Discover more from The Bulwark
Plus: DeSantis’s RFK pander.
Nota bene: “Donald Trump’s legal and political teams are preparing for the possibility that the federal grand jury will vote on charges against the former president as early as Thursday, according to three sources familiar with the thinking of his inner circle.”
Pardon the morbidity, but I really have to say what everybody is (or should be) saying about what happened with Mitch McConnell yesterday.
Imagine if that had happened to Donald Trump. Or Joe Biden.
Our politics would be upended in the blink of an eye. The margin is that thin.
But this is what living in a gerontocracy is like.
McConnell is 81 years old. Trump will be 78 on election Day. Biden, as we all know, will turn 82 next November.
Nobody is getting any younger.
One trip, one fall, one stumble. One moment when a political leader simply freezes in mid-sentence, goes blank, and has to be escorted away from the podium for a wellness check. And the presidency would hang in the balance.
Yesterday’s image was alarming. Via the Wapo:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday abruptly left a news conference after he froze midway through his opening remarks and appeared to be unable to resume speaking immediately.
McConnell began the GOP’s leadership weekly news conference by saying lawmakers were on a path to finishing a major defense budget bill this week.
“We’ve had good bipartisan cooperation and a string of —” McConnell said.
He then froze and remained silent for about 20 seconds, staring straight ahead, before other members of GOP leadership intervened. Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), standing at McConnell’s side, asked if he was okay but McConnell did not respond verbally.
The good news is that he seemed to recover relatively quickly, returning to take questions, more or less as usual. Later in the day he joked with reporters about getting a call from President Joe Biden. “The president called to check on me. I told him I got sandbagged,” a reference to Biden’s recent trip and fall.
But NBC is now reporting that McConnell fell getting off a plane at Reagan National Airport this month.
The fall, which has not been previously reported, occurred July 14 after the flight out of Washington was canceled while everyone was on board. McConnell, R-Ky., who was a passenger, had a “face plant,” someone who was on the plane at the time but did not witness the fall told NBC News….
McConnell has also recently been using a wheelchair as a precaution when he navigates crowded airports, said a source familiar with his practices.
So, we need to have a conversation about our political Elder Culture.
Apparently, however, they do.
Both parties seem to be locking themselves into a rematch of octogenarians, despite the risks, even as public concern seems to be rising. This month's Harvard CPAS/Harris Poll found growing unease among Democrats about Biden’s age. Eighty-five percent of Republicans and 71 percent of independents said they have doubts about Biden's mental fitness. The Biden campaign is clearly concerned.
NBC News reported on Monday that Biden's 2024 campaign is strategizing to minimize the physical toll of the job for the president while highlighting his decades-long experience as an electoral strength. The outlet said his team has been increasingly providing Biden with a shorter set of stairs for boarding and disembarking from Air Force One and offering shorter note cards for the president to read.
So a plea to Biden’s true intimates. Tell him the truth. This second term caper is a big, dangerous, selfish mistake. And with the grim specter of the Mad King Donald Trump back within reach of the Oval as a potential GOP nominee, the stakes are way too high to fool around.
Biden, simply put, is too damn old to be as formidable a candidate as this moment in American history demands.
The problem with this, of course, is that the Democrats lack an obvious Plan B, except a veep who is also underwater in the polls.
Meanwhile in the GOP, someone else is decompensating in real time:
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DeSantis’s RFK Pander
He really is really bad at this, isn’t he?
On Wednesday, the Florida governor said that he might consider conspiracy theory wingnut RFK Jr for a position in his administration, running either the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even his longtime conservative defenders were gobsmacked by the stupidity of Meatball’s pander. Via Mediaite: “Conservatives: DeSantis's RFK Comments 'Embarrassingly Bad'.”
Here’s National Review’s Charles Cooke:
National Review’s Philip Klein:
David Frum observed: “Another thing to learn from this humiliating episode: being pro-RFK Jr is now a right-wing signifier as potent as a Confederate flag or a spinning sonnenrad.”
Mike Pence took the easy layup:
Asa Hutchinson: Why I’m Doing This
On Wednesday’s podcast, I talked with the former Arkansas governor about his long shot presidential bid…and what’s happened to his party.
