Weekend Jolt: A Silly Place in Serious Times

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Monty Python and the Holy Grail's return to theaters ...

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WITH JUDSON BERGER October 21 2023
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WITH JUDSON BERGER October 21 2023

A Silly Place in Serious Times

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Monty Python and the Holy Grail's return to theaters later this year (for its 48th-and-a-half anniversary, of course) is almost fitting. For King Arthur's disappointed description of Camelot, after its antics were put to song, provides the most accurate caption for Congress today: "It is a silly place."

America's legislature responded to Speaker Kevin McCarthy's relatively selfless act of preventing a government shutdown by ousting him and then effecting a self-shutdown in all but name. While war was breaking out in the Levant following the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust, the U.S. House of Representatives was leaderless and focused inward . . . because of Matt Gaetz and his one-shot Democratic allies, who evidently failed to see the irony in their helping stage a coup at the Capitol.

It is a silly place, in serious times.

"The world outside our window faces problems as serious as a heart attack, and half of our legislative branch looks like a bunch of clowns," Jim Geraghty observes. Jay Cost, taking stock of the whole scene and particularly Republican Nancy Mace's puzzling stunt of wearing a scarlet "A," writes that the political spectacle of this era could be summarized by the question: "What is all of this supposed to accomplish?"

As of this writing, the latest spectacle appears to have accomplished very little. Hopes for a smooth succession by Steve Scalise were quickly dashed, after which Jim Jordan got a taste of the agony McCarthy endured to ascend, without the payoff. When an effort to expand the powers of the interim speaker in order for Congress to do Congress things fizzled, Jordan tried and lost a third time on the floor — leading House Republicans to drop him as nominee by Friday afternoon, essentially restarting the speaker race. The chamber is paralyzed, as President Biden requests billions for Israel, Ukraine, and more.

To reprise Noah Rothman's appeal from last week, it's time to "sober up."

Jonah Goldberg, in his return to the pages of NR magazine, tries to nail down what, really, is wrong with Congress. He describes Gaetz as but a "painful symptom" of a bigger problem:

The reasons for the current political dysfunction are fairly well established. The "big sort" has created extremely safe districts for incumbents in both parties, which means that the only threat to their tenure is a primary challenge. Ever since Barack Obama's 2012 campaign, both parties have convinced themselves that there's no point in attracting new voters and all they need to do is rev up turnout among their existing coalitions, which just makes them speak their own language even louder, like the proverbial ugly American. Widespread polarization and negative partisanship, fanned by ideological media on both sides, foster an environment in which many primary voters are more eager to hear how you will fight the other party than how you will implement a policy. The most passionate partisans see politics as a form of gladiatorial entertainment detached from any notion of good governance.

This, combined with a yearslong "self-neutering" by the parties and by Congress itself, has contributed to the modern dysfunction; parties cannot impose the necessary discipline, and "Congress cannot fulfill its role of being the place where political differences are properly debated and resolved."

So what now?

Audrey Fahlberg, writing in the magazine, observes that "morale is low" in the House GOP. The past weeks' events have made clear that a tiny, fringe-y, media-obsessed minority has the power to derail any attempt at governing. Bipartisanship in any form is viewed by them as verboten. Conservatives as well as moderates are unhappy with Gaetz and his fellow arsonists, and the perverse incentives in the system:

Take South Dakota's lone representative, Dusty Johnson, who chairs the Republican Main Street Caucus. He is deeply worried about the trajectory of the House GOP.

"For those of us who try to be more thoughtful, who try to be inspired by optimism or opportunity rather than anger and fear, it is an incredibly frustrating time to serve," says Johnson. "The incentives in the system don't really reward you for passing important — but unsexy — meat-and-potatoes governing legislation. They do reward you for calling the other side 'traitors.'"

He voiced some optimism in "a renaissance into an optimistic Republican worldview" — at some unknowable point in the future.

