Weekend Jolt: An Inauspicious Debut

Dear Weekend Jolter,

I allowed myself two props at my prior office desk (remember ...

WITH JUDSON BERGER January 07 2023
WITH JUDSON BERGER January 07 2023

An Inauspicious Debut

Dear Weekend Jolter,

I allowed myself two props at my prior office desk (remember offices?) in the Fox D.C. bureau, both very low-budget. One was a Microsoft Word print-out that exclaimed, "Jud!" — a Jeb-inspired daily affirmation. The other, on display for its sheer silliness, was an old shirt made by a Tea Party group depicting a tanned and tipsy-looking Kevin McCarthy caricature along with the taunt-moniker, "McBoehner."

This is what passes for humor in D.C. You see, the populists — or any of the other party factions claiming residence outside the establishment — have long disliked Kevin McCarthy. A lot of people do. As Jeff Blehar notes, "his lack of public charisma or relatable qualities — even Boehner had his chain-smoking and boozing and occasional weepiness — makes him a cipher upon which MAGA-friendly Republicans can casually affix a label of 'unreliable.'" Adding irony, McCarthy spent the last several years static-clinging to Trump.

It's a commentary on the state of the House Republicans that this was their best on offer for the speakership as they claimed the majority this week. Yet there was no obvious alternative willing to run as the new Congress convened. It wasn't going to be Jim Jordan. It wasn't going to be a non-member. And McCarthy had already crushed challenger Andy Biggs for the nomination last year. Steve Scalise briefly emerged as a possible fallback, but he's hardly that different ideologically from McCarthy. So this week's floor theatrics played out much like an Eric Dolphy solo, a sort of free-jazz expression of anti-McCarthyism following no discernible road map complete with howls at all registers.

"What is the point?" Jim Geraghty asked, a fair question. Attempting to answer, another McCarthy — Andrew McCarthy, no relation — classified the #Resist factions into two categories: the handful of members who will never support McCarthy no matter what, and those who could with the right concessions. "Perhaps understandably,” Andy wrote, “these people don't believe they need a viable alternative candidate because they're not that interested in whom the speaker will be; what animates them is what the rules of the House will be." (More on that from John McCormack.) This kind of pressure could lead to a more functional, less profligate House in the long run. A new rules package is expected to be taken up Monday.

This said, what happened this week will understandably look like a circus to people who live in actual states: After those factions combined to force a second round of voting (and then many more) for the first time in a century, McCarthy struggled to win over holdouts even after granting concessions, further clouding the picture of the detractors' goals — until Friday, when he at last gained ground and then clinched the job after midnight, on Round 15. The finale included a tense floor confrontation between McCarthy and Matt Gaetz, whose opposition threatened to send the deadlock into a second week. The marathon, meanwhile, froze the chamber in place, while running the not-discountable risk that Democrat Hakeem Jeffries could be elected instead. Karl Rove called the scene an "unmitigated disaster." True, as Dan McLaughlin notes, the raucous fight is not without precedent in American history. And per NR's editorial, any damage is unlikely to be lasting. But there could hardly be a more crucial time for an antics-free Republican majority. After their lackluster midterm showing, the closest thing to a voter mandate Republicans can claim is a mandate to show competence before the next, more consequential, round of elections. How's that going? The debut also augurs ill for the new GOP-led House in the near-term, including with regard to averting a debt-ceiling blow-up later this year. As that other, wiser McCarthy also wrote:

If the first thing Republicans do after finally getting the majority is demonstrate themselves incapable even of electing a speaker, what good are they? Why would voters trust them with the majority again?

At least we can say we’ve cleared that hurdle. Anyway: Enjoy these articles from the week and from the latest issue of NR, mostly on other subjects. And best of luck sticking to your resolutions through the weekend.



More from that speaker-brawl editorial: Kevin McCarthy and His Enemies

At least he gave a speech about the border at all. Right?: Biden's Empty Border Speech


Ryan Mills: ‘Betrayal’: Afghan Special-Forces Soldier Who Fought with Americans Held for Months in U.S. Detention

Madeleine Kearns: Scotland's Contemptible Gender Reform Bill

Michael Brendan Dougherty: Why Future Generations Will Celebrate Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Michael Brendan Dougherty: The Don for and against Life

Rich Lowry: Is Yellowstone a Show about White Grievance?

James Lileks: 2023: The Mystery-Flavor Era?

