The Democrats are scrambling, Trump is a screwball and the sane center is getting ignored.
‘Everybody knows everything.” That mordant observation is the first of Burnham’s Laws. James Burnham was a significant mid-20th century figure, a public intellectual and political philosopher who started out on the left—as a young follower he carried on an extensive personal correspondence with Leon Trotsky —and became in time an eloquent foe of totalitarianism in whatever its manifestation. While at National Review, which he helped found, he gave his colleagues 10 maxims or laws about the realities of life. No. 5 is the wholly true, “Wherever there is prohibition there’s a bootlegger.” No. 10 has become well known: “If there’s no alternative, there’s no problem.”
But most arresting, and richest in inference, is No. 1, which I always pare down to EVERYONE KNOWS.
The big secret is that it isn’t a secret.
In its personal application Burnham’s No. 1 Law suggests you can’t successfully or forever conceal anything bad about yourself and your nature, it will all come out and probably has. People see more than you know. Don’t focus on concealment but creation. In political terms it suggests: everyone knows your essential position and future necessities; your close-hold campaign strategies are actually obvious.
Everyone knows Donald Trump can be taken in 2020, but everyone doubts the ability of the current Democratic field to do it. Everyone knows Elizabeth Warren has successfully created and inhabited a persona—the determined, high-energy fighter full of plans—and is killing it. She knows she has gone too far left for the general electorate and will introduce nuance and an air of greater moderation once she gets the nomination. Everyone knows this.
Everyone knows the Democratic moderates are going nowhere and cluttering up every stage, but no one minds their being there because they make the party look sane.
Joe Biden may have about 30% in the polls, but that means all the candidates to his left have about 70%. Mr. Biden’s front-runner status as a perceived moderate (changes in his stands leave him to the left of Hillary Clinton ) doesn’t demonstrate that the party’s primary-goers tilt moderate. It shows they’re mostly progressive, and the perceived moderate is getting that part of the base. The Democratic Party really HAS gone sharply left, and everyone knows.
Shall we be rude? Oh, let’s. Everyone knows Donald Trump is a mental case, including I believe Donald Trump. Why else does he keep insisting he is an “extremely stable genius”? It’s as if he knows a lot of people are certain he’s neither.
It would be nice here to say, “I don’t mean mental case. I mean his mind is a raucous TV funhouse; that he is immature, unserious, and at the mercy of poor impulse control; that he doesn’t exercise power intelligently but emotionally, and with an eye, always to personal needs.” But mental case will do.
He just fired his third national security adviser, by Twitter , under contested circumstances. They had apparently argued: the president was going to invite the Taliban, that band of gangsters, mooks and morons who housed the terrorists who killed 3,000 of us 18 years ago this week, to Camp David. Camp David! The august retreat where presidents host great nations and great allies. Where FDR met with Churchill and Reagan walked with Thatcher.
No one who knows what history IS would do this. No one who knows the American people would do it. No one who felt 9/11 in his bones would do it. But a guy going for a cheap handshake and a triumphant photo would. It’s the kind of idea a mental case might readily entertain.
By my observation something is going on with Mr. Trump’s supporters. They now concede much more about him in private than they did in the past. They use words like “unpredictable” or “emotional” or “a little chaotic.” They say, “Well, he may be crazy but maybe that’s what’s needed to keep his enemies hopping.” He may not be a good man, they concede, but the swamp has defeated good men.
What is interesting is that they no longer say what they used to—“You’ve got it wrong, he’s stable, a successful businessman, a realist.” And they no longer compare him to Reagan.
His most frequent public defenders now believe he’s a screwball, which is why they no longer devote their time to lauding him but to attacking his critics.
They’re uncomfortable. He is wearing his own people down.
To Thursday night’s debate:
The great question isn’t who got the most time or who got in a good shot, those things are rarely as important as they seem at the moment. The real question is: Did the candidates in the row of podiums show any sign that they are aware they’re going too far left? That they have come across in previous debates as extreme and outside the mainstream?
Maybe a little. There seemed to be some recalibrating. No one bravely declared they’ll outlaw all private health insurance. Ms. Warren in fact repeatedly and rather brazenly ducked the question. It must be showing up in her polls that telling more than 100 million people you’ll take away their health insurance isn’t a “popular idea.” No one called for open borders, or federal funding for abortions for transgender women. There was a lot of identity politics and autobiography.
