Our Best Stuff From a Week We Went to Mars

Rush Limbaugh, the Whig Party, and Biden's Israel policy.

It was always a treat in elementary school when the teacher would wheel the tall TV cart into the classroom. The best days came when that little diversion was a space shuttle launch. We’d gather around, listen to the countdown, and ooh and ahh as the shuttle pushed off, leaving a wide contrail of exhaust in its wake. Our teacher would tell us about the crew, the mission, and the research that they would be doing. And then it was back to math, or social studies, or out to recess. 

It was cool at the time. But I’ve come to realize that we Gen Xers grew up in a relative lull in the Space Age. We were too young for the moon landing and other awe-inspiring breakthroughs. Sure, the space shuttles were innovative, in that they took off like rockets and landed like planes, and the astronauts sure looked like they were having fun floating around and eating food out of pouches. We gained a treasure trove of scientific knowledge, and eventually an international space station. But they didn’t … go anywhere. Space is the final frontier, and the shuttles were stuck orbiting Earth like Clark Griswold navigating a traffic circle in European Vacation. “Look kids, there’s Europe, and Asia.”

For a few moments this week, I felt like a kid again. On Thursday, my colleague Audrey Fahlberg did the modern-day equivalent of rolling a TV cart into the classroom.  She dropped a link to the video of the Mars Perseverance rover making its descent and touchdown on the red planet into Slack (our office instant-messaging app). There’s a two-hour version, but if you have a busy afternoon in front of you, here are the highlights.

Landing on Mars itself is nothing new: NASA has been deploying rovers to the planet since the Pathfinder in 1997. And the Viking probes had landed on Mars (though they couldn’t roam about) in 1976, predating the shuttle program. 

But Perseverance shows how far we’ve come. Not only did we land a vehicle on Mars capable of exploiting the surface, Percy (as the rover has been nicknamed, complete with requisite Twitter parody account) brought a friend, a helicopter named Ingenuity (nicknamed Ginny, also with a Twitter parody account.) Perseverance’s mission includes looking for signs of life on Mars, and also studying how hospitable the planet might be for humans. 

I admit: After the last year, maybe we should be a little more cautious and a little less excited about the potential discovery of microscopic life forms that may or may not play nice with humans. But that’s why Perseverance and the space program matter so much. They represent humanity at its best: some of our greatest minds working together to gain an understanding of what lies beyond us. They are looking ahead, creating opportunities, expanding our world.

I’m sorry if that sounds too sappy (cue the swelling music and all). But it’s nice to have something to be optimistic about. Here on Earth, after all, it wasn’t exactly all glitter and unicorns this week. Much of the country was snowed in. Dozens of people died in Texas when winter storms knocked out power. Our vaccine rollout is improving, but people (like my parents!) are still struggling to make appointments. Frustrated parents are still waiting for schools to open. Maybe we’re just in a “darkest before dawn” moment, but the present can be a little exhausting. So it’s worth celebrating that a team of brilliant scientists designed and built a robot and sent it 300 million miles across the solar system, where it will be our eyes and ears into a whole new world. 

That makes even our best work of the week feel a little pedestrian by comparison, but please check it out.

Is It Time for the Republican Party to Split Apart?

The GOP likes to think of itself as a “big tent” welcoming a wide range of viewpoints But is there a tent anywhere big enough to fit both Marjorie Taylor Greene and Liz Cheney? Donald Trump exacerbated problems that had been building for years—mistrust of institutions, polarization, negative partisanship. He might be gone, but what becomes of the party? The crackup of the Whig Party can offer a hint. It had risen in the 1830s as a response to the protectionism and executive overreach of Andrew Jackson. But the debate over slavery proved to be insurmountable for the party, which split in the 1850s and gave way to the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party and the Republican Party.  Are there lessons for the modern-day GOP? “There will come a time when the GOP outlives its usefulness as an organizing body,” Declan writes. “It won’t be today or tomorrow; it may not be this year, or this decade. The current two-party system has thoroughly entrenched itself as a duopoly over the years, both legally and politically. But politicians respond to incentives. If enough people begin to reject the status quo, the status quo, over time, will change.”

Rush Limbaugh and the Right’s Generational Despair

Rush Limbaugh died this week at age 70 after a fight with lung cancer, ending his decades-long reign over conservative talk radio. Limbaugh was a polarizing figure, and the reactions to his death from both the left and the right were in many ways predictable. Which is why you should read David’s remembrance in The French Press. David points out that Limbaugh molded the modern conservative movement into a media industrial complex. But along the way, Rush himself changed, and not for the better. David noticed when listening to him in 2016:  “Rush seemed slightly afraid of his own audience. He was offering a very mild critique of a Trump primary debate performance, and it was obvious he was worried about pushback. He wasn’t in command. He seemed defensive. This isn’t the Rush I remember, I thought.”

