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Our Best Stuff on Biden’s Classified Document Scandal, George Santos, and Gas Stoves
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Our Best Stuff on Biden’s Classified Document Scandal, George Santos, and Gas Stoves

No, really.

President Joe Biden. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Hello and happy Saturday. There is a long-running joke—one that lives mostly on Twitter but also creeps into online commentary—about how we’re living in someone else’s scripted television show. “The writers of this season of America are really kicking up the drama,” or “Who saw that plot twist coming from the writers this season?” Readers, I regret to tell you that I have my suspicions that the writers were on something this week, and I don’t mean vacation. 

Let’s look at the stories that dominated the headlines this week: On Monday, CBS News reported that lawyers for Joe Biden had discovered classified documents in an office he kept after he was vice president. In normal times, this might not be the end of the world—others have done it, Biden’s lawyers were apparently upfront about the issue and returned the documents to the National Archives, etc.—except for the fact, of course, that former President Donald Trump took a few hundred classified docs to Mar-a-Lago when he departed the White House in 2021. Twitter is somehow still up and running despite the centrifugal forces it was subjected to as millions of users did a 180 on whatever their prior strongly held beliefs regarding the handling of classified documents had been.

But we learned that the documents had been discovered on November 2, a week before the midterms, and no one had said a peep until CBS News broke the story. Not only does that lend itself to the idea that the White House kept everything hush-hush so as not to affect the election, but it let people know that the administration had two months to prepare its response for whenever the news would inevitably break. That time was … not used wisely. Because on Wednesday we learned that Biden’s lawyers had found more classified docs, this time in the garage of his home in Wilmington, Delaware. Wow, that was fast, a reasonable person might think. Right after the story broke, they did the responsible thing and went to see if there were more documents elsewhere. Nope. Those documents had been found on December 20, but for some reason, no one thought to get out in front of that when acknowledging the original story earlier in the week. 

Who would think they could try to hide all that info and not come away looking bad? Oh, I dunno. Maybe George Santos? Which brings me to another of this week’s big stories. Santos is the freshman representative from New York who lied about, well, pretty much everything en route to getting elected. There is no easy path to getting him out of office, but new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is hesitant to take the steps he could, such as denying him committee spots or censuring him. After all, McCarthy has a narrow majority and Santos supported him. Now, it’s not all bad news: As Haley reports in Uphill (🔒), New York Republicans are calling on him to resign, and Santos might have more trouble clearing up a mystery about his campaign funding than he did about questions about his background. (“I never claimed to be Jewish. … I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’”) But still …

If that wasn’t enough silliness, how about a fight over gas stoves? No, really. In recent years, environmental activists have waged a campaign against natural gas, fighting to have cities and states outlaw new residential construction that features natural gas heat-ups for heating and cooking. While they’ve had some success in places like California, their concerns have been largely ignored elsewhere. Taking a new tack, environmentalists have started arguing that it’s a health hazard that correlates to an increased risk of asthma in kids. The Consumer Protection Safety Commission has taken note, and Bloomberg published a story on Monday headlined “US Safety Agency to Consider Ban on Gas Stoves Amid Health Fears.” Its source was CPSC commissioner Richard Trumka.  

The story caused a furor, and the CPSC quickly walked it back. The story didn’t die, though, it just shifted. As Jonah noted in his Friday G-File, the media created a narrative that the push to ban gas stoves was just a figment of the imagination of “right-wing gasbags” seeking a new front in the culture war. “How dare all of these idiot conservatives think the government is considering a ban on gas stoves,” Jonah writes. “I mean, where would they possibly get that idea? These poltroons read a Bloomberg headline accurately, the fools!”

The thing is, these are serious stories. Proper handling of classified documents is important! There should be repercussions for elected officials who lie about their backgrounds, education, professional careers, and charitable endeavors on their way to office. How much control the government should exert over our home lives, whether it be for health or environmental reasons or anything else, is a conversation worth having. 

But it’s hard to take these things seriously when the principal figures in them don’t. And so everything quickly devolves into a divisive spectacle, with everyone retreating to their corner and screaming at the other side. Every day is like a WWE SmackDown marathon. 

Maybe that’s the show we’re all living in. And there’s a certain appeal in indulging in the joke that our reality is a product of someone else’s imagination. There’s just one flaw, though: You cannot make this stuff up. 

Thanks for reading. And, as you’ll see below, there were a few other things that we weighed in on this week. Have a great weekend.

It’s not every day that David French quotes Joseph Stalin, so know that it serves a purpose when he does. In his Tuesday French Press (🔒), David looks at the current state of affairs in Ukraine as Russia closes in on the city of Bakhmut. Stalin’s quote that “quantity has a quality all its own” illustrates David’s point that the current fight over the city of Bakhmut could be a loss even for whichever side wins the battle—depending on the amount of resources expended. And in this case, it matters less whether Russian troops are poorly trained and equipped and not battle tested, because Russia just keeps calling up more. He lays out three scenarios for the end of the war: Russia’s resolve hardens while Western interest and support wither, the West’s support remains but only enough to match Russia’s resolve, or “Western support and Ukrainian valor overcome Russian resolve.” He argues, you won’t be surprised to read, for the third: “Fear of Russian escalation in the face of total battlefield defeat would mean that Western powers won’t give Ukraine the tools to win. Yet making a strategic choice to settle for a stalemate could not only yield even greater bloodshed, over time it could diminish support for the substantial aid that’s still necessary to merely stop Russia, much less throw it back to its borders.” For specifics on how the U.S. can help Ukraine, read Charlotte’s piece on Ukraine’s request for tanks and what Western nations may send.

