Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Has AIPAC Invested Any Substantial Money in GOP Primaries?

Yesterday was a big primary day, and there are a lot of storylines being bandied about. One close to my neck of the political woods has been AIPAC's heavy investments in Democratic primaries attacking candidates it perceives as insufficiently pro-Israel. Their success rate was mixed -- two AIPAC-backed Democrats, Valerie Foushee and Don Davis, won in North Carolina, but in Pennsylvania Summer Lee looks to have narrowly defeated Steve Irwin for the Democratic nomination in a Pittsburgh-area seat where AIPAC dumped $2.7 million in on Irwin's behalf (AIPAC spent over $2 million on each of the North Carolina races).

Seven million dollars is quite a bit of cash on three Democratic primaries (in another race, AIPAC has backed Rep. Henry Cuellar in his primary run-off against Jessica Cisneros to the tune of $1.2 million). My question is whether there are any GOP races where AIPAC has spent equivalent sums seeking to ensure that its preferred candidate wins (or -- perhaps more saliently -- that a dispreferred candidate does not)?

I haven't heard of such expenditures, though I won't pretend I'm such an eagle eye that I'd necessarily spot them if they'd occurred -- that's why I'm asking! Still, my guess is that the answer is no, they haven't (this disclosure also suggests that AIPAC's United Democracy Project super PAC has only spent money on Democratic races). And the reason for my guess is that there aren't any credible Republican candidates whose positions AIPAC considers unacceptable on Israel. I could dimly imagine that they might have gone in against Thomas Massie, whom they've sparred with in the past over Iron Dome funding, but Massie cruised to victory last night with 75% of the vote.

What we're really seeing -- and this isn't a shocking revelation -- is that AIPAC has no meaningful "right-wing" boundary to what it considers acceptably pro-Israel. Absent David Duke style neo-Nazi anti-Zionism -- which actually is starting to nibble into the conservative mainstream but hasn't yet manifested on any national stage to my knowledge -- it is fine with literally any GOP position on Israel, no matter how conservative. One-stateism, pro-apartheid, pro-settlement -- nothing is off-limits to AIPAC. It may pay lip service to supporting a "two-state solution", but when it comes to things that actually get them off the couch and spending money, all the action occurs on the Democratic side of the aisle.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The (Non-)Prevalence Problem of CRT

Years ago, I remember reading a famous paradox concerning how Americans viewed the subject of foreign aid. If you asked them "should the US spend more or less on foreign aid," most Americans would answer "less" -- they thought we spent way too much money on the issue. But when you asked them to estimate how much the United States spent on foreign aid each year, they gave an answer that was an order of magnitude higher than what we actually spent. And worst of all, if you asked them how much they thought we should spend on foreign aid, their answer was still far higher than what we actually did spend -- and remember, this is from people who thought their position was that we needed to cut foreign aid!

At one level, this confluence mostly just shows that most people are innumerate. But taking it somewhat at face value, there is a nettlesome political puzzle here. What does one do if people say they want to adopt position X, but actually advocate for moving away from X, because they are under the misapprehension that the status quo is on the far side of X and thus believe that moving away from X actually means moving towards it?

This is a problem with some folks who've joined up on the "anti-Critical Race Theory" crusade. Of course, there are plenty of people who make no bones about their position -- they think CRT is a Globalist Marxist Socialist Communist Soros Triple Parenthesis plot, and they want to destroy it. But others at least purport to believe that Critical Race Theory should be taught, it just shouldn't be the only thing that is taught. For instance, David Bernstein of the "Jewish Institute for Liberal Values", a prominent anti-CRT voice in the Jewish community, took the position that any school which teaches a "traditional" narrative about civil rights should also teach a CRT perspective.

Now here's the thing. If your opinion is that every school should teach both a "traditional" and "CRT" style approach to civil rights, you are advocating for a position that is way to the left of the status quo. The vast majority of primary and secondary schools in the United States do not teach "CRT" at all. In some small number, you might get a CRT-influenced approach in conjunction with more traditional accounts. The number of students who are only being exposed to CRT, and no other perspective, is absolutely negligible. Objectively speaking, if your view is "students should hear both traditional and CRT views", you should be pushing for far more inclusion of CRT into public school curricula than is present in the status quo.

In other words, the entirety of the barrier to getting to the world Bernstein claims he wants to see comes from folks like the Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, who's trying to get the University of Wisconsin to rescind its hiring of respected scholar Jennifer Mnookin as Dean because Mnookin (this is a direct quote) "supports critical race theory being taught on campus". It's Texas passing laws limiting what can be taught in the classroom with the express goal of seeking to "abolish" CRT. It's Florida with a veritable cavalcade of legislation seeking to target and suppress "woke" ideologies.

Yet Bernstein, like the ill-informed respondent on foreign aid, has adopted a politics that sprints off in the exact opposite direction from where he claims he wants to go, because he has a wildly off-base assessment of how common Critical Race Theory is. He thinks CRT is everywhere, so getting to a position of even-handedness means pushing back against CRT's hegemony, even if it means making common cause with some unsavory actors. The reality is that CRT is still relatively obscure for most Americans, and so getting to evenhandedness would mean a more aggressive deployment of CRT into the American educational curriculum than would be dreamed by even the philosophy's most fervent supporters. 

Is he actually that ignorant about the true (non-)prevalence of CRT in the American educational system? I think he probably isn't; but there is something to be said for a certain type of elite who forgets the world exists more than 10 miles beyond Brooklyn and so confuses what is commonplace in a Williamsburg coffeeshop with the national status quo. A little of column B, a little (a lot) of column B, I'd wager.