resolve it. Social Security benefits should be more appropriately targeted, and Americans of all income levels should be empowered to own more of their retirement by reaping the gains from economic growth in their personal nest eggs.

The trust fund is steadily being drained. Social Security reform is both urgent and essential.

This is not news to those who pay attention to government finance. For the last two years the disability portion of Social Security has been heading toward deficit. Two decades ago Congress and Bill Clinton could have come up with a deal to solve this problem, but didn’t. Every president and Congress has punted on this problem since then.

Well, Democrats?

Investor’s Business Daily:

Rather than rooting on the strong economy, Democrats have taken to ignoring it, belittling it or, like Bill Maher did over the weekend, rooting for a recession. The extent to which Trump critics will go is truly mind-boggling.

The unemployment rate is at 49-year lows overall, and lower than ever for African-Americans. Household incomes are at record highs. The U.S. reclaimed its No. 1 rank in competitiveness. Economists are revising their growth forecasts upward. Optimism is at levels not seen in more than a decade.

Clearly the economy is doing well. And what’s more, the public is increasingly crediting President Trump for it — as they should, since much of the turnaround is due to his dumping Obamanomics.

But what’s a Democrat hoping to reclaim the House majority in November to do?

One is to ignore the economy altogether. So, Democrats are trying to turn attention to things like ObamaCare premiums or alleged corruption in the Trump administration.

Ignoring the economy will be tough, however, particularly if GDP growth comes in strong in Q2 and unemployment continues to fall.

The second option is to belittle it.

Nancy Pelosi, having dismissed the tax-cut-fueled raises and bonuses that millions of workers received as “crumbs,” is now dismissing the good economic news as no big deal. Why? “Because of the wage stagnation.”

“Our economy,” she said, “will never fully reach its possibilities unless we increase the consumer confidence.”

The army of media fact-checkers must have been asleep when she said this, since her claims are so easy to debunk.

Average hourly wages climbed 2.7% in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And as we noted in this space recently, median household income is at historic highs.

Meanwhile, every survey shows confidence levels at or approaching new highs since Trump took office.

The IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index, currently at 53.9, has averaged 53.5 under Trump, compared with 47 during President Obama’s entire second term. (Anything over 50 is optimistic).

The Consumer Confidence Index is currently at 128, which is 25 points higher than it ever reached under Obama, and higher than it’s been in 17 years.

Dismissing this good economic news as meaningless — after spending eight years proclaiming how great the stagnant economy was under Obama — isn’t going to dispel the notion that Democrats are out of touch with working families.

The third option is to admit openly what many Democrats no doubt feel privately: That a good recession is what the party needs to reclaim its former glory. After all, it did get Obama elected president.

Over the weekend, HBO talk show host Bill Maher spoke the words out load.

“I feel like the bottom has to fall out at some point,” he said, talking about the booming economy. “And by the way, I’m hoping for it because one way you get rid of Trump is a crashing economy.

“Sorry if that hurts people, but it’s either root for a recession or you lose your democracy.”

Let’s leave aside the glaring logical fallacy Maher commits with his false dilemma, and ponder what he is saying.

Maher would, if he could, throw millions of people into unemployment and poverty, watch as hard-earned savings vanish, wages stagnate and hope gets crushed, if that might keep Trump from winning re-election.

Wow.

Of course, it’s easy for Maher to wish that, since he’s already made his millions attacking Republicans. But just how many of his fellow Trump-loathing Democrats secretly feel the same way?

Reporters love to force Republican politicians to answer for anything outrageous that a conservative says. Shouldn’t these same reporters, to prove their lack of political bias, press every single Democrat running for office in November to condemn Maher’s economic death wish?

That question should be asked of Wisconsin Democrats running against Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans as well. (To normal people the definition of “fail” is not insufficient government spending or regulation in your favorite area of either.)

Conservatism’s new intellectual rock star

The Wall Street Journal:

Jordan Peterson doesn’t seem to think of himself as a conservative. Yet there he is, standing in the space once inhabited by conservative thinkers such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley Jr. and Irving Kristol. Addressing a public that seems incapable of discussing anything but freedom, Mr. Peterson presents himself unmistakably as a philosophical advocate of order. His bestselling book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” makes sense of ideas like the “hierarchy of place, position and authority,” as well as people’s most basic attachments to “tribe, religion, hearth, home and country” and “the flag of the nation.” The startling success of his elevated arguments for the importance of order has made him the most significant conservative thinker to appear in the English-speaking world in a generation.

