TGIF: Politics Is a Dirty Business
Biden has trouble counting. Alex Jones owes nearly $1 billion. Plus: Kanye, Hannity, and more.
I TGIF every week because it means we’re one week closer to The Rapture and, if all those bumper stickers about suddenly “unmanned cars” are true, traffic jams will finally be a thing of the past. I don’t expect to be among those taken up to heaven and always look for the silver lining.
I’m Nick Gillespie, an editor-at-large at Reason, back for a second stint filling in for Mama Nellie, whose deep maternal urges appear to be as transitory as inflation was supposed to be back in 2021. She’ll be back to work next week, I’m told, so all will be right with the world. Or at least with this column.
Here’s what went down this past week at Common Sense:
Bethany Mandel never wanted kids. Now, she’s the mother of five of them with number six on the way. Read about her journey to motherhood here. Rupa Subramanya went deep inside the dark world of Canada’s assisted suicide program, which is available for people with conditions that are “intolerable to them” and could not “be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable” and soon, “mature minors.” And Honestly featured a conversation between Sam Harris and the cognitive neuroscientist Jonas Kaplan on the science of changing your mind.
Here’s what else happened:
→ Biden’s math problems:
It seems that the president’s basic math skills, just like those of 9-year-olds during Covid lockdowns, have really tanked, to the point where he can’t count to three. “Let me start off with two words,” he announced to a crowd gathered at the Volvo Group Powertrain Operations Facility in Hagerstown, Maryland. “Made in America! Made in America!” Oh, Joe.
But Biden has bigger math problems than counting to three. He has about the same approval rating (43 percent) as President Trump had at this point in his presidency (41.4 percent), per Ballotpedia. But just 28.2 percent of us think the country is headed in the right direction right now, compared to 40.7 percent at the same time under Trump. Regardless of your politics, that’s not good. The Shining City on a Hill is now starting to look like a Dead Motel.
Is it any coincidence Biden miscounted around the same time that the national debt crossed the $31 trillion mark? To be fair, when it comes to spending, Biden never claimed to be anything other than Mary Lincoln in drag. As a candidate, he promised $11 trillion in new spending over the next decade.
A quick math lesson: Unrestrained borrowing can cause inflation (duh), undermine trust in the financial system (yup), and, perhaps most important, suppress long-term economic growth (already happening), the acknowledged key to improving living standards.
To be fair, both major parties are to blame for busting the budget and increasing the debt. In the wake of Trump, who increased federal spending with the help of a Republican Congress even before the Covid pandemic hit, the GOP doesn’t even bother to pretend that it cares about deficit spending. It’s spendthrifts all the way down.
→ Bounced checks and balances: Speaking of reckless spending, one of Biden’s most-popular edicts of late might be held up or scotched completely due to legal challenges. At least four major lawsuits have been filed against the administration to block its student-debt-relief plan, which would grant up to $20,000 to recipients.
That’s too bad for students. But it might not be a problem for Biden or his fellow Democrats, who are running hard on trying to save former students from loans they chose to take out. If some mean conservative activists or judges get in the way, that’s not their fault!
A number of competitive Senate races are looking just a little rosier for the Democrats, and debt relief appears to have something to do with it.
In Ohio, a recent poll shows more than 63 percent of voters support some level of debt relief, giving Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan an edge against his Trump-fawning rival, Republican J.D. Vance. In Georgia, where Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock is trying to fend off football star-turned-Republican contender Herschel Walker, a poll shows that 54 percent of likely voters support debt relief. In Pennsylvania, where Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman is doing battle with the Republican, Dr. Oz, 1.7 million people would be eligible for the Biden plan.
We interrupt this TGIF for a brief breakdown of the L.A. City Council drama from CS writer and editor Peter Savodnik:
→ Nury hurries out: On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times published an audio recording of Nury Martinez, the first Latina president of the Los Angeles City Council, saying awful, terrible, racist things about black people—in particular, the son of a fellow city councilor, whom she likened to a “changuito,” or monkey. Martinez also had choice words for indigenous people, gays, Jews and Armenians. That’s what I call inclusion!
