Jonah’s Bogus Journey

Conservatives, and especially those of us in fly-over country, tend to poke fun at the coastal leftists that try to discover these hidden tribes with odd beliefs that lurk in these strange burgs that the locals often pronounce wrong.  Places like Cairo, Illinois.  Jonah Goldberg, writing at NRO, goes on a similar journey as he tries to understand folks who support The Donald.  As if we didn’t know, Jonah tell us where he stands on The Donald at the end of his journey:

It may be that once [The Donald] is no longer the commander in chief in the war against Blue America, the ardor of his troops will give way to a better understanding of the price the GOP paid on his watch.

It is difficult to write about stuff you don’t understand.  Jonah put the question about The Donald’s approval rating by Republicans this way:

[The Donald] is consistently hitting in the mid- to high 80s with Republicans in polling, which demands a question: Why are his actual numbers so high?

When you write or talk about what you don’t know you sometimes get distracted and forget what you know.  Jonah knows many things but two things he knows for sure are, one, approval of The Donald, or anyone else, is a yes or no question. Two, in any coalition, like The Donald’s, there are lots of different factions.

That means that Jonah’s emphasis on “unwavering support” for The Donald is not related to his approval rating.  There are folks that give unwavering support or unwavering resistance to The Donald.  We are open to evidence but we don’t see these as large the largest groups in either coalition.  There are supporters of The Donald that love his twitter feed but many would lock him out.  Others like his trade wars while we hate them.

Jonah does have a point that hyper-partisanship on one side causes some on the other side.  It is like arguing with your roommate about sports teams and folks say things like no player from Arsenal could start at Tottenham (or vice versa) and things escalate from there.  Some of the Republicans are rabid supporters of The Donald but we think more are like us.  The Donald has done good things on regulations, taxes, the court appointments.  Then there is the alternative.  First, there was the choice in the 2016 election.  We thought The Donald dominated his opponent.  The alternatives have not gotten better since then.  Kevin D. Williamson at NRO puts the choice in his usual acerbic manner:

Eliminating the ability of those who currently align with the Republican party to meaningfully participate in national politics is not only wishful thinking in the pages of the New York Times. It is the progressive program, from Washington to Palo Alto and beyond.

The Editors at NRO tell us about Elizabeth Warren’s (and some other Democrat presidential candidates) plan for eliminating fracking:

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts promises that if she is elected president, she will issue an immediate unilateral prohibition — based on some presidential power that she’ll invent as soon as she gets around to it — on the method of natural-gas production known colloquially as “fracking.” Other Democratic contenders, including Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris of California, have made similar promises.

It is not just AOC.  People that you might describe as serious senior leaders of the Democrats are making The Donald look good now and in 2020.  Like many other folks on the right, we approve of The Donald.  Our judgment is he is far from perfect but he has done some good things and we don’t approve of the opposition.  We hope Jonah will reverse the Bill and Ted franchise and soon go on an excellent adventure.  Strange things are afoot at the Circle K … and in the whole country.


The Donald And Trade

Michael Tanner from CATO is on NRO taking The Donald and the Democrats to the woodshed on trade.

There is a good reason for the [Democrat] rhetoric. Several recent studies, from researchers at Harvard, Columbia, the IMF, and two different branches of the Federal Reserve, have all concluded that the tariffs imposed by President Trump on China and others have indeed hurt American consumers and threatened economic growth domestically and internationally.

As Michael’s title says, the Democrats are no better.

But with the exception of extreme long-shot Representative John Delaney, every major Democratic candidate either joins Trump in opposing the TPP or is highly critical of the current negotiation.

You knew that John Delaney was running for the Democrat nomination, right?

Sidebar: Wisconsin is an open primary state.  Suppose that John or another sensible Democrat like Joe Sestak is still in the running for the nomination.  Would MWG take a Democrat ballot and vote for one of them?  What would such a nomination do to the probability of The Donald or the Dems winning?  We have not done this much math since grad school.  End Sidebar.

