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Coulter Cancelled

By now you’ve probably heard to the Ann Coulter Berkeley controversy. To sum up, college Republicans invited Coulter to speak at UC Berkeley, which has been a hotbed of anti-Trump protests (notably a riot when Milo Yiannopoulos spoke back in February). Berkeley cancelled the speech, citing security concerns over threatened violence. They reversed after an outcry but the effort to get her to speak broke down amidst recriminations and threats of violence.

Our blog has a long history of slamming Ann Coulter (Lee used to call her “Mann Coulter”). But this is revolting. Coulter is not a Nazi. She’s not advocating violence or making true threats. She’s simply saying things that people disagree with. I disagree with her, too, but … she has a right to say them. She definitely has a right to say them at a public university. And I would argue that while she has no “right” to say them at a private university, she should be allowed to in our effort to maintain a culture that respects free speech and open dialogue.

The editors at National Review say it better than I ever could:

For those at Berkeley celebrating what they believe to be a moral victory, consider this: As much as you may detest Ann Coulter, she has never used violence or the threat of violence to keep someone from speaking. She is a better citizen than you are, with a deeper commitment to genuinely liberal and humane values. You may call yourselves the anti-fascists, but your black-shirt routine — along with your glorification of political violence and your rejection of liberal and democratic norms — suggest that the “anti” part of that formulation is not entirely appropriate. Perhaps you are only young and ignorant, but if you had any power of introspection at all, you would see that you are the thing you believe yourselves to be fighting. You are the oppressors, the censors, the violent, the hateful, the narrow-minded, the reactionary.

I’ll give credit where it’s due. There are a number of liberals — Glenn Greenwald, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Bill Maher, Christ Mathews — who have lept to Coulter’s defense. They have made it clear that while they consider her ideas repulsive, the use of violence to shut down speakers is even more repulsive. Challenge, debate, protest — these are all good. But shutting down smacks of censorship.

It’s also worthing noting, as many have, how fast we’ve gotten to the point where threatening violence against Ann Coulter is now acceptable. The anti-free-speech sentiment has, of course, been building for years with campus activists claiming that speech can constitute violence and therefore violence in response is justified. We’ve seen hints of thuggish censorship in such things as the Missouri incident and the UCSB professor who seized and tore up anti-abortion signs. But the Trump presidency seems to have accelerated this awful trend, with speech suppression and violence supposedly justified by Trump’s awfulness and a tiny but particularly loathsome subset of his supporters.

The big alarm bell was a couple of months ago. Richard Spencer — a white supremacist and Trump supporter — got sucker-punched during an interview. Many liberals cheered for this. People like me — while finding Spencer and his views repulsive — objected to the use of violence against a non-violent speaker. And that’s when the Nazi argument was unfurled. We were told, “Hey, he’s a Nazi! He doesn’t respect our right to free speech!” Ken White absolutely demolishes that argument:

First, the argument relies on a false premise: that we don’t, or shouldn’t, extend rights to people who wouldn’t extend those rights to us. This is childish nonsense, and a common argument for tyranny. We criminal defense lawyers know it very well: why should this guy get a trial? He didn’t give his victim a trial. Why should she be shown any mercy? She didn’t show her victims mercy. Why does he get due process? He didn’t give his victims due process. The argument is particularly popular since 9/11. You hear it a lot whenever anyone suggests that maybe people accused of being terrorists — or of being someone who might plausibly grow up to be a terrorist, or might take up terrorism as soon as this wedding is over — perhaps should be treated as having some sort of right not to be killed or tortured or indefinitely detained. Nonsense, is the response. They wouldn’t give you any rights. The constitution isn’t a suicide pact! It’s also popular in matters of modern religious liberty. How can you argue that Muslims should have the freedom to worship here when Muslim countries deny Christians and Jews that right? In this manner, the student Left represented by the quotes below shares an ethos with the authoritarian and racist wings of the Right. A common taste for authoritarianism makes strange bedfellows.1

In fact, we extend rights to everyone, regardless of whether they support those rights or not. That’s the deal, it’s the way rights work. Rights arise from our status as humans, not from our adherence to ideology. If they didn’t, I could very plausibly say this: Pomona College, Wellesley College, and Berkeley should expel the students quoted above, because people actively advocating to limit free speech rights can’t expect any free speech rights themselves.