President Biden, among many other Democrats, called for Martinez and the three officials she was speaking with during a closed-door meeting to resign.
Trying to stem the blood flow, Martinez stepped down as council president and said she was taking some time off. Then, on Wednesday, she announced she was resigning from the council altogether.
What is going on here? Sure—Martinez said some really bad, mean things that basically confirm what most Americans already think of most politicians, whom they regard (when they’re being charitable) as glorified used-car salesmen. Say what you will about Martinez. This is the way of politics—morally elastic human beings making really important decisions about power and money and scarce resources. One wonders what closed-door meetings are like in bastions of niceness like New York, Chicago, D.C., or, you know, the United States Congress.
The story behind this story is not about racism. It’s about the cold calculus of power. It’s about Latinos in Los Angeles acquiring more of it, black people losing it, and Democrats trying to Scotch Tape together their coalition in advance of the 2022 midterms.
Nick again with a . . .
“If you are pregnant with your own child you can't sell it for adoption. Why not? Parents are already paying middlemen money to adopt, women can already offer surrogacy... Why can't a woman sell a right to raise a child to parents who want one?”
As the father of two adult sons, I can’t pretend this basic idea never crossed my mind, but this doesn’t seem to be the sort of proposal that will propel Peotter, currently polling at 3 percent according to Data for Progress—47 points behind the Democratic incumbent and odds-on favorite, Sen. Michael Bennet— to victory. Maybe the staunchly pro-life Peotter, who includes a picture of himself and his sun-dappled family on his site, can get the ball rolling by suggesting MSRPs for his three darling kids.
→ Beating Babel: Google is working on glasses that automatically transcribe and even translate what someone is saying into your native language and appear like closed captions in your sight. I’ve long believed that by the time the future arrives, it often seems banal. We take LASIK surgery, hip replacements, and so much more for granted–so it’s good to be amazed every once in a while.
→ Thumbs down to thumbs up: Channeling its anger like the Red Guards in Mao’s China, Gen Z has proclaimed that only “old people” use emojis like the thumbs-up, the red heart, and the OK sign and are a sign of disrespect. The Daily Mail quotes a Gen X-looking business consultant, Sue Ellson, as siding with the grumbling youngsters: “Ms. Ellson said it is important to understand the relationship dynamics at a workplace before deciding to use emojis or not.” Perhaps we should all go back to using unambiguous hand signals that speak across the generational divide.
→ Monkeypox, we hardly knew ye: It was only a few months ago that it seemed as if monkeypox, a virus that struck mostly gay and bisexual men with multiple partners, was set to be the next big pandemic. Instead, cases ramped up from June until mid-August, and are now tumbling like cryptocurrencies. The New York Times attributes the swift decline in cases to multiple factors, including an effective vaccine and voluntary changes in behavior by the most at-risk population. Score one for giving people good information and trusting them to act responsibly.
If you’re excited for Nellie Bowles’ triumphant return to TGIF next week, subscribe today:
→ Vanderbilt to halt teen transitions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center is temporarily pausing gender-transition surgery for minors “after a wave of backlash,” according to National Review. That’s hardly the end of the matter, of course, but along with changes in Sweden and Finland reported on by Lisa Selin Davis, it’s one more sign that passions are cooling and rational discussion of costs and benefits are starting to matter, if not necessarily prevail. I’m not unequivocally against gender-reassignment surgery for minors, pending the fully informed participation and approval of parents or guardians. But I’m troubled by the way in which dissent and discussion of sexual identity has been anathematized by trans activists who equate any and all reservations with phobia and hate. We should also be troubled by the way in which parents’ role in raising their children continues to be chipped away by a growing number of experts, activists, and agencies, all of whom purport to know kids better than the very people who gave them life in the first place.