So 2020, just like 2016 presidential election, shapes up to be a binary choice but there is no choice that supports of free trade.

As always, MWG is with Kevin D. Williamson on trade.  In the NRO Corner, Kevin quotes his acerbic self:

Protectionists often describe reciprocity as if it were a cover charge for admission to American markets, but that gets the issue exactly backward: The question isn’t whether Washington may properly interfere with foreign sellers but whether it ought to interfere with American buyers. The case for allowing Senator Sanders to interpose his political interests between buyers and sellers is non-obvious, on either moral or economic grounds. It takes a special kind of stupid to believe that a voluntary exchange — willing seller, willing buyer — is transmuted into a form of hideous predation simply because some of the parties to the transaction may hold different passports.

We are with Kevin in supporting unilateral free trade.  We wish there was a major candidate that was supporting it in 2020 but there isn’t.  So when you make your decision between The Donald and the Democrat in 2020 free trade will not relevant to your decision unless there is a big surprise.


Binary Situations

It happens that we are reading Jonah Goldberg’s email and Kevin D. Williamson in the print version of the National Review on the same day.  You should always read all of both of them for the joy of their prose if nothing else.  We don’t have links for either because Jonah’s comes as an email (it is the Goldberg File: Mob Ascendant) and Kevin is, as Jonah says, on dead tree (ODT).  Make sure you read Kevin’s footnotes.

Sidebar One: Yes there is a digital version of the National Review and we do subscribe but there is a paywall.  You should subscribe so you can look.  Frankly, we prefer to read stuff ODT.  End Sidebar One.

We are generally with Jonah that mob-like actions are a big problem in politics and society.  Then he reports (we’ve pasted the tweet):

Sohrab Ahmari tweeted amidst the Trump rally the other night: Every political situation like the one we’re living through is a binary. Would that it weren’t so. But it’s as ironclad as the laws of thermodynamics.

We expected a response like nonsense on stilts or some such Jonahism.  Instead we get the weakest gruel possible from him:

I think this is axiomatically true—if enough people believe it to be true. Then, it becomes true. It’s just not obvious to me that Sohrab doesn’t want it to be true.

Jonah’s first sentence seems to contradict itself.  The tweet is much closer to being axiomatically false.  There are many factions: Trumpers, NeverTrumers, libertarians, social conservatives, crunchy conservatives, and economic conservatives to take a few of the factions from one side of the aisle.  Some folks might be in more than one faction.  Political situations like tabling the impeachment of The Donald, and the steps in their resolutions have a variety of wins, loses, and no impact.

Votes are different than political situations.  Votes by citizens are often binary.  In the general election you generally pick between two choices and hope for the best.  If you were a member of Congress voting on legislation then you can try to game the system.  You might have voted to table the impeachment of The Donald now because you think that chances will improve later.  The spin doctors will work on declaring victory and try to influence future outcomes.  So, for citizens the NeverTrump argument fails because we can’t influence the 2024 GOP nominee.  People arguing that things are binary don’t make it so.

Kevin has a better argument on a similar topic that he puts in the title: A Herd Has No Mind.  Or put another way: Only an individual can think.  He agrees with Jonah that the mob is ascendant but has a better analysis of the challenges we face.  The problems with the mob leads him into a wide ranging discussion of discourse and antidiscourse.  Language is the instrument of discourse while antidiscourse is mob rule.  Kevin didn’t use a hyphen so we will not either no matter what the word processor does.  It is a wonderful rambling, acerbic, and thoughtful piece.

Sidebar Two: Kevin’s footnote eight asks in part who could read the sentences of Moby-Dick?  It is part of his test of the intellectual skills of the electorate to conduct discourse.  We don’t think that is a good test for understanding an argument, political or otherwise.  Before we retired from teaching we used to use a passage from another Melville book, Pierre, to make a point about the difference between types of writing.  We can’t find the passage but our recollection was that it included a 125 word sentence with lots of punctuation.  Our point was that emulating Melville was not an effective way to convince others.  End Sidebar Two.

