Our Best Stuff From a Week Where Everyone Else Was on Spring Break
David French on Ron DeSantis, a look at the state of the race to replace Rob Portman in Ohio, and two warnings about China.
The past and future collided in an interesting way in the Ohio bureau this week. While my social media feeds were full of photos from friends’ trips to Florida or the Carolinas or the Great Smoky Mountains, we kept our spring break a little more low-key. Our oldest is a high school junior, so we kicked off the college tour process with a quick trip to my alma mater, Ohio University.
I’m a little in denial about the whole process—it seems not that that long ago that he was learning how to ride a bike, and then Friday he drove part of the way home—so there was comfort in starting the process in a familiar place. I still mostly know my way around, and I was able to point out my dorms and apartments, buildings where I took classes, and bars and restaurants that are somehow still in business despite their bathrooms being permanent health code violations.
But there is something remarkable in watching your child take steps toward adulthood, even when you’re not entirely ready for it. When kids are little, it’s easy to know whether you’re doing the right thing. If you read them books, play Legos with them, teach them their pleases and thank yous, and try to make sure that once in a while a vegetable makes it into their stomachs, you can feel pretty good about yourself. The early years might be physically exhausting, chasing them around and trying to make sure they don’t fall down the stairs or run out into the street, but the later years are more mentally taxing. As they head toward puberty and then young adulthood, parenting is a different kind of exhausting. Their friends influence them more—are those positive influences or not? They start having their own opinions about politics and the way the world works—did you give them enough perspective for them to seek out good information? They are more guarded about privacy—should you give them room or be more involved? If they are up to something, you risk missing out on warning signs. And if they’re not, you risk hovering and keeping them from figuring out things on their own.
There have been plenty of times during the last year where I lamented that we were hardly winning the whole “parenting in a pandemic” thing. Our kids spent too much time playing video games somedays, and I ran out of good answers when they expressed frustration about not seeing friends, or having to deal with school quarantines, or why they had to go to practices for various sports when there were very few competitions.
But the weekend in Athens, Ohio, left me feeling a little better. When I chose to go to OU all those many years ago, it was in many ways a practical decision. It had a highly ranked journalism school, which is what I wanted to study, and in-state tuition made it affordable. I was close enough to home that I could visit occasionally, but not so close that I could show up at home on a Saturday morning and beg my mom to do my laundry.
I got to see a little bit of history repeating itself through our son. He is interested in the military, but not so much through the service academy route. He learned that OU has a highly ranked ROTC program and is strong enough in the academic fields he might end up studying. He feels at home on campus. He’s using the information he has at hand to make a pragmatic decision. He’s growing up, and thinking on his own. It could definitely be worse.
One last note—I also came away from our tour with a deep sense of gratitude that he is still just a junior. The campus wasn’t deserted, exactly, but neither did it look like you’d expect during beautiful spring weather. We saw students in restaurants and out exercising. But classes are almost exclusively online, and during our tour, the guide showed us a dining hall from the outside and then explained that all meal service is carry-out. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year worried about the state of our K-12 education system. But college students have had a rough year, too. The staff and students we talked to were all hopeful that next year will be more normal. I’m just very glad that by the time we drop our oldest off at college—whether it’s at my alma mater or someplace he’s yet to consider—that his experience will be a positive one that he’ll be happy to tell his own kids about someday.
Maria Ressa is a Filipino-American journalist who was Time’s Person of the Year in 2018 and has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. She has faced harassment and trumped-up legal charges in response to her work exposing the corruption and abuse of power by the Rodrigo Duterte regime in the Philippines. Ressa spoke with our Charlotte Lawson about her rise to prominence as a journalist for CNN and how she opted to focus her work on her homeland. Ressa helped launch a news site called Rappler in 2012, a move that angered Duterte and led to him touting false information about the publication. Ressa remains undeterred. “Courage comes from being prepared,” she told Charlotte. “It’s not a pill you take, it’s from knowing exactly what you’re facing.”