John McCormack: Ben Sasse Exits the Senate

Ari Blaff: Governor Youngkin Directs Virginia AG to Investigate Thomas Jefferson High School for Discriminating in Name of Equity

Nicholas Frankovich: The Three Callings of Benedict XVI

A. J. Caschetta: State Department Failed to Fulfill a Key Duty in 2022

Dan McLaughlin: House Democrats' New Leader Doesn't Believe in Democracy

Charles C. W. Cooke: Donald Trump Is a Presidential Candidate, Not a Medieval King

Nate Hochman: How Gender Ideology Conquered South Dakota

Caroline Downey: DeSantis Shakes Up Leadership of Woke Florida College, Appoints Conservative Majority


Dominic Pino says good riddance to the doomists: Population-Bombers Are Going Extinct

The talk of recession ignores the already-present problem of stagnation. From Douglas Carr: The Growth Imperative


Brian Allen optimistically looks ahead to the upcoming exhibitions and openings of 2023: Art to Look Forward to in 2023

It's here! Armond White's "better-than" round-up: The 2022 Better-Than List

Andrew Stuttaford makes us think he's going to write about ESG, and then blows everyone's minds by writing about Roxy Music. Well played: Roxy Music's Avant-Garde Origin Story


Mario Loyola: Puerto Rico Libre

John Bolton: Containing Isolationism

Vahaken Mouradian: Don’t Rage Against the Machine

Jay Nordlinger: Truth and Falsehood, in Combat


Mario Loyola has a personal and piercing cover story about Puerto Rico, its troubles, its future. From the opening:

The first airplane my father ever boarded was the one that took him from Puerto Rico to New York to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated in 1967 and fought in the Vietnam War. During my embed as a journalist in Iraq in 2007, as one platoon convoy was mounting up, I brimmed with pride when I realized that the vehicle commanders of all four Humvees were Puerto Rican.

For a century, Puerto Ricans have pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States, fighting and dying for it. And yet that has not diminished the island's distinct identity. Only 10 percent of Hawaiians identify as native, and only a tiny number of them speak Hawaiian. In Puerto Rico, by contrast, nearly everyone identifies as Puerto Rican and speaks Spanish as their first language. Puerto Rico is the only major society to be swallowed whole by the United States and still think of itself — and still be thought of internationally — as a distinct people.

Is Puerto Rico a country? One homage to it by a popular salsa band proclaims, "Esa es mi patria" ("That's my country"), and it wouldn't be strange to hear supporters of Puerto Rican statehood singing it. It is certainly a Latin American country as far as the rest of Latin America is concerned, and a leading one at that. A powerhouse in Latin music, for example, Puerto Rico has a status akin to that long held by Cuba before the Communists.

At different times in my youth, I lived with my grandparents (as often happens in Latin families), in the seaside town of Mayagüez. . . . Today that once-bustling neighborhood sits eerily abandoned, a common sight in Puerto Rico. The island has lost more than 15 percent of its population since the start of a major fiscal crisis in 2006. And while 2018's Hurricane Maria made matters worse, the exodus was well under way by then. Its overwhelming causes are not natural disasters but federal policies — in particular a suffocating combination of welfare policy and the minimum-wage law that has made it virtually impossible for most Puerto Ricans to find gainful employment. With massive welfare rolls sitting atop a frightfully tiny tax base, the government of Puerto Rico has found managing its finances an impossible task.

The great Luis Muñoz Marín, who governed the island from 1949 to 1965, exhorted Puerto Ricans to take pride in their work. They did, and Puerto Rico became for a time the most successful society in Latin America. Right as Cuba plunged into the stygian darkness of Fidel's dictatorship, Puerto Rico's living standards took off. It soon became — under U.S. protection — a flourishing showcase of freedom.

Alas, just as that strategy, which guaranteed Puerto Rico's security, currency, and rule of law with minimal federal interference, was really working, the U.S. replaced it with the straitjacket of progressive social policies, and Puerto Rico was plunged into utter dependency on U.S. taxpayers. As long as the federal government continues to run such programs with no flexibility for local conditions, neither Puerto Rico nor any other disproportionately low-skilled workforce (such as those in American inner cities) will ever reach its potential.

Puerto Rico desperately needs autonomy from progressive social policies so that it can re-create the conditions of a productive workforce and competitive economy. Unfortunately, the United States is headed in the opposite direction, toward an increasing centralization of power within a progressive scheme of government that has swallowed up Republicans and Democrats alike. With many Republicans now abandoning free-market principles and embracing heavy-handed government solutions, the United States is headed toward socialism on an increasingly bipartisan basis. Puerto Rico's only hope may well be independence.

Don't miss Nate Hochman's deep dive into just what is going on in South Dakota, where gender ideology has taken root seemingly against all odds. Nate looks behind the scenes:

[South Dakota] is not a state where one would expect to find a major trade conference for transgender medical specialists.

But on January 13, the Sanford Research Center in Sioux Falls is scheduled to host just such an event. The "3rd Annual Midwest Gender Identity Summit," billed as an effort to "review the needs of transgender patients in healthcare," is evidence that a variety of factors have converged to make "cherry-red South Dakota the unlikely epicenter of a transgender uprising on the American Great Plains," as the Washington Post reported in 2020. The summit is co-hosted by Sanford Health, a Sioux Falls–based health-care conglomerate, and the Transformation Project, a local transgender advocacy group.

Both Sanford and the Transformation Project are representative of the larger forces that are working to bring the transgender movement to the deepest-red corners of the United States — a coordinated, well-funded campaign for which South Dakota has become something of a trial run. That campaign's influence has reached the Republican-dominated state legislature, where dozens of anti-gender-ideology bills have failed over the past decade. . . .

