Our Best Stuff From a Revealing Election Week

Plus, Zalmay Khalilzad is blaming the Afghan government for the fallout from his terrible deal with the Taliban.

Happy Sunday! I know, I know. I usually send these out on Saturday. But it wasn’t just a busy news week (Election Day, debates over spending packages in Congress, my victory over Steve in The Dispatch fantasy football league), it was a hectic one in the Ohio bureau. I made a quick trip to D.C. midweek to catch up with everyone and meet Jonah’s famous dogs, Zoe and Pippa. And then I woke up Saturday and drove to Indianapolis so our youngest could compete in his first travel swim meet since the pandemic began.  

If you’ve been reading this newsletter since the early days, you know I’ve sometimes gauged the state of the pandemic by looking at how normal or abnormal sports are for our kids. I think it’s because that’s what they lost first. Back in March 2020, our youngest had qualified for the age-group state championship meet and we had planned a big family weekend in Columbus around it. And then Tom Hanks announced he had COVID and the NBA shut down and everything started falling like dominoes—including that swim meet.

It was a gut punch for a lot of reasons, including the fact we had switched swim clubs just to give his brother and him a better chance to swim in meets like that, and it was a bigger investment in both time and money. But also … Wilson really likes out-of-town swim meets. There are always team dinners and a designated team hotel, so he can run around with his teammates being goofy. And, of course, the breakfast buffets where you make your own waffles.

The pandemic took away not only those, but pretty much anything that made swimming fun. You could barely even talk to your teammates at practice, and it was a painfully slow return to competition. The first “meets” were glorified practices with maybe 20 other kids, no spectators, and no other teams. It showed how isolation can be hard on those who really need social interaction (we saw the same thing with remote learning, though we were lucky to have mostly in-person school last year): It was hard to keep his interest, and his performances definitely suffered. 

This weekend’s meet is at the IUPUI Natatorium, which is one of the fastest pools in the country and was home to the Olympic Trials a few times. It’s a cool opportunity. But I’m not really worried about his race times. I’m just happy that he gets to laugh with friends at dinner, and I didn’t complain when he foiled my plans to kick back and watch college football by bringing teammates back to our room to watch silly YouTube videos on the TV.

That said, I don’t know if my own experiences are really a good gauge of where we are. That was the lesson of my travels this week. While things have been relatively normal in my neck of the woods for a while now (excepting labor shortages and supply chain issues that serve as reminders), D.C. is still full of restrictions. Air travel still ranges somewhere from annoying to nightmarish. I remember writing back early this summer that all the signs were pointing toward a return to normal: plexiglass barriers coming down, social distancing stickers disappearing, etc. And then Delta hit. Even as it recedes, it still feels like we are living in a kind of limbo. And so I’ll just keep being grateful for weekends like this one. 

Thanks for reading.

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The Takeaway From Youngkin’s Win in Virginia

Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia set off a lot of excuse-making by liberals and raised a few questions from voters and observers. How much of a role did critical race theory play? Does this show Republicans can win without Donald Trump? What does this mean for the midterms?  In The Sweep, Sarah lays out the questions--and answers them. For one, “Critical race theory wasn’t irrelevant to this race. And it was a dog whistle to a lot of parents. But it’s not obvious to me that the whistle was about race or even race-based curriculum. For a lot of parents, they heard McAuliffe using shorthand for 18 months of pent-up frustration with a public school system that didn’t seem to care about their kids and a candidate who then told the parents he didn’t care about them either.” Chris Stirewalt also weighs in, analyzing how the pandemic influenced voters. For more, check out The Morning Dispatch from Wednesday (Declan was up very late putting it together).

The Taliban’s Man in Washington

This, my friends, is as close to a “hot take” as you’ll see in our pages. As Zalmay Khalilzad makes the rounds on TV news shows, Tom Joscelyn can’t believe what he’s seeing. As the special representative to Afghanistan, Khalilzad negotiated our withdrawal from the country in bilateral talks with the Taliban. The talks excluded the Afghan government and made significant concessions to the Taliban. Now that the disgraceful withdrawal is over and the Taliban is back in power, Khalilzad is blaming … the overthrown Afghan government? “There was no ‘political settlement’ to be had,” Joscelyn writes. “The Taliban was fighting for total victory—exactly as it played out this year. There is no valid counterfactual scenario in which Ghani, or any other Afghan official, could have persuaded the jihadists to settle for anything less than the resurrection of their authoritarian government. Therefore, Khalilzad’s story rests on an entirely dishonest premise.”  

Is It Time To Fight?

As David has written about more than a few times, the left-right divide in this country is only getting worse. It’s gotten so bad that surveys show that big majorities on each side think the other is a danger to democracy and significant minorities have expressed a willingness to resort to violence. Paul D. Miller, who has literally written the book on “just war,” would like everyone to calm the heck down. He runs through a list of issues where each side believes the worst about the other (election law, the Supreme Court, the  culture wars) and writes: “Let’s assume for the moment that every one of these critiques is accurate and not exaggerated nut-picking, conspiracy theorizing, or bad-faith whataboutism. Even then, none of them comes close to justifying political violence. None of those things are the same as ‘widespread, systematic murder,’ ‘totalitarianism,’ or ‘state collapse and anarchy.’ Political violence is not the appropriate response to any of these complaints. Political engagement is.”

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And now the best of the rest.

  • The Democrats took it on the chin in Virginia and New Jersey last Tuesday, and some on the left responded by saying it was only because voters are racist. While there are plenty of data points to indicate that can’t explain the outcomes (Winsome Sears won the lieutenant governor’s race in Virginia, and there had to be Biden>>Youngkin voters), Jonah reminds everyone that calling the people who voted against your party “racist” is just terrible politics.

  • There has been a lot of coverage of the Democratic intraparty warfare over the Build Back Better Act. But what exactly is in it? Haley is breaking it down in Uphill. In Friday’s edition, she focused on the provisions intended to fight climate change.

  • The U.S. and Europe managed to shut down the nuclear proliferation network headed by A.Q. Khan back in 2004, but his efforts created security crises around the world that linger to this day. Khan died last month of complications of COVID, and Anthony Ruggiero and Andrea Stricker mark his passing with an examination of his legacy.

  • The pods! Check out The Dispatch podcast to hear Steve’s interview with Sen. Ben Sasse and learn why the senator calls some of his colleagues “chuckleheads.” On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah break down the oral arguments at the Supreme Court over the Texas abortion law and explain why it all has nothing to do with Roe v. Wade. And for the last word on the Virginia elections, tune into Jonah’s conversation with Matthew Continetti on The Remnant.