It’s Time for Biden to Call Netanyahu

Not to brag, but we published this argument from Jonathan Schanzer on Monday, and on Wednesday …  Joe Biden called Benjamin Netanyahu. The Dispatch gets results? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, Schanzer’s piece is an excellent analysis of how Biden’s desire to have the U.S rejoin the Iran nuclear deal complicates the relationship with Israel, our most important ally in the Middle East. “The JCPOA will go down as one of the most controversial foreign policy initiatives in modern American history for its generous sanctions relief to the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, and for its sunset clauses that granted Iran permission in 12 years to return to the illicit nuclear activity that it never admitted it was pursuing in the first place.”

Beware the Return of the Earmarxists 

For anyone who’s weary of the regular threat of government shutdowns or Congress passing legislation through budget reconciliation, the Democrats offered what seemed like sweet sweet relief last week. Steny Hoyer said Democrats would end the ban on earmarks, saying that the practice would allow Congress to get more done. Sounds good, right? John Hart, former communications director for Tom Coburn, is here to remind us why pork barrel politics were so awful:  “Previous Congresses somehow managed to rebuild the country after the Civil War, build railroads and highways, and win World War II without giving politicians walking-around money to build teapot museums and parking garages.” 

And here’s the best of the rest.

  • What is Clubhouse? It’s a new live audio chat app that has proved popular with celebrities (coming soon to a room near you: Elon Musk interviews Kanye West) but whose real value might be in helping activists organize to protest totalitarian regimes. Charlotte explains.

  • Admit it, you might have cracked a joke or two when Donald Trump pushed for the Space Force. As it turns out, protecting our satellites from our Earth-bound adversaries is no laughing matter. 

  • What happens when women and children are exploited but law enforcement is afraid to deal with uncomfortable questions about the backgrounds of the perpetrators? Nothing good, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali points out.

  • Some senators twisted themselves into a logic pretzel in blaming Donald Trump for the violence at the Capitol but voting to acquit him in his impeachment trial. Chris Stirewalt is unimpressed.

  • Were you wondering how Scott Lincicome feels about the $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus plan? OK, you can probably guess. But in Capitolism (🔐) he does a deep dive on everything that’s wrong with it.

  • Dispatch Live was back this week. Steve had has requisite Spanish red, Jonah called in from his trip to purgatory, and the gang was joined by new contributing editor Chris Stirewalt. Check out the video.

  • Pod squad: You may have heard that Jonah was stuck in Texas this week. Who else better to invite onto The Remnant than Texan Kevin Williamson? The only certainties in life are death, taxes, and …  constitutionally questionable campus speech codes. Advisory Opinions is here to catch you up on that last one. And on The Dispatch Podcast, Sarah, Steve, and Tom Joscelyn gather to share war stories about their many, many collective knee surgeries. Oh, and they also discuss the minor foreign policy headaches that are China and Iran.

Our Best Stuff From a Week in the Depths of February

Impeachment, a WHO report on the pandemic’s origins, and snow. Lots of snow.

February is the Siberia of the calendar. It’s frigid and windy and nearly unlivable. It has a dismal history. Nothing good ever happens in it. And we would be better off without it.

That paragraph, dear readers, is based on an old Slate essay that is at once beloved and much-derided, suggesting that we excise August from the calendar. I hope that the author—my old boss, David Plotz—doesn’t mind me appropriating it and picking a different month.

August is usually a challenge for journalists for its lack of news. D.C. empties out, leaving political reporters twiddling their thumbs. There’s a lull in the sports world, with baseball between the All-Star break and the playoff crunch, and football teams in training camps. It’s not typically a great time for movie releases. (Which is why at Slate we would so often use the excuse of a slow news day to republish the tongue-in-cheek screed.)

February, of course, has been a challenge for the exact opposite reason.  And the month can’t even do us the kindness of being original. This is the second straight February with an impeachment trial. (Interestingly, Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial ended in February 1999 and the House voted to impeach Andrew Johson in February 1868.)  And one year ago, we were wondering anxiously if that novel coronavirus emerging from China was going to turn out more like the SARS outbreak of 2002 (about 8,000 people around the world were infected) or the Spanish flu of 1918. 

