Stirewaltisms: The Upside of Six More Weeks of Winter
Plus: The crime rate conundrum, critical Maus theory, and a showdown at the Golden Corral.
THE UPSIDE OF SIX MORE WEEKS OF WINTER
In Pennsylvania, celebrity groundhog Punxsutawney Phil forecast six more weeks of winter. Nobody was happy, except for the guys selling road salt. But Phil is still better off than his counterpart in neighboring New Jersey, Milltown Mel, who ended up dead before he could make any predictions.
They don’t mess around in Jersey.
But if we are to take Phil at his shadow, then we should believe that things are going to stay the same for a little while. It doesn't feel like that would be so bad in American politics today, given what the alternatives are.
Maybe not if you’re President Biden, who is having a very hard time with inflation and lingering pandemic consequences. It’s never a good sign when economists start talking about the Misery Index again. Also, $30 trillion does seem like a lot of money to owe. It’s true that there is no obvious hard correlation between debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratios and national success. The three best for 2020: Hong Kong, Zimbabwe, and Brunei. The three worst: Japan, Sudan, and Greece.
This is because the debt-to-GDP number does not exist in a vacuum. If the United States did not have the world reserve currency, nine aircraft carrier strike groups, and the ability to end human life as we know it on the planet, our sixth-worst debt rating would look very different. Conversely, nobody in Zimbabwe ever says, “Say what you will about the crushing poverty, our debt burden is fantastic.”
But lugging a national debt of more than 130 percent of the largest economy in the world is not a light lift. And it adds extra context to Biden’s jousting with Vladimir Putin over Ukraine. Given Putin’s domestic political considerations, even if the standoff ends in anticlimax, he has probably already gotten the boost he’s been looking for. Putin’s even got a U.S. senator calling for Biden to meet the Russian strongman’s chief demand. If the U.S. and NATO knuckled under the way Missouri’s Josh Hawley suggests, it would certainly raise further doubts about America’s position in the world and make that huge pile of debt look even more unaffordable.
So the forecast for six more weeks of winter does seem to be on point. Things are pretty chilly out there and there’s no signs of daffodils popping up all over. But that’s okay with me, because these are mostly normal problems of the kind America has been dealing with for decades. Biden is the fourth president that Putin has used as a foil. The debt bomb has been ticking quite loudly since 2008 and the bipartisan spending spree of the past 14 years.
And despite the unwillingness of the cuckoo birds at the political extremes, America continues to slowly emerge from the fog of the pandemic. Jobless claims dropped again in today’s Labor Department report and COVID hospitalizations continue moving in the right direction.
One of the brightest signs yet for the return to the normal vicissitudes of American political life has been the assertion of gravity on former President Donald Trump. As the indispensable Dan Balz catalogs here, a slew of new polls all point to diminishing influence for Trump in the GOP. Here’s Balz breaking down the WaPo’s own poll: “Since October 2020, [Trump] has lost 26 points among White Republicans without college degrees and 21 points among conservative Republicans. He has lost 18 points among Republican men and 17 points among Republican women. He has lost 23 points among Republicans ages 65 and older and 19 points among White evangelical Republicans.”
We don’t need to wonder why. Trump’s demands on his party are simply too expensive. While he remains popular with most Republicans, fewer and fewer of them are willing to follow Trump off a cliff.
The politically smart thing for Republicans to do about the January 6 attack and the 2020 election in general is to turn the page. There is no electoral advantage to be had in trying to defend or even rationalize Trump's misdeeds and those of his followers. With a struggling Democratic incumbent and a wave election shaping up for midterms, the last thing Republicans should want to do is relitigate the party's lowest point since Watergate. Instead, Trump is out promising pardons for those who took part in the attack on the Capitol. As he demonstrates an absolute unwillingness to move on from his obsessions, Trump alienates the voters and lawmakers who made calculated political decisions to support him. When senators like Kevin Cramer and Lindsey Graham are stepping back, that’s a sign of something turning.