White’s equally salient point is that once you’ve said it’s OK to silence Nazis with violence, it’s a slippery slope to silencing everybody with violence. When this argument was raised after the Spencer punch, liberals said we were being hysterical. But the Coulter mess — along with a dozen other incidents — has proven our concerns ominously justified. In just a few months, we’ve gone from “it’s OK to punch a Nazi” to “it’s OK to beat up someone who invited Charles Murray to speak” to “it’s OK to silence Heather McDonald” to “it’s OK to threaten violence if mainstream Republicans march in non-political parade”.

(The Murray one is especially interesting because Murray was planning to talk about the growing disconnect between coastal elites and rural voters. Academics who read the speech, not knowing the identity of the author, thought it was very reasonable. But Murray once wrote a book about race and intelligence so, apparently, everything he does is contaminated).

To be fair, I suspect these thought-suppressers are a vocal minority. CNN interviewed many Berkeley students who support Coulter’s right to speak. But … that’s kind of the problem. Students who support free speech have been cowed by a vocal, violent minority into compliance. And worse, we have college professors and administrators defending these actions, establishing a campus norm that censorship is acceptable, even admirable.

I don’t want to give the impression that censorship is a one-sided affair. We’ve certainly seen the Right erupt over “unacceptable speech”, including a thoroughly misguided effort to punish campus protesters. But there is little doubt that the censorship efforts on campuses — which should be more free and more open to debate — are being led by the Left.

What’s especially ironic is that these protests are taking place in the University of California system. We’ve recently found out that the UC system is burning money like no one’s business.

The University of California hid a stash of $175 million in secret funds while its leaders requested more money from the state, an audit released on Tuesday said.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the audit found that the secret fund ballooned due to UC Office of the President overestimating how much is needed to run the school system that includes 10 campuses in the state. Janet Napolitano, the former Department of Homeland Security chief, is in charge of the school system.

Napolitano denied the audit’s claim. She reportedly said the money was held for any unexpected expenses. Her office also denied the amount in the fund.

Elaine Howle, the state auditor who came up with the report, found that from 2012 to 2016 the office looked to raise more funding by inflating estimates. Howle also said that a top staff member in Napolitano’s office improperly screened confidential surveys that were sent to each campus. Howle said answers that were critical of Napolitano’s office were deleted or changed before being sent to auditors.

At the time they were doing this, they were paying their top ten executives a combined $3.7 million. Napolitano said the fund is “only” $38 million and is there for contingencies in a $28 billion state budget. But her office consumes over half a billion a year to educate no one and do no research. They just administrate.

And this is just the tip of iceberg. Just this year, we started learning the truth about Linda Katehi, the infamous chancellor of UC Davis who was partially responsible for the point-blank pepper spraying of student protesters. The graft is breathtaking.

But a few years later, the Sacramento Bee reported that Katehi “contracted with consultants for at least $175,000 to scrub the Internet of negative online postings” on the pepper-spraying and “to improve the reputations of both the university and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.” UC Davis signed one 6-month contract with a PR company at a rate of $15,000 per month. An objective described in the company’s proposal was the “eradication of references to the pepper spray incident in search results on Google for the university and the Chancellor.” Scott Shackford called it “another example of colleges no longer fulfilling their roles as defenders of speech and openness, combined with abusive police behavior, with an added dash of the administrative bloat that’s driving up higher education costs.” He added, “in the years since Katehi took over in 2009, the budget for the communications office has grown from $2.93 million to $5.47 million.”

