Please Bill, Can I Differ? I’m Beggin’ Ya

by Jonah Goldberg

Clinton honed "dishonest demonization" to a fine art.

President Clinton met with Congressional leaders Thursday at the 48th annual prayer breakfast. In his remarks he lamented the “dishonest demonization.” “We slip from honest difference, which is healthy, into dishonest demonization,” he said.

Okay. I don’t want to dwell on this but it does bear repeating that the President is the one who honed this practice to a fine art. He orchestrated his party’s campaign to portray Republicans as responsible for (fictitious) black church burnings. He encouraged the notion that the Oklahoma City bombing was the result of Gingrich & Co.’s anti-government rhetoric. President Clinton accused Republican Senators of overt racism for voting down a black liberal judge — even though most of the Senators didn’t even know he was black.

Within a matter of weeks of that accusation he accused the same Republican Senators of deliberately and knowingly risking nuclear Armageddon out of petty spite. As a matter of policy, to this day, he allows his party to explain away the campaign finance scandals as a sad episode of anti-Asian bigotry on the part of Republicans. He sanctioned, encouraged, and tricked Sid Blumenthal to suggest that Monica Lewinsky was delusional and a slut. This was not heavy-lifting for Blumenthal who has turned his gift for pathological prevarication and smearing into a billet as Clinton’s favorite political operative.

But one does not want to be uncharitable, perhaps President Clinton was sincere. In fact, since Clinton is the kind of liar who always believes what he says when he says it, I’m sure he was being sincere. I am sure he believes that the “dishonest demonization” that he denounced is squarely a Republican problem. I am sure he thinks that what he practices is “honest demonization.”

Anyway that’s not what I wanted to get into. I just knew that if I went straight past his remarks without comment I would get deluged for giving him a free pass. No, what I find interesting is that Clinton has now spent a year hammering home the same point which he must think is a brilliant observation; what he calls the “resurgence of society’s oldest demon, the inability to love our closest neighbors as ourselves if they look or worship differently from the rest of us.” He cites the recent problems between the Irish Catholics and Protestants, the various Arab-Israeli squabbles, Bosnian Muslims and Christians etc.

Clinton has been bemoaning this global “rising tide” for over a year now. It’s a staple of his stump speeches and his major addresses, “all around us we see the failure to use our freedom wisely, as too many people still give into primitive hatreds, and we still face the oldest problem of human society: the fear of those who are different from us,” he said in his Millennial Address. “Even in the most open societies, including our own, children who learn to look down on and dehumanize those who are different and perhaps to blame them for their own problems continue to grow up to commit awful hate crimes.”

He uses this rhetorical device to call for greater healing here in America between whites and blacks, gays and straights, Springfielders and Shelbyvillians, cats and dogs. Fine, I’m not going to be cornered into saying that people around the world and at home shouldn’t get along with each other and avoid beating each other up. I will say that comparisons between Chechens and Russians to gays or blacks leave me cold. America is different from the rest of world in myriad ways — most of them good. Bill Clinton and his crowd are convinced that America is just another country. It isn’t. But more to the point, am I the only one who sees some arrogance in the way Clinton formulates this world view?

It seems to me that the President is determined to convince us that there is something very, very, very important going on in the world under his watch. But where is the evidence that there is more hatred and violence out there rather than less? Certainly there’s less hate-violence than there was from say 1932-1952. All of the international examples he sites have been hotspots for years, decades or generations. The Indians and Pakistanis have been fighting off and on since their founding. Arabs and Israelis? Catholics and Protestants? These are very old grudges. Yes, in the wake of the Cold War, there has been a resurgence of nationalism and ethnic conflict in places like Bosnia, but against the backdrop of European unification and the larger surge in globalization, is that really the big story?

Richard Nixon once commented that it was obvious that the world was over-populated because everywhere he went at home and abroad he saw huge throngs of people. It didn’t occur to him that Presidents tend to draw big crowds. Couldn’t it be that President Clinton thinks it’s obvious that the world is overcome with national and ethnic tensions because that’s what’s in his in-box?


CORRECTIONS BABY!!!Which brings us to the house-cleaning portion of our flight, otherwise known as Corrections and Clarifications Friday. If you don’t know what that is, click here for the G-File FAQ sheet which will explain all. Ok not all. I keep checking it to see if it can explain why people watch the Grammy Awards, and there’s just nothing in there about that.

[We interrupt this corrections column to make a meta-correction. This isn’t Friday, it’s Monday. But because of backlogs at NRHQ this column has been sitting around moldering. Just pretend it’s Friday, okay?]

Starting with the most recent, yesterday I suggested that Tobruk was held by the Japanese during WWII. As several of you pointed out, this was dumb. It was that I hadn’t bothered to go back and read the Orwell essay again, and the name Tobruk just stuck in my head. Maybe because it’s my stage name — Tobruk Shastane. Anyway, Germans — not Japanese — would regularly seize the North African city. One reader hoped that I was making an artful reference to Bluto’s contention that the German’s bombed Pearl Harbor (vide the Collected Speeches of Senator Blutarsky, Vol. I). Alas, I wish I was that clever. The larger point remains.

While we’re on geography, in the last Corrections and Clarifications column — which was much funnier than this drek will be — I wrote, “One fellow, told me that “Phoenician” and “Carthaginian” are synonymous terms, ethnically and as a nationality (much like “French” and “die Hilfe.”) … While I don’t know if this is right, I am sure someone will confirm or dispute this.”

Boy did they. I hadn’t seen a bigger stampede since someone yelled “Free Shrimp!” in a crowded newsroom.