My first impression was that so many of the contenders are such accomplished TV performers with such rounded, practiced sentences that are so dramatically delivered. It is hard to remember but JFK and Nixon were a little shy to be on TV in their 1960 debate, and a little formal. Jimmy Carter, too, 20 years later, with Reagan—they had a certain muted tone. Up until 2000 or so, national TV was a place where you would appropriately feel nervous. Now candidates are so smooth, so TV-ready. Performers in their natural habitat.
This isn’t new, of course. But each cycle it seems a little more so, and a little more unsettling.
Ms. Warren was relatively quiet, almost recessive during the first half, and emerged unscathed as Bernie Sanders and Mr. Biden went at each other. Mr. Biden was fine. As Mr. Sanders spoke and gesticulated in his wide and ranty way I remembered that sometimes the thing that works against you is also what works for you. He comes across like your angry Menshevik uncle in the attic, but like that uncle he means what he says, is sincere and convinced, and that has its own power.
I close with a last thing everyone knows, if they only think a minute. When we talk about politics we all obsess on alt-right and progressive left, those peas in a sick pod, and no one speaks of the center, which is vast and has something neither way-left nor way-right has, and that is a motivating love for America itself, and not for abstractions and ideologies and theories of the case. As a group they are virtually ignored, and yet they are the center of everything. They include those of the left who are no longer comfortable in a new progressive party. And rightists not comfortable with Mr. Trump, or with the decisions and approaches of the Bush era. It includes those experiencing ongoing EID—extreme ideological discomfort.
In this cycle they continue to be the great ignored. And everyone knows.
If Justice Department guidelines had been otherwise—if federal charges could be brought against a sitting president—would Mr. Mueller have recommended them? That’s the question. Instead we get “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Oh.
Independent counsel Ken Starr wasn’t so shy with Bill Clinton: His 1998 report outlined to Congress 11 possible grounds for impeachment.
I’m sure Mr. Mueller was trying to demonstrate probity. But it looked to me like a loss of nerve. You can have probity plus clarity, and clarity was what was needed.
The spirit of impeachment is now given a boost.
It is still a terrible idea.
It is a grave matter to overturn an election result. Why more cuttingly divide an already divided country? There is no argument that impeachment would enhance America’s position in the world, and no reason to believe it would not have some negative impact on the economy, meaning jobs. The presidential election is in 2020. What is gained from devoting the coming year to an effort that will fail in the Senate? There’s no reason to believe the public is for it. It won’t move the needle—those who like President Trump, like him; those who do not, do not; everyone already knows what they think. For Democrats it could backfire, alienating moderates and rousing those of the president’s supporters who care little for him personally but appreciate his policy achievements, such as his appointment of judges. Why rouse their wrath? If Mr. Trump is acquitted he will pose as the innocent but unstoppable victor over a witch hunt led by a liberal elite.
At this point, could Democrats even do it? Impeachment is “a heavy lift,” as Chris Matthews said on MSNBC the other day. It takes time and focus to organize it politically and legally, to get the committee chairmen on board and investigators mobilized.
.. Pew Research sees the party lurching to the left since 2009; Gallup says the percentage of Democrats calling themselves liberal has jumped 23 points since 2000. But you don’t need polls. More than 70 Democrats in the House, and a dozen in the Senate, have signed on to the Green New Deal, an extreme-to-the-point-of-absurdist plan that is yet serious
“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations,” Trump said, in an apparent reference to Democratic congressional probes of his administration and possibly to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”
At the same time, the president did not back down from his insistence that Congress fund a border wall, which was at the center of a 35-day government shutdown that ended only a few weeks ago and could fuel another shutdown on Feb. 15. Tolerance for illegal immigration, Trump said, is “not compassionate,” but “cruel.” “Simply put, walls work and walls save lives,” Trump said. “So let’s work together, compromise and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.” However, top Democrats signaled that Trump’s State of the Union address did little to convince them that a legislative compromise to construct his proposed border wall is possible.
TRUMP AND AOC FEELING ‘SOCIAL’: President Trump vowed during his State of the Union address on Tuesday that “America will never be a socialist country,” in an apparent rebuke to self-described Democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders that drew loud cheers and a standing ovation from Republicans in the House chamber — as well as supportive applause from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi … In response, after the speech, Ocasio-Cortez told Fox News: “I thought it was great. I think he’s scared.”
The progressive firebrand pointedly did not applaud as Trump condemned human trafficking and illegal immigration in his address. In an interview later Tuesday night, Ocasio-Cortez said she was asking herself, “Is this a campaign stop or is this a State of the Union?” She is set to unveil a massive “Green New Deal” with Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey next week.
Peggy Noonan: AOC had ‘rare bad night’ – and the rookie lawmaker responds