Alas, the squandering of the UC system’s money was far from complete. Embattled since the pepper-spraying incident, Katehi came under additional fire for accepting lucrative positions on the boards of firms that seemed to pose clear conflicts of interest, including a major publisher of college-level textbooks, where she earned more than $400,000 moonlighting over the course of three years, and a for-profit university.

UC Davis finally did get rid of Katehi — after spending over a million dollars investigating the matter (including $400k to Katehi to take a year off while the investigation proceeded). Some of this money came from donations and endowments, true. But money in fungible. And money the UC system spent trying to defend Katehi’s name, trying to scrub her image and then trying to fire her is money they weren’t spending on other more worthy things.

To be fair to the students, they did protest against Katehi and demanded her ouster. But to be really fair, there is a lot of this going on in university systems all over the country. State spending on universities has gone down (after sharp rises in the early part of the century). But federal and private funding is up, as are tuitions. And that sea of money is not going to professors and researchers. If you look at public data for salaries at universities, you’ll find the top money is going to administrators, doctors and sports coaches. Oh, and the consultants the six-figure-salaried administrators call in whenever they have a decision to make.

Tuitions are thousands of dollars higher and debt even bigger so that a host of admins can collect big salaries. That’s money that could be funding scholarships or hiring more professors or simply being put back into the students’ pockets. That’s something that impacts students directly and does greater damage to them than anything Ann Coulter has ever said or ever will.

The Clinton Apologia

There are many things in our political system I will never understand. And one of those is the Cult of Hillary Clinton.
It’s been almost six months since the election. We’re slowly getting a little more information about what went on in the disastrous Clinton campaign. And Hillary has apparently gotten a book deal to blame everyone but herself for the loss. It seems pretty clear that her campaign was sunk by a combination of bad tactical decisions, a public distaste for her, a profound sense of entitlement and, perhaps, an unfortunately-timed development in the e-mail scandal in the form of the Comey letter.

Nevertheless, there is a large cadre of people who refuse to believe that her defeat was anything besides a sexist conspiracy by government insiders, Russian agents and the media. And what strikes me over and over is the need to portray Hillary Clinton as a victim. To wit:

The theme is the same: Hillary Clinton was a selfless absurdly qualified public servant who the Republicans chased with 25 years of pseudo-scandals until finally a Russian-FBI-media cabal brought her down. They wonder if she’s doing all right and hope that she will stay in the public sphere, even suggesting she run for Mayor of New York.

Andrew Sullivan takes the wind out of this line of nonsense. And I’m going to do a long quote here because it’s beautiful.

And everywhere you see not an excoriation of one of the worst campaigns in recent history, leading to the Trump nightmare, but an attempt to blame anyone or anything but Clinton herself for the epic fail. It wasn’t Clinton’s fault, we’re told. It never is. It was the voters’ — those ungrateful, deplorable know-nothings! Their sexism defeated her (despite a majority of white women voting for Trump). A wave of misogyny defeated her (ditto). James Comey is to blame. Bernie Sanders’s campaign — because it highlighted her enmeshment with Wall Street, her brain-dead interventionism and her rapacious money-grubbing since she left the State Department — was the problem. Millennial feminists were guilty as well, for not seeing what an amazing crusader for their cause this candidate was. And this, of course, is how Clinton sees it as well: She wasn’t responsible for her own campaign — her staffers were. As a new book on her campaign notes, after Clinton lost the Michigan primary to Sanders, “The blame belonged to her campaign team, she believed, for failing to hone her message, energize important constituencies, and take care of business in getting voters to the polls.” So by the time the general-election campaign came round, they’d fix that and win Michigan, right?

