Burning Questions, Burning Sensations

by Jonah Goldberg

Bring it on.

As you might imagine, as the editor of the (reportedly) most prestigious conservative web magazine around and as a syndicated columnist, I get asked a lot of questions. “Do you want fries with that?” “Didn’t the judge explain the restraining order?” etc.

Sometimes I even get asked serious questions. For example, one reader keeps asking me why it’s still a good thing that the presidential and vice-presidential candidates cannot be from the same state. I am not making this up. Why he thinks I would have special knowledge in this regard is a bit of a mystery to me. Nonetheless, he has been persistent enough that I actually spent an undue amount of time thinking about this.

The short answer, should anyone else care, is that the question is wrong. According to the Twelfth Amendment, two candidates can be from the same state. The hitch is that an elector in a given state cannot cast both of his votes for candidates from his own state. The exact wording: “The electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves.”

In other words, if Bill Clinton and Al Gore had both been from Arkansas, Arkansas electors would had to have cast one of their votes — either for President or Veep — for someone other than Al Gore or Bill Clinton.

This is one of the reasons why political parties started splitting their tickets between different states. Another reason is that it would be stupid not to. More interesting is the fact that if Dick Cheney hadn’t changed his legal residence back to Wyoming before the last election, it’s not clear he would have been elected Vice President. I am assuming that Texas electors would have cast their one in-state vote for G-dub.

Anyway, I bring all of this up because while I was trying to come up with an intelligent answer, I kept thinking, “Why the hell am I doing this?”

And then I thought, I wonder if there’s any cold chicken left in the fridge. And then, after the chicken, I thought maybe other people have similar questions. And then I thought, maybe they’re really lazy too and want the editors of National Review to do their hard thinking and easy research for them also. And then I thought, you know, I didn’t really need to eat that big plate of chicken skin. And then I took a nap.

When I woke up, I came up with the idea that maybe this was a good idea for a feature for NRO.

For example, I’m always asking my dog Cosmo dumb questions that cause him to look at me with an expression that says: “You do know that not only do I not speak English, but even if I did, unless the question involved a sock, a ball, grass, sleep, dog-butts, or something I might construe as bacon, I wouldn’t have an answer for you anyway.”

So I would love to have someone answer just a few of the questions that Cosmo refuses to answer on a daily basis. For example:

  • Why do people always say “Beauty is only skin deep”? Isn’t that deep enough? Who wants a really good-looking kidney?
  • How come the Ten Commandments say, “I am the Lord thy God, thou shall have no other Gods before me”? Doesn’t that mean other Gods exist but they’re just outranked by the Big Guy?
  • If campaign-finance “reform” makes it illegal for anyone but newspapers and television stations to run political ads, won’t unions, interest groups, and egomaniacs just buy a bunch of newspaper and TV stations?
  • If three lefts can make a right why can’t two wrongs?
  • If gay marriage is exactly like traditional marriage, how come you hear gay guys referring to their “partners,” “lovers,” “husbands,” etc., but you never hear them talking about their “wives”?
  • Where does the word “bikini” come from?
  • What institution in America do you think cooks the most bacon in a given day?

Obviously, since I am the one asking the questions and Cosmo steadfastly refuses to respond (I am convinced he does know all of these things but just won’t say anything. Then again, the doctor has given me pills he says will dissuade me of this conviction.) Alas, I don’t know the answers to these questions. But here are my best guesses.

  • They say beauty is only skin deep because they are ugly — or at least less beautiful — than beautiful people they don’t like.
  • I don’t presume to know why God does stuff — otherwise we’d know why people ever thought Sinbad was funny — but the “no-gods-before-me” formulation might simply be an archaic translation kind-of thing. Or maybe it was good PR because everyone believed in other gods before monotheism came along. I await interesting suggestions — but only interesting ones — from readers.
  • On campaign-finance reform, I predict that’s exactly what will happen; all sorts of groups will create magazines and newspapers with free subscription lists in order to work around the newest and ever more ridiculous campaign-finance laws.
  • Actually, I’ve never believed that two wrongs don’t ever make a right. There is so much Thomistic silliness about the ends never justifying the means. Sometimes the ends do justify the means; the trick is in figuring out when, which is the soul of wisdom. As H.L. Mencken once noted, “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that you have to spend much of your life defending sons-of-bitches.”
  • The reason you rarely, if ever, hear men referred to as wives — outside of certain correctional facilities — is that men, even gay ones, don’t want to be called a wife. In fact, “wife” is a word generally reserved for women. And men are not women, which is just one of the many reasons why gay marriage isn’t the same thing as heterosexual marriage.
  • When the bathing suit we commonly refer to as the bikini was introduced, it supposedly had an effect like a nuclear bomb. So they named it after the island where all of those nuclear bombs went off. I looked this one up, and I still have a hard time believing that.
  • And, lastly, as to the bacon, I would suspect that it’s either some army base or perhaps a prison — where even the wives like bacon.

Anyway, these are simply the sorts of questions I like to ask. You may have completely different ones: Who is really responsible for the Goldwater “extremism” speech? Was Galileo actually sent to Hell until the Church changed its mind? Why are there so many more home runs these days? Do neoconservatives believe in God? Does God believe in neoconservatives? Was Stravinky’s Rites of Spring just so much noise? Why do movies seem to rerun on cable in huge waves? Why is Rich Lowry always smirking? Was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” a patriotic or unpatriotic song? Is Larry King’s USA Today column actually left over World-War-II spy code?

Well, we have answers for you. Send any question you have about anything. We will select the best, funniest, weirdest, most interesting ones and distribute them to the NR editor most likely to have the best, funniest, weirdest, most interesting and, most important of all, most accurate answer. Please, no questions for Mr. Buckley; the less of a nuisance I am to him the better. You can send your questions to [email protected] to help us get the ball rolling (I’ve been told something called a fully ASP-driven, no-mess form page will launch tomorrow). Of course, we can’t stop you from asking dirty questions, but then again you can’t make us answer them.