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What's the point of politics, anyway?

Chris Stirewalt

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On the roster: What’s the point of politics, anyway? - Power Play: Can Hurt keep it 100? - Trump-McConnell feud takes toll on stalled agenda - Roy Moore surges ahead in GOP poll on Alabama primary - The sharp beak of justice 

WHAT’S THE POINT OF POLITICS, ANYWAY?

I could not dig: I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?
– Rudyard Kipling “Epitaphs of War: A Dead Statesman” 

“The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life…. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.” – C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity”

There’s nothing like the threat of a little thermonuclear war to focus the mind on the purpose of politics, eh?

After a dozen months of feeling like America was spinning, spinning, spinning off of its axis and out into space, we have something that frightens us enough to ground us – for a minute at least.

The smartest folks know that the chances of a real shooting war with North Korea remain low. Both countries are saying the same thing, after all. “We will blow you to smithereens if you attack us!” is the cry from both sides of the Pacific. The rhetoric is hotter on the American side than usual, but the message from both remains one of deterrence rather than preemption.

But a couple of thoughts intervene on our serenity: 1) The smart folks seem to have been wrong quite a bit of late. 2) Accidents happen.

It’s in moments like these that we are reminded of the real purpose of governments, and by extension, politics. The first duty of any right government is to keep its people safe, from threats foreign and domestic. 

This bears repeating just now because one of the reasons our politics stink so much is that we have mostly forgotten why we play the game. 

Let’s hop in the Wayback Machine and visit our old friend Plato, who 2,500 years ago knew more than most who claim the title of political scientist know today. “Excess of liberty whether it lies in states or individuals,” he wrote, “seems only to pass into excess of slavery.”

Peaceful, prosperous societies exist in balance between excessive liberty for individuals and excessive liberty for states. If states are too free, the people will be crushed by authority. If people are too free, they will be tyrannized by the bad acts of each other. 

What makes America great and different from almost everything that came before it is the idea that the law would restrict not just the people, but the government, too. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights laid the foundation for a strong federal government, but simultaneously placed enormously strict boundaries on its conduct. 

The Framers intent was to seek the balance that Plato sought, but with the law as the sovereign, not a philosopher king. 

Looking at politics today, it seems that we have gone far off course from that idea. Ethical and intellectual rot has pervaded the timbers of the ship of state, and up on deck, the captain and crew are at saber points over who will steer the creaking hulk. And so we drift.

Americans treat each other so badly these days in politics because even as they have excelled at the question of “how,” they have forgotten the question of “why.”

Our founders warned that one of the great dangers to the republic was “faction,” which we understand today as partisanship, but also as factions within parties. Factionalism is an unavoidable consequence of freedom, since whenever you give people the right to arrange themselves as they like, they will invariably band together in tribes. 

Faction in politics and life is not always a bad thing. Like-minded individuals tied together by common purpose can achieve wonders. If you are a Knight of Columbus or an Anglican or a Rotarian or a librarian, you and your fellows may do wonderful things for your neighbors, your nation and your world. 

Where faction goes wrong, however, is when it becomes an end unto itself. 

As we have often said before, much of the sickness in today’s politics rest in the belief that the other side is wicked and dispatriotic. This invites people to believe that factional rivalry is patriotic itself. If the other guys hate America, then beating them – even hating them – is a patriotic duty.

The comforting lies that passionate partisans tell themselves to excuse their worst conduct are dangerous precisely because of moments like this one. 

The job of every American is to preserve and protect the balance between the freedom of government and the freedom of the people, resisting in ways large and small both the tyranny of a despot and the tyranny of the mob. And we are always closer to the ditch than we like to think.

Americans take freedom and order for granted, as well as the comfort and prosperity those things in balance produce. But today, we are forced to consider how an errant round from a North Korean howitzer or an American bomber flying off course could change everything in moments.

We rely on politics to constitute the government on which we depend to protect the “ordinary happiness” of our lives. If our politics remain broken, they will break the government itself and we will be left exposed.

Good government is vital, so better politics are essential.

THE RULEBOOK: ABOUT THAT… 
“A dangerous establishment can never be necessary or plausible, so long as they continue a united people.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 41

TIME OUT: NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T
Writer Will Stephenson tells the mystery behind Harry Houdini’s greatest film. Paris Review: “Like the movies themselves, Houdini had emerged from vaudeville, and he understood film’s appeal intuitively. … . He signed on with Famous Players-Lasky, the home of Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino, and in April 1919 he relocated to Los Angeles with his wife, Bess. Working out of the studio’s office complex on the corner of Sunset and Vine, the magician plotted his masterpiece, which was to be titled The Grim Game. … Houdini had stepped onto the Hollywood stage with a resounding success, the greatest existing cinematic record of one of the world’s most beloved entertainers. Which makes the ultimate fate of The Grim Game all the more puzzling. As the years wore on, the film was screened less and less, until it wasn’t screened at all, until at some point—nobody can pinpoint when exactly—it couldn’t even be accounted for. The film had disappeared.”

