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Shooting should shock the conscience

The attempted assassination of Donald Trump, a despicable and indefensible act that came within a whisker of success, should shock the conscience of a seething nation. It should prompt sober reflection, deep introspection, and prayer.
The right people are saying the right things. “There’s no place for this kind of violence in America,” said President Joe Biden, urging us to “unite as one nation to condemn it.” U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said, “violence can never be tolerated.” It “has no place in our politics or communities,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “People should be able to have differing opinions without fear of violence or threats,” said Attorney Gen. Josh Stein. “Passions are inflamed on both sides of the aisle,” said Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, “but please, let’s all remember who we are.”
Trump himself posted these words shortly after the shooting. “I want to extend my condolences to the family of the person at the Rally who was killed, and also to the family of another person that was badly injured. It is incredible that such an act can take place in our Country.”
It is. Yet here we are.
I won’t discount the importance of the right people saying the right words at the right time. Rhetoric is as essential to the practice of politics as dexterity is to the practice of surgery, or draftsmanship to architecture. But to be essential is not to be sufficient. Qualities such as discernment and prudence are what distinguish a superior professional from a merely competent one — or, in this case, statesmanship from mere performance.
That your fellow citizen can disagree with you on political matters, large and small, without necessarily being a liar, a villain, or a fool is a proposition you ought to accept because it is true. Even if you doubt its validity, however, you ought to accept it because our system of self-government requires it.
The structure of that system — elections, enumerated rights and powers, separation of powers, checks and balances, the dual sovereignty embedded in federalism — assumes good faith, nonviolent disagreement. If it were already obvious whose ideas were correct, none of this rigamarole would be required.
Moreover, true self-government requires self-restraint. At this writing, we know the name of Trump’s would-be assassin but not enough information to know in detail why he did what he did and how he got close enough to wound our former president and to wound and kill others in the crowd.
Past assassins and would-be assassins had a range of motivations. Some were political extremists. John Wilkes Booth championed the Confederacy. Lee Harvey Oswald was a communist. Leon Czolgosz, who killed William McKinley, was an anarchist. Sirhan Sirhan, who killed senator and presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy, was a foe of Israel. Others had personal grievances. Charles Guiteau, who killed James Garfield, was angry at being passed over for a presidential appointment. Still others — John Hinckley and the men who tried to kill Andrew
Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt — were lunatics.
I’m going to wait for more information before drawing conclusions about this incident. So should our leaders. They should say so, and why. At the same time, our leaders should continue to condemn political violence and advocate political civility. That’s not jumping the gun. That’s trying to make sure no one responds to the events of July 13 by leaping for their own guns.
The attempted assassination of Donald Trump, at once unthinkable but also unsurprising, presents Americans with a momentous choice. It challenges our leaders to guide that decision not only with words but with deeds. In this terrible, providential moment, we can step back from the precipice of disaster. We can heed the words of the first president to be slain by an assassin’s bullet. We can, with malice toward none with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds.
Enough.

Editor’s note: John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member. His latest books, Mountain Folk and Forest Folk, combine epic fantasy with early American history (FolkloreCycle.com).