Kevin comes to a related but different conclusion.  He says that our INSTANT CULTURE that leads to antidiscourse has become neatly binate.  Binate?  Binate: Growing in pairs or couples.  Kevin uses the example of Proud Boys and Antifa as such a pair.  We are not entirely convinced but agree that binate is much closer to our current political reality than binary.




National Review Disappoints

We look forward to the print version of the National Review (NRODT).  They have been on a roll lately with the special issues on socialism and capitalism  Despite the article below you should subscribe in some manner.

We have started a category for Josh Hawley because he has been the most disappointing GOP Congress critter in recent memory and the only person obviously running for the ’24 GOP presidential nomination.  The National Review puts him in the spotlight with Josh Hawley’s Virtue Politics by John McCormack.  We were disappointed that it turned out to be a hagiography.

Sidebar: We understand that Josh is a rising star in the GOP and the National Review can hardly do a MWG piece on him.  On the other hand, John and his editors could have been more even handed.  End Sidebar.

Our disappointment started early when John described him as a “conservative intellectual.”  We find him neither although, to be fair, we do find him “a populist with a paternalistic streak” that shows up in the same sentence.  We see the two descriptions as mutually exclusive but not collectively exhaustive in case you thought we were going to make a connection to binary choices.  Still you should subscribe and read the whole thing, online if you prefer.  You will learn he is up to other mischief beyond our reporting.  He and Florida senator Rick Scott have introduced legislation that would prevent drug firms from charging more in America than they do in Canada or some European countries.  The “some” is from the article.  We don’t understand it either.  Anyways, we are highly disappointed that two GOP senators are fighting markets and attempting to micromanage drug companies to the detriment of our children and grandchildren.  He Rick don’t think it will stifle innovation.  They are wrong.  Even worse, Josh suggests he knows what profits should be: “Pharma is turning a nice healthy profit in Europe.”

Josh seems like the worst possible presidential choice for the GOP in ’24.  Worst?  Well, we hope they can do much better.  On the other hand, he is just fine as the senator from Missouri.

The Bad Idea Machine

Our buddy, and the junior senator from Missouri, Josh Hawley is at it again. Lots of folks are upset about political comments on Internet giants like Facebook and he wants to put Washington in charge.   David French at NRO and Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason do a good job of explaining why Josh has a particularly foolish bill.  Of course you should real both of them in their entirety.  Here is David’s description:

[Josh] wants to replace common sense with a legal fiction, making Facebook responsible for user comments unless it can satisfy an extraordinary condition — it has to prove to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] by clear and convincing evidence that it doesn’t moderate content in a manner “designed to negatively affect a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint” and that its moderation doesn’t “disproportionately restrict or promote access to, or the availability of, information from a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint.” [Emphasis added]

Josh’s proposal would put the Internet giants in an impossible position and make them  subject to FTC’s whims.  Do we think we will get limited government with Facebook appearing before the FTC every two year?  As you are already going to read David and Elizabeth, we shall limit our comments to conservatism and level of proof.

We want to make clear that changing the level of proof would not make the bill acceptable but the level of proof shows how poorly thought out or dishonest Josh’s bill is.  Josh says:

“Today I’ve introduced legislation to end Big Tech’s biggest sweetheart deal from government,” [Josh] tweeted Wednesday morning. “No more government protection for Big Tech’s political censorship.”

As the bold shows, Facebook will need to show clear and convincing evidence of lack of bias. It is an daunting task especially when you think about all the groups you could show bias against.  Nolo gives us four legal standards of proof in ascending order: Substantial Evidence, Preponderance of Evidence, Clear and Convincing Evidence, and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.  Josh’s choice is, according to Nolo, reserved for civil lawsuits where something more than money is at stake.  The bill is not going to reach Josh’s stated goal because Facebook will not meet that standard and that would mean much more government involvement.

