Words of wisdom (plus parting thoughts about John McCain)

Words of wisdom (plus parting thoughts about John McCain)
John McCain (Image: CNN video screen grab)

Twitter is full of insults and empty soundbites that antagonize many readers. I recently discussed a study finding that being exposed to tweets from the opposite side of the political spectrum increases political polarization and reinforces people’s preexisting views.

But it also contains pearls of wisdom, like this Sept. 1 quote from economist Thomas Sowell:

Many colleges claim that they develop ‘leaders.’ All too often, that means turning out graduates who cannot feel fulfilled unless they are telling other people what to do. There are already too many people like that, and they are a menace to everyone else’s freedom.

A wry piece of wisdom is contained in a tweet from religious-freedom advocate David French. He highlighted the utterly insincere response by the media and the political establishment to the death of Sen. John McCain, a war hero and patriot who died on August 25. As French noted, “The contrast between the outpouring of love for McCain in his last days and the astonishing vitriol directed at him in 2000 and 2008 demonstrates once again how disingenuous, low, and cheap American politics were well before” 2016.

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McCain ran for President in 2008, in a political climate that was just terrible for Republicans. For quite a while, McCain somehow managed to make it a close race, despite slanted media reporting that consistently favored Barack Obama. But after the economy verged on collapse due to the financial crisis, the bottom fell out of his campaign.

McCain, who did nothing to cause the crisis, paid the price. This was so even though McCain had objected to some failures that contributed to the crisis, such as the undercapitalized GSE’s (Government Sponsored Enterprises) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — a point I made in a letter to the editor in the Washington Examiner endorsing McCain.

If McCain had not been on the ticket, more down-ballot Republicans would have lost, and even more Democrats would have been elected to Congress in 2008. That would have led to an even more ideologically lopsided Congress and made the abominable health-care and financial-system laws passed by Congress even more extreme. Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank Act would likely have been even worse if Democratic leaders had not had to omit certain extreme elements to get wavering, relatively moderate Senators like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson to support them.

In 2013, McCain defended academic freedom, at some political risk. The Obama administration had adopted a “blueprint” for a campus speech code banning “unwelcome” speech about sexual topics, in response to a Title IX investigation at the University of Montana.

The Obama administration was encouraging colleges across the country to adopt this speech code. As education writer Joanne Jacobs noted, under the Obama administration’s proposed definition of sexual harassment, if a professor discusses a sexual issue “like HIV transmission through anal sex, making one of his 500 students uncomfortable,” he would be deemed guilty of sexual harassment. This sweepingly broad definition was at odds with legal definitions of sexual harassment, as I explained in a short essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, testimony to Congress, and a lengthy blog post.

It was so overbroad that if a state university adopted it, it would violate the First Amendment under rulings of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, such as DeJohn v. Temple University (2008). Even some liberal newspapers like the Los Angeles Times eventually conceded that the Obama administration was overreaching.

Congressional aides privately empathized with me when I complained about the Obama administration’s actions, but their bosses did nothing, fearing being falsely accused of sexism by the Obama administration and its media allies. Due to such fears, only a few members of Congress ever did anything about it.

Sen. McCain was the first member of Congress to do something about the Obama administration’s overreaching (and for a long time, the only member to do so). He sent a letter to the Justice Department pointing out the massive overbreadth of the Obama administration’s definition of harassment, and how it violated the First Amendment. As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education noted, Senator McCain’s letter highlighted how “everyday expression protected by the First Amendment — including students joking or listening to music that contains sexual content, or a teacher assigning a work which includes sexual content — could now be grounds for filing a sexual harassment complaint” under the Obama administration’s overly broad definition.

Thank you, John McCain, for doing the right thing rather than the politically expedient thing. And thank you to any McCain staffers who helped draft his letter to the Obama administration, which helped prevent future encroachments on campus free-speech rights.

Another gem from Twitter is the limerick below from the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto. He reacted to the recent indictment for campaign-finance fraud related to the 2014 Senate campaign of Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), who was defeated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Grimes recently made light of the violent attack committed against Senator Rand Paul. McConnell is the man America has to thank for the outcome of the 2016 election. By keeping Democrats from filling the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader McConnell prevented a complete liberal takeover of the Supreme Court and made the 2016 election a referendum on the future of the Supreme Court. That provided a key reason for wavering conservatives to vote against Hillary Clinton).

As Taranto writes:

Alison Lundergan Grimes
Got thousands and thousands of dimes
From her dear old father
And that’s why they’d bother
To charge him with multiple crimes.

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Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. Hans also writes for CNS News and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”


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