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“THEY DON’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT GOVERNING” CONSERVATIVE MEDIA’S INFLUENCE ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY” by Jackie Calmes

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The New York Times’ Jackie Calmes joined me today to discuss her lengthy report down while a fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. This is the latest in a line of conversations about the new media v. old, and conservative media v. the Manhattan-Beltway media elite that includes a memorable two-parter with Mark Halperin —part one here, part two here— which led to his self-exile from my show, and an exchange with Thomas Edsall on newsroom bias among the formerly exclusive club of the bigs, excerpted here.  Other related articles are here and here. Calmes’ piece is very readable but does include many assumptions with which many conservatives would simply disagree, and it concludes on our most basic disagreement: What, exactly, is “good governing” anyway?

Calmes is a pro’s pro, however, and her tone throughout –serious, sometimes amused, and always responsive and candid– is refreshing for a member of the D.C. reportorial elite at the Times (and previously the Journal).  I look forward to her return to the show (and someday to Halperin’s, who told me he’d be back on the set of Morning Joe not long ago, but we’ll see…)

Audio:

07-31hhs-calmes

Transcript:

HH: So pleased to welcome to the program now Jackie Calmes, national correspondent for the New York Times. You often see her on Washington Week in Review. She has been at the New York Times a lot of years. She also had 18 years at the Wall Street Journal. More importantly for my audience, she is a Toledo Mud Hen. She’s actually from Ohio originally. She is a Medill mafia person. She’s a Northwestern gal. But nevertheless, we are so pleased to welcome Jackie, a fellow Buckeye, great to have you.

JC: Wow, you’ve really done your homework on me.

HH: I know these things.

JC: I mean, when you can include the Mud Hens, that’s saying something.

HH: Well, which high school did you go to in Toledo?

JC: Central Catholic High School.

HH: All right. So I just had a feeling about this. I had…

JC: The Fighting Irish.

HH: The Fighting Irish, and I went to John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, and we were the Eagles. But the Fighting Irish were at Canton Central Catholic, I believe. I mean, everyone was the Fighting Irish in all the Catholic schools hung together. And my daughter’s a Northwestern grad, and so I know the Medill mafia all through Washington, D.C. But you must have been one of the early Medill mafia to sort of blaze the way there.

JC: Well, I went to the, I started as a freshman there, and then I realized I wasn’t going to be able to afford it, so I went back to Toledo and I came back for graduate school. So I don’t have as much of a network of Northwestern people as I might have if I had gone there for four years as an undergraduate. But there are a fair number, and that’s why I went, because it was a good, it had such a good reputation.

HH: And now, you’ve just finished up a tenure at the Shorenstein Center of Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. When did that run from, Jackie?

JC: From February 1st through Memorial Day, so it was four months.

HH: So and from that came the piece which is linked over at Hughhewitt.com, “They Don’t Give A Damn About Governing”: Conservative Media’s Influence On The Republican Party. I want people to understand “They Don’t Give A Damn About Governing” is not your line. It’s another person’s line. It’s in quotes, and a lot of people read it, I think, the wrong way. Did you want me to give it, to make sure that that’s understood?

JC: Well, I’m glad that you made that, because I was going to say that. In fact, I had given it another title, which was boring, and one of my co-fellows at the Shorenstein Center suggested this one. It’s based on a quote, like you said. It was a quote from former Congressman Tom Latham of Iowa, who just retired after last year, and he had been there for 20 years. He came as part of the revolutionary Republican class of 1994 that took Congress back from the Democrats, took the House of Representatives from the majority that the Democrats had had for 40 years, came in with Newt Gingrich. And so here he is 20 years later, and I should say came in with the active assistance of what was then fledgling talk radio, conservative talk radio and conservative media, and 20 years later, he’s bemoaning the impact of conservative media on the party. And that was his quote, they don’t give a damn about governing.

HH: So why don’t I let you just sort of summarize it. It’s 16,000 words. You’ve got a lot of criticism on the right. I’ve got a lot of questions for you. It’s an interview, not a debate.

JC: Yes.

HH: But what’s your summary thesis, Jackie, about what conservative media has grown to do and become?

