Our Best Stuff From a Week in the Belly of the Whale

What the Arizona audit and.legal moves by the new right tell us about perspective.

Happy Saturday! How was your week? Good or bad, I bet it was less exciting than that of Michael Packard, a lobster diver who was swallowed by a whale off the coast of Massachusetts and lived to tell about it. It’s funny, I almost wrote, “It had to be better than the guy who got eaten by a whale” but then I thought about it for a minute. He got swallowed by a whale, sure--but the whale spit him out. He walked away with minor injuries. How many people can say that? I’d probably have a pretty different outlook after such an event. It all depends on your perspective. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective lately. Maybe it’s because we’re spending most of our weekends at baseball tournaments this summer. Our son is a pitcher, and it’s funny how his perception of an umpire’s calls depends on whether he’s pitching or hitting, whether he’s the baserunner or the fielder. As a parent I try to be a little more objective, but there are moments.  

And as it happens, “perspective” was a bit of a recurring theme in our coverage this week. When I first heard that the Arizona Senate had voted to conduct an “audit” of 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County from the 2020 election, I kind of rolled my eyes. It seemed like a pointless and futile gesture but … nothing would come of it right? The election is long over, Joe Biden is well-settled into the White House, etc. And while, no, nothing will overturn the election results, it’s not accurate to say “nothing will come of it.” Audrey went out to Phoenix last week to report on the audit, and while she was there, a delegation from Pennsylvania was there to see about doing their own audit. So it’s not just some kooky stunt from a state party that (as Audrey notes in her piece) has a history of fringe figures doing outlandish things. The refusal of so many Republicans to accept the results of the 2020 election has already caused so much harm, to the GOP specifically but also the whole country.  

And then we have David’s newsletter on how the conservative movement is essentially at odds with its own beliefs. He looks at a slew of court cases that show how conservative lawyers have won important victories for free speech, but at the same time some on the right want to use political power to limit the speech of others (David discusses efforts to ban the teaching of critical race theory). 

What’s common to these two stories is that both show how so many on the right perceive themselves, and our culture, as under attack. It’s necessary to keep relitigating the 2020 election because only Donald Trump can “save” America, they argue. It’s necessary to shut down speech because it’s “dangerous.”

Right now so many on the right feel like they’re in the belly of the whale, with no way out. It’s not a new feeling, obviously. It explains how we ended up with Donald Trump as president in the first place. It’s something we’ve written about extensively. It’s worth considering why people feel that way and that sometimes the feelings are legitimate. But it’s also (beyond) time to move on from the election. It’s time to counter bad ideas with better ones, not try to shut them down. We need to get everyone out of that whale’s belly.  

Now, for the best stuff we did this week.

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Maricopa County Audit Tests an Already Fractured Arizona GOP

On its face, the ongoing audit of 2020 election ballots being conducted in Maricopa County by the Arizona State Senate could be seen as an exercise in futility. The election has been long certified, since previous recounts turned up no evidence of widespread fraud, and there is no mechanism by which to overturn the election. But as Audrey discovered on a reporting trip out to Phoenix, other state Republican parties are planning to use Arizona’s model to launch their own audits. She details how the audit is being conducted, looks at the strange history of the Arizona GOP--fringe characters like those leading the audit aren’t new to the state party, but the electorate has long preferred more mainstream candidates--and talks to sources who say of the whole business, “it could be a breaking point for the party as a whole nationally.” On another note: Audrey is spending the summer doing a fellowship with the Wall Street Journal that was delayed by the pandemic, but we’re thrilled that she’ll be rejoining us full time in the fall.

Why the Coming Iranian Elections Will Challenge the Biden Administration

The Iranian presidential elections are coming up, and you’d think with all the entreaties coming from the Biden administration about agreeing to a new nuclear deal that the mullahs might be pushing candidates who would appeal to the West to help sell the deal. You’d be thinking wrong. Reuel Marc-Gerecht offers up some fantastic insight into what to expect next week, running through the list of potential victors. He predicts it will be “Ebrahim Raisi, a ruthless cleric who knows much more about crushing internal dissent than about Islamic law and who has long been mentored by Khamenei.” Why would Iran want a president like Raisi instead of someone like Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif, who was educated in America and plays the Western press well? “Raisi as president would signal that Khamenei isn’t worried about the United States—at least not nearly as much as he is about internal threats.” 

The Conservative Legal Movement Is On a Collision Course With the New Right

In his midweek French Press (🔐 ), David contrasts the conservative movement’s legal victories on religious liberty and free speech issues--for teachers and professors punished for personal opinions on transgender issues and a likely victory in a Supreme Court case involving Catholic Social Services and the city of Philadelphia--with pushes by elements of the new right to ban speech. He looks at efforts to “ban” the teaching of critical race theory in schools and points out “this isn’t confident pluralism. It’s fearful, authoritarian populism. And it will only truly happen if courts start to unwind the precedents I’ve outlined above.” He looks at what happened when a judge threw out an executive order by President Trump that banned federal agencies from conducting training that included “divisive concepts” and “race or sex scapegoating.” A court enjoined it and the Biden administration repealed it, but David notes how some on the right see it not as a cautionary tale but a way forward. “If the new right prevails and either defeats or transforms the conservative legal movement, it will not like the world it makes. Degrade the First Amendment, and watch your freedom depend entirely on your political power,” he writes. 

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And now for the best of the rest: 

  • In Capitolism (🔐 ), Scott Lincicome extols the virtues of his favorite pastime, gardening. And to those who would point out that, thanks to capitalism, food is plentiful and cheap at supermarkets, he praises the fact  “that several wonders of modern free market capitalism let me grow food for fun, instead of just to stay alive.” There are also charts.

  • New Dispatch reporter Harvest Prude looks at China’s decision to allow families to have three children and talks to experts who explain why the nation’s sudden pro-natal turn might not do much to increase family size.

  • Chris Stirewalt explains the difference between good federalism--“If Hoosiers want to forbid bars from having happy hour, that’s no skin off of Ohioans’ noses”—and bad—“when states try to force Americans in other states to live a certain way or to usurp the powers reserved for the federal government.”

  • Several states have passed laws that would let college athletes profit off their “name, image, or likeness,” and now the Senate is taking up debate over similar legislation. Considering that state laws vary in scope (or don’t exist) and the NCAA has basically dragged its feet on coming up with a solution, it’s probably time for Congress to act. Haley has the details in Uphill (🔐 ).

  • Another busy week on the pods. On The Dispatch Podcast, Steve and Sarah welcomed Purdue President and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to ask him why he rode a motorized couch to commencement this year (and a few other things). It’s a busy time for Supreme Court news, as all the big end-of-term decisions will be handed down over the next few weeks. David and Sarah have the details on Advisory Opinions. Folks on Twitter and in the comments gave this Remnant episode with Jonathan Rauch rave reviews, and we’re inclined to agree. Last but not least, Stirewalt continues his postmortem of the 2020 election with NBC’s Steve Kornacki on The Hangover.