A victory for due process, or the confirmation hearings of Grand Moff Tarkin?

I hope you have energy for one more damn blog post about Brett Kavanaugh, who has now been confirmed to the Supreme Court.   I don’t think herein you will discover any new or profound points, but perhaps.  I deeply regret and apologize for my lack of editor.

Megan McArdle and Jonah Goldberg were right, of course, that there was no good outcome, at the end.  Either the Left was going to be furious at having been balked and at having a woman’s accusations of sexual assault and attempted rape be disbelieved enough to not spike a nomination to the Supreme Court, or the Right was going to be furious at the nakedly political attempt to ambush a nominee at the eleventh hour with accusations of vile crimes that could neither be proven nor disproven, despite the Democratic Senator in question having had the accusatory letter for months without revealing it and despite the fact that even the people named by the accusers as having been there declined to back up the details or substance of the accusation.

I was and am on the side of confirming Kavanaugh.  Naturally I’m glad how it turned out– in that one respect.

To Kavanaugh himself I am indifferent.  If credible charges of any offense had been made back in the summer and he had backed out, or if Trump had withdrawn his nomination, and then Trump offered up someone else, I would have been fine with that.  The way it happened, though, made the stakes rather different than merely the identity of the person warming the ninth seat.  The pathetically obviously political quality of the timing of the release– to try to delay matters past the midterm elections next month– the hypocrisy of the Left (for example, in having covered up and apologized for Bill Clinton’s non-teenage mashing, or their apologetics for the crimes of black youths of a similar age to Kavanaugh in 1982, arguing that teenagers shouldn’t be held to as high a standard), and the Waterford clarity that this was about revenge for denying Merrick Garland a vote adds up to the unavoidable conclusion that rationality had nothing to do with the Left’s position.  Which was more or less, to blither, fulminate and fling any shit that comes to hand, no matter how vile.

The Left’s position, when not purely partisan, is essentially one of emotion, and, depth of rage notwithstanding, it is still not acceptable to make nothing more than emotion a policy consideration.  Emotion will, true, always play a role in human affairs.  Voters need not hew to any standards but their own, and the fear of voter anger does affect politicians.  But politicians must at least pretend to be rational.  There has to be a real policy issue at stake which is argued to be more important than the other issue.  For politicians, it cannot openly be “the depth of my side’s emotions must be more important than your reasons”, especially when that issue is something central, like due process or the Rule of Law.  And, momentary fluctuations notwithstanding, it has in the end to be justifiable emotion.  Emotion that one side has stirred up to a fury pitch out of a sense of identity does not qualify.

Voters on the Right got angry, too, of course, and that played a role.  But the Right’s position is one of basic prudence and common sense: that if this is all that it takes to spike a nomination, we will all have consented to race to the bottom in terms of standards, and we’ll get a steady stream of accusations from the mentally unstable and cheap opportunists willing to lie.  Even sincerity, which Kavanaugh’s first accuser displayed, is not enough.  It might not be enough even with events only a year old, because the unreliability of memories and eyewitness testimony is well-known, but most certainly memories of events 36 years ago which no one else from that time and place supports, making an allegation that the rest of Kavanaugh’s life seems to belie, are not enough.

So the Left turns out to be who’s enraged, and will spin this into a political Just-So story, some new component of their identity narrative, along the lines of the confirmation by the Imperial Senate of a glib, fast-talking Grand Moff Tarkin making all the right sounds.  But rage and storytelling and the rationalization of the imposition of end results are the Left’s normal modus operandi.  How is this different?  And in most respects other than taxes and the 2nd Amendment the Left has gotten most things they wanted for the past half-century.  Honestly, I have no idea what they think they can rationalize to do in retribution, that they haven’t already or wouldn’t have done before.  Spent options and burnt bridges make for poor leverage.

2016: the two types of issue

In which I continue to try to parse the significance of 2016.  (I hope they come up with a standard term for the events of the past couple years, because Trump-and-Brexit-and-Europeans-revolt-against-the-elite is clunky.)

Megan McArdle has on more than one occasion talked about “Washington issues”:

A Washington Issue is something that sounds terrible, has little meaningful impact on more than a handful of people, and most importantly, allows you to pretend that you are addressing a different, very difficult issue that would impact a large number of people if you actually tried to make meaningful change — people who might get angry and do something rash, such as voting for your opponent.

This is clearly correct, it seems to me.  How does 2016 play in?  Well, on that particular subject area of political science, let me theorize a bit.

As I see it, there are two basic types of issue.  There are “retail” issues, and there are “luxury” issues.

Retail issues are the sort that the public really cares about.  They tend to be fairly simple and easy to explain, and they tend to touch many people’s emotions.   Jobs.  Taxes.  Defense.  Football.  The Left appears to me to imagine that their issues are mostly retail.  The administrative state?  Meritocracy and mandarinism?  They seem to think these are all things the public is really on their side about, and are shocked and mystified when evidence to the contrary appears.  (Washington Issues are a kind of retail issue that is high-margin, in business terms: high payoff, low cost in terms of tradeoffs.  They’re the sweet spot for politicians, so long as people are fooled into thinking they mean anything.)