House Democrats, having joined in the chaos of ousting McCarthy as speaker, must share in the ignominy of the chamber's present disarray. The dysfunction, of course, goes well beyond the speakership mess; Dan McLaughlin provides here a pol-by-pol tour of the recent idiocy and boorish behavior of those who hang out all day on the mound of American earth that Olmsted so tastefully sculpted. Congress's silly season is year-round — and yet, the body must reckon with the most serious challenges imaginable in the months ahead: a shutdown (the risk of which was deferred, not removed), an impeachment inquiry, "the mother of all fiscal cliffs" (Dominic Pino explains), and a war in the Middle East that could swiftly engulf the entire region and pull in its nations' allies.

On second thought, let's not go to Camelot — or Congress.



On Biden's admirable Israel trip: Months Ahead Will Prove If Biden Really Has Israel's Back

We're "sleepwalking into a disaster": Rebuild America's Defense-Industrial Base — Now!

This editorial should catch the eye of long-time readers of this note. And to those readers who also reside in Milford, please do consider casting your vote for an NR legend: Jack Fowler for Milford City Clerk

ICYMI last weekend, you can find here a refreshed NR mission statement along with a listing of our priorities as an institution, all to coincide with the big magazine move to monthly: Still Athwart (and if you're not a subscriber, well, we offer a remedy for that)


Noah Rothman: The Hospital-Bombing Lie Is a Terrible Sign of Things to Come

Mark Antonio Wright: Biden's Speech Was Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

Madeleine Kearns: The Left's Open Hamas Sympathizers Have Forever Forfeited the 'Nazi' Charge

Jim Geraghty: An Illinois First-Grader Pays the Price for Hate in the Middle East

Kayla Bartsch: Yalies 4 Terrorism

Ari Blaff: 'Like a Horror Movie': Israeli Photographer Describes Documenting Hamas Atrocities

Zach Kessel: Turning Point USA's Conspiratorial Turn

Dan McLaughlin: Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Moral Rot of Anti-Zionism

Andrew McCarthy: The Trump Gag Order Is Judicial Overkill

Rich Lowry: The Trump Doctrine

Jay Nordlinger: Mitt Romney in the Senate

Henry Olsen: Woke Politics Can Be Defeated — Just Look at Australia

Christian Schneider: The Haley Paradox

Jack Butler: Ibram X. Kendi's Total Work of Grift


Kevin A. Hassett sounds the alarm on the surge in poverty: The Invisible Poverty Disaster

Stephen Moore makes the case for less (banking regulation): America's Banks Need Less, Not More, Federal Regulation


Armond White restarts the Swift wars: Taylor Swift's Asylum Seekers

Learn something wild about Brian Allen's family tree in his review of a Salem museum's shows: Peabody Essex Museum's Summer-Season Sputter


This week's reporting fiasco surrounding the blast at a Gaza hospital should live in infamy. Noah Rothman explains why (and so do Phil Klein and Jim Geraghty):

The mainstream-media outlets that raced to affirm Hamas's version of events in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday afternoon now appear to be complicit in an unmitigated debacle.

The New York Times, Reuters, the Associated Press, PBS, the BBC, and many others raced to repeat with utterly undue credulity the claim that Israeli forces wantonly attacked a hospital, producing upwards of 500 fatalities. The allegation alone shook the world. European and Middle Eastern streets erupted with anti-Israel demonstrations. Diplomatic facilities belonging to Israel and the United States alike were besieged by sometimes violent demonstrators. Jewish — not Israeli — sites were attacked. Meetings between Joe Biden and his counterparts in Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority were canceled in protest. And now, not 24 hours later, the story that they ran with looks to have been a lie. Worse, it was a lie that anyone with an elementary background understanding of the decades-old conflict in the Palestinian territories knew was likely to be a lie at the time.

A survey of the evidence the Israeli government has presented to the public and submitted to the United States for its own independent review presents an uncomplicated version of events. Footage from multiple angles of the Gaza Strip shows at least one missile in an outgoing barrage directed toward Israel failing and descending back onto Gazan territory — hardly an uncommon occurrence given the unreliability of the artillery rockets deployed by terrorist outfits in the Strip. Israel Defense Forces have since released intercepted communications between Hamas terrorists confirming that one of Islamic Jihad's errant rockets landed "on the right side of the al-Ma'amadani hospital." Images of the site of the blast show no suggestions that high-power munitions were detonated there. Rather, they reveal a parking lot with various damaged vehicles but no cratering, no rubble, and no evidence of the hundreds of casualties the notoriously unreliable Gaza Health Ministry breathlessly retailed within just minutes of the blast. . . .