JC: Well, and I want to make clear that it’s not just, we’re not just talking talk radio here, and talk radio people, as you know better than me, are not just talk radio people anymore. They’re online, they do columns, and appear on TV. And so it’s a multimedia world out there. And then just the expansion of conservative media online, thanks to the internet with these websites, is huge. And it’s to a point where people, as Pew Research Center has found, people who identify themselves as very conservative or consistently conservative don’t get their information from anywhere else, and discount or dismiss any facts that don’t comport with those, you know, they subscribe to. But my thesis, I guess, is, comes to with the expansion of conservative media, there is a, it has pushed the party to the right, and keeps it there where after losing five of the last six presidential elections, majority vote, one of those was a win, George Bush, but he didn’t get the majority of the popular vote, five of the six elections so that there’s a lot of the so-called establishment of Republicans who would like to moderate a little on some of these issues like maybe gay rights, immigration, climate change. And they can’t, because they say the least little move they make toward a sort of center-right position or compromise with the White House is blocked by the conservative media, which is both reflecting the opinions of the conservative base and driving those opinions. And they say that is not a good thing for governance or for picking a presidential nominee with wide appeal that can win a general election.

HH: That’s the thesis. The entire paper, which deserves a very close reading, linked at Hughhewitt.com. I’m going to spend a lot of time this hour and next talking with Jackie Calmes about it. Stay tuned, America.

— – – –

HH: Jackie, I want to go, there’s a lot of stuff I want to talk to you about, but the most, the thing I wrote wow next to is on actually Page 24 of your paper, a quote by David Yepsen. Again, it’s not you saying this, but I want to read it for the audience: “David Yepsen, formerly a politics writer at the Des Moines Register and now director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said, ‘The right always owned talk radio. The left failed at that.’ His explanation? ‘The demographics of who listen to talk radio and what times of the day, you know, blue collar people, people at home, less well educated, lower income. You can go into an auto shop and hear Rush or the local guy on the radio. You don’t hear that at a Starbucks.’”

Now that is so pregnant with disdain for my audience that I have to unpack it a little bit, but I want to begin with a reference to a 1993 article. Do you remember the Michael Weisskopf article, “Energized By Pulpit Or Passion: The Public Is Calling,” that resulted in a famous retraction in the Washington Post?

JC: You know, this is sounding vaguely familiar. I never would have thought of it in a thousand years if you hadn’t brought it up, but you’re going to have to…

HH: Yeah, well in it, he referred…

JC: This was in the Washington Post, right?

HH: Yeah, February 1st, 1993, Weisskopf piece. In it, he referred to the followers of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.” The Washington Post retracted that the next day saying “there is no factual basis for that statement,” quite a scandal in 1993. Isn’t David Yepsen repeating the same error in his dismissal of the talk radio audience?

JC: Uh [pause] the short answer is yes. But you don’t think there’s any truth to it at all?

HH: I think that while I…

JC: I only bring this up, I don’t, first of all, I didn’t take it with such dismissal, maybe because those are my people. But you know, being from blue collar Toledo myself, and none of my siblings went to college, and they’re all very smart people, but I do think you know, like any time I’ve had to go anyplace for service during the day, whether it’s, well, to get my car fixed or whatever, I would, many times over the years hear Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or you for that matter, but I just don’t put you in the same category as them.

HH: All right, I do. I’m just a talker. I’m just a talking head. Now I’ve got a Harvard degree, but Levin’s actually smarter than I am when it comes to Constitutional law. He and I have been colleagues since Ronald Reagan’s first term at the Department of Justice, and so I know how smart Levin is.

JC: I didn’t know that.

HH: Oh, yeah. Levin and I have been pals, Levin is really brilliant. Have you ever read any of his books, Jackie?

JC: Not the whole book.

HH: Okay.

JC: And mainly, I just have followed him, oh God, well, Twitter has made it easier to follow him, and then I can listen…

HH: He’s a…

JC: Go ahead.

HH: He’s a dear friend, and Liberty and Tyranny and Ameritopia and his new one, Plunder and Deceit, they’re extraordinary works of a first class intellect. But what Yepsen I think is saying, and blue collar is, you know, my audience is white collar/blue collar. But it skews highly educated, and I think this may be, and you can tell that by my sponsors. I’m selling the Employee Retirement Stock Ownership Program. I am selling all sorts of things that are very expensive price point, high income/high education correlation. And I think Yepsen is looking down his nose. He’s been a guest on my show. He’s a terrific reporter, and he was at the Register.