Mr. Peterson, 56, is a University of Toronto professor and a clinical psychologist. Over the past two years he has rocketed to fame, especially online and in contentious TV interviews. To his detractors, he might as well be Donald Trump. He has been criticized for the supposed banality of his theories, for his rambling and provocative rhetoric, and for his association with online self-help products. He has suffered, too, the familiar accusations of sexism and racism.

From what I have seen, these charges are baseless. But even if Mr. Peterson is imperfect, that shouldn’t distract from the important argument he has advanced—or from its implications for a possible revival in conservative thought. The place to begin, as his publishing house will no doubt be pleased to hear, is with “12 Rules for Life,” which is a worthy and worthwhile introduction to his philosophy.

Departing from the prevailing Marxist and liberal doctrines, Mr. Peterson relentlessly maintains that the hierarchical structure of society is hard-wired into human nature and therefore inevitable: “The dominance hierarchy, however social or cultural it might appear, has been around for some half a billion years. It’s permanent.” Moreover, young men and women (but especially men) tend to be healthy and productive only when they have found their place working their way up a hierarchy they respect. When they fail to do so, they become rudderless and sick, worthless to those around them, sometimes aimlessly violent.

In viewing political and social hierarchies as inevitable, Mr. Peterson may seem to be defending whoever happens to be powerful. But he’s doing nothing of the kind. He rejects the Marxist claim that traditional hierarchies are only about the self-interested pursuit of power. Human beings like having power, Mr. Peterson acknowledges. Yet the desire for it also drives them to develop the kinds of abilities their societies value. In a well-ordered society, high status often is a reward conferred for doing things that actually need to be done and done well: defending the state, producing things people need, enlarging the sphere of knowledge.

Mr. Peterson does not deny the Marxist charge that society oppresses individuals. “Culture is an oppressive structure,” he writes. “It’s always been that way. It’s a fundamental, universal existential reality.” But he breaks with prevailing political thought when he argues that the suffering involved in conforming to tradition may be worth it. When a father disciplines his son, he interferes with the boy’s freedom, painfully forcing him into accepted patterns of behavior and thought. “But if the father does not take such action,” Mr. Peterson says, “he merely lets his son remain Peter Pan, the eternal Boy, King of the Lost Boys, Ruler of the non-existent Neverland.”

Similarly, Mr. Peterson insists it is “necessary and desirable for religions to have a dogmatic element.” This provides a stable worldview that allows a young person to become “a properly disciplined person” and “a well-forged tool.”

Yet this is not, for Mr. Peterson, the highest human aspiration. It is merely the first necessary step along a path toward maturity, toward an ever more refined uniqueness and individuality. The individuality he describes emerges over decades from an original personality forged through painful discipline. The alternative, he writes, is to remain “an adult two-year old” who goes to pieces in the face of any adversity and for whom “softness and harmlessness become the only consciously acceptable virtues.”

Like other conservative thinkers before him, Mr. Peterson’s interest in tradition flows from an appreciation of the weakness of the individual’s capacity for reason. We all think we understand a great deal, he tells his readers, but this is an illusion. What we perceive instead is a “radical, functional, unconscious simplification of the world—and it’s almost impossible for us not to mistake it for the world itself.”

Given the unreliability of our own thinking, Mr. Peterson recommends beginning with tried and tested ideas: “It is reasonable to do what other people have always done, unless we have a very good reason not to.” Maturity demands that we set out to “rediscover the values of our culture—veiled from us by our ignorance, hidden in the dusty treasure-trove of the past—rescue them, and integrate them into our own lives.”

In Western countries, that effort at rediscovery leads to one place. “The Bible,” Mr. Peterson writes, “is, for better or worse, the foundational document of Western civilization.” It is the ultimate source of our understanding of good and evil. Its appearance uprooted the ancient view that the powerful had the right simply to take ownership of the weak, a change that was “nothing short of a miracle.” The Bible challenged, and eventually defeated, a world in which the murder of human beings for entertainment, infanticide, slavery and prostitution were simply the way things had to be.

