EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (including those Dear Readers who do not hold your reading dear and as a result thought I forgot the Dear Reader gag last week, when in fact I very subtly wrote “Deer Reader” with a link to a deer reading. Get it? Ye of little faith! Nothing says comedy more than a bibliophilic odocoileus virginianus, am I right?),
I am not going to dwell long on Charlie Crist. With his baseball-glove skin and white hair, he looks not unlike a career beachcomber who spends his days with a metal detector in search of treasure he’s convinced himself he deserves and he will tell you all about it if you make the mistake of sitting next to him at the counter at the local diner. Whenever I see him on MSNBC or NBC, he looks like the same kind of eccentric, only dressed up for one of his many court dates.
Except for his eyes. He’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes.
Anyway, sticking with the beachcomber thing, lingering too long on the subject of Charlie Crist would be like waving a metal detector over the same patch of sand over and over again. All you’ll find is a few bits of detritus, a bottle top or two, some dead things, maybe an old condom, and then beyond that, there’s just nothing, layer after layer after layer of nothing. The texture of the nothing may change — he’ll grow wetter and tend to smell more — but there’s no golden prize to be found, because like that treasureless patch of beach, the defining quality of Charlie Crist is that there’s simply no there there. He is an oxymoron (often with a silent “oxy”): He is a man defined by what he is not, including his lack of manhood.
I bring this up because earlier this week Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog wrote a post with the less than economical headline: “Charlie Crist didn’t leave the Republican party because of racism. He left it because he couldn’t win a primary.”
Crist apparently went on Jorge Ramos’s show on Fusion TV and said: “I couldn’t be consistent with myself and my core beliefs, and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African-American president, I’ll just go there.” Crist added: “I was a Republican and I saw the activists and what they were doing; it was intolerable to me.”
Now, this isn’t merely a lie. We are used to politicians telling us they can and will “eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse,” that they won’t take money from lobbyists, that they can give you seven-minute abs in six minutes and all of that. This is different. This is the sort of lying that makes God look over the top of his morning newspaper the way a dad looks at his kid when the boy’s making fart sounds with his armpit at the breakfast table. This is the kind of lying you expect of Vichy politicians as they run into the room after hastily putting on their “Vive la Resistance!” T-shirt for the first time.
He’s not simply making this nonsense up. He’s actually claiming moral conviction he doesn’t have and bravery he hasn’t earned in order to advance a lie no honorable man would ever utter. His weaselly “I’ll just go there” line is the kind of courage-on-the-cheap that you’d expect from the guy who tried to sell out Bruce Willis to Hans Gruber in Die Hard. But at least that shmuck had an air of plausibility.
Let me put it another way: It is the kind of lying that not even the “The Fix” can let stand. I don’t mean to be unkind to Cillizza, but the simple fact is that normally when a former Republican says the GOP is racist, it is de rigueur for the MSM to either hype such statements so that they will ultimately yield a 20-minute round of head-nodding celebration on Morning Joe or at least let them go unchallenged so that they can serve as an under-examined “one example among many” of GOP racism.
Moreover, it’s not just racism. Whenever a conservative (I use that term very advisedly and reluctantly) or a Republican moves leftward it is to be celebrated and consecrated as a victory for the right side of history. I can go on about this at great length (See, Kevin Phillips, John Dean, Lincoln Chaffee, Michael Lind, Doug Kmiec, et al). But just consider when former senator Jim Jeffords jumped ship in the early days of the Bush administration. He was hailed as a latter-day Thomas More. He went around talking about how he had to leave the party because of abortion and social issues and “conscience.” The truth is that he expected Strom Thurmond to die any minute, which would throw the Senate majority to the Democrats and imperil his seniority and perhaps the Northeast Dairy Compact, his corporatist-socialist holy of holies. So he bolted and then told the media what it wanted to hear and the media dutifully treated Jeffords as the Martin Niemöller of the early Bush years (“First they came for the milk subsidies…”).
But here we have Charlie Crist saying exactly what the press wants to hear and no one is buying it. Why? Because everyone who knows anything about politics or Charlie Crist knows that when he talks about his “core beliefs” and doesn’t follow with “are whatever will get me elected,” then we know he’s lying. Crist is a mannequin with a pulse who believes that the only storefront window for him is political office, and his core beliefs are whatever wardrobe will get him there.