JC: Yeah.

HH: But I really think he has contempt for this audience.

JC: Yeah, well, I guess that’s where I would differ from you. I mean, I can see taking, and you know, I sort of blanched a bit at the quote, but not a lot, because I didn’t take it, I didn’t take it in the spirit of disdain or dismissiveness. There is, you know, I don’t have it at my fingertips, but there are, you know, Pew, mainly, there are studies that do show that those people, I’m not talking about your audience, because I have not done or seen audience surveys for you versus everyone else, but that it does skew towards, you know, non-college degree, blue collar, but it’s really hard to say these days.

HH: Yeah, all I could offer to you is…

JC: It’s almost…

HH: …is anecdotal evidence. The reason that Daniel Silva or C.J. Box or for example last week, former Ambassador from Israel, Michael Oren, came in and they spent so much time with me is that my public buys books. They actually go and read the Shorenstein Center papers.

JC: Right.

HH: They actually are hungry for information. They are high information voters as opposed to low information voters.

JC: Right.

HH: And I can’t prove it, but my thesis is that the average conservative is a lot better informed than the average liberal. What do you think about that?

JC: Well, now you’re the one that’s stereotyping.

HH: I am. But that’s my proposition, very naked. I think the average conservative voter is much better informed than the average liberal voter. Do you disagree?

JC: God, I hate to do this to you, but you know, when I don’t have, I guess I do disagree. I don’t have the data in front of me, so I can’t make that conclusion. And I can’t say it rings really true. I think you have very informed people in both camps, and then you have people that are very kneejerk under-informed.

HH: Second thing I wanted to talk to you about is why the conservative talk radio is so large. And you write at one point that, you quote somebody else as saying they can’t seem to get their talk radio act together, right, that they fail. In fact, NPR’s got 25…

JC: Oh, you’re talking about the left has failed, right?

HH: Yeah, the left has failed.

JC: Yeah.

HH: NPR’s got 25 million listeners a day. They’re very liberal, aren’t they?

JC: I don’t think what comes, I don’t think NPR’s product is liberal or conservative. I think it’s, I think NPR gets a bad rap, frankly. I will say that.

HH: Okay, we disagree again, Jackie, because I worked for PBS for ten years on nightly news and public affairs host at KCET affiliate in Los Angeles. I was the only conservative there. I was the only conservative in the entire network. I look at the NPR lineup. It’s full of liberals. Their talk show hosts are liberal. It’s just like the Salem Radio Network’s conservative. But we’ll come back from break. I think that’s why the numbers skew a little bit is we’re not that much as far ahead. It’s just the left always listens to NPR. We’ll be right back on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

—- – – –

HH: This is a very short segment, Jackie, so I just want to go back to the Pew study on consistent conservatives. One of the things you note is that 47% of self-described consistent conservatives get their source of news from only one place, and that’s Fox News. And I don’t dispute that. The same Pew study, though, found that 50% of self-described consistently liberal get their news from CNN, NPR, MSNBC or the New York Times. And so is that any really different, the far left get it from very liberal sources, New York Times, MSNBC, NPR, CNN, and the far right gets it from a very conservative source, Fox News. Is there really much difference between either end of the bell curve?

JC: Well, you know, you’ll disagree with me, but I think those are not comparable to Fox News. I think Fox News has some top of the heap news coverage and news personalities in people like Bret Baier and Chris Wallace and the shows they do.

HH: Megyn Kelly?

JC: But then, excuse me?

HH: Megyn Kelly as well?

JC: Yeah, but I’m not as familiar with her show.

HH: Okay.

JC: Although in terms of balance, you know, their own phrase, fair and balanced, I would say, what I have seen is that I would put Chris Wallace and Bret Baier as the more Northwestern journalism 101 star students. But, so, you know, I’m not, it’s not my job or my role in this to be defending or defining a CNN, and certainly MSNBC. I don’t disagree with you. I just don’t see where MSNBC is in the same league with CNN, frankly. And you know, the New York Times, I mean, I, just speaking for myself, I don’t do anything different, journalistically, for the last seven years that I’ve been at the New York Times than I did for 18 years at the Wall Street Journal. They’re both great papers, and I’ve never, and they’ve never interfered with anything I wrote. And I will say, you know, there is one thing of interest, and I know this, because you say NPR, when I look at the people at NPR I’ve actually worked with covering Scott Horsley and Ari Shapiro covering the White House, or their Supreme Court reporters, their Congressional reporters, these are solid people. And I have never seen any slant in their coverage.