It’s the shortest month, but it can feel interminable. We spend way too much time looking at weather forecasts and yet can still be surprised. Here in the Ohio bureau we went to bed Monday night expecting one to three inches of snow and woke up to eight on Tuesday. Then, once properly dug out, we got hit with ice and more snow on Wednesday night. (Kudos to our school district, which has been in-person all year: On Tuesday and Thursday we received emails explaining that *technically* it was still a school day because COVID delayed the start of the school year, and students should *definitely* check to see if they had work, but it could be done over hot chocolate after playing in the snow. Wink wink, nudge nudge.) I just hope that the forecast for another five to 10 inches starting Sunday is equally wrong, but in the other direction.

What else has February given us throughout the years? Let’s see. The battleship Maine was blown up, leading to the Spanish-American War.  In 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated right before its scheduled landing. America began its internment of Japanese Americans in February 1942. And it’s when the 16th Amendment, which allows Congress to collect income taxes, was ratified. 

To be fair, it’s not all bad. It’s the month when not only Washington and Lincoln were born, but also great Americans like Ronald Reagan, Norman Rockwell, and Babe Ruth. There’s a good reason it’s Black History Month: In 1956, civil rights leaders ended their three-month bus boycott and the Supreme Court later desegregated buses. In 1960, four black students began a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter. 

So maybe it’s just that the cold is getting to me. The sun still comes up too late and sets too early. But we are closer to spring than we are fall. In a similar vein, vaccines are on the rise and new COVID cases are declining—sharply. Impeachment is almost behind us. Schools that have remained shuttered all year are feeling the pressure to open. And here in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine completely lifted our statewide curfew, so we can stay out past 11.

So maybe we don’t need to get rid of February altogether. But next year, just to be safe, how about we make like bears and hibernate through it? In the meantime, grab a warm beverage and snuggle up with our best stuff from the past week.

What the Pandemic Has Exposed About the Politics of Public Health

For all the questions the pandemic has presented over the last year—how well do masks work, when are we going to get effective treatments, are the kids ever going back to school?—there’s a big one whose answer remains frustratingly elusive: How did this all begin? China finally let in a team of scientists from the World Health Organization to investigate. The team ruled out both China’s preferred theory — that it came in from elsewhere via frozen food — and the theory that is most politically damaging to the Chinese Communist Party — that it escaped the Wuhan Institute of Virology. But the whole episode reveals something important that is only tangential to the pandemic itself: the way that our public health organizations inevitably get drawn into politics. The WHO has faced  well-deserved criticism for too willingly accepting China’s (often misleading) messaging on the pandemic, but Andrew’s reporting demonstrates why it’s important for WHO to keep working with China despite the headaches: It’s been the source of so many disease outbreaks in recent decades.

Wrongthink and Word Choice

An award-winning veteran public health reporter for the New York Times resigned after The Daily Beast reported that, on a 2019 spring break trip with high school students sponsored by the Times, he repeated a racial slur while discussing whether one of their classmates should be suspended for using it in a video when she was 12. In the midweek G-File (🔐), Jonah isn’t relishing the opportunity to have a long discussion about the n-word or even cancel culture more broadly, but it’s “one tiny facet in the disco ball of dysfunction currently lighting up the political landscape.” He contrasts that incident with one more example—how Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyers are trying to defend him against a charge of incitement by claiming that his speech is protected. “The Times wants to criminalize language regardless of context—figuratively speaking—and Trump’s lawyers want to absolve crimes—or high crimes and misdemeanors—involving words, regardless of context,” he writes. 

The Dangers of the Derp State

As we told you last week, former Fox News political director Chris Stirewalt has joined The Dispatch as a contributing editor. In his first contribution, he dives right into the chicken-and-egg question of whether Donald Trump is a symptom or cause of our current political atmosphere. He looks at the usual suspects—economic shifts, our tendency to seek out media that conforms to our viewpoint, even our education system—and writes that Trump’s influence is so widespread that it makes a proper diagnosis difficult. But also: “Foolishness is nothing new in America,” he writes. “This is the country of P.T. Barnum, medicine shows and pet rocks, after all. But our current concentration of imbeciles has surpassed any kind of safe level. How we became a nation of so many dupes and fools is a matter at least as complicated as the causes of Trump’s presidency.”

And now for the best of our rest:

  • Ryan Bourne and Oliver Wiseman remind Democrats that, back before they were in power, they cautioned that we had to kill the virus to save the economy. Now they are ignoring their own advice.