So, the weather may not be great, but it is normal weather. After a long period of instability and chaos, a little stasis is a welcome alternative. Thanks, Phil, and RIP Mel.
Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.
Biden job performance
Average approval: 44 percent
Average disapproval: 52.6 percent
Net Score: -8.6 points
[Average includes: Ipsos: 45% approve-50% disapprove; Monmouth University: 39% approve-54% disapprove; Marquette University Law School: 46% approve-53% disapprove; Fox News: 47% approve-52% disapprove; NBC News: 43% approve-54% disapprove.]
Generic congressional ballot
Democrats: 43 percent
Republicans: 44.4 percent
Net advantage: Republicans +1.4 points
[Average includes: Monmouth: 43% Democrat, 51% Republican; Fox News: 43% Democrat, 44% Republican; NBC News: 47% Democrat, 46% Republican; Quinnipiac University: 43% Democrat, 44% Republican; USA Today: 39% Democrat, 37% Republican.]
TIME OUT: DO YOU WANT FRIES WITH THAT COLONOSCOPY?
Wall Street Journal: “The Marketplace Mall in Rochester, N.Y., has a food court, arcade games and plenty of fashion boutiques. Soon, it will perform hip replacements and rotator cuff surgeries, too. A closed Sears department store and an adjacent wing of the mall are being reborn as a roughly 350,000-square-foot orthopedic healthcare campus. It will include operating rooms, outpatient facilities and medical and administrative offices. The University of Rochester Medical Center’s $227 million project is part of the recent boom in mall-to-medical conversions. … Malls offer cheap real estate, ample parking, easy access to highways and plenty of nearby customers. … [Covid-19] highlighted the need for outpatient facilities far away from contagious patients. Malls often fit the bill.”
CRIME RATE CONUNDRUM
The great Harry Enten looks at how high crime rates do and don’t affect political preferences. CNN: “It's tough to turn on the news these days without seeing stories about rising violent crime rates … This has changed perceptions of crime, as an average of Gallup polling over the last two years shows more Americans think crime has risen nationally than at any point since the early 1990s. But a closer look at the data reveals that crime, for the most part, remains a back-burner national issue for Americans, unlike in the 1990s. Crime does, however, have the ability to shape local and state politics. … [Crime is] not an issue that most Americans think the federal government should be working on. Just 10% said it's something the government should do something about in a December AP-NORC poll. There were more than 10 other problems that Americans listed higher than crime or violence that the government should address.”
Stonks rankle Congress: The Atlantic: “The proposed ban on stock trading by lawmakers has upended the expected ideological divide. A co-sponsor of the House measure is conservative Representative Chip Roy of Texas, a former top aide to Senator Ted Cruz. The bill has also won the backing of two groups that usually defend unfettered access to the free market, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which emerged from the Obama-era Tea Party. Carrying the … flag instead is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose husband, Paul Pelosi, has made millions in stock trades that have become fodder for amateur trackers on social-media platforms such as Reddit and TikTok.”
Dave Winston: Which ditch?: Roll Call: “[The] scheduled headliner at the retreat to talk about the Democratic Party’s messaging as the off-year congressional elections loom was none other than former President Barack Obama… Apparently, no one stopped to consider the fact that inviting a president whose strategy cost Democrats 63 seats and control of the House in 2010, his first off-year congressional election, might not be the ideal choice. … Following the Obama playbook, Biden is attempting to place the blame for the country’s economic problems, the continuing struggle against the virus, rising crime, border security and foreign policy challenges on his predecessor and/or Republicans as a whole. Yet, in the same breath, he and his defenders try to make the case that Year One of the Biden presidency has been one of great progress and achievement. He can’t have it both ways.”