And that brings us to conservatism and conservatives.  Part of political classifying is the Venn Diagram issue.  How much to folks need to overlap before you can give them a common categorization?  But it also a matter of priorities and thinking process.  There might be substantial evidence based on his positions that Josh is a conservative but his processes and priorities are clear and convincing evidence to us that he is not.  We are not voting for him in the ’24 presidential primaries that he is clearly positioning himself but we shall reserve judgement on the general election.  It will be another binary choice.

Free Trade Agreements

We are for unilateral free trade.  We favor eliminating all US tariffs.  We are OK with helping other countries by reducing their taxes including tariffs but it isn’t really important to us.  Thus any free trade deal is a second best solution for us.

Iain Murray at NRO brings us an interesting issue of all the additional agreements that have cluttered up trade agreements.  Do read the whole thing for a good discussion of the trade-offs.  He says:

Trade deals are better than no trade deals, generally speaking. But bad trade deals can set dangerous precedents. That was why in the 1990s, the staunch free trader Fred Smith, founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (where this author works), opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) inclusion of side agreements that had nothing to do with trade. He worried that those provisions, mainly concerning labor and environmental standards, would set a precedent to elevate those goals above tariff reduction—the supposed point of trade deals.

Was he right? The conclusion of NAFTA’s renegotiation, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), suggests he was.

USMCA has 34 provisions, 13 annexes, and 13 side letters.  Iain is right that the expansion of such agreements is a problem.  Some times the problem is a bit of neocolonialism and other times it is the reverse.  We are against both but especially the latter because we live here.  It could be solved most easily with our suggestion of eliminating all US tariffs because.  The problem is that free trade is only high political priority for a few of us.  Many people oppose free trade.  Some folks support neocolonialism and others the reverse.

Free trade is a high priority for us just like Fred but we tend to support such agreements.  It is clear to us that we are not going to take our preferred step of eliminating all tariffs.  It is equally clear that agreements will need to be complex to garner sufficient support to be agreed to by the administration and supported by the Senate.  Rejecting such agreements because they are not ideal is eliminating the possibility of any agreement.  It is a binary choice to approve or reject USMCA.  We vote to support approval of USMCA despite its flaws.

Never Trump Behavior In 2020

We didn’t get the Never Trump folks in 2016 and we are even more perplexed about what they will do in 2020.  We see 2020 as The Donald versus either Corey or Kamala.  The Donald is not the first choice for MWG but we prefer him to any alternative that we see.  We are close to certain that we won’t see HST or JFK from the Democrats.  As we learned ex-post from the Post, JFK would no longer pass the character test.

With a h/t to Instapundit here is part of a letter from one of Rod Dreher’s readers:

I can’t stand [The Donald]. I didn’t vote for him and for the moment don’t plan to in 2020. But where else to turn? What we have learned in the last two weeks is that the left will crush anyone who does not support The Agenda. [Emphasis added]

We don’t get it.  In November 2020 there will be another binary choice.  Didn’t you learn from 2016?  We think it will be The Donald versus Corey or Kamala with the latter as the most likely.  Is there anyone there close to passing a character test?  The writer seems to understand as the bold item indicates but then cannot draw the obvious conclusion that you can dislike, even despise The Donald and still vote for him because the alternative is worse.  The Donald is not a conservative and has poor character but he does some conservative things.  The other folks are the anthesis of conservative and will use their poor character to, as the writer says, enforce The Agenda.  The Never Trump cadre is going to have an interesting 2020.

Update: Here is a scurrilous attack on Brett by Kamala’s organization.  There is lots of nasty stuff on both sides but almost entirely the nasty stuff from what we might call serious folks comes from the left.  Thus, the Never Trump folks have decisions to make or unmake.