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your tips, comments or questions.

SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -23.2 points
Change from one week ago: down 3.8 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

POWER PLAY: CAN HURT KEEP IT 100?
On this week’s news and trivia quiz we matched up first time player Paige Lavender, politics editor at the Huffington Post with opinion editor at the Washington Times Charles Hurt. Will this rookie beat the reigning champ? Play along with Chris Stirewalt! WATCH HERE

TRUMP-MCCONNELL FEUD TAKES TOLL ON STALLED AGENDA
AP: “President Donald Trump has spent much of the week feuding with his top Senate partner, suggesting that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might have to rethink his future if he doesn't deliver on the president's agenda… Trump on Thursday called McConnell's failure to pass an ‘Obamacare’ repeal last month ‘a disgrace.’ Asked if McConnell should consider stepping aside or retiring, an outcome some conservatives are openly clamoring for, the president's response was far from a vote of confidence. … A sitting president openly turning on a Senate majority leader of his own party in such a fashion is practically unheard of - yet another norm destroyed since Trump's rise on the political scene. And while the fighting words might elate Trump's core supporters, they can only hurt broader Republican efforts to move major legislation this fall on taxes and spending while preparing for congressional elections next year against energized Democrats who are rallying to retake the House.”

Trump gives McConnell a to do list - 
Bloomberg: “President Donald Trump laid out a path for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to get back in his good graces: replace Obamacare, overhaul the U.S. tax code and find a way to pay for big infrastructure improvements. Yet clearing Trump’s agenda anytime soon is close to impossible in the narrowly controlled Republican Senate that already has a packed agenda of must-pass legislation. Trump’s direction for McConnell came after he assailed the Senate Republican leader for two days on Twitter over the Senate’s failure to replace the Affordable Care Act. When asked by a reporter whether McConnell should step down, Trump said Thursday he would withhold judgment.” 

And it all began with a TV - 
Politico: “The rupture between President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell originated where so many of the president’s dramas do: with something he saw on TV. Trump watched clips of McConnell criticizing him on the news and wasn’t happy. … McConnell didn’t give any ground, said people briefed on the phone call, and there are no immediate plans to speak again. … Meanwhile, McConnell’s advisers have been amazed at the president’s unwillingness to sell the health care bill publicly, his lack of policy knowledge, his seemingly unending appetite for chaos and his inability to control warring factions of aides, who complicate delicate negotiations by saying different things to different people.” 

Cornyn stands by McConnell - The Hill: Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) became the latest Republican to throw his support behind Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) following a string of attacks from President Trump. ‘Passing POTUS's legislative agenda requires a team effort. No one is more qualified than Mitch McConnell to lead Senate in that effort,’ Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said on Twitter [today]. Pressed by a Texas journalist if congressional Republicans were starting to break from Trump, Cornyn said his remarks were a ‘call for unity.’ ‘As [Benjamin Franklin] said: we can hang together or hang separately,’ he tweeted.”

Congress will face major time crunch upon return - 
WaPo: “When Congress returns in September the House will have just 12 legislative days to raise the federal borrowing limit to avoid default — and the same amount of time to approve a spending deal to avert a government shutdown. Those things alone would make for a hefty lift under even the best political circumstances. But the high-stakes deadlines comes as GOP lawmakers are still bruised and angry over the dramatic failure of their most recent push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.”

Poll: 78 percent say Trump should try to make ObamaCare work - The Hill: “Eight in ten Americans say President Trump and his administration should do what they can to make ObamaCare work, according to a new poll released Friday. That includes 95 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of independents and even a majority of Republicans at 52 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation Poll. Seventeen percent, though, think Trump should make the law fail so it can be replaced later. Meanwhile, 57 percent of Americans say Republicans in Congress should work with Democrats to make improvements to ObamaCare.”

