Our Best Stuff From a Week We Shot Down Some UFOs

Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder speaks during a press briefing at the Pentagon on February 10, 2023. The Pentagon announced that the U.S. military shot down an unidentified object that was flying over Alaska. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.)

Hello and happy Sunday.  I don’t know about you but I, for one, welcome our new alien overlords. Okay, just kidding. I hope. I’d like to think there’s a more comprehensible—and terrestrial—explanation for why the U.S. has shot down two mysterious “objects,” one off the coast of Alaska on Friday and one one over Canada (the latter on orders from Justin Trudeau; NORAD carried out the operation). But I gotta say, the messaging hasn’t exactly been comforting. 

When news first broke that the first “object” had been shot down on Friday, everyone’s first instinct was that it was another balloon, coming so quickly on the heels of the Chinese spy balloon that floated over the United States the week before. But then we found out it was the size of a small car. And White House spokesman John Kirby told the media, “There’s no indication that it’s from a nation.” To be fair, he was following up on an earlier statement that, “We do not know who owns it, whether it’s a — whether it’s state owned or — or corporate owned, or privately owned.” But you can guess which soundbite made its way to Twitter. 

Twitter is also where I found an interview with Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who told viewers she’d just come out of a classified briefing and later said, “I understand that perhaps we might be dealing with different, uh, different entities here.” To be fair (again), she’d just been comparing Friday’s shootdown to the way the Biden administration handled the spy balloon, so she probably meant an “entity” other than China. 

But words matter! And we live in a time in which brief snippets are grabbed from longer conversations, stripping them of context, and sent out to go viral on social media. And everyone knows that the most sensational snippets are what everyone remembers. 

And this mystery raises plenty of questions even as an earthbound phenomenon. Take Kirby’s comment that we don’t know whether “it’s state owned or — or corporate owned, or privately owned.” We certainly have an eclectic group of billionaires in this country, but Elon Musk already has a government contract that allows him to launch things skyward and Peter Thiel’s weird ambition is to build cities that float on the ocean. And Mark Zuckerberg is busy trying to create a virtual world, not necessarily mess with the real world. Is there some modern-day Howard Hughes we don’t know about?

The phrase “out of an abundance of caution” entered the lexicon in a big way during the pandemic. It’s clearly here to stay, because the Biden administration cited it as a reason to wait until the spy balloon was over the ocean to shoot it down and also to shoot down the object over Alaska within a day of being briefed by the Pentagon.

We’re all tired of that phrase, but it would be nice if people in positions of power could keep it in mind before they utter statements that make us start humming the X-Files theme song. Now, excuse me. I need to go check our zombie apocalypse pantry to see how many jars of peanut butter we have on hand. Thanks for reading and have a good weekend.

Put Trump Veterans in Political Timeout

Nikki Haley is announcing her candidacy next week, Mike Pence is heading to Iowa, and Mike Pompeo is making the rounds pushing a book that is all but a campaign announcement. What should we do about these former members of the Trump administration—and others who are seeking other offices and opportunities? “My own belief is that the senior figures in the Trump administration … should never again hold any position of public trust—or, if not never again, at least not in the foreseeable future,” Kevin writes in Wanderland (🔒). It might be his own belief, but it’s not a matter of personal animosity to those who enabled Trump. “The point of keeping Trump administration veterans out of positions of public trust is not to punish them—it is to keep them out of positions of public trust. We should do that because the public cannot trust them. 

The One-Legged Stool

Those of us old enough to remember the 1980s might think that Reaganism died with Donald Trump’s election in 2016. That’s not quite right, Nick argues in Boiling Frogs (🔒). Invoking The Princess Bride’s Westley, Nick argues that Reaganism is only “mostly dead.” And he predicts that the 2024 election will finish it off. He notes that there will be some Reaganite candidates—Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo—who could enter the race and run campaigns that will try to appeal to the traditional “three-legged stool” coalition, a term Reagan used to describe the fiscal conservatives, defense hawks, and social conservatives that made up the GOP. But in the end, Nick predicts, the race is going to come down to two candidates—Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump—who will focus their campaigns on just one leg: the social conservatives. Trump might be a “louche billionaire playboy from Manhattan” but his Supreme Court nominees ensured that Roe v. Wade would be overturned, and meanwhile, DeSantis is waging a constant culture war.  “​​Nationalism is a program of isolationism, welfare-state liberalism, and cultural conservatism,” he writes. “The third of those three is the only one that also functions as a leg of Reagan’s three-legged stool, and because it does, it should remain sturdy in 2024. … What’s a Reaganite to do?”

