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.