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Our Best Stuff on Student Debt Relief, Ron DeSantis, and More
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Our Best Stuff on Student Debt Relief, Ron DeSantis, and More

Plus, a false claim about Volodymyr Zelensky makes its way from Twitter to CPAC.

Sen. Bernie Sanders in front of the Supreme Court during a rally for student debt cancellation in Washington, DC, on February 28, 2023. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

Hello and happy Saturday. It’s a lovely day here in the Ohio bureau. The sky is blue, and the sun makes 47 degrees feel a little warmer than you’d think. If you had told me yesterday, though, that I’d be finishing up this newsletter from the car while our son’s baseball team practiced, I’d have looked at you a little funny. We had an all-day downpour that prompted flood warnings and ended in wind gusts powerful enough to trigger our countywide tornado sirens. 

If only we could effect change as quickly as Mother Nature. Because if we could flip a switch and turn off all the disinformation that spreads its way across social media and ends up on cable news—or on stage at CPAC—it would make the world just a little more pleasant and a bit safer for democracy.

It’s been more than a few years since it became apparent that social media was a breeding ground for disinformation. Before that, anyone could start a website saying that McDonald’s chicken nuggets have weird fibers in them or that beermakers use antifreeze in the brewing process. But people had to look for it. Once those sites were able to share their work on social media, “viral” took on a meaning that had nothing to do with physical contagion.

All that disinformation was … not great. Let’s be honest, Subway has never been quite the same since the Food Babe heckled the company into taking yoga mats out of the bread recipe. (To be fair, Food Babe Vani Hari complained only that Subway’s bread included azodicarbonamide, an ingredient that conditions dough, which is also used in yoga mats. But you know how the game of telephone works on the internet.) But much of that disinformation was silly and could be ignored.   

We’ve unfortunately come a long way since then. We’ve gone from quackery over food additives, to claims that school shootings are a false flag campaign to implement gun control, to an insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about all of it this week, in part because of CPAC. In her speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Marjorie Taylor Greene spoke about funding the war effort in Ukraine and said, “I will look at a camera and directly tell Zelensky, ‘You better leave your hands off of our sons and daughters because they’re not dying over there.’”

Greene had apparently fallen prey to a video clip excised from a lengthy press conference that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave on the one-year mark of Russia’s invasion. As we noted in our fact check, the video had been edited down to strip Zelensky’s remarks of context. Zelensky had actually warned that if Ukraine loses to Russia that Putin could then invade a NATO country and the U.S. would be obligated to enter that conflict under the NATO treaty. He was making the exact opposite argument that his critics were claiming. “Help us beat Russia on our turf to keep your sons and daughters from dying in Poland or the Baltics,” he was saying.

Other examples are just gross. Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman has been hospitalized at Walter Reed to be treated for depression. There are rumors going around that he’s actually dead (expect a fact check from us on this soon), and at CPAC, Donald Trump Jr. called Fetterman a “vegetable.” There are legitimate questions to ask about whether Fetterman should have continued his Senate campaign last fall after suffering a stroke, and one can make a fair argument that we’d be better served if his office would provide updates on his progress at Walter Reed. But none of that warrants name calling or conspiracy theories.

It’s extremely easy to spread false information and conspiracy theories on the internet. In many cases, it’s almost as easy to debunk them. The complete video of Zelensky’s progress is also available, and plenty of other fact checkers also tackled this topic, too. But the hard part is getting people to believe the truth. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s impossible to get it back in.

I hate to disappoint you, but I didn’t come here to share my one simple trick for fixing this. I’ve been involved in fact checking since I worked for Steve at The Weekly Standard. The 2020 election was both exhausting and depressing—I think there were days we published four or five fact checks, and I got really tired of reading “As noted in a previous Dispatch Fact Check …” Same with COVID.

It’s frustrating, but we’re not quitters. It’s why we focus on reporting and fact-based analysis over pure opinion pieces, and why the opinion pieces we do run come from knowledgeable people and subject-matter experts. It’s why we’re honest about our ideological bent. 

We can only do it with your support. No, I’m not winding up for a sales pitch (though we’d love for you to join if you haven’t) but a note of gratitude. Thank you for being on this journey with us, and have a great weekend. 

Jonah dusts off an old thought experiment to illustrate the problem with President Joe Biden’s student debt giveaway, which faced a pair of Supreme Court challenges this week. What if, he asks, he offered you $1 million to push a button, but in return one stranger would die? Would you do it? He points to a website that offers a similar proposal and, well, you’ll be depressed if you read the justifications (“People die every day. At least something good may come from it,” sums it up). What does that have to do with student debt? Well, it’s a bit of a journey, but a worthwhile one, as most fans of the G-File might suspect. He points out that history offers countless examples of regimes that would unleash all kinds of destruction in the name of the “greater good.” And what’s being destroyed with the student debt relief ploy is the rule of law. He points to comments from Justice Sonia Sotomayor that questioned whether judges should decide whether Biden’s move was a legitimate interpretation of the 2003 HEROES Act. “Judges shouldn’t make this call, she said—we should leave it to the unelected bureaucrat who works for Joe Biden to make it. …Why should the ‘experts’ be left to make the call? Because ‘There are 50 million students who will benefit from this who will struggle’ if the experts can’t have their way. Let the experts push the button. They know best.’” He’s not buying that argument.  