This episode represents a black mark upon the media outlets that bent over backward to fill in the obvious gaps in Hamas's narrative with conjecture presented as absolute fact.

NR ran several pieces this week on the recent elections in Australia and their significance with regard to the culture wars in the West. If you haven't had a chance to catch up on Down Under, Henry Olsen has you covered:

Americans rarely follow other countries' elections, but conservatives should pay attention to the referendum Australia held Saturday. It not only shows that woke politics can be defeated; it's the biggest example of the global class divide since Brexit.

Australians were voting on a proposed constitutional amendment to provide a "voice" to Parliament for the nation's indigenous population. The measure was opposed by the country's conservative parties and backed by the governing Labor Party and their Green Party allies.

All the usual dynamics one sees in woke politics were at play: Establishment media, big business, and most academics lined up to back the initiative while opponents did what they could with what little they had. Proponents thought they had it in the bag, as polling showed "yes" ahead by 2– or 3–1 margins last summer when the prime minister first released draft wording.

Instead, Australians crushed the establishment soundly. . . .

This win should give heart to anyone battling woke politics. Proponents played on the same appeal to white guilt that is often a feature of progressive campaigns. But it was hard to play on white guilt when many prominent indigenous leaders came out against the proposal. The "no" campaign featured these people, showing that strong conservative leadership from racial and ethnic minorities can be a persuasive antidote to the progressive playbook.

Just as heartening is the fact that even many left-leaning voters believe that democracy means one rule for all people. Indigenous Australians can and do vote, and they have the same voice in Parliament as any other group of Australians. That fairness-for-all message resonated in a country that relishes the "fair go" and where everyone is your "mate."

Following up on the subject of last weekend's newsletter, here's Madeleine Kearns saying something that needed saying:

You would think that any civilized person would find it easy to denounce the worst atrocities against Jews since the Holocaust. For years Hitler has been the secular stand-in for Satan. And the term "Nazi" has been leveled at much lesser offenses since.

But it seems that some progressives are partial to wielding the "Nazi" charge only when it suits them. . . .

Yet rather than resort to their Nazi comparison — which in this case is actually fitting — these left-wing voices in the Democratic Party, think tanks, and publications have doubled down on excuse-making, moral equivalency, or, in the case of some students, full-throated support of the attacks.

As the late British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks explained, in the Middle Ages, Jews were hated for their religion. In the 19th and 20th centuries, they were despised because of their race. Today, in the 21st century, they are attacked because of the existence of their nation state — a nation state that emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust. Writing for the Times of London, Daniel Finkelstein notes that 45 percent of the world's Jews live in Israel. He asks if Israel does not defend itself, then "where will we go?" Hamas has answered this question very clearly.

If cheering on the murder of Jews isn't antisemitism, then I don't know what is. Progressives who refuse to condemn Hamas have forever forfeited the Nazi charge.

Honorable Mention

NR’s the Week is now a weekly feature (we know, the idea is totally revolutionary) delivered straight to your inbox on Friday mornings. Sign up for it here.


Jennifer Medina & Lisa Lerer, at the New York Times: On Israel, Progressive Jews Feel Abandoned by Their Left-Wing Allies

Robby Soave, at Reason: Disinformation Reporter Ben Collins Failed to Correct the Gaza Hospital Story

Jennifer Kabbany, at the College Fix: Cornell prof calls Hamas attacks 'exhilarating,' Stanford prof segregates Jewish students

St. John Barned-Smith & Susie Neilson, at the San Francisco Chronicle: S.F. mayor orders city to stop ticketing stolen vehicles


Apropos of nothing, this is a terrific bluesy-rock song by the Black Keys: "The Go Getter." A standout on a standout album, even if the lyrics are a downer. Have a listen, you deserve it.

Thanks for reading, all.


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