Joe Biden is no tragic hero

6It only took ninety minutes for Joe Biden to go from being the leader of the free world to being a political liability many Democrats are now desperate to get rid of. His debate performance against Donald Trump in June was a disaster for him and his party. Appearing pale, glassy-eyed, and confused through the entire debate, Biden reaffirmed for those of us who already knew about his cognitive issues that he is in a state of decline; for those who knew nothing about his physical or mental health, it was a rude awakening.
If Biden has his way, he isn’t going anywhere. He describes his debate performance as a “bad night” that he attributes to a cold and fatigue from recent travels abroad. The irony of this disastrous evening is that it was Biden who wanted to debate Trump and who stipulated the terms of the debate. Perhaps Biden thought he would repeat his State of the Union success and overwhelm his opponent with a show of physical and verbal aggression that would make Trump look weak. If this is what Biden believed would happen, he was wrong.
In an interview just days after the debate, the president doubled down on his vow to stay in the race. Apparently, only God can convince Biden to change his mind, and even that might not be possible. When George Stephanopoulos, the ABC News anchor interviewing Biden, asked him if he would step down, he replied “if the Lord Almighty comes down and tells me to do that, I might do that.” Notice that he said he “might” do that, not that he would do that.
Biden’s refusal to step down, placing him at odds with many members of his party, has presented Americans with an election dilemma unlike any in our history. How this standoff will end is anyone’s guess. Perhaps Biden will change his mind and drop out, but he has a reputation for being extremely stubborn, so that is unlikely. Perhaps the Democrats will find a way to force him out, but then they must select another candidate. If they do not pick Kamala Harris, the current vice president and therefore the obvious choice, they will likely lose voters. Whatever decision they make, they risk losing not only the presidency but also numerous seats in Congress.
It would be very tempting for anyone looking at the problem that the Democrats face to see Biden as a sympathetic figure bravely fighting a battle against his political adversaries for his right to serve a second term. Biden’s physical and cognitive health are tragic, especially for those who have witnessed this kind of deterioration in a loved one, but Biden is no hero.
From the moment Biden was inaugurated, he has implemented policies that have been disastrous not only for America but also for the entire world. In the first few weeks of his administration, he issued executive orders that stopped construction of a border wall and opened up the border; he canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, reducing our fossil fuel production; he extended a pause on student loan payments; he issued an order that transgender female athletes must be allowed to compete against biological women; and he established climate change as an essential part of our foreign policy and national security.
Because of these and other policies issued by Biden, we now have inflation that has created financial hardships for many Americans. We have millions of unvetted illegal immigrants in our country, many of whom are violent criminals. We have wars in Europe and the Middle East. We have world leaders who no longer respect or fear us.
Amid all this, we have a “leader” who truly does not act in the best interests of his country and who feels contempt for half its citizens.
The best thing Biden could do for America would be to acknowledge his medical issues, withdraw from the presidential race, and resign as president. However, he has made it clear he is more interested in holding on to power than he is in serving his country. And that is a great tragedy for all of us.

What if Gov. Cooper wins the veepstakes?