  • What to do about trolls and bots and everything else that ruins social media? Christian Schneider makes the case for sites to ban anonymity.

  • Joe Biden has upended Donald Trump’s policy on the Yemen civil war, but Danielle Pletka points out that, in the end, his policy is really no different from his predecessor’s: “A set of demands for power sharing with no leverage and no teeth.” 

  • Why do U.S. cruise ships sailing between domestic ports make a point to stop in Canada? In Capitolism (🔐), Scott Lincicome explains everything Jones Act and why it’s such a drag on our shipping industry.

  • Can’t get enough Stirewalt? Sarah interviews him for a members-only edition of The Sweep (🔐).

  • And the pods: On The Dispatch Podcast, the gang analyzes the impeachment trial, in particular the harrowing videos from inside the Capitol on January 6. David and Sarah also touch on impeachment in Advisory Opinions, but admit it: you want to know their take on the Zoom cat lawyer. And on the Remnant, Jonah is joined by Ayaan Hirsi Ali to discuss her new book, Prey.

Our Best Stuff From a Week We Didn’t Get Stuck in a Bill Murray Movie

Liz Cheney keeps her leadership position, Mitt Romney introduces the Family Security act, and more.

Admit it: You woke up a little nervous on Wednesday, didn’t you? You were worried that your clock radio would be playing the same tune as Tuesday and the DJs would, with a little too much enthusiasm, announce that it was Groundhog Day, right?  

Good news: We made it. Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow, but consigned us merely to six more weeks of winter. I think we can agree that there were far worse things he could have given us six more weeks of: Donald Trump’s Twitter account or Andrew Cuomo’s book tour, for example. (I would not have complained about six more episodes of Lupin, though.)

As far as the news cycle goes, we haven’t quite turned the corner on Donald Trump and his administration, but we’re approaching the intersection. His impeachment trial looms next week. Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy, released a “documentary” called Absolute Proof that purports to lay out how Trump actually won the 2020 election. But it mostly made news for the disclaimer that OAN is running before airings in an attempt to avoid being sued by Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, saying that Lindell purchased the airtime and that the film contains “opinions only.” 

Meanwhile, the House GOP is moving on after some Trump-tangential infighting. Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan led an effort to have Liz Cheney—who as conference chair is the House’s No. 3 Republican—removed from GOP leadership for her vote to impeach Trump. And Donald Trump made calls to House members, urging them to oust her. But as we reported in TheMorning Dispatch, Cheney offered a vociferous defense on her own behalf in a GOP Conference meeting that lasted four hours. Gaetz had said before the meeting that he was worried “the establishment is going to find a way to kick the question, avoid a vote.” In fact, Cheney called for the vote herself. And she won, 145-61. 

“This is about the direction of our party, and whether or not we’re going to be a minority who’s dedicated to just one person, or we’re going to be a united Republican majority,” Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Cheney backer, told The Dispatch.

And Mitt Romney decided it was time to get the GOP in the legislation business again. He introduced the Family Security Act, which would give families allowances of $250 per child for kids ages 6 to 17 and $350 per child for those younger. Importantly, it’s deficit neutral, paying for itself by eliminating or paring back other deductions like the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit, and some analysts have said it could upend welfare as we know it. It will be interesting to see how the debate plays out. Lyman Stone of the American Enterprise Institute has a good Twitter thread about how, even as the checks will go to anyone, regardless of income level, it will have pro-marriage and pro-family benefits for those at the lower end of the income spectrum. (But that should merely supplement your reading, because The Morning Dispatch covered it too.)

As for The Dispatch, we decided to break a little news via podcast this week. I highly recommend you listen to all of Friday’s Dispatch Podcast, in which former Fox News political director Chris Stirewalt joined Steve, Sarah, and Jonah. But I can’t resist spoiling their big reveal (hey, it’s been out there for a whole day now): Stirewalt is joining The Dispatch as a contributing editor! Look for him to be featured on other podcasts, and we’re eager for him to have his first byline. If you missed his Los Angeles Times op-ed on calling Arizona for Joe Biden on election night, check it out. It sounds many of the same themes that we hit in our founding manifesto

Now, here’s our best stuff from the week that was.

Do States Have Enough Federal Funding to Safely Reopen Public Schools?