Hunter’s Deal Collapses
Let’s be clear: the judge was not the problem here. Via the NYT:
Judge Noreika quickly zeroed in on a paragraph offering Mr. Biden broad immunity from prosecution, in perpetuity, for a range of matters scrutinized by the Justice Department. The judge questioned why prosecutors had written it in a way that gave her no legal authority to reject it.
Then, in 10 minutes of incisive questioning, she exposed serious differences between the two sides on what, exactly, that paragraph meant.
Christopher Clark, Mr. Biden’s lead lawyer, said it indemnified his client not merely for the tax and gun offenses uncovered during the inquiry, but for other possible offenses stemming from his lucrative consulting deals with companies in Ukraine, China and Romania.
Prosecutors had a far narrower definition. They saw Mr. Biden’s immunity as limited to offenses uncovered during their investigation of his tax returns dating back to 2014, and his illegal purchase of a firearm in 2018, when he was a heavy drug user, they said.
When the judge asked Leo Wise, a lead prosecutor in the case, if the investigation of Mr. Biden was continuing, he answered, “Yes.”
When she asked him, hypothetically, if the deal would preclude an investigation into possible violation of laws regulating foreign lobbying by Mr. Biden connected with his consulting and legal work, he replied, “No.”
Mr. Biden then told the judge he could not agree to any deal that did not offer him broad immunity, and Mr. Clark popped up angrily to declare the deal “null and void.”
Exit take: The Hunter story isn’t going away anytime soon.
1. Sorting Out the Florida Teaching-About-Slavery Mess
[The] the flap over the newly approved Florida school standards for the teaching of African-American history is a “both sides” story, and one in which neither side looks very good. Not only the left but mainstream liberals—including major media outlets and Vice President Kamala Harris—joined in a frenzy of denunciations over a line very misleadingly summarized as a claim that “enslaved people benefited from slavery” because some of them learned useful work skills. But while the Florida curriculum doesn’t say that, or suggest that American slavery was not so bad, it does have very real problems. What’s more, Harris’s essentially false and inflammatory accusation was matched by an incredibly ham-fisted response from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and an apparent major stumble by the standards’ principal authors.
Add to this a lot of all-around self-beclownment in the media, and it’s “The Culture Wars Make Everyone (and Everything) Dumber,” Chapter Eleventy-Thousand Eleven.
2. Mencken’s obit for William Jennings Bryan
Speaking of the verdict of history… Hat tip Windsor Mann for this gem:
William Jennings Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest.
His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state.
He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile.
Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not.
3.Time to Do Something About the NILFs
This collapse in work participation has been accompanied by a surge in men’s dependence on disability payments and other safety net programs like Supplemental Nutritional Assistance (SNAP). Unsurprisingly, non-work and welfare is also correlated with “deaths of despair,” incarceration, and single parenthood.
As Nicholas Eberstadt has documented, men who are “not in the labor force” (NILF) are alarmingly disengaged from others and overly self-focused. According to federal time-use surveys, NILFs do very little work of any kind, whether paid, unpaid, household chores, or caring for family members. Most of their waking hours are occupied with “personal care” and “socializing, relaxing, and leisure,” with much of the latter devoted to looking at screens: phones, computers, and television.
4. "Natcons" and "Freecons" and Liberals
This “simpleminded brute’s version of conservatism” is not the only one, though it has begun to dominate in recent years with the rise of “nationalist” conservatism. That’s why I was very happy to see a big new effort to push back by way of a manifesto of “freedom conservatism,” signed by some people who will no doubt be familiar to readers of this newsletter, including Charles C.W. Cooke, Jonah Goldberg, Brent Orrell, Dalibor Rohac, Charlie Sykes, and the venerable George F. Will—basically the entire classical liberal wing of conservatism. They are now apparently calling themselves “freecons” to distinguish them from the “natcons.” …
The manifesto harks back explicitly to the Sharon Statement of 1960 that formed the late 20th Century conservative movement in a “fusion” of free marketers, Cold War hawks, and religious conservatives. In effect, they too are trying to go back to 1955, not concretely but ideologically.
That’s a much better goal, and good luck to them. But I am not a conservative, and I am skeptical about the idea that we can solve problems just by turning back the clock.
There is a reason conservative fusionism became unfused in such spectacular fashion in the last few years. Instead of trying to rebuild the old movement with the same basic flaws, we need to make a clean break in terminology, and in our underlying priorities and ideas, and build on the firmer foundation of liberalism.
There’s no gullible fool like an old gullible fool. Via Hannah Gais: