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Our Best Stuff on COVID, Kevin McCarthy, and Ukraine
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Our Best Stuff on COVID, Kevin McCarthy, and Ukraine

Plus, David French asks, ‘Can anything be normal for five minutes?’

Happy Sunday! We are in the throes of a busy and profound month here in the Ohio bureau. Our oldest son had his senior prom last night; senior awards were earlier in the week. In early May, we’ll get to attend the school’s “military signing day” for students going into the armed forces, as he’s accepted an Army ROTC scholarship. And then just a few weeks after that … graduation. 

After we got home from senior awards the other night, I realized it was only about four months until we’d be dropping him off at college (my alma mater, Ohio University, which brings me no small amount of happiness). Well, I’d known that on a factual level for some time, but it was then that it hit me on an emotional level. 

I can’t say anything that hasn’t been said a million times over by other parents grappling with the reality of this milestone: “The days are long; the years are short,” etc. But just because they are platitudes doesn’t make them any less meaningful when you’re in the moment. It can be unsettling to have such conflicting emotions: pride in their accomplishments, joy in seeing them celebrate longstanding traditions, all combined with questions and regrets: Did we give him enough guidance? Why didn’t we take more vacations? How did we slide almost imperceptibly from tucking him in each night with bedtime stories to being lucky to sit down to an occasional dinner as a family because of activities, part-time jobs, plans with friends?

We’ve been extremely lucky with our son. He’s mature and responsible. He spends time with his younger brothers. (It’s a small thing, but they have a routine of going out to lunch together—specifically without us!—on the weekends.) He doesn’t take the car without asking, but he’ll actually fill the gas tank without being asked. I mentioned the scholarship, right? Honestly, the only thing we really fight about besides politics—we are firm believers in letting kids sort that out on their own, and he’s a bit progressive—is that he signs up for too many shifts at his part-time job and we don’t get to see him as often as we’d like. 

Our next few weeks will be a whirlwind. I have a giant box of graduation announcements and party invitations to send. Ceremonies and parties to attend. Dozens of conversations with fellow parents that will mostly involve us asking each other, “Weren’t they just 10?” 

When I was growing up, my grandparents had a framed sign hanging in their family room with the famous Harriet Beecher Stowe quote: ​​“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots … the other, wings.” It always stuck with me. And now we’re about to find out how well we’ve done on that front.

Thanks as always for reading, and have a wonderful week ahead.

More than two years after “15 days to flatten the curve,” Virginia Hume delivers a thorough and detailed breakdown of how our COVID response broke down. She chronicles how experts initially “offered fairly gritty prognostications” about the challenges presented by a novel airborne virus—being upfront that it would be impossible to contain. But then China claimed to, and the agenda became containment rather than mitigation. She criticizes experts who delivered mixed messages and moved the goalposts throughout. She saves her sharpest critique for those who made COVID their only concern  and ignored the downsides of lockdowns, from the crime surge to overdose deaths, inflation, and–perhaps most important–learning loss and mental health issues for kids. “‘Schools are open’ has always been the default condition,” she writes. “Pandemic plans contemplating viruses particularly deadly to children did not recommend extended school closures. In many parts of the country, however, parents learned that the reward for their sacrifice was remote school as the new default condition.”

The House minority leader had a pretty bad day on Thursday. The New York Times Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin reported that in the aftermath of January 6, McCarthy told fellow Republicans that Donald Trump was responsible and should resign. McCarthy denied the reports, only to have the Times publish an audio recording of McCarthy saying exactly what had been reported. In Uphill, Haley has an excellent writeup of what happened and what it might mean for McCarthy in terms of dealing with a fractious GOP House caucus. “Believe it or not, some members of Congress want to be able to trust their leaders,” she writes. “They don’t want to constantly wonder whether they are being lied to. And, to take a more cynical tack, they don’t want a leader who stumbles into quagmires like this. It may not have immediate repercussions, but lawmakers won’t forget it, and it could turn into a potent line of attack in the future.” For more on McCarthy, with a little meandering through the multiverse and ponderings on the butterfly effect, check out Jonah’s Friday G-File.

David speaks for all of us with that headline, I think it’s safe to say. Specifically, he’s talking about Joe Biden and how the president has misread what his election victory meant. Americans craved a return to normalcy, but Biden has attempted to push through an ambitious and expansive agenda. “Even where Biden’s solidly in the mainstream, he’s suffered from imprudence,” he writes. “The prime example, and the moment where his approval rating really started its decline, was the withdrawal from Afghanistan. I’ve said it many times—Americans wanted to end the war, but they did not want to lose the war. A more prudent leader would have recognized the distinction.” Other ways that Biden misread the moment? Pushing for Build Back Better, supporting a sweeping Equality Act that would threaten religious freedom, and supporting legislation that would “rewrite … the entire electoral system [including] a number of provisions that blatantly violated the Constitution.”  In Stirewaltisms, Chris Stirewalt touches on some of the same themes, but looks at the political implications. “Biden manages … to deny himself an advantage with persuadable voters while simultaneously showing Democrats that he is ineffectual. It’s the worst of both worlds.”

And the best of the rest:

  • The Battle of Donbas has begun. Gisele Donelly spells out how Russia might proceed, what are keys to victory—or avoiding a painful defeat—for each side, and what the post-Donbas situation might look like.

  • Russia doesn’t control much territory in Ukraine, but it is occupying  Henichesk, in the Kherson oblast. Andrew Fink reports that a statue of Lenin has been erected at the city’s municipal building, and he explains that it’s an attempt by Russia to “put things back the way they were.”

  • Harvest reports from Ohio about Donald Trump’s endorsement of J.D. Vance in the state’s contentious GOP Senate primary. While Ohio politicos tried to discourage Trump from endorsing him, the former president seems to have listened to the advice of Tucker Calson, Josh Hawley, and Peter Thiel.

  • Danielle Pletka commends the outpouring of support from the West from Ukraine, but worries—based on current and past human rights atrocities in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Xinjiang–that our attention span will be short lived. (Warning: graphic images.) 

  • Before the war, many experts said that Russia would never actually invade Ukraine. Where did they go wrong? By ignoring Russia’s history—and warning signs about its future. John Gustavsson explains.

  • Don’t forget the pods! The gang discussed a potpourri of big and important topics on The Dispatch Podcast, from the travel mask mandate debate to the streaming wars and what Kevin McCarthy said. On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah wade into Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ battle with Disney and the First Amendment. On Good Faith, David and co-host Curtis Chang ask how so many people in the wealthiest nation in history can be so unhappy. And you won’t want to miss Jonah’s conversation with Thomas Chatteron Williams on The Remnant.

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.