It’s hard to argue with money being spent to help schools reopen, right? We want our kids—and their teachers—to be safe, and we want them to be able to learn in-person. But what if money isn’t the big problem? Joe Biden has proposed $130 billion for that purpose in his $1.9 trillion COVID spending package. Dan Lips, from the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity dug into data from the Department of Education and found that states have yet to touch between $53 and $63 billion of the federal funds already made available to them. “In December, the CDC estimated that implementing its recommended mitigation strategies in pre-K and K-12 schools would cost between $55 to $442 per child. With approximately 51 million K-12 public school students across the nation, ensuring these safety measures are taken at all schools should cost roughly $23 billion,” he writes.

Can We Have (Another) Conversation About Cancel Culture?

Cancel culture is real, and it’s a problem. People have lost jobs or faced public humiliation when potentially offensive tweets “resurface” or good-faith arguments on contentious issues are deemed unacceptable. But “cancel culture” is not what is going on with Marjorie Taylor Greene or Josh Hawley. The House—including 11 Republicans—voted to strip Greene of her committee assignments after GOP leadership declined to do so. Greene has promoted QAnon, said that school shootings were false flag operations, and called for the execution of Democratic politicians. She’s still a member of Congress. Hawley lost a book deal after leading the effort to reject some states’ electoral votes. He’s still a senator, and he has a new book deal.  But real examples abound, and in French Press (🔐) David details them: Majdi Wadi lost the lease for his bakery after it was revealed his 24-year-old daughter had made racist and anti-semitic social media posts as a teenager, and progressive data analyst David Shor lost his job after tweeting a study that showed that non-violent protests help Democratic vote share but violent protests hurt it. “Decent people are losing jobs or suffering catastrophic reputational loss for engaging even in respectful dissent. At the same time, indecent people are using righteous anger at the plight of the decent as a shield for their own misconduct.”  

A New Fairness Doctrine Is an Old, Bad Idea

It’s popular among some conservatives these days to push for more regulation of the internet. They believe that social media companies “censor” conservative viewpoints, and Amazon Web Services’ decision not to host Parler after the upstart company ran afoul of its contract has added to the calls. But we’ve been down this road, and it didn’t turn out so well. Paul Matzko offers up a history lesson on the Fairness Doctrine. From 1949 through 1987, the FCC cited a “scarcity rationale”—the government controlled the airwaves and there were only so many broadcast licenses to be had—to require broadcasters to accommodate the “expression of the contrasting views of all responsible elements in the community” on controversial issues. How did that work in practice? JFK used it to tamp down on critics from right-wing radio, and LBJ employed it to demand free airtime from radio hosts who criticized his escalation of the Vietnam War. Well, then. 

AOC’s January 6 Account

Earlier this week, Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to her favorite platform, Instagram, to discuss her experience during the storming of the Capitol on January 6. What ensued offers up some lessons for the media, as Haley explains in Uphill. In her livestream, AOC detailed her fear as she heard pounding on her office door, saying she was worried it was a rioter. By the time she shared that he was actually a police officer, the damage had been done: Reporters live-tweeting her remarks had already sent out the message that it was a rioter. That proved hard to walk back; the misimpression made it as far as The Today Show. Further confusion resulted from the fact that AOC’s office is not in the Capitol building but in the nearby Cannon office building, which is connected to the Capitol via tunnels. AOC explained she was in Cannon, but people still claimed that she lied about being in the Capitol. Haley points out how the disinformation is unhelpful, to say the least: “Because of the widespread confusion about what she actually said, much of the right-wing pushback to her story in the days since has really been in response to bits and pieces of her account taken out of context,” she writes.

And here are a few other things you might have missed.

  • In a very entertaining G-File, Jonah offers what we wish would be the last words on MyPillow magnate Mike Lindell. The Gutenberg printing press, Doc Brown’s DeLorean, and the Avengers’ infinity stones all make an appearance.

  • Loyal readers of Vital Interests are probably aware that Tom Joscelyn is no fan of the Doha deal the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan. But he reminds us again, warning the Biden administration (🔐) that it will have a big decision to make in the coming weeks.

  • Sarah is here to remind us that campaign season never really ends. In The Sweep  (🔐), she talks to Dan Sena, the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 2018 cycle. They discuss how parties recruit candidates, how they choose which districts to contest, and more.

  • Joe Biden wants to put a $15 an hour minimum wage in his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan. In Capitolism (🔐), Scott Lincicome goes in-depth on the many downsides of a big minimum wage increase: It costs jobs, reduces fringe benefits and perks for people in low-wage occupations, and hits small businesses especially hard.

  • The pods! The pods! If the legal nerdery on Advisory Opinions isn’t always your thing, maybe the typographical nerdery will be. Don’t miss David and Sarah’s debate about fonts. Apropos of nothing (cough cough), Jonah welcomes Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist who specializes in conspiracy theories, to The Remnant. Last but not least, on the first Dispatch Podcast of the week, the gang discusses the willingness of Joe Biden and the Democrats to try to push through the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill without GOP support.

