Maybe Only One Sane Person in Washington?

WSJ 10/18/2020 by Peggy Noonan

Everyone’s insane now. I mean everyone in Washington. The great challenge of the era is to maintain your intellectual poise under pressure. Washington this week looked like a vast system fail.

Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on CNN, let it be known she won’t countenance pushback. At issue was the stalled stimulus deal. Anchor Wolf Blitzer noted that millions have lost their jobs, can’t pay the rent. Members of the speaker’s own caucus want a deal—why not accept the president’s $1.8 trillion offer?

Mrs. Pelosi went from zero to 60 in a nanosecond: “What I say to you is I don’t know why you’re always an apologist, and many of your colleagues, apologists for the Republican position.” “Do you realize” the GOP bill is inadequate, she demanded. “Do you have any idea . . .?”

What about Democrats who want a deal? “They have no idea of the particulars. They have no idea of what the language is here. . . . You’re the apologist for Obama. Excuse me. God forbid. Thank God for Barack Obama.”

Mr. Blitzer said he wasn’t an apologist. Why not just call the president and make a deal? “What makes me amused, if it weren’t so sad, is how you all think that you know more about the suffering of the American people than those of us who are elected by them to represent them at the table.”

Is this all about keeping the president from claiming credit? No, Mrs. Pelosi said, “he’s not that important.” “You really don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Do a service to the issue and have some level of respect for the people who have worked on these issues.”

Twice Mr. Blitzer insisted, “I have only the greatest respect for you.” But, he said, Americans need the money. Mrs. Pelosi: “And you don’t care how it’s spent.” “You don’t even know how it’s spent.” “May I finish, please?” “Have a little respect for the fact that we know something about these subjects.” She said he doesn’t respect committee chairmen.

I respect all of you, Mr. Blitzer said. Mrs. Pelosi: “You’ve been on a jag defending the administration all this time with no knowledge of the difference between our two bills.”

Mr. Blitzer: “We will leave it on that note.”

Mrs. Pelosi: “No, we will leave it on the note that you are not right on this, Wolf.”

He said it’s not about him but people in food lines. Mrs. Pelosi: “And we represent them. And we represent them. And we represent them. And we represent them. We know them. We represent them and we know them. We know them. We represent them.” “Thank you for your sensitivity to our constituents’ needs.”

“I am sensitive to them because I see them on the street begging for food,” Mr. Blitzer said.

Mrs. Pelosi: “Have you fed them? We feed them.”

It was bonkers. To watch was to witness, uncomfortably, the defensive aggression of an official who goes through life each day not being challenged nearly enough.

“I feel confident about it . . . and I feel confidence in my chairs,” she said. No, she doesn’t.

And Mr. Blitzer was right: It’s wrong to hold hostage people in immediate economic crisis.

The Barrett hearings were almost as strange. They were, as usual, not really about her and her views but the senators and theirs. But it seemed to me that slightly more than usual they treated her like a piece of furniture. There were bizarre questions. From Mazie Hirono of Hawaii: “Since you became a legal adult, have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature?” No, Judge Barrett said. Ms. Hirono says she asks this of all nominees, but it would have been nice if she’d said it with a hint of doubt.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse delivered a Rachel Maddow-style monologue on “dark money.” His data board linking “phony front groups” was wonderfully John Nash-like. The not-funny part, the sadness of it, actually, is that you could do a mirror-image chart of Democratic activism and money surrounding court nominees, and it would have been a public service if he had.

I don’t know Judge Barrett’s deeper thoughts on the Second Amendment, but by the end of the hearings I was hoping she’d pull out a gun.

As for her Republican supporters, some of them went on about her large family and motherhood in a way that seemed, subtly, to obscure the depth of her intellect and the breadth of her command of the law. I think some of them couldn’t quite grok a mother of seven who’s their intellectual superior, so they reverted to form and patronized her. And competed with her. Sen. John Kennedy seemed especially eager to save the drowning woman, not noticing she wasn’t drowning and appears, as a lawyer, to swim better than he.

They lauded her large family in a way that lacked finesse, by which I mean at times they sounded like Mussolini advancing pro-natalism as a matter of state. If Judge Barrett were single and childless like David Souter, she would still be a deeply impressive nominee. If she were married and the parent of nine like Antonin Scalia, she would be impressive. It is not irrelevant that she is bringing up seven children. “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions,” said Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and every child is a new experience. But when you focus on the personal at the expense of the public, you wind up with Mr. Kennedy asking, “Who does the laundry in your house?” I remember when a senator asked Scalia that and Scalia laughed in his face. Oh wait, no one ever asked Scalia that.