Let us review the facts: Clinton had the backing of the entire Democratic establishment, including the president (his biggest mistake in eight years by far), and was even married to the last, popular Democratic president. As in 2008, when she managed to lose to a neophyte whose middle name was Hussein, everything was stacked in her favor. In fact, the Clintons so intimidated other potential candidates and donors, she had the nomination all but wrapped up before she even started. And yet she was so bad a candidate, she still only managed to squeak through in the primaries against an elderly, stopped-clock socialist who wasn’t even in her party, and who spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union. She ran with a popular Democratic incumbent president in the White House in a growing economy. She had the extra allure of possibly breaking a glass ceiling that — with any other female candidate — would have been as inspiring as the election of the first black president. In the general election, she was running against a malevolent buffoon with no political experience, with a deeply divided party behind him, and whose negatives were stratospheric. She outspent him by almost two-to-one. Her convention was far more impressive than his. The demographics favored her. And yet she still managed to lose!

“But … but … but …” her deluded fans insist, “she won the popular vote!” But that’s precisely my point. Any candidate who can win the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes and still manage to lose the Electoral College by 304 to 227 is so profoundly incompetent, so miserably useless as a politician, she should be drummed out of the party under a welter of derision. Compare her electoral college result with Al Gore’s, who also won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College: 271 to 266. For that matter, compare hers with John Kerry’s, who lost the popular vote by 1.5 percent — 286 to 241. She couldn’t even find a halfway-decent speechwriter for her convention speech. The week before the election, she was campaigning in Arizona, for Pete’s sake. And she took off chunks of the summer, fundraising (at one point, in the swing states of Fire Island and Provincetown). Whenever she gave a speech, you could hear the air sucking out of the room minutes after she started. In the middle of an election campaign, she dismissed half of the Republican voters as “deplorable.” She lost Wisconsin, which she didn’t visit once. I could go on.

I can understand why people are disappointed in Trump’s victory. But I can not understand the sympathy and moaning over Clinton. The Clintons have made $153 million in speaking fees since Bill left office. They’ve made $23 million in books deals and that was before Clinton’s newest deal. They have a daughter, two grandchildren and a host of glitterati friends. They spent 25 years as two of the most powerful people in the world. Why in the name of Satan’s balls would you feel sorry for them?

Hillary Clinton lost won of the most winnable elections in history. She lost against her dream candidate, the one that she desperately wanted to oppose. And the main reason she lost it was because of her own damned self. Yes, you can excoriate Trump voters if you want — keeping in mind that about a two-thirds of the electorate would vote for their party even if Satan were the nominee. But Barack Obama faced many of the same or worse headwinds Clinton did and won twice. Handily.

Here, in no particular order, are ten reasons why Clinton lost the election that have nothing to do with sexism, James Comey or evil media cabals.

Read more… »

The March for Science

Yesterday saw the March for Science, a gathering of tens of thousands of people to march for more science funding and more science-based policy. I have a few thoughts on this over at my own blog. The TL;DR version is that science is a good input to policy, but it can not answer all our questions. Ultimately, many political debates come down to values. And while the Left is more “rational” and fact-based on certain issues, they can be perfectly irrational and superstition-based on others.

Free Speech and Stochastic Terrorrism

Howard Dean has been saying some remarkably dumb things about free speech this week. I can’t embed his tweets (his Twitter staff blocked me for some very low-grade C-level snark) but it essentially amounts to there being no right to “hate speech”.

You can read Mataconis above and the link therein to Volokh who are experts in the legal history. They point out chapter and verse where Dean has it wrong.

The idea that so-called ‘hate speech,” a term which is incapable of being adequately defined objectively and seems to depend entirely on the subjective reactions of listeners, is not protected by the First Amendment goes against the entire history of the First Amendment itself as well as numerous landmark Court decisions that have put the definition of ‘freedom of speech’ to the test. One of the most famous of those, or course, was National Socialist Party Of America v. Village of Skokie, a 1972 case that involved an effort by a predominantly Jewish Chicago suburb’s efforts to block a group of Nazis from staging a march through the town. In that case, the Illinois Supreme Court, acting after a reversal of an injunction against the march issued by the United States Supreme Court, ruled that the use of a swastika in the march was precisely the kind of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment and that the government could not enact a prior restraint against such speech just based on the fear that it could provoke a violent response from on-lookers. More recently, in Snyder v. Phelps, the Supreme Court set aside a civil judgment issued by a jury in Maryland against the Westboro Baptist Church in favor of the father of a fallen Marine whose funeral was protested by Westboro with its all-too-familiar signs and rhetoric. In its ruling, the Court held that the fact that Westboro’s rhetoric was highly offensive and hateful was not, in and of itself sufficient reason to exempt it from the protection of the First Amendment. In these and other cases, the Supreme Court has made clear that the mere fact that speech is offensive is not, in and of itself, sufficient justification for banning it or punishing those who might utter it in either criminal or civil Court.