Our Best Stuff From the Week We Learned About Short Stocks

GameStop, stimulus, teachers unions, and a frank conversation with a retiring GOP senator.

Happy Saturday, everyone! How’s your GameStop stock doing? 

This week, Joe Biden issued some more executive orders, and the Senate confirmed Antony Blinken to be secretary of state. Our vaccination distribution continued to improve, albeit modestly, with an average of 1.3 million jabs a day. Some states began easing pandemic restrictions, seeming to acknowledge the reality that, if the virus is spreading in homes, maybe it’s not the best idea to incentivize people to socialize “underground” in private gatherings. And yet, with all of that going on, the nation watched riveted as a bunch of Reddit users took on hedge funds by pumping up the stock of a video-game chain that operates like Blockbuster Video in a Netflix world. It’s safe to say that 2021 is really enjoying this game of “Hold my beer.” 

Don’t worry. I’m not here to give you stock advice or launch into a deep dive on the inner workings of hedge funds (or even Reddit). But there’s one thing I noticed about coverage of the GameStop story that encouraged me. As the story unfolded, plenty of people asked questions like, “What the heck is a short sale?” 

The internet has put an immeasurable amount of information at our fingertips. But it’s still tricky to sort for quality. A common refrain among vaccine skeptics, for example, is that, “I have done my research.” And a common retort is, “Congratulations on your degree from Google University.”

This false sense of confidence reached a peak in 2020. The pandemic made everyone an epidemiologist, and the protests over the summer made everyone an expert on criminal justice reform. And the election? Well, let me point you in the direction of the Dispatch Fact Check home page. The problems became clear immediately: We bickered over masks, over defunding the police, and over mail-in ballots. Since so many people had convinced themselves they were right, that they knew the REAL truth, we could never find any common ground. 

It’s good to admit when you don’t know something, especially for journalists. Our jobs are to research, to investigate, to report. And the world of finance is very complicated. My husband is a financial adviser, and I like to think that I’ve picked some basic knowledge of the world over the years. And yet I’ve probably had him explain to me how shorting stocks works—and then forgotten the details—half a dozen times over the course of our marriage.

I admit, I’m often on the lookout for something about which to be optimistic. It’s a bit of a survival mechanism in a pandemic that has dragged on and can leave you with a sense of being overwhelmed. We don’t know how this particular story will end. It’s OK to say so. And maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll remember that next time we’re faced with something that we don’t understand.

If you want to catch up on the GameStop story, we did some great work this week in The Morning Dispatch, on both Thursday and Friday. We also spent some considerable time looking at the state of the conservative movement, reported on Democrats’ plans to move on COVID relief, and more. Thanks as always for reading.

There’s a Blue Ocean of Possibility for a Reasonable GOP

For all the talk about being the “party of science,” the Democrats are having a bit of a science denial problem right now. Joe Biden has been outspoken about his goal of reopening schools, but in spite of considerable evidence that is safe to have kids learning in-person, an important part of the Democratic coalition remains fervently opposed: teachers unions. Meanwhile, out in San Francisco, schools are closed but the school board found time to rename 44 schools in the district. Did the liberal bastion somehow forget it had schools named after Confederate generals or ravaging explorers? Nope. Schools named after George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and even Sen. Dianne Feinstein were on the list. If only there were a reasonable opposition party grounded in facts. About that, David has some thoughts.

Who Is Behind the Thwarted Attacks on Riyadh?

When news broke that Saudi Arabia had intercepted two incoming missiles over Riyadh in recent days, it seemed like a potential tragedy averted, but not much was known about who did it. Charlotte waded into the confusing geopolitics of it all, explaining how, whether it was Houthi rebels angry about Saudi support for Yemen in the civil war or a newly formed insurgent group in Iraq, both of those groups are backed by Iran. And that has implications for the new administration. “Just days into the Biden presidency, the Islamic Republic is testing the boundaries of a new American regime,” she writes.