4The name of Gov. Roy Cooper came up among a handful of state governors as a replacement on the Democratic ticket if President Joe Biden decided not to run, according reports in recent weeks. That situation is no longer hypothetical, in light of Biden’s announcement on July 21 that he would end his re-election efforts.
Carolina Public Press interviewed analysts in early July to understand the likelihood of Gov. Cooper being selected if the president dropped out, and what the succession process for state governor would look like if Cooper were to run a national campaign.
Gov. Cooper was among at least a dozen state governors who joined a meeting with Biden in the days immediately following the debate, amid criticism of the president’s performance.
With Biden stepping out of the race, many experts predicted Vice President Kamala Harris would likely be the party’s pick for a presidential candidate. That was furthered on July 21 as Biden endorsed and many top Democrats nationally voiced support for her to seek the presidency.
Political analysists in North Carolina and nationally have been saying Gov. Cooper stood a high chance of making the shortlist for the party’s vice presidential if Biden stepped down, as he has now done.
“Cooper is a purple-state Democratic governor who, as a matter of fact, in the last election was the only one who was a Democratic governor who won on the same ballot as Trump,” said Christopher Cooper, a professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University.
“He is a bit of a unicorn in American politics and it makes sense that you’d want the unicorn on your side.”
Cooper has also served as an attorney general and has crossed over with Harris, who also served as an attorney general in California during the same time, according to the professor. They have appeared at several campaign events together, including one in Fayetteville on July 18.
Would NC governor be picked for VP?
North Carolina is widely considered a battleground state, but the Democrats have trailed in recently polling and haven’t won a presidential contest here since Barrack Obama eked out a win in 2008.
During the same period, Cooper has repeatedly won statewide contests for governor and attorney general, the only Democrat with that kind of track record in North Carolina.
Other state governors’ names have also been floated as potential replacements on the Democratic ticket in the event that Biden decided to step out of the race. Some of the others being considered were Gretchen Whitmer from Michigan, Gavin Newsom from California, Josh Shapiro from Pennsylvania, Tim Walz from Minnesota and Andy Beshear from Kentucky.
Beshear recently said he would want to finish his second term as governor.
Newsome wouldn’t make much sense for Democrats to double down on California, according to Cooper, the WCU professor. For Beshear to run, Kentucky would need a new governor and “the odds are very good that the Democratic Party would be sacrificing that,” while Gov. Cooper is finishing his last term in North Carolina.
“In terms of the electoral map, Cooper makes more sense,” the professor said. “Whitmer could also make sense as a candidate.”
“But if Biden were to pull out Roy Cooper would almost have to be on that shortlist,” he said.
Steve Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, also said there is a high possibility that Gov. Roy Cooper would be picked to run on the Democratic ticket.
Gov. Cooper’s demographic appeal would balance out the Democratic ticket if Biden were to step out of the race, both Christopher Cooper and Greene said in early July.
“Kamala Harris is a Black woman and because of his presentation, (Gov.) Cooper is a moderate, white Southerner who would send a message that this is not some radical left ticket,” Greene said. “I don’t think Democrats want to take any more chances with anything and demographically Harris is at the top of the ticket.”
“Everything about these candidates is not only vetted, but at least considered, and the demographics here matter,” Christopher Cooper said. “But I don’t think it’s as simple as Roy Cooper picking up Biden voters as much as it is, that that package of Harris and Cooper together picks up most constituencies in the Democratic Party.”
What happens if Cooper joins ticket?
If for any reason, Gov. Cooper had to step down to focus on a national campaign, North Carolina would need a new governor to lead the state until the general election.
If so, the baton would then be passed down to the lieutenant governor, Mark Robinson, to serve for the remainder of the term until a new governor is elected, according to the state Constitution.
But analysts say it is very unlikely that Gov. Cooper would even need to step down to run a national campaign, according to analysts CPP interviewed.
But if for whatever reason, Cooper did step down from his role as governor, based on the state Constitution, Robinson would become the governor, according to Robert Joyce, a professor of public law and government at the UNC School of Government.
Since Robinson is also running to replace Cooper, this scenario would allow the Republican to run as an incumbent, usually a significant advantage. Given the partisan rivalry between Cooper and the Robinson camp, and Cooper’s support for Democratic state Attorney General Josh Stein‘s candidacy for governor, Cooper would not be likely to let that happen.
Gov. Cooper’s term as governor will end on Jan. 1, 2025. If he were to run and be elected to the federal office, his term as vice president would begin Jan. 20, 2025, according to Joyce. If Cooper joined the ticket and finished his term without stepping down, then the November winner in the gubernatorial race would become governor, Joyce said.
“The idea that Gov. Cooper would step down and it would go to the lieutenant governor, there’s no way he would let that happen,” Greene said. “I’m not aware of anything that would say he has to step down if he’s running for national office.”
“There’s no way Democrats would be willing to take the chance of him stepping down and then letting Mark Robinson be in charge,” he added, “I mean the Republican legislature, I would imagine, would just take the opportunity.”
Christopher Cooper also said there’s no way the governor would let such a situation happen.
“If he runs, he would run from his perch as governor,” Cooper said, “and we’ve seen that – Bill Clinton didn’t step down as governor to run for president, Barack Obama didn’t step down from the Senate to run for president.”

Thoughts of a loyal, terrified American

5Like most Americans, I have been unsettled at best and profoundly frightened at worst since the last Thursday of June, the night of the Joe Biden-Donald Trump debate. That was the first bookend enclosing what I can only think of as the climatic unraveling of our political process and perhaps of our nation.
The second bookend snapped into place just over 2 weeks later when a young man, a registered Republican, attempted to assassinate former President Trump and successfully killed a volunteer fireman who was shielding his family as friends watched on television. Two other people were seriously injured.
Anyone who thought our political process and our nation’s democracy were chugging along just fine, has been clearly, violently, and perhaps permanently disabused of that notion.
Since the shootings, there has been a steady drumbeat for Americans to “lower the temperature,” “dial back on,” “take a deep breath,” and otherwise back away from our overheated, divisive, and truly ugly political rhetoric. It is almost as if we now care more about our partisan identifications than we do about our nation. I could not agree more, but the question now is whether we have already crossed some invisible but very real line in our politics, whether we have already slipped off the edge and are falling into the abyss.
Like many Americans, very likely some who read this essay, I no longer feel the same way about individuals in my personal orbit, both family and friends, who hold opposing political views to my own. I suspect they feel the same way about me. Some Americans have ended long and close relationships over political differences, something I could not have imagined in my younger years. Historians tell us Americans have not been this divided since the years leading up to our Civil War 150 years ago.
If I were a fairy godmother, I would wave my magic wand and make it possible for Democrats and Republicans to discuss rationally, calmly, and civilly the issues that have driven wedges into our nation’s political heart---our diversifying society, immigration, the availability of weapons like the one that struck the former President. Yelling and name-calling have only made the issues more toxic and the divisions deeper.
Perhaps after the two national political conventions end next month and the Presidential campaign proceeds in earnest, at least some Americans will have come to see that the last two decades of escalating political tension and increasing tolerance of both violent language and violence itself have gravely wounded our country and threaten our national survival.
Up & Coming Weekly publisher Bill Bowman and I have been friends for many years, despite differing political viewpoints. He has never asked me not to write from my heart, and I am sure he has had occasion to defend some position I took to others who disagreed with it.
That said, Bill and I, loyal Americans both, agree on the danger our country is facing if we, Democrats and Republicans, are unwilling or unable to dial back our rhetoric and talk to each other honestly and with less rancor, our children and grandchildren will live in a very different America than he and I — and you — have enjoyed.

