I’m Sorry, Is Brexit Boring You?

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Laughing at Britain’s Brexit woes might be justified if other countries were successfully tackling the pre-eminent problem of the early 21st century — reconciling meaningful democracy and self-determination with the imperative for global regulation and governance. But since no-one else has bothered to pick up the torch of destiny, maybe it’s time to rethink the self-satisfied mockery.

Spare a thought for poor Ryan Heath of Politico EU. He simply finds Brexit – and specifically Britain’s ongoing debate about the nature and timing of our departure from the European Union – too boring to deal with anymore .

At this point a half-competent developer could probably build an algorithm to randomly generate these generic, establishment media anti-Brexit Op-Eds disguised as Serious Analysis. Simply change the order of the sentences and the particular focus (elderly racists, evil Russians, young people having their futures stolen, glorious isolation, the end of Our NHS), crank the handle and out will come another cookie-cutter article ready to publish.

For those journalists observing from across the sea, the generic takes tend to be even more uniformly simplistic – former colonial power having an identity crisis, mid-sized country trying and failing to punch above its weight, lots of schadenfreude about loss of empire, lots of gloating over the humiliation of a country ranked by the intelligentsia alongside only America and Israel as uniquely evil and benighted, polished off with a smarmy, waggish lecture about chickens coming home to roost.

Ryan Heath gives us an absolutely perfect encapsulation of such an article this week in Politico. Headlined “Brexit Britain: Small, Boring and Stupid” it indulges every tedious trope ever to have emerged from the Remainer hive mind.

A sample:

Brexit is the story of a proud former imperial power undergoing a mid-life crisis. The rest of the world is left listening to Britain’s therapy session as they drone on about their ex-spouse, the EU: When will they stop talking and just move on?

The promise of Brexit at the time it narrowly passed in a national referendum in June of 2016 was that it was a way for Britain to feel big again — no longer hectored by the EU bureaucracy in Brussels, no longer treated as just one of 28 members in an unwieldy confederacy.

“Britain is special,” the Brexiteers assured British voters, who cast their ballots accordingly.

The last two years have revealed something different: For the first time in modern history, Britain is small. Having sailed into the 20th century as an empire, the U.K. spent the second half of the century shedding nearly all of its colonies — and as a result much of its economic and military might.

For the first time in modern history, Britain is small? Isn’t that what they said after Victory in Europe, after Suez, during the Winter of Discontent and a hundred other, smaller national and geopolitical events? If Britain truly had shrunk in power and stature as much as has been claimed by the commentariat after each of these events, we would currently have the geopolitical heft of Burundi. Something doesn’t quite add up.

But it turns out that this was just the pleasant introduction, before Ryan Heath really dials up the condescension to 100:

While many Brits have strong emotions about the EU, they rarely have a strong understanding. I feel like a kindergarten teacher every time I speak on the issue.

It is fashionable to blame an irresponsible U.K. media (including the country’s most famous sometime-journalist, now leading Brexiteer MP Boris Johnson) for stoking misunderstanding about the EU for decades. Long before Macedonian troll factories and Russian bots there were the editors of the Sun tabloid newspaper.

But what about the millions of people who consumed those fibs and the spineless politicians who avoided the hassle of correcting them? We blame Greeks for blowing up their economy and hold accountable big-spending governments for saddling future generations with excessive debts. Britons don’t deserve a free pass: It’s time they reckoned with what they sowed through 45 years of shallow EU debate.

It is Britain’s unique ignorance that makes Britain so boring. Ignorant about its leverage and ignorant about the EU, the U.K. is coming across as clumsy and caddish.

On and on it goes – you get the idea.

Ryan Heath, you must understand, exists on a higher plane of consciousness than you and I. With his demigod-like, birds-eye view of geopolitics, instinctive grasp of democratic imperatives and subatomic knowledge of the technocracy underpinning global trade, Heath has conclusively determined that everything is great, there were no issues with the EU worth fussing over, and that Brexit was motivated by nothing more than a spasm of ignorance, racism and pining for lost empire.

But if anything is truly boring, it is not Brexit but rather this well-worn take on Brexit, echoed over and over again from the New York Times to the Atlantic to New York Magazine to Politico. Wherever self-described intellectuals of a center-left persuasion are gathered together, you can read exactly the same cookie-cutter take on Brexit, perfectly crafted to enable them to nod and stroke their beards while having all of their prejudices neatly confirmed.

It’s not new, and it’s not clever. Foreign journalists and media outlets have been repeating the same old tired “humiliation of a former colonial power” trope since the end of the Second World War. Often, these articles pointedly incorporate Dean Acheson’s famous quote about Britain having “lost an empire and not yet found a role”, presumably in an effort to add some gravitas and borrowed credibility. And now as 2018 draws to a close, Ryan Heath has the nerve to draw a salary in exchange for churning out the same tired observations made by half a century’s worth of diplomats and journalists.

Words cannot express how profoundly Brexit has caused me to lose faith in our political, intellectual and media class. At a time when the prestige media is increasingly busy beating its collective breast, playing the victim and positioning itself as the last great bulwark protecting Liberal Democracy from the (white working class) barbarian hordes, at best they seem to have become fundamentally uncurious about the single most important political debate and experiment in the world currently taking place in Britain, and at worst they openly cheerlead for the status quo.