Luxury issues, on the other hand, are the kind that only particular interest groups and politicians care about.  They don’t swing elections by themselves.  They’re the kind of thing that you can use to put together coalitions, because the interest groups care intensely about their particular issue or issues, but they’re not things whose presence or absence sways the public as a whole.

And, of course, these are not fixed points, anode and cathode.  They are points on a spectrum.  People can sometimes be gotten to care more about a particular issue, and in fact that’s the nexus between the media and politics.  Any time a politician says something like “let’s get a national conversation going about X issue”, the real meaning is, let’s try to move this issue from the luxury side of the spectrum to the retail side.  This can sometimes be done, but if it is not maintained, it may slide backwards once the victory is gained and the policy enacted.  And some things that were once inherently retail drift to the side of luxury issues by the operation of the entropy of public disillusionment with them.  Public education is an example of this.  People ostensibly care about it, but large amounts of money spent uselessly on it, together with a public perception that it’s been captured by administrators and teachers’ unions and run chiefly for their own benefit, has been causing it to drift in the direction of a luxury issue.

2016 demonstrates that the Left, and the global elite as a whole, has confused the two.   The public as a whole doesn’t care about the components of the administrative state.  The less able distrust meritocracy, a dynamic in which they are the losers, and non-elites as a whole dislike the identity politics of meritocracy, which is what we call elitism.  The Democrats, in fact, resemble nothing so much as the character of Martin Prince on The Simpsons, who gets pushed down by Bart, to laughter from the other children, and says in shock, “They laugh at me? I’d always considered myself rather popular… My speed with numbers? My years of service as a hall monitor? My prize winning dioramas? These things mean nothing to them?”  And he gets pushed over again, again to general laughter.

Unlike Martin, though, who responds, “You have made your point”, the Democrats have yet to acknowledge the point made by Trump when he pushed them over.  They still think the bureaucrats of the Hall Monitor Agency and the diorama-building of the National Endowment for the Arts, are things with genuine and deep popular support.

Three kinds of corruption

Megan McArdle’s latest is on “Medicare for All”, the branding the Left seems to have settled upon to try once again to sell single payer.  Her point is essentially that the fantasies of the Left are poorly thought-through, with lots of handwaving about the cost when they bother to think about it at all.  Her streak of Irish skepticism never permits her to forget that, “people are why we can’t have nice things”.  Bernie Sanders and his ilk can ignore reality in their desperation to reach the pie-in-the-sky Automat.  Not her.  She can’t forget that someone has to pay for all this, and it won’t be that “magic pot of money” (to borrow her phrase), The Rich.  And most likely it’s not going to be the people who benefit most from the current scheme, like health care providers who won’t stand for any scheme cutting their incomes (as would have to happen) or the 70% of Americans who like the insurance they have.  You’d think it would be a nonstarter, right?

Nope.  Politics has become disconnected from facts or rationality.  On both sides.  I see three kinds of corruption: of language, of interpretation and of science.

The Left talks a lot about the supposed irrationality of everyone else, but the truth is that the Left contributed enormously to the killing of rationality as the basis for politics, by their corruption of language.  Once, everyone spoke the same language, and so could actually argue.  They might hate each other’s vision, but they actually understood it.  Today’s Left have proven themselves to be incapable of sticking to any definition whatsoever, and regardless of how noble the intention, the corruption of language is actually the corruption of rationality.  Democrats of the 1970s are practically alt-Right based on the definitions current among the Left on today’s college campuses.

Interpretation, too, has been corrupted.  The conclusion reached is today all that matters.  Activist morons lionize or apply the foulest of epithets to the interpreter based on quite literally nothing more than their own emotion about the conclusion being reached.  Feelings displace rationality.  Emotion is the primary consideration in politics today, with identity its child.  What goes around, comes around; politics like that on one side quickly spreads everywhere.

Science has been corrupted too.  Science didn’t save politics from irrationality, as certain eggheads must have thought must happen (sounds like the sort of thing Woodrow Wilson would have said).  Science and politics met in the middle.  Science improved politics somewhat, but politics corrupted science, as though Faust were a scientist being offered grant money for the finding of certain politically useful conclusions by a party National Committee chair named Mephistopheles.

The purest of bullshit

The New York Times, forfeiting all credibility, hired and subsequently defended an out-and-out hater of white people and men with the explanation, “her journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment. For a period of time, she responded to that harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers.”

Andrew Sullivan, whose piece is linked-to above, described this quite accurately as “the purest of bullshit“.  He writes, “If you want to respond to trolls by trolling them, you respond to them directly.  You don’t post slurs about an entire race of people (the overwhelming majority of whom are not trolls) on an open-forum website like Twitter. And these racist tweets were not just a function of one sudden exasperated vent at a harasser; they continued for two years.”

It’s one thing for a place like the Washington Post to publish a similar men-hating piece, because they at least also publish people like Megan McArdle, who’s kind of center-right/libertarian.  The Post, at least at present, and surely thanks to the fact that it’s owned by someone who doesn’t need it to make money, is in harmony with Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of truth and error grappling in an arena of freedom.  But the fact that The New York Times kept someone with views more vile than those that Kevin Williamson was defenestrated for upon their discovery by The Atlantic, even in the face of widespread outrage, makes its actions simply unforgiveable and the damage to its reputation possibly irreparable.

This marks the moment when the NYT ceased to be “The Paper of Record”.