As many readers have pointed out, Nietzsche’s critique of Enlightenment philosophy—he once called Kant “that catastrophic spider”—is everywhere in Mr. Peterson’s thought, even in his writing style. It is felt in his calls to “step forward to take your place in the dominance hierarchy,” and to “dare to be dangerous.” It is felt in risqué pronouncements such as this: “Men have to toughen up. Men demand it, and women want it.”

A famous passage from Nietzsche describes the destruction of the belief in God as the greatest cataclysm mankind has ever faced: “What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?”

Mr. Peterson chronicles the misery of individuals now drifting through this “infinite nothing.” But he rejects Nietzsche’s atheism, along with the conclusion that we can make our own values. In telling readers to return to the Bible, Mr. Peterson seeks to rechain the earth to its sun. That seems impossible. Yet a vast audience has demonstrated a willingness, at least, to try.

For Mr. Peterson, the death of God was followed inevitably by a quick descent into hell. During the “terrible twentieth century,” as he calls it, “we discovered something worse, much worse, than the aristocracy and corrupt religious beliefs that communism and fascism sought so rationally to supplant.” The Holocaust and the gulag, he argues, are sufficient to define evil for us, and “the good is whatever stops such things from happening.”

That is perfectly good Old Testament-style reasoning. Mr. Peterson adds Christian tropes such as the need for an “act of faith,” an “irrational commitment to the essential goodness” of things, a recognition that although “life is suffering,” sacrificing ourselves, as if on the cross, is pleasing to God.

Mr. Peterson’s intellectual framework has its weaknesses. He invokes recent social science (and its jargon) with a confidence that is at times naive. His often brilliant “12 Rules for Life” is littered with Heideggerian rubbish about “the betterment of Being,” in places where a thinker of Mr. Peterson’s abilities should have seen the need for a more disciplined effort to understand God. He lacks Nietzsche’s alertness to the ways in which the great religious traditions contradict one another, leading their adherents toward very different lives. Thus while Mr. Peterson is quite a good reader of the Bible, it is at times maddening to watch him import alien ideas into scripture—for instance, that the chaos preceding the creation was “female”—so as to fill out a supposed archetypal symmetry.

Nonetheless, what Mr. Peterson has achieved is impressive. In his writings and public appearances, he has made a formidable case that order—and not just freedom—is a fundamental human need, one now foolishly neglected. He is compelling in arguing that the order today’s deconstructed society so desperately lacks can be reintroduced, even now, through a renewed engagement with the Bible and inherited religious tradition.

Before Mr. Peterson, there was no solid evidence that a broad public would ever again be interested in an argument for political order. For more than a generation, Western political discourse has been roughly divided into two camps. Marxists are sharply aware of the status hierarchies that make up society, but they are ideologically committed to overthrowing them. Liberals (both the progressive and classical varieties) tend to be altogether oblivious to the hierarchical and tribal character of political life. They know they’re supposed to praise “civil society,” but the Enlightenment concepts they use to think about the individual and the state prevent them from recognizing the basic structures of the political order, what purposes they serve, and how they must be maintained.

In short, modern political discourse is noteworthy for the gaping hollow where there ought to be conservatives—institutions and public figures with something important to teach about political order and how to build it up for everyone’s benefit. Into this opening Mr. Peterson has ventured.

Perhaps without fully intending to do so, he has given the dynamic duo of Marxism and liberalism a hard shove, while shining a light on the devastation these utopian theories are wreaking in Western countries. He has demarcated a large area in which only conservative political and social thought can help. His efforts have provided reason to believe that a significant demand for conservative ideas still lives under the frozen wastes of our intellectual landscape.

If so, then Mr. Peterson’s appearance may be the harbinger of a broader rebirth. His book is a natural complement to important recent works such as Ryszard Legutko’s “The Demon in Democracy,” Patrick Deneen’s “Why Liberalism Failed” and Amy Chua’s “Political Tribes.” Representing divergent political perspectives, these works nevertheless share Mr. Peterson’s project of getting past the Marxist and liberal frameworks and confronting our trained incapacity to see human beings and human societies for what they really are. As the long-awaited revival of conservative political thought finally gets under way, there may be much more of this to come.

The circular financial firing squad

Investors.com:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants her fellow Democrats to take on what she calls the “billionaire class.” Does Warren know that many, if not most, of this tiny group of people are liberal Democrats?