Critical Maus Theory: Wall Street Journal: ‘“Maus,” a graphic novel about the Holocaust published decades ago, reached the top of Amazon.com Inc.’s bestsellers list after a Tennessee school board’s decision to remove the book spurred criticism nationwide. … Attention to the graphic novel was renewed this month when the McMinn County Board of Education in Athens, Tenn., voted unanimously to remove “Maus” from its eighth-grade curriculum. The 10-member board cited “vulgar” words that appeared in the book as well as subjects they deemed inappropriate for eighth-graders. … The school board’s decision comes amid a wave of similar efforts across the U.S. to pull books from library shelves and alter school curricula, often following directives from state elected officials or challenges from parents that the books are inappropriate for children. The books often focus on themes around race and gender.’
43 takes it to 100: Bush maxes out for impeachment backers—Insider
Lujan’s absence for stroke recovery sidelines Dems’ Senate majority—Albuquerque Journal
Congress gets a suggestion box—Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress
Over the Ivies? Graham backs one of Biden’s rumored SCOTUS picks—Politico
WITHIN EARSHOT: MICHELANG-EGO
‘Avenatti: “Didn't you tell the New York Times that watching me work was like watching the Sistine Chapel painted?” Daniels: “That's what you told me to say.”’ —Michael Avenetti, the disgraced lawyer and convicted felon, in his cross-examination of his former client, Stormy Daniels
“I joined The Dispatch to help myself understand my fellow citizens who are of the solidly Republican and conservative nature. The price of membership was more than worth it. Along the way I got to laugh every day thanks to some wonderful
amateur humorists, learn about nature, listen to rants about Democrats and other ‘evils’ and cry for the tragedies sometimes related. But perhaps the best thing was getting to read and hear fresh voices like yours, Mr. Stirewalt. I'm grateful for your honest humor, your pragmatic and intelligent insights and your fairness. As a center left, moderate Democrat, I thank you for reminding others that sane, ethical, patriotic people can also be Democrats. Now, for the burning question: should Joe Biden hire Patrick Mahomes and Coach [Andy Reid] to figure out a Hail Mary pass before the midterms??”—Mary Stine, Prairie Village, Kansas
Your praise was so generous and obviously heartfelt that I sincerely debated snipping your closing line. You wrote it before the Chiefs’ heartbreaking loss on Sunday and I would not want anyone to think you were oblivious. But I like the underlying question, and the answer is: “No.” The problem for Democrats is not one of strategy or even “messaging,” but rather of fundamentals. What Biden and his party should do is bear down and hope for the best. If the circumstances of the pandemic and inflation improve, Democratic losses will shrink. If Democrats oversee the smooth appointment and confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice, it will show competency, and Democratic losses will shrink. As is usually the case, the best thing to do in politics is whatever you think is actually right. Trick plays seldom work anyway.
“I’d like to know if you have any advice for me on this. A few within my family who identify as conservative as I myself do (particularly my dad, stepmom, and one of my aunts), have a great deal of trust in certain populist MAGA figures like Tucker Carlson, Sebastian Gorka, and Steve Bannon who continue to promote conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election as well as the January 6 Capitol riot, vaccine denialism, apologist rhetoric in favor of authoritarians such as Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán, etc. And for me, I’m personally deeply uncomfortable with them falling for their lies and nonsense. Do you think any of the differences I have with them on those topics can ever be reconciled, or should I consider them as being too far gone from reality, where cutting contact with them from my life is the best path forward?”—William Brady, Belleair Bluffs, Florida
The story goes that the Apostle Paul’s ministry partner, Timothy, was in his dotage under the provision of a church in Asia Minor. And when the members of the church would get into bitter doctrinal arguments, they would come to him and demand his ruling on the issue. “Did Adam have a belly button?” “Must Christians be circumcised?” etc. But the old man would only ever return with the same answer: “If you only love them, it will be enough.” Your family is more important than their politics, and you are unlikely to change anyone’s mind anyway. Better to love them and instead, as Timothy’s friend put it, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Remember what is lovely and admirable about them and focus on that. Indeed, you will do more to help them see the world as it is by setting that example. Argument causes people to hunker down. Better to lower the social consequences for them changing their minds and just love them where they are now. Leave the politics aside as much as you can. If they insist on arguing, just say “I love you too much to waste time arguing over this.” If you only love them, Mr. Brady, it will be enough.