Guys, did you not notice the immediate recall with which she summoned, and the depth with which she analyzed, the history of American jurisprudence? Say thank you, God, and move on.

She will be confirmed. Having spent a long time reading of her and her decisions, what strikes me is a story she told last spring, at Notre Dame. It is personal but sheds light on her thinking. She and her husband had suddenly received a call saying a baby had come up for adoption. But she had just found out she was pregnant with her fifth child. She threw on a jacket, took a walk, and wound up on a bench in a cemetery. She thought, “If life is really hard, at least it’s short.” They adopted the baby.

There have been many men on the court who seemed deep and were celebrated for their scholarly musings but were essentially, as individuals and in their conception of life, immature. But this is not a child, a sentimentalist, an ideological warrior. This is a thinker who thinks about reality.

She’s not what you expect when you open your handy box of categories. People who understand conservatism in a particular, maybe limited way—they don’t know what they just got.

Modern, a particular kind of Catholic, a woman, with a lived emphasis on people in community—this is not a “standard conservative.” In her independence from partisan politics, in her lived faith in higher persons, spirits and principles, this is rather a dangerous woman.

And she’s sane.


Reluctant, but Supporting Trump

Donald Trump can count at least one new supporter in this year’s election. “I had a close friend who’d been a business partner of Trump in the ’90s,” the critic and historian Fred Siegel tells me. “Trump ripped off a quarter of a million dollars from him. He told me this when we were discussing the election” four years ago. “Trump just said, ‘So, take me to court.’ I couldn’t vote for him.” Mr. Siegel couldn’t abide Hillary Clinton either, so he “slept through” the 2016 election. Next month he’ll be wide awake—though not woke—and will vote for Mr. Trump.

Joe Biden needn’t worry too much, perhaps. Mr. Siegel, 75, has only twice backed a winning presidential candidate since he reached voting age. But while he’s no bellwether, he does make an energetic case for the incumbent.

Mr. Siegel, a professor emeritus at New York’s Cooper Union and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, says he overcame his distaste for Mr. Trump for three reasons. First, foreign policy: “Crushing ISIS, pulling us out of the Iran nuclear deal, moving our embassy to Jerusalem, and making fools of those people who insist that the Palestinian issue is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Second, by his “ability to withstand a prolonged coup attempt by the Democrats and the media,” which started with the Steele dossier: “If I’m saying what I find impressive about Trump, it’s that he’s survived. He has an extraordinary amount of arrogance, egotism, and self-confidence.”

Mr. Siegel’s third reason goes to the heart of his own political philosophy. He sees the president as a champion of “bourgeois values,” under threat from the “clerisy,” Mr. Siegel’s word for the dominant elites who “despise” those values. He regards Mr. Biden as a “captive” of this clerisy, and running mate Kamala Harris as the “embodiment of it.”

“I don’t want to see her as president,” Mr. Siegel says of Sen. Harris. “I don’t want a San Francisco Democrat who’s likely to impose elements of the Green New Deal, which she sponsored but lied about sponsoring on television. If Biden wins, she will be president in short order. I don’t know how long Biden will last.”

In Mr. Siegel’s view, “hard work, faith, family and autonomy” have enabled America to thrive, and Mr. Trump stands for these values, even if he doesn’t always exemplify them. “The elite is largely detached from the middle class,” Mr. Siegel says. “The two major sources of wealth in the last 20 years have been finance and Silicon Valley. Neither of them has much connection to middle-class America, or Middle America.” Mr. Trump is “in favor of manufacturing jobs, which are often middle-class.” The president also “recognizes the ways in which China is a threat to the survival of middle-class life in America, directly and indirectly.”

Mr. Siegel takes heart from Mr. Trump’s hostility to political correctness. “Wokeness is a force that undermines the middle class,” he says, “and you couldn’t have had wokeness without an elite contempt for the values of the middle class.” Middle Americans see political correctness “as a threat to the democratic republic they grew up in, where people could speak their mind.” I ask Mr. Siegel to define political correctness: “The inability to speak the truth about the obvious.”