→ Should we care about Kanye’s comments? You don’t need to believe that Kanye West, who now goes by Ye, is the greatest artist of the 21st century to appreciate how big a deal he’s become since his 2004 album, The College Dropout, debuted on the charts.
But he also has very publicly struggled with mental health issues. As if his acrimonious divorce from Kim Kardashian and tendency to publish all of his texts online weren't messy and unbecoming enough, this past week, he decided to bring the Jews into it. After accusing Diddy (formerly P. Diddy, Puff, etc.) of being controlled by Jews, he declared that he was about to go "death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE," which led to his Twitter and Instagram accounts being temporarily locked.
In an interview with Fox News' Tucker Carlson, West suggested the fat acceptance movement was a type of "genocide of the Black race" and said that it "drove me crazy not to be able to say I liked Trump." Then Vice’s Motherboard published unaired outtakes from the Carlson interview, including Ye’s contention that Blacks are the “real” Jews. “When I say Jew, I mean the 12 lost tribes of Judah, the blood of Christ, who the people known as the race Black.” That line of thinking has an impeccable and inarguable antisemitic provenance, which is itself deeply worrying in a country in which hate crimes against Jews are always the single-largest category.
Without going into questions of whether, or when, we should separate the art from the artist (T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Hemingway, and Alice Walker all come to mind), it seems inarguable that Tucker Carlson and Fox News should be castigated for airing the interview in the first place. Its newsworthiness is debatable even if it broke the internet. And though it’s hard to believe you can exploit one of the biggest celebrities on the planet, it seems like they’ve managed to do exactly that.
→ Alex Jones’s billion-dollar banishment: Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been ordered to pay $965 million to 15 plaintiffs after losing a defamation suit based on his years-long crusade to convince the world that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was a hoax. I have nothing good to say about Jones or his show, Infowars, but you needn’t be a First Amendment absolutist to worry about the speech-chilling impact of such a gargantuan fine.
→ All the Nobel Prize winners: Here is the full set of 2022 Nobel Prize winners, including former Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke, who shared the economics award for "for research on banks and financial crises,” and the Center for Civil Liberties, a Ukrainian human rights group that shared the Peace Prize for promoting “the right to criticize power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens.”
→ Back to Biden: Sean Hannity aired a voicemail message from Joe Biden to Hunter Biden when the latter was in the throes of addiction. Hannity’s intent was to hurt the president by airing dirty family laundry but, as Ben Dreyfuss points out, the effect is the opposite. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by Biden’s message.
“It's Dad,” says the president, “I’m calling to tell you I love you. I love you more than the whole world, pal. You gotta get some help. I don't know what to do. I know you don't either." I’ve spent a good time knocking Biden thus far (didn’t even get to his awful attempt to shut down the gig economy!) but in that message, he shows a deep humanity and personal vulnerability and humility that seems to have disappeared from politics altogether.
He sounded similar notes in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, who raised the question of Hunter facing criminal charges on tax charges and making a false statement while purchasing a gun.. “He got…hooked on drugs. He’s overcome that. He’s established a new life,” the president said. “I’m proud of him.”
→ The two warfronts: Biden is not only able to muster great empathy for his own child. Last week’s pardoning of federal prisoners serving time for simple marijuana possession shows a real change of heart by one of the great architects of the past half-century of prohibition. But will he withdraw from the drug war and all its depredations with the same speed and conviction as he did from Afghanistan? The Economist, hardly your tripping-balls neighbor, is already calling Biden “too timid” and demanding that he legalize cocaine to end cartel violence and bring a little more peaceful commerce to the world.
And then there’s the other, foreign, war. Biden spoke with Tapper about the increasingly fraught situation in Europe, where Vladimir Putin is threatening nuclear war over Russia’s stalled invasion of Ukraine. The president said he believes that Putin is both a “rational actor” and that the autocrat’s rationale for invading Ukraine was “irrational.”
So where exactly does that leave us all? Joe Biden’s math skills may be the least of our worries.