Senator to Governor Collins? - National Journal: “This fall, [Sen. Susan Collins] … decides to run for governor next year, a factor would be the decline in the effectiveness of Congress. But her role in attempting to revive it—voting to destroy the Republican health care bill in order to start a new, bipartisan process—would hurt her in the primary to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Collins’s spokesperson, Annie Clark, said the senator is ‘assessing where she can do the most good for the people of Maine.’ Collins has ‘an influential role’ in the Senate thanks to her seniority earned over 20 years there, but in the Blaine House, she could ‘work directly on issues she cares deeply about…’”

ROY MOORE SURGES AHEAD IN GOP POLL ON ALABAMA PRIMARY
Roll Call: “A new poll shows Alabama Sen. Luther Strange and Rep. Mo Brooks trailing former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore five days ahead of the state’s Senate primary. The poll was conducted by Republican consulting firm Cygnal and L2 and was conducted by phone on Tuesday and Wednesday. President Donald Trump endorsed Strange on Tuesday after polling had started. Brent Buchanan, president of Cygnal, said in a release he was not surprised by the results and that Trump’s endorsement, while not fully reflected in the poll results, could close the gap between Strange and Moore. ‘I expect Moore and Strange in the runoff election, but Strange hasn’t locked down the second spot yet,’ Buchanan said. ‘It will be interesting to see if President Trump’s endorsement of Senator Strange increases voter turnout, which should favor Strange, according to our survey results.’ Moore led the poll with 30.7 percent of those polled saying they would vote for him compared to Strange’s 22.6 percent and Brooks’ 18 percent.”

Moore: Same-sex marriage makes U.S. ‘the focus of evil in the modern world’ - The Guardian: “Roy Moore, the controversial former judge and a leading contender in Alabama’s Senate race, has said ‘maybe Putin is right’ and ‘more akin to me than I know’ given the Russian leader’s stance on gay marriage. Moore, who was propelled to fame in 2001 over his refusal to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments that he’d installed in state courthouse, is a leading contender to fill the vacancy left by Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions. … In an interview … Moore also said that Ronald Reagan’s famous declaration about the Soviet Union being ‘the focus of evil in the modern world’ might today be applied to the US. ‘You could say that about America, couldn’t you?’ he said. ‘We promote a lot of bad things.’ Asked for an example, he replied: ‘Same-sex marriage.’ When it was pointed out to Moore that his arguments on gay rights and morality were the same as those of the Russian leader, he replied: ‘Well, maybe Putin is right.’ He added: ‘Maybe he’s more akin to me than I know.’”

Biden backs former US attorney in Alabama race - The Hill: “Former Vice President Joe Biden waded into Alabama's Democratic Senate primary on Thursday, endorsing former U.S. attorney Doug Jones in his bid for the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Al).”

Dems lining up top recruit in Arizona as Team Trump looks to take down Flake -The Hill: “Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is eyeing a Senate bid, according to a new report, in a move that would give Democrats a top recruit in the race to unseat Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. … Sinema confirmed in a statement shared with The Hill that she's ‘seriously considering’ a bid. … Flake's willingness to criticize Trump has driven a wedge between the senator and those close to Trump. This week, GOP mega-donor and Trump ally Robert Mercer gave a super PAC supporting Flake’s primary challenger, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, a $300,000 check. And The Hill reported that campaign hands from a pro-Trump super PAC are joining Ward's effort.”

Obama to re-enter politics to help fellow Dems - WashEx:
“Former President Barack Obama is expected to ‘re-emerge’ into the national political scene later this fall in order to help Democrats… the former president will begin mapping out a strategy for him to begin taking a more active role in Democratic party politics, especially fundraising. The strategy comes with some political risk, however. If the former president engages too heavily in current political matters and gains some of the spotlight, it could allow President Trump to build energy and momentum with his base by turning his attacks on Obama. … Obama has reportedly been holding one-on-one meetings with top Democratic elected officials, and numerous phone calls with Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez.”

MANAFORT CHANGES LEGAL TEAM AS INVESTIGATION HEATS UP
Politico: “Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is changing his attorneys as a federal investigation heats up into his financial transactions, according to people familiar with the matter. Manafort's case will now be handled by Miller and Chevalier, a boutique firm in Washington that specializes in complicated financial crimes among other issues, these people said. A spokesman confirmed the change. ‘Mr. Manafort is in the process of retaining his former counsel, Miller & Chevalier, to represent him in the office of special counsel investigation. As of today, WilmerHale no longer represents Mr. Manafort,’ Jason Maloni said in a statement. Kevin Downing, a former senior Department of Justice official known for his work representing clients and firms facing complex financial investigations, will be working on the case, one of these people familiar with the matter said. Downing will have help from other lawyers also working on the case.”

Trump on Manafort raid: ‘Very strong signal, or whatever’ -
 WaPo: “During the raid on the Alexandria, Va., home of Paul Manafort, the FBI seized documents and other materials related to the special counsel investigation of possible meddling in the 2016 election. …Trump called Manafort ‘a very decent man’ but said he hadn’t spoken to him for a long time. ‘I thought it was a very, very strong signal, or whatever,’ Trump said of the raid, speaking to reporters at his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he is vacationing.”

