The problem with hysteria

Of William Barr’s Notre Dame speech a few weeks back:

Steve Chapman said that the line comes close to denying the rights of nonbelievers to express their disbelief.” That’s true only if Chapman’s criticism of Barr comes close to denying religious people their right to free speech, which is to say it’s false. Liberal legal commentator Dahlia Lithwick went beyond Chap man, taking Barr to have engaged in coded anti-Semitism.

Catherine Rampell wrote in the Washington Post that the speech was terrifying” and that Barr had come out for a state establishment of religion.”

Ramesh Ponuru in the November 11 National Review.

I can’t quite decide whether the main problem with such hysterical reactions is (a) their falsity and bad faith or (2) their failure to notice the real problems with Barr’s largely anodyne speech.

Both at Notre Dame and before the Federalist Society, Barr has clumsily twisted history in service of creating an implausible narrative for Donald Trump. He’s smart enough to make me wonder whether he’s just going through the (commanded) motions, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs so the discerning will, well, discern that he’s not entirely on board.

November 19, 2019

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