On a recent podcast hosted by Mehdi Hasan of The Intercept, Hasan asked Warren if she thought Democrats lacked the “guts” to go after billionaires.

Warren response was “Yeah.” She’s particularly upset at the handful of her fellow Democrats who voted for a bill that watered down the Dodd-Frank banking regulation behemoth.

Warren went on to say: “Until we have all the Democrats who are willing to take on the billionaire class, until we have all the Democrats who are willing to fight for the American people and not for a handful of billionaires and giant corporations, then it’s going to stay an uphill fight.”

This makes little sense.

For one thing, there are only 585 of them in the U.S. today, according to Forbes. And plenty of them are big-time Democrats.

Does she intend, for example, to take on Warren Buffett, who, with a net worth of $84 billion, is the third richest man in the world? He’s a longtime Democrat who’s pushed for tax hikes on the rich, backed Hillary Clinton, and who gave 99% of his money to Democrats and liberal groups in the past four election cycles.

Maybe she means Michael Bloomberg, 11th richest man in the world (net worth $50 billion). He’s a huge gun control supporter.

What about George Soros, who’s worth $8 billion? He’s an uber liberal who finances a multitude of left-wing groups like Center for American Progress and Moveon.org. He recently invested $3 million in The New York Times.

In 2016, Soros gave at least $7 million to Hillary Clinton’s Priorities USA super-PAC. He’s donated more than $61 million to Democrats and liberals since 1989, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Does Warren want to “take on” environmental activist Tom Steyer — net worth $1.6 billion. He donated more than $91 million to Democrats in 2016 alone, and funded a $20 million ad campaign calling for President Trump’s impeachment.

Or perhaps she means Netflix CEO Reed Hastings (net worth $2.7 billion). Except that Hastings is another prominent Democrat who eagerly supported Clinton and just signed a deal with Barack Obama to produce programs for Netflix.

Other billionaires Warren says Democrats should have the “guts” take on would include liberals like Google’s Larry Page ($48.8 billion), Laurene Powell Jobs ($18.8 billion), Oprah Winfrey ($2.7 billion), Starbucks’ Howard Schultz ($2.7 billion), Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg ($1.6 billion).

Of the 36 billionaires who made campaign contributions over the past four election cycles, 40% of their money — totaling $148 million — went to Democrats, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.org. And this doesn’t include “dark money” donations — funds given to groups engaged in politics that don’t have to disclose their donors.

What about those greedy bankers? Turns out, plenty of them are Democratic supporters, too.

A few years ago, Yahoo Finance teamed up with Crowdpac to rank CEOs based on political donations. One of the five most liberal on the list was Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein, whose company made news during the election when it turned out that Goldman had paid Hillary Clinton $675,000 to appear at three Q&A sessions, two of them run by Blankfein himself.

In 6th and 7th place were James Gorman of Morgan Stanley (MS) and Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM).

Billionaire hedge fund manager Jim Simons gave more than $7 million to Hillary Clinton’s Priorities USA Action super PAC. He gave $2.6 million to the Democratic House and Senate Majority PACs, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Laurence Fink, CEO of the investing giant BlackRock (BLK), is another prominent Democrat who wants companies he invests in to have a “positive impact on society” (i.e., support liberal causes).

Bank of America (BAC) CEO Brian Moynihan has over the years given money to Jeanne Shaheen, Patrick Kennedy, Harold Ford Jr., Ted Kennedy, Ed Markey and John Kerry. He even gave $6,300 to then Sen. Chris Dodd — he of Dodd-Frank fame.

Sure, lots of billionaires support Republicans and oppose Warren’s leftist politics. So do lots of people at all income levels.

But the idea that the “billionaire class” opposes all that is good in this country and that they must be defeated to get anything done is nothing more than sophomoric political posturing.

Those who advocate this need to explain how taking money away from billionaires is going to make the rest of us better off, especially considering how billionaires are able to hire squadrons of CPAs to keep their money away from the government.

 

The list, the list, the list

For those wondering what in the world the headline refers to: A previous employer included a coworker known for speaking in his own clichés. Toward the end of my time there we had a going-away party for a reporter (whom I replaced when she switched beats). The boss brought a karaoke machine, and between that and the adult beverages we came up with a song that included every one of his pet phrases, including what he (the only newsroom employee not present at the party) would ask us reporters every morning, “What have you for the [story] list?”

