‘Texodus’ trend bodes badly for Republicans

George F. Will

WASHINGTON — Presidential aspirant Beto O’Rourke, thrashing about in an attempt to be noticed, says tax exemptions should be denied to churches and other institutions that oppose same-sex marriage. O’Rourke’s suggestion, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to tax the “excessive” exercise of a First Amendment right, and the NBA’s painful lesson about the perils of moral grandstanding illustrate how progressivism has become a compound of self-satisfied moral preening and a thirst for coercion.

O’Rourke is innocent of originality: Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet recommends a “hard line” against people who deviate from progressivism: “Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War” and “taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.”

Apparently it is progressive to regard unprogressive Americans as akin to enemies vanquished in wars. No Churchillian nonsense about “in victory, magnanimity.”

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh notes that in 1952 California voters used a progressive device, a referendum, to amend the state’s constitution to deny tax exemptions to certain people despised by the majority — people who advocated the unlawful overthrow of the U.S. government. Fortunately, in 1958, in another case from California (concerning denial of property tax exemptions to veterans who refused to swear an oath not to advocate the unlawful overthrow of the government), the U.S. Supreme Court did its counter-majoritarian duty to protect minority rights, striking down this measure: “To deny an exemption to claimants who engage in certain forms of speech is ... the same as if the state were to fine them for this speech.”

Warren, a policy polymath, has a plan for everything, including for taxing speech that annoys her. The pesky First Amendment (in 2014, 54 Democratic senators voted to amend it to empower Congress to regulate spending that disseminates political speech about Congress) says Congress shall make no law ... abridging the right of the people “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” One name for such petitioning is lobbying.

Warren proposes steep taxes (up to 75 percent) on “excessive” lobbying expenditures, as though the amendment says Congress can forbid “excessive” petitioning. Lobbyists are unpopular, and her entire agenda depends on what the amendment was written to prevent — arousing majority passions against an unpopular minority (the wealthy). Warren, who like O’Rourke is operatic when denouncing Donald Trump’s ignorance of, or hostility to, constitutional norms, might not be a plausible person to make the case against him.

“In defeat, defiance” was Churchill’s recommendation. The NBA’s is: When tyrants snarl, grovel. Beijing’s tantrum — great powers do not resemble frustrated toddlers — was detonated by a Houston Rockets employee who tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters. Commissioner Adam Silver, who represents the teams’ owners —

Sorry. Forgive the insensitivity. The NBA has been so insufferable in its virtue signaling, so relentless in its progressive preening, that this past summer it announced that it has “moved away” from calling those who own teams “owners.” The term supposedly carries connotations of slavery.

But back to Silver. He took the 2017 All-Star Game away from Charlotte, so horrified was the NBA by a North Carolina law requiring transgender people to use public bathrooms according to the sex on their birth certificates. The NBA’s decision expressed its “long-standing core values,” which are, however, compatible with the NBA having its China training camp in Xinjiang province, where Chinese citizens are in concentration camps that facilitate “re-education.”

There is strong evidence (from an independent tribunal that met in London) that China, which has many more people in concentration camps — perhaps 1.5 million in Xinjiang alone — than Hitler had during the 1936 Olympics, is still harvesting organs, including hearts, from prisoners, some while still alive, for Chinese and foreign purchasers. Silver, however, is ostentatiously sensitive about “owners,” so Beijing should avoid that word, or else.

The NBA should have done what a congressional letter recommends: suspend activities in China until “government-controlled broadcasters and government-controlled commercial sponsors end their boycott of NBA activities and the selective treatment of the Houston Rockets.” This would have caused Beijing’s infantilism to become a national embarrassment — a weak nation’s idea of national strength.

Unfortunately, however, O’Rourke, Warren and Silver demonstrate the tendency of too many progressives to cut constitutional corners, to despise and bully adversaries, and to practice theatrical but selective indignation about attacks on fundamental American principles, some of which they themselves traduce. Just what we did not need in our dispiriting civic life — additional evidence that there really is no such thing as rock bottom.

George F. Will’s email address is georgewill@washpost.com. © 2019 Washington Post Writers Group.

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(12) comments


Progressivism is not a blueprint for governing. It is a blueprint for disaster. We have seen the wreckage in many places, but there is one thing progressives apparently need not fear: paying a political price for their misdeeds. As long as these electoral and governance patterns exist, progressives will expand their power bases — and continue to govern badly. (California, NY)

hermit thrush

california is doing very well.


Huh?? Oh my God, can't believe I just read this. Was this a joke? California doing well?

hermit thrush

yes, california is doing well. job growth there is strong. the biggest problem is housing costs, which is the result of strong demand to live there.