Investigators eye Trump’s longtime secretary - WashEx: “Members of congressional intelligence committees are interested in learning about any involvement President Trump's longtime personal secretary, Rhona Graff, had in a June 2016 meeting between the campaign and Russians after emails revealed she may have been contacted by the guests.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
 
Gorka backpedals on Tillerson remarks - Fox News

The memo that blew up the NSC - Foreign Policy

Sean Spicer wants to do ‘Saturday Night Live’ - US Weekly

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
This coming Sunday, Chris Wallace sits down with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Sen. Lindsey Graham R-S.C., to discuss North Korea’s nuclear threat. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz - Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.

AUDIBLE: VICTIM OF LOVE

“You have the leaks where people want to love me and they’re all fighting for love.” – President Trump talking to reporters about the leaks from his White House.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
[Ed. note: I think it is time for a bit of an August recess, myself. If the president and Congress can get out of the swamp, why not me? I will return on Aug. 23 to answer your notes, which is one of my favorite duties in my work. You people are, even when we disagree, wonderful. I have always said that my readers are among the smartest in the world but in addition, you are also kind, funny, patriotic and attentive. You will be in my thoughts as I travel. I may even blame you for errant tee shots and missed clay pigeons... Talk to you soon.]

“I think the reason President Trump did not have a lot of ideas for replacing ACA is he assumed the Republicans did. I am shocked the Republicans did have a better plan ready to go after 7 years!” – Jean FarrellFleming Island, Fla.

[Ed. note: Arguably Ms. Farrell, part of the problem was the Trump has too many ideas about health insurance – cover everyone, let the individual market implode and blame Democrats, repeal and replace simultaneously, repeal and replace eventually, etc. Trump has been weighing in on health insurance policy since before his 2000 presidential run with the Reform Party, and has taken variety of positions in his public life. There is plenty of blame to go around for Republicans, and Democrats, and, frankly, voters. Yes, congressional Republicans could have tried to force Trump to accept their existing plans, but it wouldn’t have been exactly appropriate to open a new administration by fighting a president of your own party. Even so, the lack of political policy and imagination displayed on Capitol Hill has been staggering.]

“‘Most alive today remember the erroneous intelligence assessment about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.’ What I remember is that our original assessment came from intel supplied by the British. And unlike our politicized and emasculated intel community, I have yet to hear the Brits recant their assessment that Saddam did in fact have yellowcake uranium.” – Kevin McNamaraDarlington, Md.

[Ed. note: Good point, Mr. McNamara. We were shorthanding the controversy for the sake of brevity. But, yes, there was a lot more going on back in 2003, including the “16 words” from George W. Bush’s state of the union address. You’re almost making my nostalgic for the Valerie Plame affair… almost.]

“It's no secret that donors are cool to the idea of funding a possible run for the presidency by Joe Biden in 2020. If Biden were to win, he'd be the oldest person ever to occupy the office. At over 78 years old on Inauguration Day, 2021, he'd be older than Ronald Reagan was on the day he LEFT office (77 yrs., 349 days).” – Bob Foys, Chicago

[Ed. note: And the other Democratic frontrunner would be 78! America did not have a baby boomer president until 1993, but the generation continues to dominate the political landscape in an astonishing way. It’s possible that 2020 will produce the rise of Gen X in presidential politics, but so far we’re looking at a retro vibe.

“I wonder what the actual number of Americans that will be ‘expelled’ from Russia. Putin said 755 but I believe that included a number of locals working for the Embassy and other US Government locations in Russia. Do you have a clue?” – Michael Farrell, South Burlington, Vt.

[Ed. note: It’s an interesting thing, Mr. Farrell. It sounds like most of the actual job losses in Russia will be, as you say, local support staff. While the Russians don’t “hire American” for their diplomatic posts here, the US hires lots of locals around the world, mostly to perform services like maintenance, cooking, clerical duties and the like. We expect Russians to be the ones to lose their gigs under Putin’s rules. It seems unlikely that many Americans will be headed out of the country as a result.] 

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THE SHARP BEAK OF JUSTICE 
The Times [London]: “A parrot has been hailed as a crime-fighting hero after playing a key role in the capture of a serial burglar. Vitalij Kiseliov, 37, from Lithuania, had broken into the home of Peter and Trudy Rowing in Gillingham, Kent, on June 15 and was preparing to sneak out with his loot – two oxygen tanks that Mrs. Rowing uses to help with her breathing problems, a laptop, a mobile phone and four cans of lager – when he spotted the African Grey, called Rocky, in his cage. The birds sell for as much as £750… [Kiseliov] opened the birdcage and reached inside, at which point Rocky bit him. Bleeding profusely, Kiseliov flung the bird out of a nearby window and fled – but not without leaving patches of blood in several places. A [DNA] match was found and Kiseliov … was arrested the following day. [Rocky] was later returned to the Rowings after their granddaughter appealed for help on Facebook.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.