As Kevin McCarthy’s struggle to become speaker stretched for multiple days and eventually 15 votes, even casual observers would have learned that an organization called Club for Growth was pulling strings behind the scenes and expected concessions from McCarthy to encourage the politicians it endorsed to vote for him. What gives? Audrey explains in this well-reported piece. The organization that was strongly libertarian during the Tea Party era has become a MAGA megaphone in the Trump era, throwing its weight (and money) behind anti-establishment candidates via its Club for Growth Action super PAC. And during the 2022 GOP primaries, some of its candidates faced opposition from candidates who were funded by various McCarthy-aligned groups. Hence the concession from McCarthy that his Congressional Leadership Fund would not contest open primaries going forward.  And how will that work out? “It could result in more Freedom Caucus-style candidates making it through Republican primaries and into the House—further weakening McCarthy’s hand in future negotiations with his own party,” Audrey writes. 

Earlier this month we ran a piece from Keith Whittington detailing how Hamline College, a small liberal arts school in Minnesota, recently dismissed an adjunct art-history professor, Erika Lopez Prater, who showed her class a painting that included the Prophet Mohammed. A Muslim student complained, apologies were issued (and deemed insufficient), and the administration rallied behind the student. Whittington criticized the school for its decision to treat academic freedom as secondary to the feelings of students. In Boiling Frogs, Nick is still thinking about the story and the whole thing has him recalling earlier kerfuffles over depictions of Mohammed, which is an affront to some—but not all—Muslims. He cites the example of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which faced threats from Muslim fundamentalists in 2005 after printing cartoons that featured Mohammed, and he warns about “liberal institutions smuggling illiberalism into the West in the guise of ‘sensitivity.’” Prater disclosed on her syllabus that the work would be discussed, warned students that she’d be showing the painting and allowed them to leave if they would be offended. It mattered not. But what’s ironic about the whole thing, Nick notes, is that “if Prater hadn’t been so keen to ‘decolonize’ her global art survey by making sure to include Islamic works, the entire controversy would have been avoided. By straining to make sure that Muslim culture was represented in class—an act of true sensitivity—she stumbled into a ‘sensitivity’ buzzsaw.” 

Here’s the best of the rest:

  • Richard Goldberg and Rebeccah Heinrichs make the case that if Ukraine is going to do better than just defend itself, President Biden must stop hemming and hawing over potential Russian escalation and start giving Volodymyr Zelensky what he needs to win the war. 
  • I’d be remiss if I did not recommend Kevin’s essay on George Santos’ fakery and how it’s a reflection of our “extraordinary status anxiety”: “We are all standing on a vast beach of bulls–t and surprised to see little Georgie making bulls–t castles.” 
  • In Stirewaltisms (🔒), Chris cites some advice that former Speaker Paul Ryan offered to Kevin McCarthy—“You have to be willing to lose the job if you want to be good at these jobs”—and says it applies just as much to President Biden and the coterie of Republicans who are considering running to challenge him in 2024.
  • Many employers—mostly in high-paying fields but not always—require staffers to sign contracts with non-compete clauses, which restricts their options for other jobs and which research indicates might drive down wages. The Federal Trade Commission is looking into the practice, and The Morning Dispatch has a great summary
  • Are schools in Fairfax County, Virginia, waging a “war on merit”? Between a controversial admissions policy at the exclusive Thomas Jefferson that reeks of discrimination against Asian Americans and the news that some schools in the county have failed to notify students who receive National Merit Scholarship Corporation commendations—which are important for college admissions and scholarships—it looks like it. Price has the details
  • One bit of housekeeping: Klon Kitchen is bidding a fond farewell (but not goodbye) to The Dispatch so he can pursue other professional opportunities. We’ll have news soon about our coverage of national security and tech issues, but in the meantime check out the final edition of The Current (🔒).
  • Finally, the pods: Can teachers wear MAGA hats? Can the ATF ban bump stocks?  David and Sarah discuss these important First and Second Amendment issues on Advisory Opinions. Speaking of big questions, on Good Faith David and co-host Curtis Chang ask another one: What is courage? On The Remnant, Jonah welcomes James Pethokoukis and they chat about technology, artificial intelligence, and the future. Their big question: Where are the flying cars we were promised? And on The Dispatch Podcast, the gang discusses all the details of Biden’s classified document scandal.

Rachael Larimore is managing editor of The Dispatch and is based in the Cincinnati area. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she served in similar roles at Slate, The Weekly Standard, and The Bulwark. She and her husband have three sons.