As we sit on his porch in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Ditmas Park, his opinions—unfashionable in a borough where Mrs. Clinton outpolled Mr. Trump by more than 60 points—cause passersby to turn their heads. When he offers examples of political correctness that annoy him, a young man walking by the house looks startled. “Why can’t you say ‘Wuhan virus’?” Mr. Siegel exclaims. “Why can’t you say there are two genders?” The young man scuttles past as if singed, and Mr. Siegel says, with palpable sadness, that people don’t stop to talk to him on his porch as much as they used to. Word has got around that he is “a Trump supporter, so fewer people schmooze with me.”

Mr. Siegel is the author of several books, including “The Future Once Happened Here: New York, D.C., L.A. and the Fate of America’s Big Cities” (1997) and “The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class” (2014). Just out is “The Crisis of Liberalism,” a selection of his recent political essays, published by the small, independent Telos Press.

He started as a man of the left, and still describes himself as a protégé of Irving Howe, the democratic socialist literary critic. “Howe died young,” Mr. Siegel notes—in 1993, at 72. He was a doctoral candidate at the University of Pittsburgh in 1968, studying the political economy of tobacco in Virginia, when he cast his first vote. But he sat out the 1972 election. “I voted for Humphrey. I did not vote for McGovern or Nixon. I worked for McGovern as a spokesperson in Western Pennsylvania, and I was stunned to discover that he thought Henry Wallace had been right about a lot of things. Lightbulbs went off.”

In 1976 he voted for “Gerald Ford, the man.” Ford was “moderately competent and unpretentious. Jimmy Carter was pretentious. I thought his religiosity was painted on.” His aversion to Mr. Carter persisted, and in 1980 he backed John Anderson, a liberal Republican running as an independent.

Mr. Siegel voted for Walter Mondale over Ronald Reagan in 1984. “If anyone was going to make the Great Society work—and it was a mess by this time, a farrago—it was Mondale.” Mr. Mondale had “intelligence and knowledge,” but his defeat, and Reagan’s notable successes, made Mr. Siegel “rethink a lot of things.” A man like Mondale, he says, “would not be possible in today’s Democratic Party. There’d be no room for him.”

By the late 1980s Mr. Siegel had become “a centrist Democrat—part of a group that no longer exists.” Michael Dukakis was too liberal for Mr. Siegel, so he skipped the 1988 election. He became a fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. He voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and advised—“but didn’t invoice”—Mrs. Clinton on her successful 2000 bid for Senate.

He didn’t vote in 2000 or 2004 and thinks George W. Bush “was a horrible president”: “The conduct of the Iraq war was extraordinarily inept. I supported the war initially, but I watched how it was being conducted, and I changed my mind.” The first time he voted for “the Republican Party as a party” was in 2008, by which time he had started to define himself as a conservative.

By 2012, when he voted for Mitt Romney, Mr. Siegel had developed an exceedingly low opinion of President Obama, whom he describes as “a faux intellectual with preacher’s cadences and an academic veneer.” In his opinion, “the worst thing” about Mr. Obama was “his effect on race relations. We couldn’t have the cold civil war we have now without Obama, because he, in a very cunning way, exacerbated all of our racial tensions.”

Under Mr. Obama, Mr. Siegel says, “racial grievance” took on a “new legitimacy, and it came from a president talking in asides, and saying things between the lines. He didn’t push back against anything, not even against the idea that Michael Brown said ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ in Ferguson [Mo.], which was just a fabrication.”

Yet Mr. Siegel traces the origins of the “present-day contempt” for the middle class back a century. He cites H.L. Mencken’s demeaning of the bourgeoisie, in the celebrated editor’s coinage of “booboisie.” Mr. Siegel has written extensively on Herbert Croly, the political philosopher and co-founder of the New Republic, as well as on the novelists H.G. Wells and Sinclair Lewis (who, in 1930, became the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature). These three men, Mr. Siegel says, laid the foundation for an elite revolt against the American middle class that endures to this day.

“Croly’s idea was that the college-educated, the elite, should become a new aristocracy,” Mr. Siegel says. “Croly believed that the middle-class and their allies—latter-day Jeffersonians who advocated individual freedom and acted in their own self-interest—were impeding the path of the experts, who were ‘disinterested.’ ”

Wells and Lewis bolstered the view that the professional class was above the fray, giving the argument an almost aesthetic hue. “They thought the middle class was vulgar,” Mr. Siegel says. Mr. Siegel cites a passage in Lewis’s novel “Main Street” (1920), which he regards as “a sardonic sally at the small-town American middle class and its commercial culture.” In the passage, Carol Kennicott, a young woman from the big city trapped by marriage in small-town America, describes Americans as “a savorless people, gulping tasteless food, and sitting afterward, coatless and thoughtless, in rocking chairs . . . and viewing themselves as the greatest race in the world.” In a word, deplorables.