Proponents of hate speech bans argue that such speech is, in fact, a form of violence. But this argument has gotten very far since most people, rightly, regard it as obscene to equate speech with violence. They have also tried to argue that hate speech constitutes “incitement”. But Volokh gets into this:

The same is true of the other narrow exceptions, such as for true threats of illegal conduct or incitement intended to and likely to produce imminent illegal conduct — i.e., illegal conduct in the next few hours or maybe days, as opposed to some illegal conduct some time in the future. But these are very narrow exceptions. Dean’s post came in response to a Steven Greenhouse tweet saying, “Free Speech Defenders Don’t Forget: Ann Coulter once said: My only regret w/ Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building”; but if Dean meant that such speech by Coulter is constitutionally unprotected, he’s wrong. Indeed, even if Coulter was speaking seriously (which I doubt), such speech isn’t unprotected incitement, because it isn’t intended to promote imminent illegal conduct. Compare, e.g., Rankin v. McPherson (1987), which upheld the right to say, after President Ronald Reagan was wounded in an assassination attempt, “If they go for him again, I hope they get him” — and that was in a case involving a government employee being fired for her speech; the First Amendment offers even stronger protection to ordinary citizens whose speech is more directly restricted by the government.

Returning to bigoted speech, which is what most people use “hate speech” to mean, threatening to kill someone because he’s black (or white), or intentionally inciting someone to a likely and immediate attack on someone because he’s Muslim (or Christian or Jewish), can be made a crime. But this isn’t because it’s “hate speech”; it’s because it’s illegal to make true threats and incite imminent crimes against anyone and for any reason, for instance because they are police officers or capitalists or just someone who is sleeping with the speaker’s ex-girlfriend.

There is one twist on this concept of incitement that I wanted to get into, however. One idea that has gained some credence on the Left in recent years is that even if “hate speech” doesn’t directly incite immediate violence, it can constitute stochastic terrorism. The idea of stochastic terrorism is that Right Wing politicians (and only Right Wing politicians) don’t actually incite violence directly but use charged rhetoric hoping that, in a nation of three hundred million people, this will motivate someone to engage in violence. It is most often applied to abortion foes, with critics claiming their cries of “murder” are deliberately designed to make people run out an shoot abortion clinicians (because, apparently, no one could honestly believe in their heart that abortion is murder). But we’ve seen it in other contexts as well: the Murrah Bombing being blamed on talk radio; the Giffords shooting being blamed on Sarah Palin; a census worker’s suicide being falsely attributed as homicide and blamed on census opponents. Hell, there were people who blamed the Kennedy assassination on his right-wing critics.

This theory of stochastic terrorism is, to put it mildly, manure. It is a theory designed but with one purpose: to tar the speech of people the theorists disagree with and, hopefully, silence them. And it is very easily proven.

Many years ago, talk show host Neal Boortz had a quiz on his website asking readers to figure out if passages about the environment were from Algore’s Earth in the Balance or the Unabomber’s manifesto. It was actually kind of difficult. They used the same language, the same extreme rhetoric, the same dire claims that the Earth was doomed. Yet no one would accuse Algore of “stochastic terrorism” because of the Unabomber (or any other eco-terrorist).

For the last two years, a large fraction of the Left has been calling Trump a fascist and comparing him to Hitler. If someone were to try, God forbid, to assassinate Trump, would they all be guilty of stochastic terrorism?