If Ryan Heath spent less time airily declaring his boredom, he might dwell on the fact that Brexit – in all its halting, stop-start awkwardness – is the first significant attempt by any country to answer the question of how a modern nation state can reconcile the technocratic demands of global trade with the need to preserve meaningful democracy. On this key question, Britain is currently the laboratory of the world. No other first-tier country has dared to touch the subject with a ten-foot bargepole. At best, some of the more forward-thinking opinion journalists are belatedly ringing the alarm bells, but nowhere other than Britain have these concerns generated any kind of significant governmental response.

Sure, it doesn’t always sound like anything so noble is taking place, particularly when you hear one self-aggrandizing MP after another parade their ignorance on the television news, or when UKIP’s leader du jour stands up to grunt about Muslims and evil immigrants. But the job of good journalists working for a vigilant press is to look beyond the obvious, superficial headline at the deeper, underlying story. Just as no one expert in any particular field can plausibly claim to speak authoritatively on the merits and drawbacks of Brexit, no one journalist can make authoritative sweeping statements about Brexit from the sole perspective of their own cloistered social and professional circles.

At a time when the EU is signally failing millions of its citizens, when southern Europe’s economy remains sclerotic, youth unemployment endemic, populist parties and authoritarian leaders are gaining traction everywhere and civil order has been restored in Paris only thanks to EU-branded armored personnel carriers, some introspection as to the EU’s flaws and capacity to overcome those flaws might be in order. Some serious interrogation of the political leaders who delivered us to this baleful moment might justifiably be expected. But don’t look for such searching coverage in the prestige press, which would rather unquestioningly take the side of the people whose lack of foresight and political courage pushed the campaign for Brexit over the finish line.

In what passes for my feeble magnum opus of 2017, I laid out some of these challenges as they pertain to Britain:

Automation, outsourcing and globalisation have incrementally, relentlessly eaten away at the idea of a steady, 9-5 factory or retail job being sufficient to raise a family or buy a house. Millions of people who in decades past went through an education system which prepared them for little else now find themselves having to learn new computer or service-based skills from scratch, with almost no support or coordination from local or national government.

Even university graduates find that their degrees are of increasingly dubious value, and are obliged to virtually fight to the death for a coveted place on a corporate graduate scheme. The losers go back to live with their parents or work in minimum wage drudgery, wondering why their BA in critical gender theory hasn’t proven to be the passport to the slick professional city life they crave. Call centres and giant Amazon distribution centres have become the new dark satanic mills of modern Britain. Our present education policy should be focused entirely on this looming precipice, yet we distract ourselves by arguments over grammar schools or whether boys should be allowed to wear tiaras and tutus in class.

Meanwhile, there is a huge global human migration underway, prompted by the fact that countless millions more people are connected to the world through the internet and have the means to move from struggling countries to new lands of perceived opportunity – sometimes legally, usually illegally. Political leaders have openly or tacitly welcomed and even fuelled this flow, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the required housing, infrastructure and services do not smoothly and automatically increase in direct proportion to a rising population – and then dare to act startled and affronted when the resident population complains about the impact.

At the same time, elites have preached a gospel of absolute tolerance and multiculturalism while refusing to promote British or Western values, or encourage new immigrants to assimilate, and then cry “racism!” when inevitable tensions occur. They have created a country where some British-born people feel more affinity and allegiance to a barbaric Islamist death cult than the country which gave them life and liberty – and then prove it by stealing away to join ISIS or launching terror attacks which kill and maim their fellow citizens.

[..] Each one of these issues forms part of a crumbling edifice representing the failed, discredited and obsolete centrist political consensus. Tinkering with the EU – to the limited extent that Britain could ever effect meaningful directional change in Brussels – was never going to happen, despite the constant disgruntled, exculpatory outbursts from Remainers that “of COURSE the EU needs reform!”.

What do all of these issues have in common? They are things that the Ryan Heaths and other establishment journalists of this world spend their professional careers furiously refusing to acknowledge as a significant problem in the first place.

In fact, with very few honorable exceptions, one has to look to the neglected and under-appreciated political blogosphere for the kind of analysis that household-name journalists are apparently incapable of performing.

Here’s Pete North, on typically good form, doing Ryan Heath’s job for him:

They think Brexit only happened because of “austerity” – not because we are utterly sick of the lot of them. They think they can once again dip into our wallets to dish out electoral bribes and we’ll be ok with them pissing on our votes. They reckon we didn’t really mean to leave the EU – and that it’s just the underlying issues *they* need to fix. It doesn’t occur to them that the underlying issue is the fact that we hate them and their EU vanity project. It’s all just a management and PR problem to them.

They genuinely think we’re too bovine to care about things like self-determination,. democracy and accountability – and we’ll pack up and go away if there’s a top up of regional funding. We all know nothing would change if we trusted them. As much as anything, we voted to leave precisely because we have an establishment that will continually do as it pleases and ignore the rest of the country when we protest. Even now they don’t get it which is why they can so casually talk about overturning a vote.