Croly has been largely forgotten, Mr. Siegel says, because liberalism has been largely eclipsed. “Wokeism is not liberalism,” he says. “I don’t want to be unfair to liberals. I was very critical of liberals, but they were in favor of debate; they were in favor of empiricism, of open argument.” Wokeism, by contrast, is a “new secular revealed religion,” which involves no “investigation or empirical study.”

The eclipse of the old “Crolyite liberalism” began, Mr. Siegel says, in the 1980s and ’90s, with the eruption of postmodernism into American intellectual life. “There began to be an emphasis on ‘narratives’ and feeling, which undermined the Crolyite emphasis on empiricism and evidence.” Liberalism had already been weakened by Reagan’s victory in 1980. “There was questioning among liberals, and some self-doubt,” Mr. Siegel says. “But the questioning didn’t go far enough, and blame was placed squarely on Carter. He didn’t check all of Croly’s boxes, he wasn’t a natural, Ivy League aristocrat. He was a farmer”—in contrast with John F. Kennedy, an archetypal Crolyite president.

There was, Mr. Siegel says, an ideological “hiatus” under Mr. Clinton, in which a party that had been “demoralized by the defeat of the technocrat Dukakis in 1988” recovered some of its mojo. But “postmodernism turning to wokeness was churning” in the 1990s. The 2000 election was “a trauma” for the Democrats, and Howard Dean’s unsuccessful candidacy for the 2004 nomination previewed “some of the craziness and hysteria that would come full-bore, on a broader scale, a decade later.” Wokeism achieved its apotheosis in 2014, in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting. “Ferguson allowed Ivy League grads to assert their ‘natural leadership,’ in opposition to lowlife cops and guys with pickup trucks—again, the deplorables.”

In Mr. Siegel’s understanding, wokeism holds that “the important truths are already known, and that the American aristocracy has to impose those truths on the country.” These are “given positions”—irrefutable and sacrosanct. Wokeism, he says, is a “perilous threat” to America and particularly to the First Amendment. “It says we don’t need debate. We don’t need free speech. We don’t need freedom of religion. We need to obey.” Mr. Siegel’s vote is his personal act of disobedience.

Mr. Varadarajan is a Journal contributor and a fellow at New York University Law School’s Classical Liberal Institute.


No Excuse

I get Jared’s wire. Some who might read this will know the punch-line. I agree 100% with Jared on this one. mrossol

10/14/2020. Jared Dillian, in The Daily Dirtnap [TDD]

Just a quick story from the old Academy days.  As a fourth class cadet (freshman), you only had three possible responses to a question.

1. “Yes, sir”

2. “No, sir”

3. “No excuse, sir”

That was it. You really weren’t allowed to say anything else.

So if an upperclass cadet asked you why you were late to formation, the answer was “no excuse, sir.”

It didn’t matter if you actually had an excuse. It didn’t matter if your grandmother hijacked a school bus full of penguins. You still had to be at formation on time.

This introduced a sense of accountability into 18-year-olds that can be found nowhere else in society.

I only got chewed out one time the whole time I was at Lehman Brothers. It was the time that I got picked off on RTH and Sears Holdings. It’s a fascinating story, which I think I’ve told in the past, but may tell again. Anyway, my boss sat me down, clearly annoyed (after losing $1mm) and said that we wanted to be on the right side of those trades, not the wrong side. Now, the trade was incredibly complex, and me with my 31- year-old level of sophistication was not going to be able to figure that out. But I simply said, “no excuse,” and resolved not to get picked off again. And I didn’t.

Maybe it’s just my conservative Generation X makeup, but I really would like to live in a world where “no excuse, sir” is the only acceptable response. I was an adjunct professor for five years–I made it clear in the first class of the semester that excuses were not going to be tolerated.

I had a policy that papers had to be handed in on the front table at 6pm, as class started. There was a student who forgot his paper at home. Before the class, I said, can you go print it out? It was on his home computer. He was totally stuck. He had that look. I said, I know how you’re feeling right now, and I know you did the paper, but I can’t make an exception in your particular case. The kid had an A in the class, and ended up with a B.

Won’t make that mistake again. Not in school, and not in life, either. Probably the most valuable thing he learned in class.