Club for Growth Previews Its Senate Playbook

The Club for Growth, an anti-tax organization, has already shown it can influence the Republican Party in significant ways: Kevin McCarthy only won the speakership after making concessions to the group, which had urged the representatives it supports to vote against him. Now it’s turning its attention to the 2024 Senate elections, Audrey reports. She notes that former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels decided against a Senate run after the Club said it would back GOP Rep. Jim Banks. And the group is recruiting candidates in Montana and West Virginia, but opting to stay out of races in bluer states like Michigan. “It may be that Peter Meijer’s the best candidate for Republicans to win the seat, but he might not have that good a score on our scorecard,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh. “So we would then strategically say: ‘Let’s just stay out.’” Beyond the Senate, there is one person the group is definitely not rushing to support: Donald Trump. “If he gets the nomination we’ll help him try to win,” McIntosh. “But the last three elections show that he’s lost.”

Falling in Line, Not in Love

If you watched the State of the Union on Tuesday, you can see why our previews of the event were less than enthusiastic. Amid the laundry list of programs and spending that Biden said he would get done, he accused the Republicans of wanting to sunset Social Security and Medicare and Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene booed loudly. The low point of the speech for fiscal conservatives might have been when Biden responded to the jeering by announcing, “Folks — so folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? They’re not to be — all right. We’ve got unanimity.”  The jeers turned to cheers. In his Wednesday G-File, Jonah wrote about how the jeering worked to Biden’s advantage. “The problem is that while it’s in Marjorie Taylor Greene’s interest to dress like a Narnian Ice Queen and boo Biden, it’s not in the interest of the GOP (or probably the country). The simple mathematical fact is that the people turned off by the crazies outnumber the people jazzed by them. That stuff divides Republicans, unites Democrats, and repels more people in the middle than it attracts.”

And here’s  the best of the rest:

  • In Capitolism (🔒), Scott Lincicome dove into how artificial intelligence chatbots might change the workforce. He argues that humans have long demonstrated a capacity to adjust to disruptive technologies. If that sounds a little too rosy to you, I can assure you that Scott did not ask ChatGPT to write his newsletter.
  • What’s the worst that can happen if we don’t get serious about our national debt? Price explains: “There is clear consensus that the United States’ ballooning debt will exacerbate the drag on economic growth and the risk of an acute crisis unless Congress undertakes serious reforms.”
  • There wasn’t a lot of national security talk in the State of the Union. Danielle Pletka notes that Biden is merely keeping in line with the previous two presidents and asks, “Is it any wonder that public support for America’s leadership role in the world is collapsing?”
  • Have you signed up to receive the new Dispatch Politics newsletter? This week Andrew, David Drucker, and Audrey looked into which Republicans might make a run for Michigan’s open Senate seat in 2024 and Audrey had a scoop about the 2024 Senate race in Nebraska.
  • Harvest reported from the House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing on immigration Tuesday. Two officers from Customs and Border Patrol testified, Republicans expressed concern about fentanyl, and Democrats accused Republicans of fearmongering and racism.
  • On the pods: On Advisory Opinions, David Lat joins Sarah and David French to discuss which kinds of anonymous speech should be protected, and they discuss a ranking of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever. Jonah is irritated by a series of asininities, which makes for a truly enjoyable solo Remnant. On The Dispatch Podcast, Declan talks to economist Jason Furman about the confusing state of the economy. Is a soft landing possible? And on Good Faith, Curtis Chang interviews White House veteran Peter Wehner about his career and his faith.
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