They don’t recognise that Brits genuinely want regime change and a change to reshape Britain – and all they offer us is more of the same – more taxes, more authoritarianism and more paternalistic meddling while they heap on the insults. The fact that these well compensated individuals parade Blair, Major, Adonis and Campbell on our screens honestly thinking it will win people over tells you everything you need to know.

Ryan Heath thinks that Britain has made a fool of herself by taking the plunge and voting for Brexit in an attempt to address these looming challenges. That may be so. But what has any other country done to address the pressing challenge of adapting democracy to work in a globalized world? What has the United States done under Trump? Germany under “leader of the free world” Angela Merkel? Or France under the establishment’s beloved Emmanuel Macron?

It is easy to laugh and cast judgments at Brexit’s many pitfalls and the…significant intellectual and personality flaws of those who claim to be leading and speaking for it. But it is much less funny when one is forced to acknowledge that other countries still have their heads in the sand and are not even attempting to answer these increasingly existential questions, despite facing exactly the same democratic pressures and rifts as Britain.

When Donald Trump or his Democratic Party opposition come up with a coherent plan to address these interlinked challenges (rather than ranting about making America great again or bowing down even further to the cult of intersectional identity politics), Britain might look legitimately bad in comparison. When Emmanuel Macron emerges from his hiding place brandishing a plan for national renewal more sophisticated than simply hiking fuel taxes by 40% and screwing the rural poor, Britain might rightly feel a degree of shame. When the European Union takes these issues seriously and prioritizes the welfare of its citizens rather than the completion of the covert federal project, Britain might seem like the ignorant and churlish party by comparison. Needless to say, that day has not yet arrived.

In the European Union we have a supranational, continent-wide political union of distinct nation states, unloved by its nominal citizens, sorely lacking legitimacy, seethingly antagonistic to anything more than rote, symbolic democracy and displaying a marked unwillingness to listen to its people or change direction. Britain at least attempted to resolve this impasse by voting to leave that sclerotic organization, which is more than any other country has done, though the reasons for doing so and preferred modes of Brexit were many and varied. And so if you insist on laughing at Britain for taking this step, then you had darn well better have a bevy of superior, practical and politically feasible alternatives up your sleeve, ready to roll out.

But Ryan Heath has no superior answer to give. His preferred benchmark is the status quo. He clearly sees absolutely nothing wrong with the state of affairs which led to Brexit – the increasing political alienation and sense of powerlessness, a mode of governance which firehoses a stream of economic opportunity at the well-educated but rains financial and social desolation on everyone else, the rampant corruption of the European Union, the sinister drive to implement the project in defiance of any national referenda which stand in its way. All of which is unsurprising, since his professional history includes a stint working as spokesman for Jose Manuel Barroso at the European Commission. A more institutionally captured “objective” journalist does not exist on God’s green earth.

Brexit, in all its imperfections, is an historic opportunity, and one which deserves to be discussed as such at least some of the time by some of the prestige media – even if only as an opportunity missed – rather than the unmitigated, irrational, self-inflicted calamity that it is continually portrayed as by the likes of Heath. As I wrote when (not so implausibly) comparing the story of the hit musical Hamilton to Britain’s current predicament:

Through Brexit, history has gifted us the opportunity to imagine a new and improved form of government, one which strives to meet our future challenges rather than cower from them (all that EU membership offers, most telling in the rhetoric used by Remainers) or pretend that they do not exist (favoured by the more retrograde Brexiteers who envisage a simple rollback to the old nation state). We must seize this opportunity and be a beacon for other nations, all of which must ultimately grapple with the same issues though they may deny or postpone them for a time.

I’m very sorry that Ryan Heath finds Brexit so boring, and one country’s lonely attempt to address the preeminent challenge of the early 21st century a bothersome distraction from the true job of a Politico journalist – breathlessly reporting court gossip and revealing who was spotted dining with who at whichever Michelin-starred restaurant in Brussels or Strasbourg. Silly, selfish us for intruding too long on his consciousness with our concerns about representative democracy and self-determination.

Fortunately for Heath, it increasingly appears that he shall get his wish. The incompetence of Britain’s political class, the invidious dishonesty of the Tory extreme Brexiteers and the highly successful efforts by all corners of the establishment to obstruct and discredit Brexit has gradually increased the possibility that Britain never leaves the European Union at all – or that such a departure consists of nominally leaving the political union while remaining for all intents and purposes permanently bound to its key institutions.

And then of course, Brexit having been thwarted, all will be well with the world once again. Britain will reset to 1998 and a time when all of these pesky concerns about democratic deficits and a dehumanizing macroeconomic policy focus were a low-level hum rather than a piercing, inescapable alarm. People like me will know our place, and once again defer to people like Ryan Heath and the soulless technocracy he so faithfully serves.

Oh, wait.

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Time To Retire The Office Of First Lady?

If American meritocracy and egalitarianism is to mean anything (and admittedly it often doesn’t mean much at all, especially considering the key protagonists in the presidential election we have just witnessed) then is it finally time to abolish the familiar but not-strictly-necessary official role for the spouse of the president?

