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Josh Barro On Defending Biden

Josh Barro On Defending Biden

By his good economic record and the lack of a viable alternative.

Josh is an old friend, and a business and political journalist. He has worked for Business Insider, the NYT, and New York magazine. He currently runs his own substack called Very Serious, and he cohosts a legal podcast called Serious Trouble, also on Substack.

We talk Biden — Josh’s political hero. You can listen right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app — though Spotify sadly doesn’t accept the paid feed). For two clips of our convo — why Biden isn’t polling better despite the improving economy, and the “emotional terrorism” Hunter has wrought on his family — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: growing up with a dad teaching econ at Harvard and a mom raising four kids; studying psych at Harvard before going into banking; monetary policy and the Fed; props to Mnuchin for the CARES Act; how the stimulus in early Covid helped Trump at the polls; the excessive flood of stimulus in 2021 as an overcorrection to 2008; the subsequent spike in inflation; how the US economy recovered from Covid more quickly than the rest of the West; how wages lagged behind inflation after 2020 but recently surpassed it; today’s low unemployment and high consumer spending; slowing inflation; Biden’s new strategy to quash student debt; how national debt is only a problem relative to GDP and growth; how inflation reduces the burden of debt; the lunacy of Modern Monetary Theory; the excess of Trump’s tax cuts; the continuity of his trade policy toward China into the Biden years; Biden’s factory building; his extremism on cultural issues; what happens when he has a McConnell moment; Trump’s crazed dynamism; the new NYT poll on Trump’s chances against Biden; Josh’s jump to Substack; his porn stache; and his reasons for liking America more than Europe.

Browse the Dishcast archive for another conversation you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). Coming up: Michael Moynihan on Orwell and conspiracy theories, Vivek Ramaswamy on his vision for America, Sohrab Ahmari on his forthcoming book, Freddie deBoer, Leor Sapir, Martha Nussbaum, Spencer Klavan, Ian Buruma, Pamela Paul and Matthew Crawford. Please send any guest recs and pod dissent to

A reader writes, “Thank you for your reflections on Marty Peretz”:

I hadn’t heard of him, but I’ve since bought and read with great pleasure about 60 percent of The Controversialist: Arguments with Everyone, Left Right and Center. Like you, I’m not a Zionist, but following his journey has both been fun on its own terms and helpful perspective from someone across the aisle.

I especially enjoyed his first few chapters on his boyhood. His always-angry father who kept such a close eye on how relatives fared in the Holocaust is a vivid character. And his geopolitical summary of the creation of the Levant and how it intersects with Israel was provocative and helped me see things from inside his skin. And I’ll go into further depth on what I appreciate about him in a moment. 

I have some tiny connection to the story he tells. I founded and led what became the largest Protestant church near Harvard. That unexpected success got me into many delightful conversations — moderating a faith/atheism debate at Harvard alongside Harvey Cox, speaking to all of Boston College’s freshman class, getting a book deal after an invitation to speak at a Tufts faith/atheism symposium (you’ll sense a theme). It also connected my church to some leaders in the Middle East right after 9/11 in an attempt to — this will sound naive — bring some of whatever Jesus might offer to such a fraught region. That got me into rooms with people like Sheikh Fadlallah in Lebanon and parliament members in Lebanon and Jordan and various leaders in Israel. All of that has left me with zero insight into the political realities of the region, but with some relationships and a window into what life feels like for a few people in those countries. 

It also launched me into a fair amount of theological research, which got me into more than a few heated conversations with Zionist pastors in my denomination, which turned out to be more right-wing than I’d known. (It was one of the denominations referenced in the recent evangelical hit movie Jesus Revolution.)

Right around the time I was nominated to be executive director of the denomination, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage. I'd convened the largest evangelical pastor’s network in Greater Boston only to discover that our church was the only one to come out in favor of the new legislation. This cost me most of my friends in the network and in our denomination and put our congregation under pressure — both from the right and the left. Feeling that I’d become too much of a flashpoint to be helpful to our church, we had a year-long search for my replacement — who has since taken the church, from what I can tell, farther left. 

So, back to my appreciation both for the Dish and The Controversialist. Living in college towns for so much of my life, my own centrist liberalism worked great right up until a decade ago when the center quit holding. Working in otherwise wonderful and dynamic church settings became untenable — which I think explains why my successor took the church farther left; he realized, as I was unwilling to do, that his only road forward was to pick a firm side.

Immediately upon finding the Dish, I felt I’d found a friend and mentor in these impossible cultural waters. As so many of your dissenters write, “I don’t agree with you on everything.” But that is so beside the point of what you’ve offered me — a thoughtful, sane, sometimes outraged essayist who, like me, dreams of forging a way between the extremes.

Marty Peretz is such a wonderful portrait of engagement with life and culture and his heritage and the educational and journalistic worlds. He writes so frequently of his own dazzling dinners with interesting people and I can only imagine how dazzling they were with him (and his then-wife) as the host. So, beyond being such an engaging and entertaining writer, I take inspiration from him to lean into the craziness, to lean into connection and conversation and my own convictions and passions as a good thing in itself.