While nobody took offense or even noted my assertion that “the help” in German is synonymous with Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey, they went nuts on this Carthaginian versus Phoenician stuff. I must have a lot of readers who spent way too much time playing Risk on their computers in college — no wait that’s what I did.

Anyway, the difference between the two is simple. Carthaginians were effete and elitist poseurs and sophomoric radicals who dabbled in sexual experimentation, loved to be seen carrying philosophy books but rarely read them, and couldn’t throw a football to save their lives. Phoenicians were self-absorbed careerists who behaved much the same way as the Carthaginians but they thought they were being ironic for throwing their lavish Oscar parties.

Oh wait; Damn. That’s the difference between Brown University and Harvard.

Carthage, in what is now Tunisia, was originally settled by Phoenicians from Tyre. Over the centuries the Phoenicians became distinct from their original culture — much like Americans and Australians from the British or the Clinton Administration from Americans. By the time Hannibal (and the rest of his A-Team) and the Punic Wars came around the Carthaginians had been making with the Johnny Mathis records with the local Tunisians for centuries. Hence the Carthaginians became a distinct group. The Punic Wars, by the way, were fought over the fact that the Carthaginians had accused the Romans of not being “full-grown” men — Punic, as in “Puny.”

But the reaction I got over the Phoenicians-Carthaginians non-controversy pales in comparison to the reaction to a genuine mistake on my part. When I begged readers to put the word “Corrections” in the subject header of their corrections — what a whacky system! — I used an extended metaphor about Barium Enemas, which I guess shouldn’t be capitalized unless there is a band of the same name … or Mr. & Mrs. Enema have a sick sense of humor when it comes to naming their children.

I asserted that barium was radioactive. I could not have been more wrong, I could try, but I would not be successful. You see, barium is actually radio-opaque. That’s why they use it for diagnostic X-rays in the first place. Though I must say I never heard of a villain using a barium enema to hide his plans for world domination from Superman’s X-ray vision. Then again, I never got around to reading Superman-Prison Guard comics.

(I think I now rank #1 of all conservative pundits in the much coveted category of “Most Discussions of Invasive Rectal Procedures.” Eat your heart out Sam Francis).

Other minor corrections: I spelled Orcs, “Orks,” which is wrong because Tolkien, as numerous super-cool readers pointed out, used the root word of Orca which means “Killer Whale” (which was Webb Hubble’s nickname in the big house. Hey! Maybe I know where he hid the billing records after all, now that I know that stuff is radio-opaque [sorry, I’m just running up my score now]).

I justified my misspelling of “Doctor Zaius” — I spelled it Dr. Zeus — by saying that the names in the Planet of the Apes were based upon Roman sounding names. As one of my most devoted reader-critics pointed out, “your conclusion is certainly arguable or plausible. But the argument is wrong. Zeus was Greek.. If it were a Roman theme, he’d be ‘Dr. Jupiter’ or some variant of Jupiter.”

What can I say to this?

While we are on the subject of pop-culture pedantry, legions of Simpsonophiles were crestfallen to discover that I could misspell Mrs. Krabappel’s name. I spelled it Crabapple. Now what was interesting about this is that 9 out of 10 — or 75% according to Alec Baldwin’s math — spelled her name wrong in correcting me. Moreover, almost everyone seemed ignorant to what I always believed was a deliberate homage (jackasses should remember the “h” is silent) to Mrs. Crabapple from The Little Rascals. Maybe I am wrong on this.

Another pop culture point: “Rupe” from Texas (he knows who he is) tried to claim that the Sasquatch was not created by Gamma Rays. He was wrong.

Before we leave the realm of pop culture, I have an inquiry. This weekend a friend of mine commented that The Brady Bunch were the children of broken homes. Now I understand that the conventional wisdom says that Carol and Mike were widows and widowers, but was that ever actually declared outright?

At another point, I commented that according to my crack research staff — ie the couch and my belly Joe — two thirds of the national press corps had never been in uniform. My good friend — the managing editor of the American Enterprise — Scott Walter thought I might be drinking Al Gore’s bongwater. He reminds me that James Webb has observed that George Will may be the only major media personality who would be affected by American military action. Mr. Will has a son in the USMC.

While there are probably a few other such examples, two-thirds was still wildly generous toward the press corps.

On the substance there were three columns which generated a lot of heated argument. But to be brutally honest I’m too damned tired to get into it now. Just for the record, they were my columns on the Confederate Flag annoying cliches, and John McCain/National Greatness. I promise I’ll come back to the major arguments involved soon either in the next corrections or in future columns. But just so you don’t think I’m ducking my responsibilities, I can assure you I was wrong about nothing.

But there was one minor point. Several people took offense at my use of the word “suck.” While I could do without all the “Sonny, you’re too young to remember that suck is a bad word” condescension, I get their point. Still, I reserve the right to do what I have to do to keep this thing fun for me. Such as quote Bart Simpson who once noted, “I always thought this was physically impossible, but this both sucks and blows.”

Anyway, thanks to everybody for writing in. My apologies for not being able to answer every email. Moreover, I’m sorry that when I do respond it’s often very short, usually sounding like Dan Rather at the end of a broadcast, “courage,” “peace out,” “these aren’t my shoes,” “I killed a man when I was a woman.”

But I do read everything that comes in. Or rather I start reading everything that comes in. But please remember I have to find time to work, eat, watch TV and sleep for twelve to fourteen hours a day. So please no long essays.

See you Monday [Editor’s note: see you Wednesday. But please check out several new items up today, including Nick Schulz’s Magazine Arguments piece on The New Yorker profile of Friedrich Hayek  (Link defunct)].