On schools and sports: Follow evidence

Having spent most of my career commissioning, editing, or writing about public policy research, I understand its inherent limitations. Still, I cling to a belief, however naïve it may be, that careful study of complex problems can produce at least some clear answers that most policymakers will accept.
In education, for example, there is a wide range of strongly held views about how to improve teacher quality, student learning, and school outcomes. On most issues, you can find plausible arguments, backed up with data, on all sides.
There are exceptions. One is the common practice of paying schoolteachers more if they possess or acquire a graduate degree. Its justification sounds plausible. If undergraduate training in academic subjects or educational practice confers value, surely additional training in graduate school would confer more value.
It’s not true, though. The relationship between graduate study and teacher effectiveness is one of the most frequently studied issues in education policy. You’ll find more than a hundred studies in peer-reviewed scholarly journals. The vast majority (more than 80%) find no connection between graduate degrees and effective teaching.
Nevertheless, most school systems in America provide pay bumps for all graduate degrees. Most North Carolina teachers with such degrees receive higher pay, as well — but only because they’ve been grandfathered. Nearly a decade ago, state lawmakers in Raleigh did something that, as far as I know, no other state legislature in modern times has done. Guided by the evidence, they eliminated pay bumps for new teachers with graduate degrees or existing teachers who go back to school to get them.
North Carolina still differentiates pay on other grounds. The General Assembly retained pay bumps for teachers obtaining national board certification, for example. Lawmakers also authorized schools to pay teachers for demonstrated performance and created pilot programs for advanced teaching roles. These practices have empirical support. Paying for graduate degrees doesn’t.
A success story for evidence-based policymaking? So far, yes.
Unfortunately, the story isn’t over. When the North Carolina House of Representatives released its budget-adjustment bill a couple of weeks ago, it contained a provision to reinstate a 10% salary boost for graduate degrees. While the initial cost is only $8 million, the education-policy group BEST NC estimates that full implementation would add about $280 million in annual expenditure. Previous House budgets have also called for restoring the pay bump.
For every such victory, alas, there are many defeats. Also a couple of weeks ago, the Charlotte City Council voted to spend $650 million to help renovate Bank of America Stadium, the home of the Carolina Panthers. Here’s another clear consensus in empirical research: government funding for professional sports does not confer net benefits on taxpayers. It simply forces them to subsidize billionaire owners, superfans, and other special-interest groups.
In a summary for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, economist Adam Zaretsky wrote that advocates of taxpayer subsidy routinely overestimate the benefits and minimize the opportunity costs. “Regardless of whether the unit of analysis is a local neighborhood, a city, or an entire metropolitan area,” he explained, “the economic benefits of sports facilities are de minimus” and far lower than alternative uses of tax dollars. This is even true for hotel and restaurant taxes — the costs of which are borne partially or mostly (respectively) by locals, not visitors, and ought to be spent on true public services, not sports teams.
I keep clinging to my belief that evidence matters — clinging by my fingertips, that is.

Editors Note: John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member. His latest books, Mountain Folk and Forest Folk, combine epic fantasy with early American history (FolkloreCycle.com).

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