Jack Shafer makes an undeniably persuasive argument in Politico for abolishing official roles or any expectation of service for first ladies (or future first gentlemen) altogether:

Melania Trump has done the nation a great service by deciding to maintain Trump Tower as her full-time residence and not to move to the White House any time soon. But her resistance shouldn’t stop there. Now is as good a time as any to eliminate the ceremonial office of the “first lady,” that abhorrent honorific we apply to the president’s wife, and encourage the first spouse to live like an ordinary citizen. All we need is for Melania to agree.

Yes, defund the ridiculously large staff that currently earns upward of $1.5 million a year serving Michelle Obama; abolish the federally funded bully pulpit from which the presidential spouses have historically advocated for healthy eating, literacy, child welfare, anti-drug programs, mental health issues and beautification of highways. The president’s spouse isn’t a specimen of American royalty. By giving her a federal budget and nonstop press coverage, we endorse a pernicious kind of neo-nepotism that says, pay special attention to the person not because she’s earned it or is inherently worthy of our notice but because of who she’s related to by marriage.

The hairstyles, fashion choices, vacation destinations and pet projects of the president’s spouse are newsworthy only to the mentally vacant. Other democracies, such as the United Kingdom, bestow no such honors upon the spouses of their leaders and are better for it. To use an au courant phrase, the office of the first spouse is a swamp in need of draining. Won’t somebody please dispatch a dredger to the East Wing?

The comparison made by Shafer between the modern conception of the role of First Spouse and the often more significant work carried out by other first ladies in history, particularly Eleanor Roosevelt, is quite stark:

Some contemporary presidential spouses have led active, involved political lives, providing more than a sounding board [..] Eleanor Roosevelt published books, magazine articles and newspapers advocating positions that routinely outwinged her husband, especially on civil rights. She testified before Congress. She had a regular radio program. She gave regular news conferences. She toured the country in support of migrant workers.

[..] But does any of this work require a staff of 15 or more? The spouses of senators and corporate chiefs provide advice and speechwriting help for their husbands and we don’t give them a budget or lavish them with attention. What’s so special about the first spouse that we should give them $1.5 million in mad money to serve as hostess and confidante, White House remodeling consultant, supervisor of china?

Even when it comes to the serious political work, Roosevelt did what she did with a staff of two and probably could have done without. If the first spouses’ causes are so admirable, the president should propose them and get the government to fund them via official channels instead of building a publicity machine for his spouse to advance them.

It is a compelling argument, one which sets the “conserv” and “-atarian” sides of my brain rather at war with one another. On one hand, if one were building the American democracy from scratch, it is hard to imagine that we would create role as wasteful and often patronising as that of the Office of the First Lady.

As Shafer rightly points out in his piece, most other advanced democracies do not feel the need to put the head of state or head of government’s spouse on a pedestal. While Britain, with our monarchy, may be in no position to give lectures on this particular subject, it is notable that there has never really been great public or institutional demand for the spouse of the prime minister to become some kind of supplementary Mother to the Nation.

And while the traditional, dismal obsession with what prime ministerial spouses choose to wear has not yet died away, the fact that Britain now has her second woman prime minister (and male consort) in 10 Downing Street will hopefully start to undermine the traditional obsession with the shoes and dresses worn by female politicians.

In fact, a deadpan article describing Philip May’s sartorial choices in the same breathless manner that the media cover women in politics shows – as well as making an excellent point about hypocrisy and sexism – just how foolish the idea of expecting somebody connected to an elected leader by accident of marriage should also be expected to play a leading role in the life of the nation.

From the Metro:

Stepping into the limelight as First Man, Philip May showcased a sexy navy suit with a flourish of pinstripe.

A single fastened button at the waist helped show off his fantastic figure and a pale blue tie brought out the colour of his eyes.

Round glasses perched on his nose accentuated his amazing bone structure – no doubt one of the assets he used to help him to bag his wife.

The man behind the UK’s most powerful woman looked on fondly as she addressed the UK for the first time as leader.

Oh, and let’s not forget those shoes…

Philip elongated his pins with a pair of black brogues as he accompanied his wife to step over the threshold of their new home – 10 Downing Street.

In this context and these modern times, expecting First Ladies to take on a feel-good, universally popular softball social cause while tarting up the White House at taxpayer expense seems like the anachronism that it is. Yet there is some merit to the tradition, too. And numerous First Ladies have gone on to leave a lasting positive mark on America which otherwise may have been missed. One thinks of Jacqueline Kennedy’s style, Lady Bird Johnson‘s focus on national beautification or Betty Ford and her work for breast cancer awareness, substance abuse treatment and the arts.

If Melania Trump doesn’t want to come to Washington D.C. right away, so be it. As the National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson notes, reminding Washingtonians that they are not the centre of the universe is not necessarily a bad thing.

But I imagine that the institutional gravity of the White House will eventually pull Melania into some kind of role, which may be no bad thing. Melania Trump becomes a first-generation immigrant First Lady at a time when many people (rightly or wrongly) are concerned about the impact of a Trump presidency on immigration. With a bit of imagination, that fact could be used to quite a positive, calming effect.