“I teach in a classical Christian School in the Greenville, South Carolina area. I have really enjoyed what The Dispatch has to offer and have had some of my students read your material. I was wondering if the powers that be at your organization would be willing to consider a Dispatch for the Classroom situation. Maybe curated content from your site that could target middle and high schoolers. Maybe a way for schools to qualify for a group subscription to some of the content. Just a thought I wanted to express. Thanks for all you do!”—Michael L. Murphy, Simpsonville, South Carolina
I don’t know, Mr. Murphy, but now we’ve printed it right here for the whole world to see! It’s a fascinating idea. I love the idea of helping teachers, and it would be great to see us grow in that direction. Cc: Steve Hayes and Jonah Goldberg
“I really, really enjoyed the ‘An Outbreak of Decency’ section from your latest piece. Any chance that this could be a regular part of Stirewaltisms? We could use more stories like this as part of any and all political analyses.” — Matt Leiste, Lawrence, Kansas
I don’t want to jinx us, Mr. Leiste! Just kidding… mostly. It’s not that I think that acts of decency are rare. Indeed, they widely outnumber acts of cruelty and selfishness in public life. But, in the saying of my vocation, we don’t report on all the planes that land. What made the moment between President Biden and Peter Doocy so great was that they were both rejecting the obvious incentives to be jerks. I will never hesitate to highlight when people in politics and political journalism do what’s right even when it goes against their own narrow, short-term interests. But think of this: Every story that is done in a fair, balanced way may reflect that same sentiment. Every cheap shot that a politician does not take, every tweet that was not sent, every offense that went unexpressed, etc. One of the problems with scoundrels is that they make us think that the normal, essential decency on which our civilization relies is dead. It most assuredly is not.
“Loved the bit about your dad's linguistic accumulations. Your dad may have picked up this expression in Korea, but it entered American GI lingo during the occupation of Japan, and is based on the Japanese word "skoshi", meaning a little bit.”—Glenn Scherer, Fairfield, Texas
Indeed, Mr. Scherer! While he might have picked it up on leave or on duty in Japan, “skosh” was probably well enough part of G.I. speech by 1953 that my dad would have absorbed it by osmosis.
We asked readers to submit their own captions for the picture on last week's Stirewalisms that showed President Biden and Justice Stephen Breyer at the event announcing the justice’s retirement. First, thank you for such a great response! Joyful silliness is one of the hallmarks of wisdom, and you people are wise, indeed. And your winner is:
“Joe Biden (left) quietly envies Stephen Breyer's unbridled happiness at announcing his retirement.”—Christopher Lorenc, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
“President Biden realizing that Stephen Breyer isn't the only old white man his party wants to replace with a young black woman.”—Jacob Mahugh, Salem, Oregon
“Biden on hot mike, ‘Damn, Fauci is taller than I thought.’” — Mike Chandler, Pendleton, South Carolina
Submit your own! Readers should send in their proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of each month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!
You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and always good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission anonymous. My colleague, the intrepid Samantha Goldstein, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!
WHEN IN COURSE OF BUFFET EVENTS, IT BECOMES NECESSARY…
KYW-TV: “A Friday night out turned into a melee in Bensalem [Pennsylvania] at a Golden Corral restaurant. Now police are trying to figure out how it started. A former employee of the restaurant says he was told the fight may have happened after a customer became enraged when the buffet ran out of steak. Video shared with Eyewitness News shows punches being thrown and high chairs flying as a fight breaks out. … Bensalem police confirm the brawl may have involved more than 40 people and happened following an argument among some customers. … ‘I’ve never seen nothing like that in Golden Corral before,’ former employee Dylan Becker said. … ‘From what I heard it was over steak, apparently somebody cut in line,’ Becker said. … In the video, a man is heard saying ‘all I wanted was some steak.’ … Police are working to figure out who started the fight. That person could face several charges including simple assault.”
Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of a forthcoming book on media and politics. Samantha Goldstein contributed to this report.