HH: Oh, I don’t think they’re not solid people. John Fisher Burns is my actual favorite guest of all time on the Hugh Hewitt Show. Nevertheless, I think if you polled everyone in the New York Times editorial bureau and the Wall Street Journal outside of the opinion pages, they would all, like we’ve seen before, vote 90% plus for Obama, be pro-choice, pro-gun control legislation, pro-gay marriage. They all think alike. So they have epistemic closure, to use you term, which we’ll talk about next hour.

—- – – —

HH: Did you happen to see Trainwreck, by the way, with LeBron James? It’s a very vulgar movie, but there’s a very funny bit between Bill Hader and him talking about Miami V. Cleveland. I don’t know if you saw that.

JC: No, it’s at the top of my list. My daughter and I want to go see it, but twice, we’ve tried, and things fell through.

HH: How old is your daughter?

JC: This daughter is 22.

HH: Okay. It’s still going to be a little bit embarrassing, mom. I’m here to tell you right now I wouldn’t want to see it with my kids. So just, there’s a great cringe factor if you’re going to see it with your kids. Oh, is there a cringe factor.

JC: Oh, well, I made the mistake of taking her and a boyfriend when she was in middle school to 40 Year Old Virgin, and thinking that…

HH: Oh! Oh, okay, bad mistake. I’ve done that. I took my boys to see Team America when they were in junior high. So I admit to the same sin. Let me get to epistemic closure.

JC: Yeah.

HH: This is really the heart and soul of your piece, and I want to quote you. In 2010, you write, “libertarian scholar Julian Sanchez at the Cato Institute provoked a lively debate among conservative intellectuals when he wrote that the expansion and success of conservative media had created a closed information circle harmful to conservatism. His theory first got attention as the Tea Party was ascendant. And non-partisan surveys provided evidence of many conservative voters’ mistaken beliefs in Obama’s foreign birth and Muslim faith, death panels and climate change is a hoax among others. But the debate revived after the 2012 elections to explain how Republicans could have been so surprised by Romney’s defeat when mainstream media had widely reported on non-partisan polling showing him far behind.” Let me take that last part first. I was one of those who didn’t believe the polls, and was embarrassed by that. Nevertheless, the polls have been wrong about the British election, the Israeli election and the 2014 election. I don’t know right now whether the fact that they got one right is the outlier or the fact that I got one wrong is the outlier. That’s hard to put down to epistemic closure, because polling is a hard to define “science” right now, isn’t it?

JC: Yeah, well, it’s become very hard, in large part, because of technology that Hugh, it’s been hard to poll people who use cell phones, and that’s what most millennials and people up to about age 35 do. So it is hard, but I think, you know, for years and years, I was part of the NBC/Wall Street Journal polls, which I think are, were and are the gold standard of polling.

HH: I agree with that. I agree with that.

JC: And, yeah, and I don’t know, I think that the polls have just, in 2012, were pretty, and even, well, in 2014, it’s, I guess I just didn’t, the polls that I follow I didn’t see as big of a problem, but I do follow them.

HH: Well, I would hold up as an example Tom Cotton won by 17 points. It was a neck and neck race with a…

JC: Yeah, good point.

HH: There were lots of those, actually.

JC: You know, but it is hard to poll in some of those states.

HH: Alaska, yes, Arkansas, no. There was, and the Israeli election completely far off, the British, I listened to BBC because I was driving back and forth from D.C. to Charlottesville after the British election.

JC: Yeah.

HH: And they reinvented the Shy Tories, because it was so far off.

JC: Yeah.

HH: But back to epistemic closure, although Julian Sanchez wrote it, when I Googled conservatism and epistemic closure, I found, as I expected I would, Krugman, of your newspaper, Paul Krugman, I found an editorial from your newspaper, and of course, the one that really put into circulation was a Jonathan Chait cover story in the New Republic. I believe it was a cover story. So that was actually, I thought, used, even though Sanchez, no one’s ever heard of, I’m sure he’s a fine intellectual, but no one’s ever heard of his theory of epistemic closure. It was actually Chait and Krugman. And they pushed it much in the same way that the Death Of Conservatism by Sam Tanenhaus was put forward as anti, evidence of anti-intellectualism on the right as opposed to actual any philosophical closure.

