Good Friday Morning, especially to Major League Baseball and its Field of Dreams game. What a magical environment, building a stadium and hosting an actual baseball game in a cornfield. The setting was incredible, the players played like it was a playoff game, and the White Sox ending it with a walk-off blast into the cornfield capped off one of the best regular-season baseball games you’ll ever see. Joe Buck and crew were saying tickets for that game were going for World Series prices. I believe it. I also think those people got their money’s worth.
Some quick hits because the news was dropping Thursday night while I was watching baseball.
- A partial shout-out to the FDA, who I have spent considerable time dumping on (rightly) the last few months. In a shocking turn, the FDA is authorizing booster shots for the immunocompromised. I applaud this move and think it’s well-timed enough to hopefully help that demographic in time for the fall/winter surge of COVID. As I said in the podcast this past week, we need full FDA approval of all vaccines, FDA approval of child vaccines, and the Biden administration to approve more vaccine manufacturers. These are easy wins, and we need to take them.
- Justice Amy Coney Barrett correctly denied a request by Indiana students trying to block a vaccination mandate by Indiana University. There’s no need for the entire Court to hear this case. It’d be 9-0 in favor of Indiana University. The critical case law here is Jacobson v. Massachusetts, a 1905 Supreme Court case that held states had the power of compulsory vaccination. And the regulation in 1905 was far more onerous than the Indiana University mandate. I don’t know the scope of the federal government in this area, but I do know this: states and localities have borderline absolute power to engage in compulsory vaccinations absent health/religious exemptions (and I wouldn’t put weight in those limited exemptions). That’s been unquestioned for more than 100 years under nearly any reading of the Constitution. I’ve seen a few libertarians push against this notion. Still, I don’t know of any mainstream conservative, liberal, or progressive legal scholars who hold a differing view from mine on Jacobson.
- In a 6-3 order, the Supreme Court agreed with landlords to partially block New York’s eviction moratorium. This order does not involve the federal eviction moratorium, only a state variant. But if you’re reading the tea leaves, it would suggest all six conservatives are fed up with the moratoriums and won’t let them continue without a word from the Court this time.
This week, I’m jumping back on a theme I’ve had with the Biden administration: it’s weird. I’ve mentioned a few times that my working theme with them is “The President that isn’t there.” The FDA approval for the immunocompromized is a baby step in the right direction. Still, it’s transpiring at a moment when so much more is needed. And the open disaster taking place in Afghanistan right now is… not good. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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Biden’s eviction moratorium is unconstitutional and he doesn’t care – The Conservative Institute.
CNN’s firings and the moral relativity of the left – The Conservative Institute.
The weird Biden administration experience continues.
I noticed that I often start these newsletters talking about writing. It’s an easy way to get the writer’s flow going. Talking about what you’re doing can help words start appearing, and before you know it, you’ve knocked out several thousand words. I was thinking about writing ahead of time this week because I realized that I’d written the same column three times in a row.
This may surprise you, but I often do not recall what I write. After it leaves my head, I don’t immediately remember it. If you stop and chat with me on something I’ve written, it will often take a second for my brain to register this is something *I wrote.* In the middle of July, when I was traveling, I completely forgot what I wrote in three columns for the Conservative Institute:
- Joe Biden’s inaction is killing people, not Facebook
- Biden continues to ignore warning calls on inflation
- Biden is failing the moment
It was after I submitted that last column that I realized what I’d unconsciously done. Ostensibly, all three of those columns are different: the first is about Biden’s clash with Facebook, blaming them over COVID misinformation. The second is on inflation. The third column blends both points.
The analysis, however, is the same. I realized, standing in a hotel room getting ready to head to a wedding, that the way I was thinking about the Biden administration was unconsciously coalescing around a theme: The President who isn’t there. The theme has formed so hard, that I see it in everything the Biden administration does or (more realistically) doesn’t do.
In all things, at the moment, where we need Presidential action, the President is nowhere to be found. I went off on the pandemic on the podcast, so I won’t repeat those points here. But it’s everything, the pandemic, inflation, crime, the immigration crisis at the southern border, and now Afghanistan. The US President isn’t there. Or if he is, in the case of inflation, he’s far more interested in pushing through more spending and not acknowledging the real threat of inflation (the latest inflation report says more of the same, it’s still going up).