Somehow I missed this from Bloomberg News when it was reported two months ago:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to monitor hundreds of thousands of news sources around the world and compile a database of journalists, editors, foreign correspondents, and bloggers to identify top “media influencers.”

It’s seeking a contractor that can help it monitor traditional news sources as well as social media and identify “any and all” coverage related to the agency or a particular event, according to a request for information released April 3.

The data to be collected includes a publication’s “sentiment” as well as geographical spread, top posters, languages, momentum, and circulation. No value for the contract was disclosed.

“Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers,” according to the statement. DHS agencies have “a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach federal, state, local, tribal, and private partners,” it said.

The DHS wants to track more than 290,000 global news sources, including online, print, broadcast, cable, and radio, as well as trade and industry publications, local, national and international outlets, and social media, according to the documents. It also wants the ability to track media coverage in more than 100 languages including Arabic, Chinese, and Russian, with instant translation of articles into English.

The request comes amid heightened concern about accuracy in media and the potential for foreigners to influence U.S. elections and policy through “fake news.” Nineteen lawmakers including Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month, asking whether Qatar-based Al Jazeera should register as a foreign agent because it “often directly undermines” U.S. interests with favorable coverage of Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

The DHS request says the selected vendor will set up an online “media influence database” giving users the ability to browse based on location, beat, and type of influence. For each influencer found, “present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer.”

Once again the term “homeland security’ is being perverted into something that has nothing to do with national security. What possible national security interest could there be in this list? And should the government compile such a list given that inconvenient limitation on government called the First Amendment?

There are two additional questions: (1) What if you are on the list? (2) What if you’re not on the list?

 

What if there’s a red wave?

Democrats have been falling all over themselves predicting great successes in the Nov. 6 elections … or at least they did until the various generic Congressional candidate ballots swung away from Democrats.

Christopher Buskirk writes about a historically unlikely but increasingly possible result Nov. 6:

Republicans have long criticized Democrats for dividing the country into competing grievance groups. Some now realize that the Republican analogue has been to divide the country into radically autonomous individuals based on a cartoonish misreading of libertarianism that replaces the free markets and free minds of Friedrich Hayek with the greed and hubris of Gordon Gekko. But that is changing quickly. There is a renewed emphasis on addressing America and Americans as a community characterized by fraternal bonds and mutual responsibility — what Lincoln called the “mystic chords of memory.

Mr. Trump tapped into this. Most Republicans accept his transgressive personality and his intentional tweaking of social and political norms because they see it as in service of those larger ideas. That will seem counterintuitive to Trump haters, but fiddling with tax rates, however necessary and beneficial, can’t sustain a political movement, let alone a nation. Issues of citizenship and solidarity — that is to say, asking what it means to be an American — have returned to the fore. This is partly because of Mr. Trump and partly in spite of him. What is important is that the tumult caused by his unusual candidacy and his unusual approach to governing created an environment in which an intellectual refounding of Republican politics became possible.

The three-legged stool of the new Republican majority is a pro-citizen immigration policy, a pro-worker economic policy and a foreign policy that rejects moral imperialism and its concomitant foreign wars. John Quincy Adams described just such a foreign policy when he said that America was “the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all” but “the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

Giving up on a failed policy of moral imperialism allows Republicans to focus on forming good citizens and restoring a sense of Americanism that relies upon strong ties of fellowship and belief in a shared destiny. To that end, our candidates would be well advised to ignore strategists and consultants who talk exclusively in terms of messaging tailored to statistical constructs like “disaffected Democrats with some college” or “married suburban men who drive S.U.V.s.” When it comes to politics, most people don’t want to be addressed as members of a demographic group looking for a payoff. They want to be addressed as Americans.

Senate candidates like Lou Barletta in Pennsylvania and Mike Braun in Indiana, who have embraced the rhetoric and the policies that connect citizenship and civic virtue, have seen it propel them to victory in their recent primaries. This is a salutary change from the last generation of Republican politicians who seemed to think that they could persuade voters with spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. While appeals to narrow self-interest can work for a while, they eventually fall short because they ignore human nature. From Martha McSally in Arizona to Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee, candidates are sharing this all-embracing message.