My wife constantly complains about students and their excuses. There are legitimate excuses–death in the family, illness, for which you have to provide documentation. If you lead people to believe that there is some wiggle room, they will exploit the wiggle room.

I learned a few things from being in the Coast Guard. That was one of them. The other one is time management. There was one point at the Academy where I was taking 22 credits, on top of athletics and all the military stuff. You get very adept at fitting a lot into a 24 hour day. And if I ever fail to send out an issue of TDD [this is Jarad’s daily market wire], you know what the next issue is going to say: no excuse.


Truth is not part of the progressive agenda or msm agenda.

WSJ 10/14/2020 by Shelby Steele

August was the sixth anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, the black teenager who was shot dead by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. The incident, and the nationwide coverage it attracted, marked the beginning of a period of mass protests against police, which culminated (let’s hope) after the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this May.

The fashionable explanation for what happened to Brown, Floyd and others—such as Freddie Gray in 2015 and Philando Castile in 2016—is so-called systemic racism. The activist left and the mainstream media insist that law enforcement targeted these men because they were black—and that if they weren’t black, they would still be alive. The truth is more complicated and less politically correct, and it’s the subject of an engrossing new documentary that is scheduled to premiere Oct. 16.

Shelby Steele.


The film, titled “What Killed Michael Brown?,” is written and narrated by the noted race scholar Shelby Steele and directed by his son, Eli Steele. Readers of these pages probably know the elder Mr. Steele through his best-selling books and occasional Journal op-eds. But earlier in his career, Mr. Steele also won acclaim for his work in television. In 1990 he co-wrote and produced “Seven Days in Bensonhurst,” an Emmy-winning documentary about Yusef Hawkins, the black teenager from Brooklyn who was fatally shot in 1989 after he and some friends were attacked by a white mob.

In an interview this week, Mr. Steele, who is based at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, explained the significance of Brown’s death and what it tells us about race relations today. “Michael Brown represented, even more so than Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray and others, the distortion of truth, of reality,” he said. Mr. Steele added that when it comes to racial controversies, liberals have developed what he calls a “poetic truth,” which may be at complete odds with objective truth but nevertheless helps them advance a desirable narrative. In the case of Michael Brown, reality was turned on its head.

“It was almost absolute,” Mr. Steele said. “The language—he was ‘executed,’ he was ‘assassinated,’ ‘hands up, don’t shoot’—it was a stunning example of poetic truth, of the lies that a society can entertain in pursuit of power.” Despite ample forensic evidence, the grand-jury reports and the multiple Justice Department investigations clearing the police officer of any wrongdoing, “there are blacks today, right now in Ferguson, as I point out in the film, who still truly believe that Michael Brown was killed out of racial animus,” he said. “In a microcosm, that’s where race relations are today. The truth has no chance. It’s smothered by the politics of victimization.”

Yet Mr. Steele sees a better future, and the interviews highlighted in “What Killed Michael Brown?” help to explain his optimism. One of the film’s strong suits is showcasing the words and deeds of everyday community leaders in places like Ferguson, St. Louis and Chicago. These people are far more focused on black self-development than on badgering whites or blaming society for problems in poor black communities. They understand and accept objective truth but mostly toil in obscurity while liberal billionaires cut million-dollar checks to subsidize Black Lives Matter activism and antiracism gibberish from “woke” academics.

“It’s easy to say, ‘The white man, the white man,’ and point the finger,” says a pastor in the film whose church is located in one of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods. “In reality, we have to take a very close look at ourselves.” His focus is on “the transformation of the person. And we’re telling them, hey, educationally, you gotta get it together. Economically, you gotta get it together. Family and spiritually, you gotta get it together. And you have to take responsibility.”

The president of the St. Louis NAACP chapter told Mr. Steele there was no evidence that the Ferguson protests had done anything to help the black people who live there. Property values have fallen, crime has increased, and schools continue to underperform. “Let’s be clear. The progressive agenda is not the black agenda,” he says. “The people in that community are no better off than they were prior to the death of that young black child. They’re no better off, and everybody knows it.”

Amazon, which was scheduled to stream the movie, is now having second thoughts and has placed it under “content review.” Eli Steele, the director, told me that he will resort to other streaming platforms if he has to and is referring people to the film’s website,, for more details on how to view it.

The progressive agenda may not be the black agenda, but it is the media’s agenda. Sadly, speaking plain truths about racial inequality in America today remains controversial.


I'm serious… usually. (Martin Rossol)