I’ll be off Monday through Wednesday for a speaking engagement; the next Jim-written Morning Jolt will be Thursday, May 16.
Making the click-through worthwhile: If this is a “Constitutional crisis,” it’s a really boring and familiar one that doesn’t live up to the apocalyptic rhetoric; the media continues to discover this previously unknown figure named Beto O’Rourke who — get this! — doesn’t actually have many accomplishments in public life; some lessons about anti-Americanism abroad; and the birth of the ‘woke clickbait mills.’
What Constitutional Crisis?
The big talking point among Congressional Democrats is “CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS!” In case you’ve lost track, Democratic leaders in the House want an entirely unredacted version of the Mueller report and underlying evidence. The Department of Justice redactions of the report were made in cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller. The redactions are of grand-jury material, sensitive intelligence, matters that could affect ongoing investigations, and information that would violate the privacy of figures “peripheral” to the investigation. So far, no one has made any accusation that these redactions are improper or made in bad faith.
But the Democrats believe that they should have access to the full report with no exceptions. Attorney General William Barr offered an almost-entirely-unredacted version that could be read by senior lawmakers and committee chairs. The House rejected this offer. The Trump administration invoked executive privilege and declared Barr was in contempt.
You may recall the House of Representatives finding Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over documents relating to the “Fast and Furious” gun scandal; the Obama administration refused to enforce the contempt charge, contending that the documents were covered by executive privilege. Bill Clinton invoked executive privilege 14 times; George W. Bush, six. Executive privilege being a big factor in the Watergate scandal, with the Supreme Court ruling that it exists, but that Nixon had only demonstrated a general need for confidentiality in discussions, not a specific one related to that particular request.
In other words, presidents and Congressional leaders regularly fight over who gets access to what documents in the executive branch. Presidents and Congressional leaders fight over what is legitimately covered by executive privilege every few years. Sometimes they work out an agreement, and sometimes they hash it out in court, and sometimes it goes all the way up to the Supreme Court to resolve.
This process is just how these sorts of disputes are supposed to be resolved . . . under the U.S. Constitution — which raises the question of how this qualifies as a (dramatic voice) “Constitutional crisis!” if everyone is following the process set out under the Constitution.
Mainstream Media Discovers Slacker Empty Suit Named ‘Beto O’Rourke’ Who They Never Encountered Before
Last year, in numerous articles, I rolled my eyes at the gushing profiles of Beto O’Rourke and argued that the image being painted by the coverage presented a heavily airbrushed portrait of Senate candidate’s life:
The ingredients were there for a much less flattering media portrait of O’Rourke — a boarding-school-attending son of a judge who escaped serious consequence for a DUI and burglary charges, used gentrification to jump-start his career in El Paso city politics,supported the use of eminent domain to drive out poor residents, and married into the family of his region’s most influential businessmen. In Congress, O’Rourke was largely ignored until his Senate bid; he’s been the primary sponsor for just three bills that became law. One of them renamed a federal building in El Paso.
But that’s not what the media wanted to see, and you can’t write that story for a national magazine after you’ve submitted expense reports for a flight to Texas, a hotel, plenty of tacos, and God knows how much Shiner Bock.
This morning, Michael Kruse in Politico offers a long profile piece of Beto O’Rourke that finally lays out what was there all along: the candidate’s amazing ability to “fail up” to bigger opportunities.
There’s a reason his biography doesn’t feature much in the campaign. For O’Rourke, the phenomenon on display in that race—failure without negative effects, and with perhaps even some kind of personal boost—is a feature of his life and career. That biography is marked as much by meandering, missteps and moments of melancholic searching as by résumé-boosting victories and honors. A graduate of an eastern prep school and an Ivy League rower and English major, the only son of a gregarious attorney and glad-handing pol and the proprietor of an upscale furniture store, the beneficiary of his family’s expansive social, business and political contacts, O’Rourke has ambled past a pair of arrests, designed websites for El Paso’s who’s who, launched short-lived publishing projects, self-term-limited his largely unremarkable tenure on Capitol Hill, shunned the advice of pollsters and consultants and penned overwrought, solipsistic Medium missives, enjoying the latitude afforded by the cushion of an upper-middle-class upbringing that is only amplified by his marriage to the daughter of one of the region’s richest men.
As a longtime Beto skeptic, Kruse’s piece is great! But . . . where the heck was this last year? Margaret Carlson, Nia-Malika Henderson, The Week, Slate, MSNBC commentators . . . Only in the cold light of a Democratic presidential primary are left or center-left national race-watchers looking at O’Rourke and seeing flaws that were there all along.
If your assessment of a candidate changes dramatically overnight based upon information that was there all along and that you just never cared to look at, you’re serving your readers and audience poorly.