 

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After Hillary Clinton’s Defeat, The Battle For The Democratic Party’s Soul Begins

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Wealthy Liberal donors to the Democratic Party are debating whether to double down on their identity politics and victimhood culture-based strategy or to attempt meaningful outreach to the white working classes whom they so conspicuously cut adrift in 2016

And so the post-election autopsy begins, as analysts slice open the carcass of Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign and methodically pick through the vital organs to determine what possible failure allowed a well-funded presidential campaign that has effectively been running for over a decade to go down in flaming defeat at the hands of Donald Trump.

Politico reports that the hilariously named Democracy Alliance (a group of mega-rich Democratic Party donors using their wealth to tilt the scales of genuine democracy every bit as much as the “evil” Koch brothers) is holding an emergency meeting at the Washington DC Mandarin Oriental hotel to thrash out the issues:

George Soros and other rich liberals who spent tens of millions of dollars trying to elect Hillary Clinton are gathering in Washington for a three-day, closed door meeting to retool the big-money left to fight back against Donald Trump.

The conference, which kicked off Sunday night at Washington’s pricey Mandarin Oriental hotel, is sponsored by the influential Democracy Alliance donor club, and will include appearances by leaders of most leading unions and liberal groups, as well as darlings of the left such as House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairman Keith Ellison, according to an agenda and other documents obtained by POLITICO.

The meeting is the first major gathering of the institutional left since Trump’s shocking victory over Hillary Clinton in last week’s presidential election, and, if the agenda is any indication, liberals plan full-on trench warfare against Trump from Day One. Some sessions deal with gearing up for 2017 and 2018 elections, while others focus on thwarting President-elect Trump’s 100-day plan, which the agenda calls “a terrifying assault on President Obama’s achievements — and our progressive vision for an equitable and just nation.”

However, there are now murmurings of discontent among some of the Democrats present, who claim that persisting with the same tired, clapped out old ideas and electoral strategies will not reverse their sliding fortunes:

Yet the meeting also comes as many liberals are reassessing their approach to politics — and the role of the Democracy Alliance, or DA, as the club is known in Democratic finance circles. The DA, its donors and beneficiary groups over the last decade have had a major hand in shaping the institutions of the left, including by orienting some of its key organizations around Clinton, and by basing their strategy around the idea that minorities and women constituted a so-called “rising American electorate” that could tip elections to Democrats.

That didn’t happen in the presidential election, where Trump won largely on the strength of his support from working-class whites. Additionally, exit polls suggested that issues like fighting climate change and the role of money in politics — which the DA’s beneficiary groups have used to try to turn out voters — didn’t resonate as much with the voters who carried Trump to victory.

“The DA itself should be called into question,” said one Democratic strategist who has been active in the group and is attending the meeting. “You can make a very good case it’s nothing more than a social club for a handful wealthy white donors and labor union officials to drink wine and read memos, as the Democratic Party burns down around them.”

This blog (and many others) have already written extensively that the cynical decision by the Democrats and the American Left in general to wage a relentless identity politics war against the Right is not only misguided, but actively polarising the country, as continued efforts to label working class white people as privileged “oppressors” will only further encourage them to form into a cohesive identity group of their own – the very one which elected Donald Trump as the next president.

Obsessing endlessly about the politics of race, gender and sexuality at a time when many Americans are either suffering economically or teetering on the brink of real economic insecurity is a privilege only available to the type of people who meet at the Mandarin Oriental to naively ask one another how anybody could possibly not have wanted Hillary Clinton to be the next president. To anybody else, the narrow interests and shrill, hectoring tone of the Democratic Party are an irrelevance at best and a source of supreme annoyance and alienation at worst.

People living in towns decimated by the loss of skilled manufacturing don’t want to be told that it is actually a good thing that their air pollution-causing factory closed down and took their job with it, or that they are borderline racists and bigots for not immediately adopting the latest social justice buzzwords spewing out of the university system. Yet the Democrats had little of value to say to the white working classes, the candidate herself clearly much more at home among the Wall Street and progressive celebrity class, spending the night before the election partying with the likes of Beyoncé rather than showing any empathy for struggling voters in the so-called rust belt.

Unfortunately, other delegates seem so wedded to the present profile of the Democratic Party that they believe that change is neither necessary nor desirable.

The Politico report continues:

“We should not learn the wrong lesson from this election,” said the operative, pointing out that Clinton is on track to win the popular vote and that Trump got fewer votes than the last GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. “We need our people to vote in greater numbers. For that to happen, we need candidates who inspire them to go to the polls on Election Day.”

In other words – keep pursuing the SJW vote, even though many of these people have proven that the limit of their political activism is sharing a smug little meme on social media rather than taking the trouble to actually walk to their local polling place and participate in democracy.

This is abysmal advice, not only because it places the future hopes of the Democrats on the shoulders of people who have never once come through for the party, while many of those young people who were politically engaged are probably still smarting from the party’s frantic efforts to thwart Bernie Sanders and allow the coronation of Hillary Clinton as the eventual presidential candidate. That’s one very valid reason, but the other reason is that no party should actively seek to write off the votes of such a large constituency as the white working class. Even if the Democrats could win without the core of America, what does it say about the party that they don’t even bother with meaningful outreach?