“Ah”, you might say, “But the difference is that this Left Wing rhetoric is right. The Earth is in danger. Trump is a fascist.”. Well, Islamic terrorism is a danger. Millions of potential human lives have been extinguished by abortion. Why is the danger you fear real and the danger others fear fake?

It is antithetical to the very concept of this nation for people to be afraid to using strong language when they fear that something very wrong is being done. I may not agree with them. And I will frequently think they are being needlessly hysterical. But if you think abortion is murder, you should be able to say so. If you think Trump is a fascist, you should be able to say so. Yes, there is always a risk that someone will take your words to heart and do something awful. But we can not let our political dialogue be set by a fear of maniacs. We can not allow a “gunman’s veto” on free speech. This is why the Courts have taken a precise view of what constitutes incitement. And it’s why they should continue to do so.

It’s strange for me to say this because I think that extreme rhetoric is a problem in American politics and that people do not need to back off and listen to each other. Debates about healthcare, taxes, terrorism, war and spending would be a lot better if they weren’t conducted in apocalyptic terms. But good manners, a sense of perspective and respectful dialogue can not be enforced with moral threats. And good dialogue does not begin with restrictions on free speech.

Oooh, Snap!

Theresa May, the new Prime Minster of the UK has called for a snap election on June 8 in an effort to strengthen her mandate going into the Brexit. Labour and Lib-Dem have agreed, so the election will be going forward.

Right now, the Conservatives are heavily favored to win, partly because Labor is in complete disarray after the rise of far left loon Jeremy Corbyn. But also because the Brexit issue has united conservatives, pulling Euro-skeptics away from UKIP and making inroads on traditional labor constituencies. May would be a fool not to call a snap election right now.

There are two months until the election, of course. Labour will probably rally a bit. The Scottish National Party will have its say as they try to push for independence and membership in the EU. But right now, this has the early look of a vote that will put the conservatives in the kind of position they haven’t held since Thatcher. That will give May a chance to make Brexit work while not isolating Britain from the global economy.

Why The Second Amendment Matters

Just a quick note today on a busy week. There are many reasons I support the Second Amendment. But the biggest is stuff like this:

The socialist leader of Venezuela announced in a speech to regime loyalists his plan to arm hundreds of thousands of supporters after a years-long campaign to confiscate civilian-owned guns.

“A gun for every militiaman!” Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said to uniformed militia members outside the presidential palace, Fox News reported on Tuesday. The Bolivarian militias, created by Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, already number in the hundreds of thousands and are being used to supplement the regime’s armed forces. Maduro is boosting the number of armed supporters in hopes of keeping control over the country from what he labels “imperialist aggression.”

The arming of Maduro’s supporters comes five years after Venezuela’s socialist regime outlawed the commercial sale and civilian ownership of firearms. Only the military, police, and groups like security companies can buy guns and only directly from one state-run arms company under the law passed in 2012, according to the BBC. The country recently doubled down on its gun ban through a combination of gun buybacks and confiscations in the summer of 2016.

Venezuela’s gun control — which mimics what the Left wants in this country — has always been a disaster. Crime soared. And cops were being murdered for their weapons. But now we see the apotheosis — an armed militia maintaining control over a starving and disarmed populace.

Yeah, I know, it could never happen here. Sure. You keep telling yourself that.

In Which I … Kinda Side With Trump

This weekend saw a somewhat concerning diplomatic faceoff. North Korea indicated they were going to test a nuclear weapon and Trump had hinted at the possibility of pre-emptive or retaliatory strikes, sparking fears of a second Korean War. It wasn’t clear exactly what was going on because it was all rumors and innuendo. Ultimately, the Nork’s nuclear test failed (possibly due to US cyberwarfare) and the situation was defused.

Today, however, a new chapter in the saga came out. Trump is apparently talking to China to try get them to reign in North Korea. We’ve done that before but Trump is apparently breaking with long-standing US policy and offering trade concessions to China if they reign in Kim.