That’s why Mr. Trump’s rhetoric works. When he speaks off the cuff, he talks about “we,” “us” and “our.” He has said repeatedly that we love our farmers, our police, our flag and our national anthem — even our coal miners. It is an odd construction, or at least one we’re not used to hearing. It speaks to the essential fraternity of the nation, but when Mr. Trump says it — maybe when any Republican says it — too many people don’t believe that they are included in the “our.” They hear something much narrower than what is meant. People reject the essentially wholesome message because of the messenger. That needs to change because they are, in fact, our farmers, our police and our coal miners, and we should love them. The bonds of civil union that ought to hold us together demand that we love our fellow citizens in their imperfection even as they love us in ours.

This year’s class of Republican candidates seems to get that in ways that they didn’t in 2016. As a result, the Democrats’ advantage in the generic congressional vote dropped from 13 points in January, according to the Real Clear Politics poll average, to 3.5 points at the end of May. A Reuters poll, which recorded a 14-point Democratic edge in April, gave Republicans a 6-point advantage last month. Apparently “resistance” and impeachment aren’t as popular as Democratic megadonors like Tom Steyer and their vassals would have Democratic candidates believe, although RealClearPolitics and Reuters now show Democrats with roughly an eight-point advantage.

Ned Ryun, a veteran Republican activist, notedthat the polls now closely mirror the polls in May 2014, when Democrats went on to lose 13 House seats. He also notes that while there are nearly 40 Republicans who are not seeking re-election, only six of them represent districts won by Hillary Clinton. Financially, Republicans are in much better shape, with the Republican National Committee holding $44 million in cash while the Democratic National Committee is $5 million in debt.

There are even more cracks in the Democrats’ front line. Longtime Democrats like Mark Penn, a former Clinton pollster and confidant, are sick of the scandal mongering. Mr. Penn wrote recentlythat “Rather than a fair, limited and impartial investigation, the Mueller investigation became a partisan, open-ended inquisition that, by its precedent, is a threat to all those who ever want to participate in a national campaign or an administration again.”

At some point, the combination of scandal fatigue — there is almost no crime of which Mr. Trump is not regularly accused — and the continuing revelations of improprieties by government officials (in the F.B.I., at the Department of Justice and elsewhere) will lead voters to believe that Mr. Trump got a raw deal.

Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, is pledging higher taxes. Al Green, a seven-term Texas Democrat, and at least 58 other House Democrats, are promising impeachment. But the stock market is up, wages are up, unemployment is down, and peace may be breaking out on the Korean Peninsula. How many people will vote for higher taxes and all the social and political stress associated with impeachment?

Some Democrats are beginning to sense this. One Washington Post columnist predicted that “there will be no Trump collapse” while others are expressing concern that Mr. Mueller’s investigation — his dawn raids and strong-arm tactics — don’t play well in Peoria. If Mr. Mueller is not able to prove collusion with Russia, the stated reason for his appointment, then Democrats, who have talked about little else for the past 18 months, will be left looking unserious or worse. They’re right to worry.

Up until recently, the conventional wisdom has been that a blue wave powered by a huge enthusiasm gap would propel Democrats to midterm glory. But the evidence doesn’t bear that out. Yes, Democrats have won some special elections and those victories are real and should warn Republicans against complacency. But left almost totally unremarked upon is that Republican primary turnout is way up from where it was at this point in the 2014 midterm cycle. This is often the result of competitive primaries, but that underscores the vibrancy of the grass roots’ struggle to reclaim control of the party.

According to Chris Wilson at WPI Intelligence, Republican primary turnout was up 43 percent or more over 2014 in states like Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia. The president’s popularity has been rising overall but especially in these critical battleground states. In West Virginia, his approval rating was over 60 percent in 2017. That sounds more like a red wave than a blue one, especially for imperiled senators like Joe Manchin in West Virginia and Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

Yes, the victories won in 2016 can be reversed, but only by voters at the polls and not by any of the irregular means that occupy the fantasies of many people who still can’t believe that their side lost. Persuasion still matters — and it better matter or we’ve got bigger problems. For Republicans, this should be a back-to-basics election. Talk about principles, not just tactics. Talk about America. If Republicans really want to win, then their pronouns must be we, us and our, and they have to make sure that the people who hear them know that they are included in we, us and our. That’s the key to building an enduring electoral majority and a better country.

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