Funny Girl

by Jonah Goldberg

Barbra Streisand, my guilty pleasure.

Chanukah came early for the Goldberg household last month. On November 23, Barbra Streisand wrote a letter to the editor complaining that the Los Angeles Times picked me up as a columnist. As gleeful as I was, I declined to respond. But now, just last night, Ms. Streisand chose to post to her website the “director’s cut” of her original letter to the editor, which apparently had been edited for space and, no doubt, for content by the LA Times. I could resist no longer.

As Streisand surely surmises, we in the warmonger and puppy-kicker community take it as a great badge of honor to be singled out for obloquy by the likes of her. Short of convincing Alec Baldwin to actually make good on his promise to flee the country, vexing the Dashboard Saint of Hollywood Liberalism is about as good as it gets. That my name is such wolf’s bane (or Yentl’s bane) to her that she must cancel her subscription to the Los Angeles Times is just gravy. Feel free to post pictures of me around your homes if you fear she may be coming through your town.

Streisand’s real complaint is that the Times will no longer carry Robert Scheer’s column. She’s simply wrong on the facts that my column replaced his. I’m part of a bundle which results, I believe, in a net gain of liberal voices. But that Scheer is out and I’m in is a great injustice in her eyes.

Now, Streisand is notorious for her desire, indeed her yearning, to be taken seriously. During the early days of the Clinton administration, when she was basking in the glow of Bubba’s gaze, she ostentatiously drenched herself in substance, watching C-SPAN and reading up on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, no doubt finding The Federalist Papers–A.K.A. the Founding’s liner notes–particularly helpful. But there were still some things she didn’t get. When Bill Clinton invited Sharon Stone to the White House for a consultation, instead of her, Streisand reportedly declared, “Why Sharon Stone? She doesn’t know anything about policy.”

But we shouldn’t mock her interest in substance. That’s a healthy sign of citizenship. So let us try to take Streisand seriously.

I am delighted to be in the Los Angeles Times and I’m deeply flattered by the opportunity. I would be saddened if Streisand were right in her claim that my presence will hurt the paper or if her insinuation that she somehow speaks for the larger community were true.

But Streisand is adamant. She writes, “The greater Southern California community is one that not only proudly embraces its diversity, but demands it. Your decision to fire Robert Scheer is a great disservice to the spirit of our community.”

She continues: “It seems that your new leadership, especially Publisher Jeff Johnson, is entirely out of touch with your readers and their desire to be exposed to views that stretch them beyond their own paradigms. So although the number of contributors to your Op-Ed pages may have increased, in firing Scheer and hiring columnists such as Jonah Goldberg, the gamut of voices has undeniably been diluted.”

Babs and “the Desirable”

So, taking Streisand seriously, we must ask: Is she on crack?

Robert Scheer may be the greatest writer since homo sapiens first scribbled on cave walls, but no serious person can believe that his views test the elasticity of Streisand’s “paradigms.” He reinforces them, he ladles concrete on them. Scheer confirms all of her biases and reaffirms all of her ill-considered views. Put aside the fact that both Scheer and Streisand are committed leftists who share almost identical views on most major issues. Scheer served as an informal adviser to Ms. Streisand on at least one occasion–when she delivered a speech to Harvard. Streisand, who recently called for President Bush’s impeachment, threw a book party for Scheer when his last anti-Bush book came out, and she regularly links to his articles on her always amusing website.

And even if you suspect I don’t have the intellectual firepower to burn toast, it’s hard to see how my views wouldn’t put just a bit of spring in her paradigm. Indeed, it’s doubtful that Scheer would even take the time to tell her that “gamuts” cannot be “diluted” or that if you are going to pronounce upon “principals of journalistic integrity” with Olympian pomposity, you might take an extra moment or two to spell “principles” correctly. Otherwise, when she writes that the Times is stepping away “from the principals of journalistic integrity, which would dictate that journalists be journalists, editors be editors and accountants be accountants” it sounds like she’s saying we should back away slowly from the dean of the Columbia Journalism School and other journalistic “dictators.” “Have that accountant beaten! He’s acting like an editor!”

Also, Streisand’s complaint can’t really be that I’m not “forthright” enough. Surely, as she luxuriates in her scented baths, attended to by handmaidens, she doesn’t read my columns and then hurl the pages in a rage at her assistant saying, “Damn that Goldberg! He doesn’t say what he means!”

So clearly, Streisand is not speaking for herself when she laments that my writing isn’t paradigm-stretching (don’t they have Botox for that?). But another possibility is that she was speaking for others. Perhaps she thinks the Times’s readership is unpardonably right-wing (though it demands diversity!) and therefore my voice will not stretch their views sufficiently. This would probably come as a shock to those who think liberal voices in California are a paradigm a dozen. Besides, she’s canceling her subscription, which suggests that it is my lack of forthrightness and my gamut-dilutingness that offends her.

No, the most likely scenario is that Streisand is using the concept of diversity the way so many on the Left do: i.e., diversity means All Good Things. Recall how Orwell had once complained in 1946 that fascism had come to have no meaning save “something not desirable.” Today, diversity means “anything desirable,” which is why the Streisand Left seems unable to grasp that diversity can be expanded and things can be made worse (an NBA with more midgets would be more diverse, but hardly improved).

One small example: When the FCC contemplated rule changes that would have hastened media consolidation, the Streisand Left caterwauled about the strangling of diversity that would ensue (a complaint echoed somewhat in her letter when she prattles on about corporatization). But the bogeyman they cited the most in their indictment was Fox News. Now these are the same people who believe that Fox is the Devil’s Own Network. One is certainly free to make that argument, but it is entirely inconsistent with the idea that Fox has contributed to a lack of diversity in the media. If you think there are too many apples, that’s fine. And you’re free to hate oranges. But you can’t argue that adding oranges to the apple pile makes it less diverse or that it dilutes the gamut of fruits.

This sort of thing is on display every day on the left. We were supposed to celebrate the diversity of the Clinton administration (dozens of liberal lawyers who look different but think alike), but black Republicans like Condi Rice, Colin Powell, and Clarence Thomas are ipso facto “inauthentic” and therefore don’t count toward “diversity.”

In fairness to most liberals, it’s clear that Streisand doesn’t really grasp the meanings of some fancy words. But Streisand likes fancy stuff so she uses them anyway. It’s sort of like not caring that some luxury items are inappropriate in some contexts, and wearing diamonds and high heels to a picnic thinking everyone will simply be impressed. We can’t hold her gauche use of “paradigm” and “gamut” or her righteous talk about “corporatization of our media”–even as she is a fixture of corporate media if ever there was one–against all liberals. But her use of “diversity” is perfectly consistent with her end of the political spectrum. Diversity is merely a cudgel to use against the Bad Guys, even when it makes no sense.

Obviously, even if Streisand’s paradigm were made of flubber, she’d never think highly of me. But it’d be nice if she could grasp that her disagreement has nothing to do with diversity–or diluted gamuts.