And … I’m actually not averse to that.

Look, we all know that Kim is China’s pet. China provides almost all their energy and trade. China has long had the ability to at least threaten North Korea, if not reign it in. Trump has been talking big on China for some time. He’s apparently reversed a number of positions after talking to Xi, including backing down on labeling China a currency manipulator. That’s another kettle of fish, of course. But if get China to clamp on Kim AND not have a trade war … that’s a win-win, isn’t it?

I’d like to hear why I’m wrong about this. But if my criticisms of Trump are to have any meaning, I have to point out when he’s done something right. Avoiding a trade war and getting North Korea in line is exactly the kind of “deal” Trump promised.

The Last Jedi Teaser

Looks like it could be good. For the record, my one sentence review and ratings of the previous films, with links as appropriate to my own site.

Star Wars: Classic, brilliant. 10/10

Empire Strike Back: Best of the series. 10/10

Return of the Jedi: Bit of a letdown, but still fine. 8/10

The Phantom Menace: Has its issues, but I can see the good movie beneath them. 8/10

Attack of the Clones: See above. 8/10

Revenge of the Sith: Best of the prequels, easily, although Williams’ music does about 90% of the emotional heavy lifting. 9/10

The Force Awakens: The new characters are the best part. 9/10

Rogue One: Very different but very good war drama. 9/10

Trailer looks good so far.

When Moral Victories Aren’t Victories

The Left Wing is in a tizzy because the special election to replace Mike Pompeo ended up closer than expected:

Republican Ron Estes beat back a surprisingly strong challenge from an unheralded and underfunded Democratic challenger to claim a special election victory in Kansas’ 4th district on Tuesday night.

A win is a win — and Republicans avoided the catastrophic outcome of losing in a congressional district where President Donald Trump won by 27 points last November. But in Estes’ victory there are warning signs for Republicans preparing for the first midterm election of the Trump presidency in 2018.

Let’s count up the number of winds the Democrats had at their back: Brownback is one of the most unpopular governors in the country; Estes was his treasurer and Brownback budget management is a big reason he’s unpopular; Trump is unpopular, currently at 42% approval in RCP’s poll-of-polls; the Democrats didn’t put a lot of money but they did focus on this as a potential pickup. And they still lost by about seven points.

The Democrats are very big on these “we almost won” things. But ultimately, a win is a win. The Republicans keep the seat and will likely keep it in the near future. It shows you how utterly beaten the Democrats are at a national level that a seven-point loss can be spun as a turning of the tide.

Is this a warning for 2018? Sure. But it’s no more a warning than Trump’s poll numbers and the general discontent out there. Every politician should be in fear of losing his job. But predicting 2018 is foolish at this point. At this point two years ago, Clinton was supposed to crush Trump by twenty points (actually, she was supposed to crush Jeb Bush). The 2018 election will be decided by what the economy is doing and how well Trump is doing. A small Kansas election is a much of a harbinger as … well, Clinton’s one-time 60+ approval rating.

Update: I did want to add one note. Brownback is unpopular because his “cut taxes and uh, something something supply side” economic agenda didn’t work. He deserves criticism for that. But so do the liberal governors who have almost bankrupted their states as well, notably Dannel Malloy, who is happily driving Connecticut right into a brick wall and is the second most unpopular governor in America. Are we going to hear about how elections are referenda on the liberal economic agenda?

I won’t hold my breath.

History Did Not Start in 2009

Over the weekend, a number began circulating in liberal circles in an attempt to justify the Democrats’ effort to filibuster Neil Gorsuch. The number was that there have been 148 cloture votes on judicial nominees in our entire history … and 79 of them took place under Obama.

The number instantly triggered my BS alarm and rightly so. As Ed Whelan details, this number is garbage. It turns out that Harry Reid routinely filed cloture motions on bills and nominations even when there was no filibuster or no threat of one (most likely to try to evade debate on Obama’s nominations and proposals).