Of course, one could level exactly the same criticism at the Republican Party, who for too long have been more than happy to cede the black and growing Hispanic vote largely to the Democrats rather than highlighting the many ways that conservative policy actually often meshes far more closely with some of their concerns (e.g. the Hispanic focus on the family). Indeed, the 2012 Growth & Opportunity Project report outlined a path toward better engagement with these communities and might have started to pay dividends in 2016 had the party not decided to tear it up and focus on complete obstructionism toward Barack Obama instead.

But while it is undeniable that the Republican Party has serious issues of its own – not only relating to minority outreach, but also a more fundamental question of how much to accommodate or push back against president-elect Trump’s authoritarian, big government instincts – it is the Democrats who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and who twice in two decades managed to lose a presidential election despite winning the national popular vote. The onus is on the Democrats first and foremost to work out what they stand for in 2016.

More encouraging than the billionaire talking shop underway at the Mandarin Oriental – a sign of just how disconnected the modern Democratic Party has become from its former roots – is defeated primary candidate Bernie Sanders’ efforts to wrest control of the party away from the dull, visionless centrists who have nothing to offer once you strip away the thin veneer of jealous identity politics.

In another Politico piece entitled “Bernie’s Empire Strikes Back“, we learn:

Supporters of Bernie Sanders’ failed presidential bid are seizing on Democratic disarray at the national level to launch a wave of challenges to Democratic Party leaders in the states.

The goal is to replace party officials in states where Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton during the acrimonious Democratic primary with more progressive leadership. But the challenges also represent a reckoning for state party leaders who, in many cases, tacitly supported Clinton’s bid.

“I think the Bernie people feel very strongly that they were abused, somehow neglected during the primary process and the conventions,” said Severin Beliveau, a former Maine Democratic Party chairman who supported Sanders in the primary. “In Maine, for instance, where Bernie got 70 percent of the caucus vote, they are emboldened and in effect want to try to replace [Maine Democratic Party chairman] Phil Bartlett, who supported Clinton.”

[..] The movement outside Washington to install new leadership — especially new leaders whose progressive credentials include support for Sanders’ presidential bid — mirrors the battle in the nation’s capital for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship in the wake of the devastating Clinton defeat and congressional elections where Democrats failed to win back either the House or the Senate. Sanders has endorsed Rep. Keith Ellison, leading House progressive and a prominent backer of his presidential campaign, to be the next permanent DNC chairman.

While this blog disagrees with Bernie Sanders on nearly everything, Hillary Clinton’s defeated primary opponent does at least correctly identify many of modern America’s ailments and propose more authentically (if flawed) left-wing solutions to them. And one can plausibly argue that Sanders has a greater ability to reach out to unionised or working class America than Clinton displayed (though one can only wistfully imagine how much better Joe Biden would have been in this role).

Better still, Bernie Sanders seemed to have comparatively little time for peddling in divisive identity politics. Rather than seeking to fracture America into a thousand competing victimhood groups, each one jealously guarding its own unique set of grievances against the common oppressor, Sanders has consistently more interested in the wealth divisions in society. And while playing rich and poor off against one another in quite such an overt way as the openly socialist Sanders comes with its own set of problems, on balance it is probably much less harmful to the fabric of America than seeking to divide and stoke up fear based on race, gender or sexuality.

Indeed, the fact that Bernie Sanders frequently found himself on the wrong side of Black Lives Matter and the gun control lobby only proves his resonance with the great core of working class America rather than the ultra-progressives. If only Sanders didn’t hug the S-word (socialism) quite so tightly in a country where people are (rightly, in this blog’s view) raised to be automatically suspicious of it, he might have prevailed over Clinton in the primary and taken the fight to Donald Trump on a number of very different fronts.

In short, as during the primary season, none of the options facing the Democratic Party are greatly appealing. Having taken conspicuously little interest in white working class concerns throughout the 2016 presidential election cycle, any efforts to restart outreach will be met with scepticism at first, and take time to pay dividends.

But for their own sake, the Democrats must persist. The alternative – doubling down on their toxic identity politics strategy and continuing to carve America up into competing victim groups and seeking to make them all fear the Evil Republicans – will only inspire an equal and opposite reaction among America’s largest minority group, the white working class.

In 2016, this strategy brought us president-elect Donald Trump. Do the Democrats really want to roll the dice and bet that the same inputs will deliver a better outcome in 2020?

 

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Politico The Prude

Politico reports that John Stewart has been criticising the Democratic legislators and mayors who have been bullying and threatening Chick-fil-A over the position on gay marriage taken by that company’s CEO, mocking them on The Daily Show:

Comedian Jon Stewart ripped Mayors Rahm Emanuel and Tom Menino on Thursday night for pledging to block Chick-fil-A from opening new restaurants in their cities, siding with those on the right who say such a move would be unconstitutional.

“Pretty sure you can’t outlaw a company with perfectly legal business practices because you find their CEO’s views repellant. Not sure which amendment covers that, but it’s probably in the top one,” Stewart said. “I think maybe the mayors hadn’t thought this thing through.”

Very true. I have already written about the hypocrisy and illiberalism of those people who, like Rahm Emanuel and Tom Menino, want to punish individuals or groups not for their actions but their beliefs.

Unfortunately, we then get this:

Stewart mocked the chicken chain’s supporters, too, using sexual innuendo in a joke about “the million mouth march.”