The first time I started thinking along these lines was four months ago, in May. You may recall this viral moment where the Bidens were pictured next to the Hobbit-sized President Jimmy Carter and his wife. At the time, Biden’s administration was comparing itself in historical terms to FDR. Here’s what I wrote then:
So far, in a few months, he’s managed to mangle the most incredible vaccine rollout in history, reducing it to a shadow of its former self. He inherited an economy ready to explode after hunkering down from a pandemic, and the latest jobs report and inflation data are far from stellar. The inflation part is the big thing because Biden wants to commit the United States to $6 trillion in new spending when inflation is surging. That’s not where you want to start if you’re the new FDR.
It’s one of those things where only a person like Biden could look around, believe his own press, and think that much new spending won’t impact inflation. And so I sit here looking at that picture of the Bidens and Carters, and I can’t help but wondering if this is his Trump/Andrew Jackson moment. With Trump, it was an outright decision. Whether he accomplished that is another story left to history. It won’t be a decision with Biden, but rather the lack of one, from a person weirdly missing from the stage when it counts.
And again, I have no insight here. I’m not saying anything about Biden’s health, or there’s some nefarious plot by his administration. I’m arguing that Biden isn’t showing up when you objectively measure his response against any previous president. And the explosion of events this week highlights that critical difference between him and his predecessors. With Trump, Obama, or Bush, the story was always their response to something or the way their critics handled the executive branch.
With Biden, it’s the event and only the event. He’s barely registering. It’s tempting to say, “well that’s just friendly media.” True, but consider that Obama and Clinton always liked to be at the forefront of a significant issue or story to show they were in control. They got friendly press too. Not true with Biden.
And I find it weird. Hopefully, we don’t need a President for anything significant any time soon because I’m not sure this one will show up. If he does, he’ll be late (see the embarrassing response to India or haphazard, random changes to CDC guidance). But when you read the biography of any President, it’s pretty apparent: events force them into the forefront sooner or later. Rare is the President who never has history forced on him and gets to glide through his moment with nary a challenge by forces outside his control. Biden cannot be an empty suit for forever. And right now, the only image we have of Biden is him looming over the Carters.
I haven’t changed from this analysis. The Biden administration is still weird to me — and every issue Biden touches is weird. With every previous President, I had disagreements. There were always actions with causes and effects. With Biden, it’s inaction that’s the defining feature.
The latest example is Afghanistan. I am utterly bewildered by the Biden administration’s move here. And I’m not going to pretend to tell you I have even the slightest clue what to do with Afghanistan. I’ll fully acknowledge, I am a squish on Afghanistan and Iraq. I don’t know what to do, I dislike all the options, and I hate the lack of planning and leadership we’ve had on this front for years.
For instance, I find myself utterly convinced by Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s take that keeping US forces in Afghanistan has led to less direct terrorism from those organizations. I found Paul Miller’s Twitter thread on what we’ve done in Afghanistan and plans to make it better very convincing.
On the flip side, however, we’ve had 20 years to build up the Afghan government, to prepare them to defend themselves. Yet the moment we leave, the Taliban run roughshod over them as if the only defense was thin tissue paper. And the ultimate response to Dan Crenshaw is that while direct massive terrorist attacks have not happened, we have experienced homegrown terrorism from the likes of ISIS and other similar groups.
I see all sides to this debate. I’m a squish.
The reasons why the Afghanistan disaster is occurring are more complicated than I want to get into here. What I’m trying to convey is that I’m a squish and open to persuasion. And even I’m appalled at what the Biden administration is doing. The New York Times reports that the United States of America is “asking” the Taliban to “spare” our Embassy in Kabul in the coming days as war looms for that city. The US withdrew so quickly that the Taliban are seizing BILLIONS of dollars worth of US military equipment, from vehicles to drones and more.
Noah Rothman has this exactly right when he says the United States is now begging a terrorist organization:
With the expectation that the end is nigh, the Biden administration is reduced to begging this medieval insurgent group to spare us the worst of their retribution. The New York Times reports that U.S. Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been tasked with asking the Taliban for permission to leave the U.S. Embassy in Kabul open. The Biden administration is even dangling the prospect of “financial aid and other assistance” to the “future Afghan government”—a Taliban-run enterprise, presumably—if they’ll guarantee the facility’s security.