By my quick count, the cloture motions that Reid filed on some 39 of the 79 nominees were withdrawn or mooted, and the motions on 28 others were successful, many with strong Republican support. (Only twelve of the 28 received more than 30 negative votes, and eleven of them had fewer than twenty negative votes.) All of those nominees were confirmed.

Of the eleven cloture motions that were defeated, three of the nominations were confirmed after some delay, and four others were confirmed after Democrats abolished the filibuster.

In sum, even under a very liberal account of what “blocked by filibusters” might plausibly mean, it is difficult to see how anyone could contend that more than eleven of Obama’s nominees were “blocked by filibusters.”

By contrast, 14 of Bush’s nominees were blocked by filibusters. Only 16 times has the Senate rejected cloture on a judicial nomination. Ten of those were in the 108th Congress when the Democrats were basically filibustering every Bush nomination they could, hoping he would be unelected in 2004. The only reason no SCOTUS nominee was blocked was because Bush didn’t nominate any justices in his first term (a time when Schumer was threatening to filibuster SCOTUS nominees for all four years). The Democrats tried to filibuster Roberts but failed. In the meantime, the Republicans brought up and voted on two of Obama’s SCOTUS nominees.

(The CRS report is here and it really blows away this talking point. Gorsuch’s nomination was only the fifth time cloture was even attempted with a SCOTUS nominee. All five were Republicans nominees. Only seven cabinet nominations have needed cloture votes — five were under Bush. Reid’s office has been citing only two pages of the report, conveniently eliding the other damning parts. Politifact, in proclaiming the “79 of 148″ number true, couldn’t be bothered to look at the full report and just took Reid’s excerpt as gospel. I include that last tidbit just in case you were wondering if Politifact is still full of it.)

Any filibuster of a nominee is wrong, in my opinion. I wasn’t happy when the Republicans did it and I didn’t agree with their sitting on Garland’s nomination. But this business did not start under Obama. It’s been building for years, really all the way back to Bork.

But it goes way beyond that. For eight years, all we heard that was that Republicans were “obstructing” Obama (obstructing, in this sense, meaning a co-equal branch of government not enacting his agenda because they thought it was a bad idea). But that followed on eight years of … Democrats “obstructing” everything Bush wanted to do. If anything, it was worse under Bush. Democrats not only opposed things Bush wanted that they opposed (privatizing Social Security, cutting spending, etc.) but even things they wanted like Medicare’s drug program, Medicaid expansion and massive spending hikes.

And, of course, now that Trump is in power, the Democrats are rediscovering how much fun opposition is. The very same people who cried “obstruction!” for eight years are now crying “obstruction, yes!” as Republicans try to repeal Obamacare, put judges on the bench, enact regulatory reform and … well, anything else. Hell, if Trump proposed single payer healthcare, I am convinced that Democrats would oppose just for the bloody hell of it.

Look, I’m in favor of obstruction. I like it that our government is set up with all kinds of checks and balances that are designed to slow, if not completely stop, bad ideas. But I’ve always been in favor of it. I won’t bash Democrats an “obstructionist” for opposing laws or nominations if they think they are bad ideas. But I will bash them when they claim some kind of factually-challenged moral superiority in doing so.

Yes, the Republicans have been engaging in some shady things. But that’s politics. They only time the Democrats don’t use the same tactics is when they literally can’t. They’ll scream the heavens down about gerrymandering; then they’ll gerrymander the hell out of Maryland. They’ll shout about voter disenfranchisement; but the only reason they want to enfranchise felons is because felons vote Democrat. They scream about Republican special interests; while bankrupting their states in obedience to SEIU. They scream about Garland; and they forget about Estrada.

The Great Liberal Myth is their belief in their own reasonableness and adherence to cold fact. But, as we’ve seen many times, Democrats can be as unreasonable and full of it as anyone. Don’t buy this business that the Garland-Gorsuch thing is a new low. We got there years ago.