Let’s Talk About Those $1,400 Checks

We’ve spent $3.1 trillion on COVID economic relief so far. That money has helped keep businesses open and provided unemployed workers with expanded benefits. Now, the Democrats would like to pass another $1.9 trillion COVID economic relief package. Scott Winship asks whether we need it, particularly the relief checks for $1,400 per person. “Congress may need to extend at least some of the unemployment insurance provisions further, as they are set to expire in March and April, but the food stamp provisions are in place into June. Anti-poverty policy, by and large, has been up to the task.” The checks won’t guarantee economic stimulus, as Americans are saving at a high rate and will spend once opportunities to travel and shop return to normal. “Even if you aren’t worried about the debt, there is an opportunity cost to spending  $500 billion on badly targeted checks that aren’t needed to keep poverty down,” he writes.

An Interview With Sen. Rob Portman

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has announced his retirement. Steve hopped on the phone with him, and they had a fascinating conversation about our current political climate. Portman had a refreshing answer about his reasons for retirement: “I had to make a decision about the next eight years of my life. I do love being home, and eight years from now, I would be in my mid-70s and less able to be engaged in the things I'd like to do.” He also made an important statement about how we’ve gotten to a point where politicians are incentivized to prioritize communications over legislation—there is a lot less attention paid to actual governance anymore. “There’s one stringer left, there’s literally one Ohio reporter left in Washington; she’s with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and she’s terrific. And, you know, she actually writes about our policy successes sometimes. But other than that, there’s nobody, and there were, I don’t know, maybe six when I got elected. When I was in the House there were 12, literally 12. The Cleveland Plain Dealer had two or three. Cincinnati Enquirer had one, Cincinnati Post had one.”

And now for the best of the rest:

  • There have been calls for the U.S. to speed up approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine since it is being administered in the U.K. James Capretta and Scott Ganz say “not so fast,” and explain why approval might take a little time.

  • In the G-File, Jonah wades into the “space laser” story to highlight the problems the GOP has with the “right-wing entertainers,” and how the party has an opportunity to to counter some of the silliness we’re seeing from the left, if only it could be serious for a moment.

  • In Capitolism, Scott Lincicome is here to bust the “deindustrialization” myth that has helped give rise to protectionism for the manufacturing industry. 

  • In Uphill, Haley Byrd Wilt has everything you need to know about the Democrats’ push to move forward on COVID economic relief, with or without GOP support.

  • Now that Trump is out of office, Andy Smarick looks at how our institutions held up in the face of his time in office, especially the months after the election.

On the pods: I admit I’m partial to Jonah’s interview with Will Saletan of Slate on The Remnant, as Will is a former colleague and a friend. But it’s a great conversation. And also to Steve and Sarah’s interview with Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez—not just because he’s from my home state (and his district is near my hometown), but also because he’s a former Buckeye football player. Lastly, don’t miss David and Sarah’s Advisory Opinions podcast if you’re curious about the legal doctrine of “munsingwear.”

Our Best Stuff From the Week We (Kind of) Got a Fresh Start

An end of an era, and what comes next.

It’s a bright sunny Saturday here in the Dispatch Ohio bureau. But when you step outside, it’s mighty cold. It feels like a metaphor for our current moment. Donald Trump has left Washington, but he hasn’t quite gone away. His impeachment trial looms, and the New York Times reported last night that he tried to oust acting Attorney General Jeffery A. Rosen and replace him with a lower-level staffer who supported the effort to overturn the election. And as we get closer to vaccinating 1 million or more Americans each day, the daily death toll from the pandemic hovers near 4,000. Even as we have reason for hope and optimism, reality can take your breath away.

It’s a new year, but one that doesn’t yet feel much different from the one we were so eager to leave behind. Still, there were some steps toward normalcy this week. Two weeks after the frightening events at the Capitol, Joe Biden, who won the 2020 presidential election, was inaugurated. There was a little less pomp and circumstance—and many more National Guardsmen—than normal, but we concluded the peaceful transition of power that has been a hallmark of our republic.

Meanwhile, Democrats are cooking up plans to spend even more money, and Republicans seem to have remembered they are supposed to be the party of fiscal responsibility. And Americans everywhere came together this week to use social media for the purpose for which it is best suited: memes. Bernie Sanders’ grumpy mug was edited into movies, TV shows, album covers, and even other memes. Nature is healing. 

It’s possible that I might be yearning for normalcy a tiny bit more than most: COVID hit our household a couple of weeks ago when our 14-year-old son tested positive, and we are just now coming out of quarantine. He had only minor symptoms, and we enacted a strict “stop the spread” policy by sending him to his room with the Xbox and leaving his meals outside his door. Luckily, none of the rest of us developed symptoms. It wasn’t a terrible time, as it’s easy enough to get groceries and meals delivered and there are a few things on Netflix we hadn’t seen yet. (If you need a pick-me-up, let me recommend The Peanut Butter Falcon, a quietly charming modern-day take on Huckleberry Finn. And, yes, the timing on the latest season of Cobra Kai was fortuitous.) Our sons’ teachers, having been dealing with quarantined students for most of the year, were super helpful in helping them stay on track. 