“And what better way to stand up and say, ‘I oppose gay people’s rights to get married,’ than to head down to a Chick-fil-A, grab a hold of two buttery buns, split down and gobble down some of that hot, greasy…” Stewart said before saying a certain synonym for chicken that also refers to the male anatomy.

I think the word they are grasping for is “cock”. That’s C-O-C-K.

Could you find a more tortured way of not to say “cock” than to write “a certain synonym for chicken that also refers to the male anatomy”?

And “the male anatomy”? Is even the word “penis” out of bounds these days?

It irritates me when news organisations refuse to use certain words when they are central to the story or quote under discussion. Sometimes this is due to tortured political correctness or oversensitivity – if there is a story about racism, for example, we will hear lots about the offender uttering “the N-word”, for example. Sometimes it is due to squeamishness or prudishness, such as talking about someone who lets “the F-word” slip. And sometimes it is due to willful ignorance, such as when the New York Times refers to waterboarding as “torture” when it is carried out by a foreign country, but “enhanced interrogation” when committed by the United States.

In this case, it doesn’t really matter. The article is a light-hearted piece about a parody news show. At other times and with other stories it does matter though, and failing to report a quote accurately, or use the correct term, can have damaging or insidious consequences.

The only time that offensive words have the power to harm is when they are put on a pedestal and only referred to in roundabout, opaque ways. News organisations and journalists make themselves look silly when they falsely ascribe such power to a harmless arrangement of letters.

Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann And The Muslim Brotherhood

Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich

For some inexplicable reason, Politico invited former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to write a 2,500 word piece in support of Michele Bachmann’s witch hunts against federal workers whom she capriciously determines to have connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and as a consequence represent an apparent threat to the national security of the United States.

I should let it go, I know I should. Or I could do a point-by-point rebuttal.

Here we go, from the top:

The recent assault on the National Security Five is only the most recent example of the fear our elites have about discussing and understanding radical Islamists.

Newt Gingrich, there is absolutely no way that you can define “elites” without including yourself in the group. You were one of the most powerful politicians in the country, you spent years in Washington, you were a presidential candidate and you had a $250,000 line of credit at Tiffany’s. You are in no way a man of the people, get over yourself.

When an orchestrated assault is launched on the right to ask questions in an effort to stop members of Congress from even inquiring about a topic — you know the fix is in. The intensity of the attack on Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) as well as Republican Reps. Trent Franks of Arizona, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Tom Rooney of Florida and Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia is a reminder of how desperate our elites are to avoid this discussion.

Oh yes, it is the plucky brave witch-hunting Republican congressional members who are being intimidated and bullied here. Right. And again, quit it with the “elite” talk. You are our “elites” as much as anyone else.

Given all the painful things we learn about people every day and the surprises that shock even the experts (the head of the FBI anti-spy effort was a Russian spy, for example), you have to wonder why people would aggressively assert we shouldn’t ask about national security concerns.

Ah yes, let’s create a straw man argument so that we can knock it down and look clever. I don’t think that any one of the many people who condemned Bachmann’s baseless attack on Huma Abedin’s loyalty or patriotism think that we should not be concerned about national security – they just think that you need something approaching tangible evidence, or at least reasonable suspicion, before you smear someone’s character and good name.

We have replaced tough mindedness about national security with a refusal to think seriously and substituted political correctness and a “solid” assurance that people must be OK because they are “nice” and “hard working” for the systematic, intense investigations of the past.

Again, where is this coming from? Who said this? Is Newt Gingrich now just inventing fictitious people in his mind and giving them strange, subversive and cowardly views so that he has someone to argue with? Is he that bored now that his presidential aspirations have imploded in on themselves under the weight of their own moralising pomposity?

The underlying driving force behind this desperate desire to stop unpleasant questions is the elite’s fear that an honest discussion of radical Islamism will spin out of control. They fear if Americans fully understood how serious radical Islamists are, they would demand a more confrontational strategy.

Okay, so if we did have the American intelligence services do a more detailed check on Abedin and any other dark-skinned or oddly-named people that make certain Republicans uncomfortable (beyond the ones that have undoubtedly already taken place before they were allowed to assume jobs such as chief aide to the Secretary of State), one of two things happens. 1 – everyone is exonerated, and the time and effort was spent in vain, or 2 – someone does have a skeleton in their closet, and they do harbour some kind of anti-American or pro-Islamist beliefs or connections. In the unlikely event of scenario 2, what do we do? And how do we guard against others infiltrating the US government in future? Do an extra background check on anyone with a non-western surname, or anyone who went to school with someone who turned out to be crazy? Invite Michele Bachmann to use her divining rod to determine whether they are “true patriots” or not? Exactly what is the “more confrontational strategy” that you are talking about in this context, Newt?

A young John F. Kennedy wrote “Why England Slept” to try to understand how the leadership of a nation could ignore, repress and reject warnings about Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. A future JFK may write “Why Washington Slept” to explain our current period. The case of the National Security Five would be a good chapter on the desperation of the elites to avoid reality and their determination to smother any wake-up call, which might make them come to grips with Blair’s warning.

