Monday launches the week with lots of good news: Crowds of ordinary citizens of Iran are marching in the streets, outraged about their government’s lies about the downed passenger airliner; the truce between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren is torn to pieces; the old Obama crew comes off the sidelines to hinder Bernie; and a consultant who’s not as well-known as he used to be endorses the presidential candidate that almost everyone has forgotten. But there’s sad news, too, as National Review says farewell to one of Great Britain’s greatest thinkers and writers.
May God Bless and Protect the Iranian People in This Dangerous Hour
We’ve witnessed the Iranian people marching in the streets against the regime back in 2009 and 2017, but this latest round of angry protests feels a little different. Sometimes these are just flares, brief releases of tension, and sometimes they signify a genie being let out of a bottle. Over in Hong Kong, it is hard to imagine the relationship between the people and the government will ever be quite the same.
Think about it: One of the highest priorities of the Iranian regime is to constantly use propaganda to instill loyalty within the people. Televised propaganda, murals on public walls, speeches — all of it with the endless message that the regime is the heroic guardian of the people, that the United States and Israel are implacably malevolent and bloodthirsty menaces. Think about what it’s like to grow up in that culture, and to have the mental strength and courage to say, “no, that’s not true, the regime is lying to us.”
We’ve seen Americans argue that the ultimate cause of the downed Ukrainian jetliner is the United States — that while the Iranian military fired the missile, they were simply acting rationally in a dangerous situation created by American policymakers. And yet a lot of Iranians are calling that nonsense — even after being subjected to anti-American propaganda for a decade. As Reuters reports, they’re willing to risk their lives in order to tell the regime that they know that explanation is nonsense:
Video from inside Iran showed riot police and protesters back out on the streets on Monday after two days of violent anti-government demonstrations. Images of the earlier protests showed slogans chanted against the supreme leader, with pools of blood on the streets and gunfire in the air.
Authorities denied that police had opened fire, while U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: “don’t kill your protesters.”
Videos posted late on Sunday recorded gunshots in the vicinity of protests in Tehran’s Azadi Square. Wounded were being carried and security personnel could be seen running with rifles. Other posts showed riot police hitting protesters with batons as people nearby shouted “Don’t beat them!”
“Death to the dictator,” footage circulating on social media showed protesters shouting, directing their fury at Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the system of clerical rule.
“They killed our elites and replaced them with clerics,” demonstrators chanted at a protest outside a university on Monday, an apparent reference to Iranian students returning to studies in Canada who were among those killed on the flight.
At Shahid Beheshti University campus in Tehran, authorities painted the American and Israeli flags in the street, so that students and pedestrians would symbolically step on those flags in disrespect every day. And then during one of the recent protests . . . many, though not quite all, of the students walked around the flags painted on the ground. These students may not love the United States, and I have a hard time believing they have much love for Israel. But they’ve clearly reached their breaking point with the scapegoating. They know the Americans didn’t shoot down that passenger airliner — and have probably noticed that the strike that killed Soleimani was aimed at the regime, not ordinary people.
This puts the United States in a happy but awkward spot. This is what we’ve wanted to see in Iran for a long, long time. But if we take overt actions to fan the flames of this conflict, the regime will claim, semi-accurately, that we’re trying to help the crowds overthrow the government. So far, it looks like the Trump administration is taking the right tone — “Do not kill your protesters” and “Stop the killing of your great Iranian people” are pretty uncontroversial statements.
The Warren-Sanders Truce Is Over. Cry Havoc, Progressives!
Silly as it may seem, the most dramatic development in the race to win the Democratic Iowa caucus may come from a list of talking points distributed to Bernie Sanders volunteers.
Sanders’ campaign has begun stealthily attacking Warren as a candidate of the upper crust who could not expand the Democratic base in a general election, according to talking points his campaign is using to sway voters and obtained by POLITICO.
The script instructs Sanders volunteers to tell voters leaning toward the Massachusetts senator that the “people who support her are highly-educated, more affluent people who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what” and that “she’s bringing no new bases into the Democratic Party.”
Warren is treating this as if it’s a sleazy, underhanded tactic and great injustice:
“I was disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me,” Ms. Warren, of Massachusetts, said. “I hope Bernie reconsiders and turns his campaign in a different direction.”
“We all saw the impact of the factionalism in 2016, and we can’t have a repeat of that,” she warned. “Democrats need to unite our party and that means pulling in all parts of the Democratic coalition.”