As Donald Trump slowly recedes from public view, many are eager to be considered his political heir. And plenty of politicians have garnered attention for adopting Trump’s fighting stance: Josh Hawley saluting the Capitol election protesters, Ted Cruz trying to own the libs. In his Thursday French Press (🔒), David asks an important question: But what if a person can fight and govern at the same time? Which brings us to Ron DeSantis. DeSantis was the subject of what David calls an “extraordinarily unfair hit piece” by 60 Minutes accusing DeSantis of making a vaccine deal with the grocery store Publix (which also has pharmacies), a company that donated to his campaign. David looks at DeSantis’ record on COVID —Florida is doing better than most states—and concludes: “How do you hold an angry base while recapturing suburbanites who were repulsed by the incompetence and corruption of the Trump administration? Perhaps by governing well and fighting hard for a righteous cause.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman announced in January that he would not seek re-election this fall, and the race to fill his seat is heating up on the GOP side. Donald Trump might have lost the 2020 election, but he won Ohio by more than 500,000 votes, and it’s easy to see how that is shaping the race. Declan reports on his illuminating conversation with Jane Timken, who leads the Ohio Republican Party and has already declared her candidacy. Back in January, when Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez voted to impeach Trump, Timken called his choice “rational” though she said she didn’t necessarily share it. These days? She wants him to resign. “Let me be clear,” she told Declan. “I always took the position that Anthony Gonzalez’ vote was wrong. The impeachment was unconstitutional and a scam, and I’ve made a very clear statement that he can no longer be effective representing the 16th District because he’s gone against the wishes of his constituents.” Declan also profiles candidates Josh Mandel, Rep. Mike Turner, and Rep. Bill Johnson*, and looks at whether Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance will enter the race.
We published two different articles on China on two different days, but they are worth looking at together because they demonstrate a theme. On Tuesday, Danielle Pletka looked at how China has responded to various—and normal—diplomatic moves in Australia by implementing heavy-handed tariffs. She views it as a cautionary tale: “Beijing once circumscribed its range to China’s actual and claimed territories (think Taiwan, Hong Kong, the India-Chinese border in the Himalayas, the South China Sea), and has steadily been venturing further abroad using its police state tactics to influence Europe, the United States, and most easily, Australia.” In our other piece, Tim Morrison details how China is targeting Western corporations who’ve moved to make sure their supply chains don’t involve products or materials generated by forced labor in Xinjiang province, where the Chinese are detaining Uyghur Muslims.
And now for the best of the rest:
In the G-File, Jonah considers whether Joe Biden is trying to be like LBJ or FDR, and it sends him down a rabbit hole on the New Deal. “That stuff was a grab bag. … Some stuff was good, some arguably good, some bad, and the rest arguably bad. But it wasn’t some coherent program with a serious public policy theory stitching it all together.”
When you think infrastructure, you think roads and bridges, right? But maybe not long-term elderly health care or retrofitting private homes. Those are just two of the many more unusual things packed into Joe Biden’s “infrastructure” package. Brian Riedl breaks it down.
Chris Stirewalt uses Matt Gaetz’s current travails as an opportunity to look at how both sides are more than happy to police each other’s moral failings but fall back on excuses when it’s one of their own.
Biden can’t say he wasn’t warned. Thomas Joscelyn has been beating the drum on the badness of the Trump administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal agreement since it was signed, and now a deadline looms for Biden to remove U.S. troops. Joscelyn warns in Vital Interests (🔒) that now is not the time to make concessions to the Taliban.
On the pods: Former Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman joins Jonah on The Remnant. Come for the political talk, stay for the booze (Riggleman’s family owns a distillery) and Bigfoot talk. Are social media platforms “common carriers,” public accommodations, or something else? David and Sarah discuss an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas that probes that very question on Advisory Opinions. Is there any infrastructure in the infrastructure bill? The gang discusses that and more on The Dispatch Podcast. And on the Friday episode, Steve and Sarah talk to Julia Galef, who’s out with a new book Tuesday on The Scout Mindset, an approach to seeking information that elevates truth over affirmation and aligns quite nicely with the editorial approach of The Dispatch.
*Correction, April 11: The article originally referred to U.S. Rep Bill Johnson as a member of Ohio’s state legislature.