In Boiling Frogs (🔒), Nick has some bad news for Republicans who dislike not only Donald Trump but everything associated with Trumpism, especially culture war fights, illiberalism, and demagoguery. He highlights recent columns by Jonathan Chait at New York magazine and Damon Linker in the New York Times that debate whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is worse than Donald Trump. Nick is staunchly in the Never Trump camp, hence his headline. But he notes that DeSantis has been up to some pretty shady stuff lately. Portions of his “Stop Woke Act” that limit what colleges can teach have been blocked by a judge on First Amendment grounds, but a bill introduced in the state legislature would place even more restrictions on what can be taught in colleges, prohibiting “academic majors in gender studies, critical race theory, or derivative ‘belief systems.’” He’s placed cronies on the board of the Reedy Creek Improvement District that Disney had controlled for decades, and made a veiled threat in saying that “all these board members very much would like to see the type of entertainment that all families can appreciate.” So much for the First Amendment. He writes: “The best you’re going to get in the post-liberal Republican Party of 2023 is that one of the right’s top two candidates is an authoritarian menace and the other one might not be. Not great. But again, don’t overthink it—Trump is the most corrupt, rotten, dissolute character we’ve had as president since at least Woodrow Wilson.” 

Last month, the Michigan GOP elected Kristina Karamo as chairwoman. Karamo, who spread disinformation about the 2020 election and has never conceded her 14-point loss in Michigan’s 2022 secretary of state race, might have won the support of her state party, but David M. Drucker notes that “Michigan’s sprawling Republican establishment of operatives, donors, elected officials, and allied industry groups” is less impressed, and they are voting with their dollars by working with outside groups instead of the official state party. He lists a handful of examples and explains why the schism could prove costly for everyone: The state party will be left without millions of dollars it could otherwise count on, and outside groups can’t take advantage of discounted mailing rates available to state parties but not others. “It is a disaster and there’s no way to overstate what a disaster it is,” one strategist told Drucker. “It’s embarrassing. The media is going to love to turn to Karamo and hear her say things that make us look insane.” 

In 1994, the tiny country of Moldova included permanent neutrality in its constitution, an attempt to dissuade Russian aggression after a conflict between Russians and local forces. Now that clause might be inspiring some regrets. Charlotte reports that Moldova “has been rocked by a series of anti-government protests in recent weeks. Foreign and local officials say they’re part of a broader Russian campaign to overthrow the government and plunge the country into chaos.” She discusses the important role played by the “Shor party and its head Ilan Shor, an exiled oligarch convicted of stealing from Moldovan banks, [who] are both blacklisted by the U.S. State Department for their reported ties to Moscow.” And she notes that Vladimir Putin is laying the groundwork for a military intervention.

Whew, that was a lot. I couldn’t help myself. But, as they say on those Ginsu knife commercials … that’s not all. Here’s the best of the rest.

  • A pandemic-era expansion of Medicaid is expiring soon, and millions could lose insurance coverage. Price notes that “how individual states handle the process will play a major role in determining whether it becomes a calamity or a nothingburger.”
  • Haley covered the first hearing of the House select committee on competition with the Chinese Communist Party and, wow, they’ve got a lot to cover.
  • In Wanderland (🔒), Kevin has some thoughts about cultural Christians—“someone who finds the moral claims and cultural sensibility of Christianity sympathetic” but who doesn’t buy the origin story. 
  • It was kind of sort of unofficially DeSantis week around here. In The Sweep (🔒), Sarah looked at whether he was running and compared historical primary polling to current polls and noted that sometimes, running second at this point works out well. In the Dispatch Politics newsletter, the team reviewed DeSantis’ campaign book and also looked at how other primary candidates might challenge him.
  • Scott Linciome probably rankled a few skeptics of the free market with his latest Capitolism  (🔒), in which he celebrated “corporate greed” for staving off an energy crisis in Europe this winter.
  • And on the pods: David French and Sarah discuss the Supreme Court arguments on the Biden administration’s student-debt relief program on Advisory Opinions. On the Dispatch Podcast, the gang talks about Fox News’ lies to its audience and experts’ mistakes on COVID, and they hit a few more topics, too. And if you’ve been craving a really wonky and pragmatic discussion of homelessness, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Stephen Eide joins Jonah 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.