Sanford, which purports to be "the largest rural health system in the United States" — it currently employs nearly seven times more South Dakotans than any other business in the state — has played a pivotal role in orchestrating those conservative failures. In 2021, a National Review investigation detailed the medical giant's links to the failure of House Bill 1217, which would have banned males from competing in women's sports. South Dakota governor Kristi Noem had sparked conservative outrage by vetoing the bill earlier that year — a move that dampened her status as a rising Republican star, even after she hastened to reintroduce an analogous bill at the outset of the next legislative session.

Numerous sources told NR that Sanford's affiliates had mobilized behind the scenes, including in Noem's office, to help kill the women's-sports bill. (In response to a request for comment for this piece, Noem's office noted that their contract with the Sanford lobbyist involved in that affair had been terminated.) The health-care group's business interests were heavily implicated in the bill: On the same day that Noem issued her controversial veto, the company announced a $50 million expansion of Sanford Sports Complex — an athletic facility that stood to lose serious revenue if the NCAA pulled its games from the state in protest, as it had in similar situations in the past.

The women's-sports bill wasn't the only social-conservative legislation that Sanford had lobbied against — and the sports complex wasn't its only business interest implicated in transgender debates. The health-care company sells puberty blockers and performs "gender-reassignment" surgery. Its lobbyists appeared at the state legislature to oppose legislative initiatives including conscience rights for medical practitioners who object to performing abortions and sex-change operations, and a ban on puberty blockers and sex-reassignment surgery for children under 16. Both proposals ultimately failed to pass. "The bill to prevent doctors from giving hormone-blocking drugs to kids — when it failed, that was all Sanford," John Mills, a Republican lawmaker representing South Dakota's fourth house district, told NR. "You want to believe it's not about the profit, but you also witness the reality of what's happening on the ground and can't help but wonder."

At the time, concerns about Sanford's influence centered on Noem herself. The governor's close relationship to a company with a record of left-wing cultural activism raised new questions about her own missteps. But that relationship had broader implications, too. What was unfolding in South Dakota was the all-too-common story of a powerful progressive business interest that was pushing a deep-red state leftward — even over the express wishes of its broadly conservative voter base.

Ryan Mills highlights the case of a former Afghan soldier now being held by U.S. authorities, after he finally made it to America:

It was around 4 a.m. when a Border Patrol agent working in an orchard in south Texas spotted footprints leading away from the Rio Grande.

He followed the prints and soon encountered a man wearing dirty and wet clothes, typical of illegal immigrants crossing that section of the border near Eagle Pass. The border agent approached the man, identified himself, and questioned him, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security report detailing the recent encounter.

Unlike most of the migrants crossing the border, this man who swam across the Rio Grande on September 30 was not from South or Central America. He wasn't from Haiti or Cuba, either.

His name was Abdul Wasi Safi. He was from Afghanistan. He was a former lieutenant and intelligence officer in Afghan's elite special forces who'd fought alongside American soldiers in the 20-year war in that country. He'd escaped from the Taliban, flown to Brazil, and made the treacherous 1,200-mile journey to the U.S. border where he hoped to make an asylum claim.

In English, Safi explained his fear of being returned to Afghanistan, where Taliban warriors were hunting and killing former special-forces soldiers like him.

But the 27-year-old had not presented himself at an official port of entry. He had no valid entry documents, as required by the Immigration and Nationality Act. He was taken into custody "and will be processed for an Expedited Removal" from the country, the DHS report states.

ICYMI, the ending of MBD's papal obituary:

For some Catholics, the papal resignation is the most bitter fruit of his papacy, an admission of defeat for a man who began his papal ministry by asking the faithful to "pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves."

Were not Benedict's enemies now running wild, and frantically trying to undo his legacy? But any review of his achievements as a scholar, theologian, and churchman show they utterly dwarf his missteps.

In 1950, the cultural critic Jacques Barzun wrote about how we, in the present, look back to "great ages shining in history by their art, science, and the merged glory of worthy lives and deeds." And how we "long for their clear outlines and envy their unchallengeable merit."  . . .

There is something restful and immovable about Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, already. His legacy as a theologian pope is so formidable, of such unchallengeable merit, that his detractors and enemies already appear as fools, and zealots, as rank amateurs, ignoramuses, and passing windbags. Benedict XVI was the greatest mind to reach the papacy in a millennium. I write his obituary now. But centuries hence, he will be recognized as the man who buried the dictatorship of relativism — and the doubts of the 20th century.


Michael Barone, at the Washington Examiner: COVID only accelerated the blue state exodus

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, at UnHerd: The year the West erased women

Tristan Justice, at the Federalist: Time Magazine Stigmatizes Exercise As White Supremacist


It's important to get the New Year started right, so the first edition of 2023 is going full prog. "Starship Trooper" is many things, among them an exhibition of Steve Howe's versatility and an implicit defense of stubborn chord progressions. Also, I'll tack on a "proud papa" moment here: Over the weekend, I was playing Porcupine Tree's Stupid Dream album — this song — when my four-year-old abruptly asked: "Dada, why did you put on Porcupine Tree?" I don't think I've played this record, or song, more than once in his presence, yet he recognized the sound from other albums. What an ear. A future producer, for sure.


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