JC: Well, I don’t know if I should admit to this, but I was unaware of the Chait and Paul Krugman pieces. And I have, I don’t have it nearby, but I had, as I’ve been preparing for this, I had a whole accordion file of the printouts of the back and forth among conservatives only. So I only read, and in fact, I was a little bit embarrassed that I wondered what I was doing in that time frame that I was unaware that this debate had been going on, on the right. And I guess I just chalked it up to the fact that it was a time when there were a lot of budget and fiscal fights between the White House and Congress, and that’s what I do a lot of the time. So yeah, I mean, I do remember that there was a piece in the New York Times I came across where they wrote about it, but that was just after the fact. This was a really big debate on the right.

HH: Well actually, I got into it with Chait back when he would come on the show. And I just encourage you to Google conservatism and epistemic closure.

JC: Okay.

HH: And you’ll find that the left a lot more, but talking about the actual problem, I went and spent some…

JC: And I’m going to send you some links when I get around to it of it on the right.

HH: Great. I’ll look for it. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, you know, goes into great length to what it means, but I always, it sort of means it’s this echo chamber problem.

JC: Yeah.

HH: That’s what I describe it to people. And would you agree with that, that’s a fair description, the echo chamber amplifies and distorts the real signal?

JC: Yeah, yes. People tell me, you know, I don’t, I didn’t study philosophy, but people tell me that the term is misused in this context. But I like the word cocoon, closed cocoon is the phrase that I think better describes what Julian Sanchez and other people. You know, David Frum is another person who has written to this.

HH: Yes, and I agree with the description of what it is. Now I want to make another proposal to you. The problem is far more significant among elite media organs than it is within talk radio conservatism, that meaning there is a great deal less diversity on the left than there is on the right. That’s my proposition. I want to give you your first opportunity to react to it, and then I’ll try and prove it up to you

JC: Okay, well, and so my first reaction is that I think sometimes you are, at the risk of sounding like I’m flattering you just because I’m on your show, I think you confuse the kind of punditry you do, which is reason and you’re interested in getting different points of view and having people of different points of view on your show, as you’ve proven, which I think is interesting and what makes your show interesting. But I think you are a rarity in the world of conservative media.

HH: Now that’s interesting. I’m really not, and that’s what I think I wonder if, I don’t doubt that you believe that, and I don’t doubt that most of elite media believes that. I call it the Manhattan…

JC: But your friend, your friend, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, the man, the very talented, smart man that I focused on just for illustration purposes in my paper, Steve Deace, a Des Moines based…

HH: Steve is very talented, yeah, Des Moines-based national show talker, yeah.

JC: And he, and people like that, they wouldn’t, they don’t run a show like you do.

HH: But Bennett, Medved, Prager does. Now Rush and Mark don’t do guests, and so that’s why I send you to Ameritopia or The Liberty Amendments or Liberty and Tyranny, or Mark’s new book, Plunder and Deceit to get his intellectual breadth and depth. You have to read his books. But he doesn’t do guests. And so if you don’t do guests, you know, it’s sort of hard to do it. But Sean, if you listen to his show, and we’re coming up to a break, he often has liberals on. Part of the problem is liberals won’t come on. You’re actually very admirable as a journalist, not as a liberal, Jackie, but it takes a lot to get some of the lefty organizations to produce their people for me.

— – – —

HH: A couple of quick questions, Jackie, to see if this fits. Have you, yet, watched the Planned Parenthood videos?

JC: Oh, yeah, all four of them.

HH: Good…

JC: And all, and the entire where they released, I think the third one, I never did find a full-length, but I watched, yeah, I’ve watched them all.

HH: Oh, thank you for doing that, because a lot of the people in the media have not. Yesterday, I had your colleague from the Times, religion columnist Mark Oppenheimer on, and he hadn’t watched them. And I’m afraid that a lot of people are commenting on them without that. Would you agree that most members of the Manhattan-Beltway media elite are pro-choice?