THe income gap in California is a joke. Jobless rates at all time highs. Jobs are on the rise and have been for some time now. Low income jobs make up a big portion of this. California is a perfect example of the hypocrisy of the “progressives.” I can’t stand that term because it alludes to progress which is certainly debatable. California has a lot to address. You would think with all the tax dollars and what not they could address the surplus of disease but hey...can I get fries with that burger?

hermit thrush

the income gap in california is a genuine problem, but that's again a symptom of california's overall success. some of our biggest, most profitable companies choose to locate in california (which they wouldn't do if it was such a terrible state), and in the winner-take-all form of capitalism we practice as a nation, the result is that there are a lot of extraordinarily high incomes there.

on the other hand, you simply couldn't be more wrong about the jobless rate. i am only aware of unemployment data for california going back to 1976, but relative to that, the state literally has its lowest unemployment on record right now. i don't understand how you can get things so badly wrong like this.


Simplistic politicians tend to favor simplistic solutions to complex problems because that's what they have found audiences have the attention span for. Nuanced politicians who recognize complexity tend to get swift boated. The goals of progressives are good, but they need to think for a moment about more clever ways to get there. Instead of baldly wanting to use a free pass like the weasel word "excessive," for example, why not learn to use concepts that intrinsically define clearly, such as by distinguishing money from speech? Money is not speech, flag underpants are not speech, speech is speech. Speech is verbal and it consists of words. And like that. But it won't happen because politics demands hedging and vagueness and at the same time it demands seeming forceful and strident. And so this is the way we want, so this is the way we get it.

Holmes -- the real one

Good comment, rdsouth. Especially that 1st line.

Jerry Moore Staff
Jerry Moore

If I may play the devil's advocate here for a moment:

Free speech has long been defined as ways to express your views. But if we restrict "speech" to verbal expressions, imagine all the activities that the government could now prohibit.

Writing is not verbal so, therefore, it would no longer qualify as speech. Books galore could be banned because they don't fall into this narrow category. The only types of writing that would remain protected by the First Amendment would be those resulting from news-gathering activities (i.e., the press) and appeals to government officials to address a particular problem (petition the government for a redress of grievances). So criticizing someone through the written word could be classified as non-speech and, hence, no longer protected.

To carry this idea further, displaying figures of people for public adoration or scorn is not verbal and could also be banned. Hanging someone in effigy is definitely not done through the spoken word. Political cartoons could come to an abrupt end as well. And burning the U.S. flag is absolutely not speech under this new definition, so critics of this activity could finally have their dream come true by declaring it illegal.

Spending money makes it possible for people to express themselves, so it has long enjoyed the protection of the First Amendment. Donating to one candidate over another conveys a message on my part, which the courts have correctly recognized as protected speech. For politicians to suggest that they should have increased power to restrict my ability to spend my money as I see fit should be viewed as repugnant by anyone who values the freedoms ensured to us in the U.S. Constitution.

Jerry Moore

Editorial page editor

Watertown Daily Times





Yes...exactly. Very well said.

Holmes -- the real one

So, Jerry Moore, because I happen to have a LOT of money my speech should count more -- that seems OK?


Maybe the written word could be considered speech, or covered under "press" if it is for publication. Allowing any form of expression to count as speech doesn't present any intrinsic border between "I hate that politician," which we intuitively know should be protected, and claiming murder should be protected if you do it to make a statement, which we know shouldn't be. Sure, you can say that a law proclaiming "loud music is illegal because of the volume, not because of the foul words in it," is constitutional because it separates expressive content from other aspects, but that's just punting. What's to say a law can't say, "You can criticize politicians, but only in a whisper." I would say the most reliable way to prevent laws like that is to vote against them, but sure we want courts to protect us against laws prohibiting the content of expression. So words are speech, be they written or spoken. No, that's not the existing standard, but I'm proposing that it would be a good standard to switch to. Protecting money as speech is too close to protecting the volume of music as speech rather than the content. As the volume limit goes down a law increasingly stops being a regulation of noise and start s becoming a regulation of expression. A pure "content or form" standard would say that as long as such a law is even handed, regulating all noise equally, regardless of content, it does not violate the 1st Amendment. It would say, "Nobody say anything," is OK because it doesn't disriminate based on content. But it still prevents free speech. Whereas a "protected speech takes the form of words" standard is clear and does protect something we can call "free speech." You can say anything because sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me. But money is not words. You can say, "pass this bill," but you can't say, "pass this bill and here's a million dollars." Or actually you can, but you can't actually provide the money.

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