Don’t even go there, Gingrich. Don’t compare the Bachmann 5 (National Security 5 is far too generous) to John F. Kennedy. Or, indirectly, to Winston Churchill, who anticipated the dangers of Nazi Germany and was initially ridiculed for warning others.

The case of the Pakistani-American car bomber has yet another lesson for those willing to learn it. At his sentencing, Faisal Shahzad asserted, “If I’m given 1,000 lives, I will sacrifice them all for the life of Allah.” He had apparently planned to build another car bomb in the next two weeks. The Pakistan Taliban had given him $15,000 and five days of explosive training just months after he became a U.S. citizen.

As Fox News reported: “The judge cut him off at one point to ask him if he had sworn allegiance to the United States when he became a citizen last year. ‘I did swear’ Shahzad answered, ‘but I did not mean it.’”

So we can’t trust the word of any Muslim because of the actions of this individual? If that is not what you are saying, what are you saying?

This long war with radical Islamists is a very different struggle. There are many nuances and long-term developments. Much of the struggle involves ideas and language alien to most American leaders and unknown even to most of the State or Defense Department professionals.

So the right or wrong adviser can be enormously powerful. Getting the right advice can be everything.

Therefore, whose advice we rely on becomes central to national security. Asking who the advisers are, what their prejudices are and what advice they give is a legitimate — indeed, essential — part of any serious national security system.

Again, where do you draw the line? Michele Bachmann’s family hold Swiss Citizenship. Should we be concerned that she may be tempted to use her position to influence US government policy in favour of Switzerland? And what should be the trigger for this investigation that Bachmann and the Bachmann 5 clearly want to see take place? Is it automatically given to every Muslim? Every Arab? How about Christian Arabs? Everyone born overseas?

[There then follows a long passage about Israel’s exclusion from an international conference on terrorism – which I happily concede was the height of foolish counterproductivity, since Israel has more experience than most in dealing with terrorism, and their exclusion rendered the conference about as valid and legitimate as the UN’s committee on human rights – but which has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand]

[There then follows an even longer passage criticising the Obama administration for failing to refer to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, another sideshow that has nothing to do with his primary argument. Newt Gingrich was clearly stretched to find 2500 words in support of Michele Bachmann]

Another example of these legitimate questions, consider the strange case of Louay Safi.

Safi ran the Islamic Society of North America (an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation Hamas financing case) and who was himself an unindicted co-conspirator in the Sami Al-Arian terrorism case (involving Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist org). As Andy McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor in terrorism cases, explained, “So what happens? Pentagon hires him as expert to teach Islam to our troops before they deploy from Fort Hood! And now, of course, he is the leader of the [Muslim] Brotherhoods’ government-in-waiting for Syria. You just can’t make this stuff up!”

Isn’t it appropriate to ask: Who were the Muslim chaplains approved by this extremist? How did he get chosen to be in such a key position? What system of checking for extremism broke down so badly, or is so biased, that it allowed members and allies of radical Islamist organizations to play key roles in the U.S. government?

Yes! Yes, it is very appropriate! By all means! We should definitely do that, and learn the lessons from it, and ensure that vetting is stricter in future if indeed this is the case. But again, where do we stop? Assuming that radical Islam is the greatest national security threat facing America and that some kind of targetted vetting process is indeed necessary, what do we do to counter the second and third greatest national security threats, whatever they may be? What if one of the threats turns out to be anti-government militiamen, or Alaskan separatists? Do we also start getting concerned about any federal worker or member of Congress who has links, however many degrees of separation away, from such people? Are they also likely to seek to subvert US policy in secret, nefarious ways?

The Muslim Brotherhood is a serious worldwide organization dedicated to a future most Americans would find appalling. Seeking to understand its reach and its impact on the U.S. government is a legitimate, indeed essential, part of our national security process.

The National Security Five were doing their duty in asking difficult questions designed to make America safer. Their critics represent the kind of willful blindness that increasingly puts America at risk.

Fine. I don’t know a single critic of the Bachmann 5 who would disagree that the Muslim Brotherhood harbours values that are very much contrary to those of America, and that they seek to spread these values around the world, possibly through violent means. That is not the issue. The issue is whether we are going to be cowed by our fear of these people into doing something very un-American, and investigating US citizens and federal workers to establish ties to the Muslim Brotherhood based on nothing more than speculation, links of blood or friendship (as opposed to actions), or the fevered imaginations of Michele Bachmann.

If we do not want a book to describe “Why Washington Slept,” we will have to encourage elected officials to follow the advice of a later Kennedy book and exhibit “Profiles in Courage.”

Bachmann, Franks, Gohmert, Rooney and Westmoreland are showing a lot more courage than the defenders of timidity, complicity and passivity.

Please. There’s no courage on display here, just post September 11th scaredness and confusion and timidity, and a defensive lashing out at “the other” people by a group of some conservatives who are frightened of the world in which they find themselves, and who should know better.

The Bachmann 5 called out individuals by name and said that there were serious questions and concerns about their fidelity to the United States, and that consequently they should be investigated to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest in play. When pressed, they doubled down on their position. So I think we all have a right to know how this proposed new modern day Un-American Activities committee would work in the minds of Bachmann, her acolytes and her new cheerleader, Newt Gingrich.