JC: Oh, God. Yeah, I mean, I don’t think, that wouldn’t be going out on a limb.

HH: Yeah, you’re not. I mean, it’s pretty far and pretty obvious to me, and that I believe Pew has polled and found that most Manhattan-Beltway media elite people voted for Obama if they voted. Some don’t, like Dana Milbank, but most that did vote, would you agree voted for Obama?

JC: Among those who voted, I mean, among the ones I know? There was a sense, uh, yeah.

HH: Okay, and would you also agree they don’t own guns?

JC: I mean, this is all just, I…

HH: I know. It’s just all impressionistic.

JC: I really don’t have these discussions with people.

HH: But I don’t think you need to, because I think if you, the assumption in a newsroom at the Times or the Washington Post or Politico is everyone kind of believes the same stuff, and that this is the epistemic closure that’s a problem. Last one. I don’t own a gun. Do you own a gun?

JC: No, but I grew up in a household where there was a gun.

HH: You’re ahead of me there.

JC: I don’t know how to shoot one, and I was never taught to, so I wouldn’t have one.

HH: Well, you and me are the same, and people actually don’t want me to have them, given my eyesight. But nevertheless, I point out that most media elites again don’t own guns, don’t get guns, don’t get that. And then finally, churchgoing, you might be still practicing Catholic like I am, but my, I wrote a book about this in the 90s. Most media elites don’t go to church on a more than occasional basis. Would you agree with that?

JC: I guess, but you know, to just, since I can best speak for myself, I belong to the same parish that includes my former colleague from the Wall Street Journal, Jerry Seib, who is now the Washington bureau chief there, and one of the ushers is Mark Shields, who’s the liberal commentator, of course, on PBS.

HH: What is that, Blessed Sacrament?

JC: And…yes, Blessed Sacrament.

HH: That’s my old parish. Yeah, that’s my old parish in D.C, great, great parish.

JC: Yeah, now my church really tested me, and I have fallen away quite a bit as a result of the pedophilia and the handling of it. I will admit that. But I remain very, I remain spiritual.

HH: There are lots of Catholics running around who occasionally will go and leave and come back again. But theories aside, this is something that you write and I want to get to it.

JC: Okay.

HH: “As a matter of practical politics, some establishment Republicans worry that the party is talking to itself, in effect, and consequently failing to reach some independents and persuadable Democrats. Even when Boehner and McConnell write columns or do TV and radio interviews, generally it is for conservative media.” That’s, by the way, I disagree with that vehemently with respect to the Speaker. “When the conservative Club For Growth in February hosted a Florida summit,” they excluded a bunch of people saying media coverage is by invitation only. “As Pew has found, the most conservative Americans consumer conservative media almost exclusively and distrust the rest, while other Americans generally trust and select a variety of sources.” That’s where I wanted to come at. The variety of sources is actually those four sources – CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times and what was the fourth one?

JC: NPR?

HH: And NPR. So is it really all that different? You know, Boehner doesn’t talk to me. Hillary doesn’t talk to anyone, does she?

JC: This is a bad week to be asking a New York Times person about their relationship with Hillary.

HH: (laughing) That’s, people, explain that to people, would you, Jackie? I’m not going to put words in your mouth. Explain that to people.

JC: Well, since it’s been over a week now, but we had a story that was problematic, and which was sort of sloppily corrected of, suggesting that she had gotten, that there was a criminal referral against her based on her handling or allegations or suggestions that there might, the handling of her emails from her personal account when she was Secretary of State might have included classified material. Two sources, I happened to be in the bureau that night. There were sources that had used that term criminal. The sources backed off from that, and it became something called a security referral. And they were, stepped back from saying it was directly against Hillary Clinton, but that someone…

HH: Yeah, you guys should have pushed back, given what we learned today about the thumb drive and David Kendall. The New York Times was 100% right last week. I’m not asking you to confirm or deny that. But Hillary’s in deep trouble, deeper than David Petraeus was.

— – — –

HH: Jackie, your general theory is Republicans have closed themselves off from information. However, you have also a critique of the Republicans that on Common Core, the Republican Party has driven previous supporters of Common Core into opposition of Common Core. It seems to me hard to square those two positions. If they’re closed systems, and the data is coming in on Common Core, and I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing experts on this. I mean, I’ve talked to Jay Mathews and Bill Bennett and Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, Kasich, Christie, Jindal.

