What The Numbers Tell Us; Happy Tax Day

by Jonah Goldberg

WHAT THE NUMBERS TELL US
In an old episode of The Simpsons (that’s right, The Simpsons again), Jacques, the suave French bowling instructor/Lothario, tries to woo Marge Simpson. He provocatively asks her to come to brunch. She asks, what’s brunch? He responds, “It’s not quite breakfast, it’s not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end. You don’t get completely what you would at breakfast, but you get a good meal.”

Now, I guess I could have found something more appropriate to quote when writing about Kosovo, but, first of all, quotes from Bismarck or Fukuyama cost more money than the suits are paying me, and, second, this is tax time and I got work to do. So, let’s not bitch and moan about it and work with what we’ve got.

I’m constantly being asked to please stop eating off strangers’ plates at restaurants. No wait, that’s not how that sentence was supposed to end. One more time: I’m constantly being asked what the hell we’re doing in Yugoslavia. Is it war? What’s going on? Please, sir, these are my buffalo wings and I don’t know you.

Well, it’s not quite war, it’s not quite peace. But it comes with a lot of misery at the end. You don’t completely get what you would in a war, but you do get a colossal mess at the end.

My Kosovo poll came out decidedly against Clinton’s folly. A majority 56 percent said that this is a huge mistake and we should get out now. About 15 percent of the respondents said that this was the right idea but the wrong way to do it. A tiny group of people (2 percent) actually said this was the right thing to do and the right way to do it. I just hope that the hall nurse is not letting these people use the Internet unsupervised.

Seriously officer, I thought he was done with his meal.

Damn.

Seriously, the fact that the “bug out” crowd won the poll does not surprise me. That is the natural position of pre-Cold War conservatism. If old sentiments can emerge in Yugoslavia after 500 years, who are we to think that old sentiments won’t rise in our ranks after 50? I’m not disparaging the Robert Taft school of conservatism. But now is not the time to decide.

The most common question I get from people about Kosovo is, “Could someone please explain to me why we’re there.” Many of these people, rightly, would be inclined to support America’s efforts in Yugoslavia if they were persuaded it was necessary. In fact, they’d be willing to support the effort if someone gave them enough reasons to hang the benefit of the doubt on.

Alas, there are lots of good arguments about America’s role in the post-Cold War world. Are we a cop? Was Communism the great exception and now that it’s gone should America retrench to a more nationalist posture? Should we be like the British Empire which, out of principle, chose to abolish slavery wherever they found it, sovereignty be damned? Or should we be like China for most of its history and just worry about our neighbors and our immediate, narrowly defined, interests?

These are all extremely important questions, especially for conservatives who have never fully accepted Wilsonianism. I know I’ve said this before, but this is all academic — for now. The president has hurriedly put the legitimacy of NATO and the United States on the line. We have rallied our allies and we have leveled ultimatums in the eyes of the entire world. In just a couple weeks the heads of state from all the NATO members are coming to Washington to celebrate the most successful military alliance in world history. What an unbelievable joke that will be if some grubby Marxist dictator can send that alliance packing.

Nobody in Washington except the people who actually get to eat the pizza in the Oval Office strategy sessions thinks this isn’t a monumental screw-up on some level. Even the NATO-at-the-gates-of-Pristina crowd think this could have been done a lot better.

What would be the repercussions of simply bugging out right now? We would have attacked a sovereign nation for principles that we allegedly believed in — just not very much. It would be impossible to rally NATO again. Russia’s going to be angry no matter what. But if we pull out now and hand Milosevic a victory (and that is what a pull-out would be), they would convince themselves that our motives were never altruistic. They would simply think we tried to beat up an ally of theirs and couldn’t pull it off. That teaches the worst lesson in the world to Russia — and China, Iraq, North Korea, et al. — that we have unfriendly intentions but we are too weak-willed to implement them. Pat Buchanan, out of honorable and legitimate principle, thinks it matters not “what flag flies over Pristina.” He may be right. But there are, as they say, facts on the ground now. This is an argument to have after we bring the boys home.

HAPPY TAX DAY!
Now, today is tax day. Many of you are taking a few minutes to live in denial before you get back to your computer tax programs or the sea of paper all over the floor. I could run through all sorts of famous tax quotes. Albert Einstein: “The Hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” Emerson: “Of all debts, men are least willing to pay their taxes; what a satire this is on government.”

Or I could treat the readers to my longstanding conviction that election day and tax day should be combined. That way, you could know what you’re paying for. Seriously, we should be able to just write in the candidate on the memo line of the check. Just watch how fast the federal government gets dismantled.

But these don’t help. The government is confiscating your wealth for its schemes and something must be done. I say: Blame the French. Apropos of that:

Coming tomorrow: the top ten reasons to hate the French.