Why the Biden administration would accept such guarantees at face value, even if they were forthcoming, is a mystery. U.S. defense officials who spoke with NBC News reporter Courtney Kube recently warned that the Taliban’s reconquest of Afghanistan would “allow Al Qaeda to rebuild and consolidate, creating security concerns well outside Afghanistan’s borders.” That should come as no surprise given the Taliban’s refusal to renounce violence, terrorism, or its relationship with the terrorist group responsible for the September 11 attacks. It could only fail to unnerve those most committed to retrenchment, regardless of the risks to American lives and interests that policy begets.
Rothman notes one other thing towards the end of his piece, “If the Biden administration is worried about the political fallout they’ll suffer as a result of presiding over this embarrassment, they’re not acting like it.” The President who isn’t there. The withdrawal got followed by, at best, indifferent silence.
And, of course, most of your liberal friends don’t care about any of this, which is interesting because they weren’t this way during the previous administration. We got a ton of thoughtful criticisms of Trump when he “dumped the Kurds.” I had friends posting Kurdish flags in support.
I note this hypocrisy because I had some lefty friends post after the election, as a joke, that they were happy they didn’t have to think about politics anymore. It is true they aren’t thinking about politics anymore. Kids are still in cages. The Afghanistan pullout leads to the rearming of the group that has murdered countless Americans and will lead to dead innocent men, women, and children left in the wake. Those liberals only cared about Trump, never what was happening.
I’m not saying I have the answers, but I wouldn’t expect myself to have them. I don’t have the best military, generals, and minds in the world briefing my every decision. The current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue does have these things, and he’s curiously missing from the scene. I can’t even tell if he cares any of this is happening.
Trump at least had the wherewithal to Tweet his way through a situation. Every other administration has crisis groups to deal with a response. The Biden administration forgets about simple things like eviction moratoriums. It stands idly by as the CDC embarrasses itself and the country.
This administration makes no sense. “The President who isn’t there” should not be a theme for a politician who is serving in the middle of a pandemic, with an economy in recovery, and US forces and an embassy under threat from a terrorist group. And yet, here we are.
Again, like the first newsletter four months ago, I don’t have an answer. I’m not saying anything conspiratorial about Biden; I just continue to find the entire administration weird.
My writing on this is obviously part of an overall criticism of a Democratic politician — you’d expect disagreements. But at this stage, I’m increasingly concerned that we don’t have a leader at the wheel. And I don’t mean leadership skills; I’m starting to wonder if he’s steering the ship at all. I keep hoping for the weirdness to depart and Biden to act like a conventional politician. May we live in “precedented times,” right? So far, nothing. Maybe we’ll revisit this in another four months, and things will have changed.
But I assumed things would have changed four months ago. I believed we’d approve a ton of vaccines and attack this pandemic. I accepted the economy would blow open, and we’d be in one big extended party. Instead, the Biden administration wants to debate mask usage, and the country is fighting all kinds of economic headwinds.
Forgetting the eviction moratorium with Congress and scrambling at the last second to get the CDC to extend that policy illegally was another Carter picture moment for me. I can’t shake that story, just like I can’t shake that picture. Biden and his staff claim one thing, but these weird cracks are starting to show in their facade after just a few months. What those cracks mean is anyone’s guess. But I’m increasingly convinced those cracks don’t bode well for the country.
We need a President. I’m struggling to see one.
Links of the week
Olympic Chief’s Deep Ties to Uyghur Slave Labor Revealed: A sportswear brand committed to using slave labor secured major Olympics sponsorship deals after Juan Antonio Samaranch Salisachs ascended to the IOC’s vice presidency. – Yuichiro Kakutani, The Daily Beast
Andrew Cuomo’s fall is a reminder NEVER to idolize politicians – John Podhoretz, NYPost
The Hilarious, Terrifying, British “Death of Stalin” Shows How American Comedy’s Gone Wrong: Armando Iannucci’s new movie points out what U.S. comedy rarely does: Our problems aren’t the fault of bad people, but bad systems. – Zaid Jilani
Criminal-Justice Reformers Chose the Wrong Slogan – “Defund the Police” is a disaster. Under-policing is a form of oppression too. – Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic
Solve All Murders – Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution
If California’s Recall Is Illegal, So Was Jon Ossoff’s Election in Georgia – Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!