JC: Right.

HH: They’re changing their position not because of conservative media, but because Common Core is a disaster at its rollout level with regards to the math standards and curriculum. And by the way, with regards to the English standards and curriculum, it seems to be working pretty well. But moms who do math at the dining room table hate this stuff. So how can they be guilty of epistemic closure if they’re changing in response to constituent input and the reality of the Common Core rollout?

JC: I don’t think everyone is as well informed on it as you are as taken. I mean, for one thing, I think in the Common Core, and I hate to be in a position where I’m defending Common Core versus you know, it’s not what I’m doing, but I do think, and this came out in a video that captured a woman, an opponent of Common Core questioning Lindsey Graham about it last September in a backyard event in South Carolina, where she asked him to state his position or address Common Core, and he said what’s Common Core, which was shocking, but I guess it’s an indication of how much Lindsey Graham focuses on national security issues. But so she tried to define it for him, and she stammered so badly, she could not describe it, that he finally said well, I get it. It’s a bad idea. I’ll get my staff to work on it and we’ll fight it. And it was just, it’s sort of captured the worst of the opposition to this where I mean, I’m not defending Common Core to say that I think people, this is still, it is not a federal mandate. It is not even setting the curriculum for the states. It’s leaving it up to…

HH: Well, we would, we would…

JC: It’s leaving it up to the states to sort their problems…

HH: Oh, no, we would disagree with that, because when Arne Duncan adopted the waiver policy of waiving No Child Left Behind, I believe it’s actually an unconstitutional waiver condition, but that’s, you know, rather esoteric. They federalized it. But even if that were not the objection, at the local level, it’s in reaction to constituent complaints. I’m sure there are some ignorant complaints and some mob mentality among people, but generally speaking, I serve on an oversight committee in a local school district. Parents hate the math stuff. It doesn’t work.

JC: Yeah.

HH: And by the way, if you’ve, Jay Mathews will be the first to step forward, and no ideologue, he, and say that there’s…

JC: Right, right.

HH: …a huge problem with Common Core. Let me, before we run out of time, I want to get to the most important thing. You note that, look, Congress has got some stuff done – terrorism insurance, human trafficking, the doc fix, but you write that Republicans, there’s a question whether they’ll be able to perform the bigger essential governing tasks that loom of passing annual appropriations bills and raising the nation’s debt limit without the messy interparty rupture and brinksmanship of recent years. As a matter of fact, the GOP has passed the DOD authorization, and the House has passed the DOD appropriation, and Senate Democrats are blocking that appropriation by filibuster. If the Senate Democrats were not using the filibuster, every appropriation bill would pass and be sent to the President where he could either sign it. This is a replay of 2005 and Social Security. Why is it that in your critique you line up the Republicans as being closed when I think actually the Democrats, especially Harry Reid, have been captured by the hard left and will not deal?

JC: Hugh, look, you’re right about the Defense appropriations, but there’s an extenuating reason. But the other appropriations have not been finished and won’t. They had to pull the appropriations back in the House. They pulled domestic appropriations bills because of the threat from some of the southern conservatives to put confederate flag amendments on it. And they didn’t want that to happen, so they pulled it back. And there’s several other issues. So they’ve got a problem on those, and you know, the Democrats, I’m just saying where they’re coming from, is that the, they’re under these spending caps now that the Defense bills were able to pass, the Republicans were able to pass those, because they added money, frankly, in a fiscal sleight of hand, to boost Defense spending above the agreed to caps.

HH: They used the OCO. They used the overseas contingency…

JC: But they won’t do the same for domestic.

HH: Right.

JC: So that’s what, the Democrats are holding the Defense bill hostage until they’ll give the same sort of lift the ceiling a bit for the domestic bills as well.

HH: But that, and I agree. That’s completely accurate, although I don’t agree with sleight of hand, OCO being legitimate. It’s not my way to go, but that reflects that the Republicans are in fact functioning well. But Democrats are obstructing it as the Madisonian vision had foreseen. The real problem is the filibuster and whether or not, and it was the problem for Democrats from 2009 to 2010, and now it’s a Republican problem. But it’s the supermajority, isn’t it? It’s not that epistemic closure has occurred anywhere, but that the left controls 40 votes, and the right controls 40 votes, and therefore the Senate’s the problem, isn’t it, not epistemic closure?