Back in July 2018, Politico was running those swooning odes to O’Rourke’s sweat:
Beto O’Rourke is running to replace Ted Cruz. Literally. Sweat pours off his lean, 6-foot-4-inch frame as the El Paso Democrat jogs along the southern bank of the Trinity River surrounded by 300-odd supporters and curious voters jogging along with him. Incredibly, they have shown up at 8 a.m. on a Sunday to join him for a double shot of politics and cardio.
(To their credit, by October Politico’s Jack Shafer mocked the national media for its gushing profiles.)
Kruse’s profile includes this quote from Kim Olson, a staunch O’Rourke ally who unsuccessfully ran for Texas Commissioner of Agriculture last year:
Yeah, you could say his greatest accomplishment was to lose by, you know, 300,000 votes to a guy who almost won a primary for the president. But that wasn’t his greatest accomplishment. It wasn’t the loss—it’s how he did it—that was his greatest accomplishment. It was going to everywhere, all the time, speaking to people, getting out there, not being afraid of anybody or anything and doing that hard grind that it takes. That’s why it makes him an incredible candidate for president, I think.
The contention is that O’Rourke’s greatest accomplishment is the way he attempted to do something, not what he actually did.
Foreign Public Opinion Tends to Be Shaped By, You Know, Foreigners
Our Kyle Smith examines the global popularity of the Avengers movies, and makes this point about attitudes towards the United States overseas:
Polls designed to reassure American progressives, in times of Republican presidencies, that “our image is suffering irreparable harm overseas” are really just measuring opinions about our national leadership, not our American nature. That essence doesn’t fluctuate with U.S. presidential results. It remains consistently impressive worldwide: Others admire our swagger, our friendliness, our purchasing power. During a period of what American liberals imagined must have been a difficult time for an American to be in France, I spent a lot of time in that country in the years following 9/11 and during the Iraq War and never experienced even the slightest hint of anti-American sentiment. If you want bitter animosity toward America, head for an American college campus, not France. For all of the Left’s yelping back home about anti-French propaganda and those fabled “freedom fries,” what gravely concerned the French was not Washington’s diplomatic problems with Paris but the steep drop-off in tourism after 9/11. The French love America because we come and spend our dollars there.
I did see and experience (thankfully mild) anti-Americanism back when I was over in Turkey, which was from early 2005 to early 2007, some of the worst times for the Iraq War just over the border. But one of the points that is rarely made in discussions of those “irreparable harm overseas” surveys is that those attitudes are shaped by public discourse over there, not public discourse over here. Turkish attitudes largely reflected what was going on in Turkey, not with the United States. A surprising number of Turks I spoke to believed that the United States was planning to invade Turkey and steal their oil, even though Turkey rarely had enough oil to export (particularly when I was there). A lot of Turkish politics was/is fueled by paranoia and belief in conspiracies, and no amount of evidence was going to dissuade them. Pro-government media organizations constantly speculated that America was secretly plotting to overthrow Erdoğan, even during the Obama years. Looking back, it’s increasingly clear that when I was there — the early Recep Erdoğan years — was the end of an era of U.S.-Turkish partnership. This was not because of Bush or the Iraq War but because American leaders, regardless of party, increasingly saw the world differently than Turkish leaders. (I’d say regardless of party, but it may not matter, because Erdogan will just cancel and re-run elections until his party wins.)
When I was in Ankara, there was at least the shared goal of Turkish membership in the European Union; Turkey wanted in badly and the United States supported that move publicly (although how much pressure the U.S. was willing to put on Europe was debatable). Year by year, the Turks realized that wasn’t going to happen, feeding into deep-rooted insecurities and resentment against what they saw as European arrogance and snobbery.
Our biggest concern in the region is terrorism from Islamist extremist groups; Turkey’s biggest concern in the region is preventing an independent Kurdistan. Beyond the top level of the Obama administration, the U.S. government is wary of Iran at best; the Turks are still eager to do business with them. Turkey wants to be a regional power; we would prefer the status quo remain in place. We don’t want a NATO ally to develop cozy relationships with Russia and China; Turkey sees itself as a free agent.
Over at Brookings, Steven A. Cook summarizes it well, “Turkey is and will continue to be a member of NATO, but it is not the partner it used to be. In the future, U.S. policy should be based on the fact that while Turkey is not an enemy of the United States, it is also not a friend.”
ADDENDA: This thread from Wesley Yang is absolutely fascinating, and more than a little depressing:
Every venture-capital funded online publication became a woke clickbait mill for a simple reason: the metrics told them this was the best performing type of content . . . It also doesn’t require investment in reporting or expertise. A 23 year old intern being paid a pittance is the best qualified person to write this type of content, and they don’t have to do any reporting.
Yang asks, “The first rule of any competitive business is differentiation. Why did not even one VC funded publication decide against becoming a woke clickbait mill?”