A listener writes:

I very much enjoyed your discussion with Lee Fang, but I want to highlight one observation that seemed to get lost in the discussion. I don’t recall whether it was you or Lee, but one of you observed that effective policing requires trust between the police and the public. From there, the two of you launched into an extended critique of recent protests of police misconduct, much of which I agree is warranted:

But I think you missed the opportunity to highlight that we know about Freddie Gray and George Floyd because in both of those cases, the police breached the trust that the public had placed in them. In today’s world, where every person is an aspiring video journalist, the police have to use their power to use violence judiciously. If they don’t, there will be a backlash and it may well spiral out of control. 

Another listener on another episode:

In your conversation with Matt Lewis, you and he mentioned some untruthfulness about Sarah Palin and her “fifth child”:

Years ago I know you wrote skeptically about whether Sarah Palin is Trig Palin’s mother, but it seems to me that the general consensus now is that she is indeed Trig’s mother. Leaving aside your own belief, what do you believe the current general consensus about this is? I think your listeners/readers deserve to hear all of this in direct language, instead of the veiled reference you used in the podcast.

There have been no new facts, so far as I know, that could settle this once and for all. The Anchorage Daily News asked Palin for some medical records after the election so they could quash all the rumors generated by her deranged and on-its-face impossible story of pregnancy, labor and birth. Palin refused.

But this no longer matters at all. As soon as Palin made clear she wasn’t running for national official any longer, after quitting the governorship, the Daily Dish stopped covering her entirely, because private citizens deserve privacy. Regardless of whether she is the biological mother of Trig, by all accounts she appears to be a loving mother to him — which is all that ultimately matters. I believe, and always have, that rearing a child with Down Syndrome is a beautiful thing that reaffirms the dignity and infinite worth of every human being, and I laud Palin for it:

Another listener on the Lewis convo:

I had a roadtrip last week and so was able to gorge on your podcast and others.  One of the most enjoyable episodes was your discussion with Matt Lewis. Much as I enjoy your journeys down memory lane with old friends and colleagues, the discussion with Matt was a refreshing breeze. 

So, here’s the gripe: your dismissals of his focused and relevant policy fixes seem defeatist and thoughtless. For example, you responded to his recommendation to disallow stock ownership to members of Congress by saying that everyone should have a right to have their capital earn them a decent return. Well of course, that’s what mutual funds do — and he proposed exempting them. His other proposals made sense too, and yet you seemed bent on dismissing everything. What is that about?

Separately, I wonder when you will pull your head out of the sand and realize that climate change is an urgent world-wide problem, and we can and should take effective action. I’m not asking that this become your central focus — clearly your prime interests like elsewhere, and I’m fine with that — but you seem to have an immense blind spot related to the need for government to implement policies to take on this problem.  

I’m baffled. I support Matt’s ban on stock trading while in office and said so. My skepticism is about the willingness of lawmakers to restrain themselves. And I have always regarded climate change as a vital issue and regard government action as essential. Figuring out the most effective ways to do that is open to debate. But in general, I’ve always supported an all-of-the-above approach, with special emphasis on nuclear power. If you have the slightest evidence of an “immense blind spot,” please provide it. There is none — my only hesitation in writing more often is the journalistic challenge of writing about it in an interesting and novel way.

Another episode, another listener:

With all our summer travel, I’m running behind on your podcasts, but having just finished a college tour of Notre Dame with my son, I thought I’d catch up on the Patrick Deneen conversation.

I’m hugely sympathetic to your position on the importance and utility of liberalism. I suspect, especially with you and Deneen debating the Sabbath, you’ve neglected to consider the tyranny of the market. According to my reading of Deneen, this is what he’s really concerned about: how this tyranny subverts freedom and subsidiarity. I believe his concern is essentially economic, not cultural — or maybe the way economics subsumes all culture and everything else.

It’s entirely possible that someone may want to work on a Sunday, but it’s equally possible that someone does not have the freedom to say no to working on a Sunday — a case of coercive contracting. When the economic system becomes such that a parent does not have the option to stay at home, this is an illiberal condition. Another case of liberalism leading to illiberalism all of its own. I’m reminded of Mather’s quote, “There is a civil, a moral, a federal liberty, which is the proper end and object of authority.”

I hope to dig into this some more with my upcoming conversation with Sohrab Ahmari on this very theme. (His forthcoming book is Tyranny, Inc.: How Private Power Crushed American Liberty — and What to Do About It.)

Here’s a dissent from a reader on my column last week:

I’m not sure what you meant by “biological dudes swinging their junk in the women’s locker room.” I am a trans woman, and while I am old school enough to actually agree that “trans women are women” but also different from cis women in some ways (with a tremendous amount of variance and complexity in both categories as well), whether or not trans women have had bottom surgery should not be the arbiter of using a locker room.

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