JC: Well, it’s part of the problem, but I think you could get around the Senate if you had, I’m just, and Hugh, I mean, and for your listeners, my paper is just telling you want Republicans were telling me. And establishment to be sure, these are establishment Republicans, but you know them, too. And a lot of these Republicans who are either running the place or recently did, like John Boehner and Trent Lott, these were people who in their own time were rebellious against the establishment. And then, you know, they got to a point where they got to the top of the heap and the Republicans were in charge, and they had to govern, and that takes compromise. And so I think the one thing about you’ve asked me a lot, legitimately about issues, and stands on people’s positions on things. But I think the most damaging thing that’s come out of a lot of conservative media, and again, not you, is the message of stand and fight on things like shutting down the government and not raising the debt limit. And those are the things that freeze action on the essential tasks of the government.

HH: And that is, it’s interesting to me. I viewed the 2013 shutdown as a branding exercise that worked magnificently, since we won the 2014 election. You and your paper considered it to be a disaster for the Republicans, but I always say look, the only time…

JC: Well, not just me.

HH: I know, not just you, but a lot of people thought it was a disaster and the Republicans got hammered, and I say well look, elections are how we call these games, and the Republicans crushed the Democrats in 2014. So the shutdown must have been part of that.

— – – – –

HH: Jackie Calmes, first of all, let me thank you. I appreciate you spending this much time with me, very interesting paper. I wish my alma mater would invite me back to lounge around at the Charles and write the counterpart, the response at some point. so I’m going to have to get on their case. But do you know Dr. Larry Arnn? Have you ever sat down with him over at the Kirby Center?

JC: No.

HH: I’d encourage that, because I think he’d be very fascinating, or Guy Benson and Mary Katharine Ham. They just wrote a brand new book called End of Discussion, which is a complete book length response that sort of anticipated your paper and says the outrage industry on the left is choking off free speech debate and is actually killing things off. Are you worried about that proposition, that the left is the problem here, not the right?

JC: No. I mean, the short answer is no. I mean, I don’t, I mean, for the left, and I asked a lot of people about that, there’s, I don’t think it’s comparable, and a lot of people, and most people I talked to, and most of whom were Republicans, didn’t think so, either, that the pressure points on the Democratic side are mostly the organized groups like Labor and women’s groups and environmentalists more than any media. I mean, God knows, look at the New York Times. The New York Times has no influence to speak of or pressure. I’ve never seen, in the time I’ve, 30 years I’ve been in Washington, 31, I’ve never seem members say they were voting some way because of a New York Times editorial.

HH: Oh, I don’t think they have. I think the argument is on my part that the Manhattan-Beltway media elite combines with academic elites to influence the organizational apparatus of the left, which is embedded in the Democratic Party primarily through the unions, as you pointed out, primarily the government employee unions, and that’s how they get people elected and how they do the bidding of President Obama, former Secretary of State Clinton. But on my side, the intellectual diversity, your own colleague, Ross Douthat, wrote a column a couple of years ago citing Pete Wehner, Michael Gerson, David Frum, Josh Barrow, David Brooks, Tim Carney, Rod Dreher, Megan McArdle, Yuval Levin, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jim Pethakoukis, I would add Arthur Brooks. I mean, there are a thousand voices flowering on the right in this great explosion of intellectual diversity.

JC: Yeah.

HH: And on the left, you’ve got Vox.

JC: Oh, I think you’re, I mean, I can’t off the top of my head name, but there are a lot of center-right people that I may not agree with, but I, and the names, well, I’d say I recognized all the names you just ticked off, and I follow most of them. But I think there’s a lot, and but the thing of it is, the people you just named, this was the hard thing about writing about conservative media, but in terms of conservative media that like Breitbart and the Blaze and the local and syndicated talk radio shows, and it’s this constant like not, it’s against governing. It’s against the compromise that’s needed to govern. And I…

HH: Actually, it’s for the Constitution. It’s for the Constitution. Another day, Jackie, we’ll continue it. It’s for this Constitutionalism which is slow and messy by design. Jackie Calmes, thank you.

End of interview.

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