Coming weeks will show us whether Joe Biden will govern as the healing centrist he ran as or will move to appease the impatient left wing of his party. We’ll glean more insight into the future of the Republican party and the conservative movement as a whole. But this week showed that American’s institutions, while a little shaken, are solid. We’ll take it.

Biden's Two Tasks: Repairing Deep Divisions and Defeating a Deadly Disease

Joe Biden’s inauguration has David thinking back to Ronald Reagan’s, and he notes that each man entered office facing twin challenges. Reagan had to “revive the American spirit, and he had to restore American power.” Biden, meanwhile, “has to restore a significant measure of American unity, and he has to defeat a deadly virus.” As daunting as the pandemic is, David suspects that the former challenge is the biggest. And he writes that Biden’s inaugural address offers promise. “I’m not naïve. I know that it’s far, far easier to welcome dissent in the abstract than it is in the actual heat of American political debate, where overreaction seems to be the only acceptable reaction to any political position. But the aspiration is there, at least, and an aspiration is a start.”  

Would Markets Have Handled the Vaccine Rollout Better Than Government?

We’ve probably all seen the memes and jokes about how if we just let Amazon or Chick-fil-A handle vaccine distribution, we’d all have been inoculated by now. But in Capitolism (🔐) Scott Lincicome asks the question earnestly. He walks through Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration effort to fund the research, development, and production of several vaccines. He notes what it got right and what it got wrong, detailing confusion and rancor over prioritization policies and uneven progress from state to state. And then he asks whether the markets could have handled better. It’s a straightforward question, but the answer is complicated: He applauds the government funding for research, the rewards to companies that delivered, and the benefits of our globalized trade policies. “What came up short, on the other hand, was regulatory inflexibility and extensive meddling in … complex manufacturing and distribution supply chains that have evolved over decades based on millions of interactions between suppliers and their customers.” (If you want to feel better about the U.S. effort, though, don’t miss this piece from Dalibor Rohac on the EU’s vaccine rollout.)

I’m Not Going To Say I Told You So ... But

On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump departed the White House for the last time. And Jonah has a few things to get off his chest. He is frustrated that so many on the right are still carrying water for Trump after his tenure resulted in the GOP losing the White House and Congress, and after the events that have transpired since the election. “Not since (the often unfairly maligned) Herbert Hoover has a president delivered the trifecta of losing the White House, the Senate, and the House after a single term. Yet, to listen to the primetime apologists and their enabling coteries, it is Donald Trump who is owed an apology from Democrats and unceasing effusions of praise from Republicans.” (Also, if you’re a fan of his canine updates, be sure to read all the way to the bottom.)

And now for the best of the rest:

  • The Abraham Accords, which were negotiated by the Trump administration, are a remarkable step forward in relations between Israel and moderate Arab States like UAE and Bahrain. But Joseph Hammond argues that the new agreement between Sudan and Israel might be the most important one yet.

  • In Uphill, Haley looks at the campaign to have Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican and only woman in GOP leadership, removed as GOP Conference chair for her support for Trump’s impeachment. (If you’re not receiving Uphill in your inbox, you can fix that here.)

  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a few important moves regarding China on his way out the door: He lifted restrictions on U.S. officials communicating with Taiwan and declared that China’s treatment of the Uighurs amounts to genocide. In Vital Interests (🔐), Thomas Joscelyn discusses what that means for the Biden administration.

  • You might have thought the campaign season was over. Hahaha. In The Sweep, Sarah gets right to work on what to expect in 2021, 2022 and … (we’re sorry) 2024.

  • The appointment of Gen. Lloyd Austin to be defense secretary was historic, as he is the first African American to serve in the position, and his 93-2 confirmation is a bright moment for bipartisanship in a tense time. But Eric Edelman and Roger Zakehim caution that we must return to our tradition of civilian control over the military.

  • Last but definitely not least, the pods: Can Joe Biden do anything about our polarization? David and Sarah discuss that and his flurry of executive orders on Advisory Opinions. Put on your party hat: It’s the 300th episode of The Remnant. Tune in for a helping of Soviet conspiracies, Bigfoot Erotica and other greatest hits. And on The Dispatch Podcast, the gang react to Joe Biden’s inaugural address and discuss the future of the GOP.

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