Bernie Sanders responded by blaming rogue low-level employees in the Cincinnati IRS office — er, I’m sorry, I’m mixing up my Democratic excuses. He blamed rogue low-level campaign staffers who allegedly wrote up the script and used it and never bothered to check with him:
In a rare question-and-answer session with reporters after his final event of a weekend Iowa swing, Mr. Sanders — in response to a question on whether he approved of his campaign’s criticism of Ms. Warren — denied responsibility for the script, saying he himself had never attacked Ms. Warren. And he blamed the news media for overstating the tension between the two campaigns. “I got to tell you, I think this is a little bit of a media blowup, that kind of wants conflict,” he said.
The informal truce between Sanders and Warren couldn’t last forever. The signs of strain were there as early as October. Presidential nominees are like the destiny of the immortals in Highlander — “there can be only one.” It’s not uncommon for presidential candidates in the same party to be either friends or friendly acquaintances — I understand former governors Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal are buddies — but eventually every leading candidate has to argue: “I am the best choice, which means I am better than all of my rivals, and here’s why.”
Both candidates are engaging in a risky strategy, whether they realize it or not. Often in a primary fight, when Candidate A goes negative on Candidate B, the one who benefits is Candidate C. Perhaps the most vivid example of this came right around this time in the cycle in 2004, when Dick Gephardt went negative on Howard Dean and Iowa Democratic caucus-goers shifted . . . to John Kerry.
As Predicted, the Obama Team Doesn’t Want Sanders to Get Nominated
Your friendly neighborhood political correspondent, January 8: “The old Hillary Clinton crowd still resents [Bernie Sanders] over 2016, and the old Obama crowd doesn’t like Sanders’ implicit and sometimes overt criticism of the Obama record. There are a lot of powerful forces in the party’s infrastructure who have mostly remained on the sidelines but who could get active if they think a Sanders nomination is imminent.”
Politico, January 8: “Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager is warning that Democrats would struggle in a general election against Donald Trump if Bernie Sanders is the nominee.”
In an interview with POLITICO, Jim Messina predicted that Trump would exploit Sanders’ stamp of socialism in battleground states needed to defeat Trump, keep control of the House and have a shot at winning the Senate.
“If I were a campaign manager for Donald Trump and I look at the field, I would very much want to run against Bernie Sanders,” Messina said. “I think the contrast is the best. He can say, ‘I’m a business guy, the economy’s good and this guy’s a socialist.’ I think that contrast for Trump is likely one that he’d be excited about in a way that he wouldn’t be as excited about Biden or potentially Mayor Pete or some of the more Midwestern moderate candidates.”
For Sanders, the downside of the “hey, Bernie Sanders could actually win this thing” coverage is that it gets people who don’t like the idea of him nominated sufficiently motivated to take action to prevent it.
RIP, Roger Scruton
Roger Scruton, who passed away Sunday, didn’t get enough attention here in the United States. Yuval Levin describes him as “just an unfathomably fruitful and productive mind. He published at least fifty books, produced countless essays, was constantly giving brilliant lectures, and even wrote music and starred in a documentary or two, all of which just sparkle with his brilliance.” Jay Nordlinger attempts to summarize the sheer depth and breadth of his thinking: “Scruton was latitudinarian, as Bill Buckley would say. He was big, broad, capacious. He could bring down the hammer — he had principles — but he was no dogmatist. What genuine conservative is?”
Michael Brendan Dougherty offers what Scruton taught him:
From him most of all I took my own idea of what conservatism is, the attempt to preserve or recover a home in this world — a place of consolation, a sanctified somewhere that connects us to the dead, the unborn, and our neighbors through love, memory, and sacrifice. A place that belongs to us and implants in us a longing for the true home that can never be destroyed by storms, war, neglect, or the encroachment of speculative exurban developers who want to replace our homes with parking lots and Panera Bread. We put in our labors to preserve freedom, decency, and culture, so that our children receive this somewhere as a place prepared for me by my father.
This morning I came across this quote, which says so much in so few words:
Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created. This is especially true of the good things that come to us as collective assets: peace, freedom, law, civility, public spirit, the security of property and family life, in all of which we depend on the cooperation of others while having no means singlehandedly to obtain it. In respect of such things, the work of destruction is quick, easy and exhilarating; the work of creation is slow, laborious and dull. That is one of the lessons of the twentieth century. It is also one reason why conservatives suffer such a disadvantage when it comes to public opinion. Their position is true but boring, that of their opponents exciting but false.
ADDENDUM: We close the morning with two pieces of shocking news. First, former Bill Clinton strategist James Carville endorsed Colorado senator Michael Bennet for president. Second, Michael Bennet is still running for president.