My Dogma vs. Charlie’s Karma
The other day, Charlie Cooke and I got into a friendly disagreement over what I considered to be an atypically unpersuasive post of his. Charlie’s a very sharp guy, but this time I think the scalpel clanked on the operating-room floor. He argued that, by all means, a California public-school district should treat Holocaust denial as a legitimate subject for debate and inquiry. In fact they should “Teach Holocaust Denial and Be Proud Of It”.
I responded that, in the grand scheme of things, Charlie’s position is, well, a little nuts. Charlie responded thoughtfully, arguing that his real aim is, in effect, more effective pedagogy. Of course the Holocaust happened, of course Holocaust denial is bad, he conceded, but we need to lead kids to these conclusions through discussion and examination, not rote instruction (I’m paraphrasing). He concludes:
As for the question of age. Well, I’m neither a parent nor a schoolteacher, so I will defer in some measure to those who are. But it strikes me that there is a very real risk of our creating people who are so sure of what is true and what is not by the time that they reach college that they are lost to genuine inquiry. “Give me the child, and I will mold the man,” St. Francis Xavier promised. I’m merely wondering aloud if a little more contrarianism and a few more outrageous questions might not just make him a better thinker.
I don’t want to dwell on the Holocaust-denial issue, though I stand by my initial objections. Suffice it to say that I think treating the fact of the Holocaust as an edgy and fun “both sides have good points” issue is a bit bonkers.
But I do think that Charlie makes a perfectly valid larger point about the source of real education. As I’ve long argued (and wrote about at length in the introduction to “Proud to Be Right”), engaged conservative kids on college campuses tend to be a little sharper than the engaged liberals (this is a generalization with plenty of exceptions). The reason is they have their core assumptions and beliefs questioned, even attacked, on a daily basis. They get sharpened on the whetting stone of the liberal hegemony. They have to swim upstream to survive (“Do they learn to be comfortable with mixed metaphors?” — The Couch).
But in an ideal world, education wouldn’t be about wrestling with contemporary political controversies, but with eternal conflicts inherent to the human condition. At the best schools, kids learn by wrestling with Shakespeare or Plato, not Noam Chomsky.
I also think Charlie is way too enamored with the “question everything” approach to education and, at times, social policy generally. I like a good argument as much as anybody, I think. But I don’t think our society suffers from a lack of arguments so much as a failure to learn from old ones. Just look at the “new Marxist” fad these days. Going by the historical record, Marxism is a demonstrably worse idea than either running with scissors or trying to steal grizzly-bear cubs from their mama’s den. The insight that two-parent families are better than single-parent families — all other things being equal — is only slightly less empirically proven than the fact fire is hot, and yet we live in an age where this insight must constantly be questioned. Intellectuals like Brad Wilcox, Charles Murray, Kay Hymowitz, et al. rightly engage that argument using reason and facts. They have better arguments. Anyone think they’re winning in the larger culture? Show of hands please.
Charlie has the libertarian rationalist’s faith in human reason; that the superior argument will always win. I agree it will win — on the debate stage. But in the larger social realm — political, cultural, moral — there’s less evidence on his side than either of us might like. Reason is vital, but its limits run up against the fact that faith is more powerful. Worse, reason is blind to the nature of faith (and the power of rhetoric to enlist soldiers from both camps).
Reason won many of the West’s greatest victories and advances, but faith secured them. I’m not talking solely about religious faith, though that’s a big part of it. I’m talking about what Richard Weaver called the “metaphysical dream of the universe” — a profound understanding of What Is that transcends reason alone.
As Malcolm Muggeridge said, life isn’t a process; it’s a drama, and we too often tend to understand things in theatrical terms. The champions of Holocaust denial are eager to employ reason (or what passes for it) because they understand that creating even a morsel of reasonable doubt is a huge victory for their anti-Semitic faith. There is part of the human soul that wants to believe that there are evil conspiracies afoot. Why feed them solely for the sake of a good argument?
Whether it’s Holocaust denial or the dream of a Marxist society, we believe lies not because we have to but because we want to (another Muggeridgeism). Or as Burke put it: “Politics ought to be adjusted not to human reasonings but to human nature, of which reason is but a part and by no means the greatest part.” Shouting that all taboos should be questioned out of a fashionable assumption that taboos are suspect doesn’t necessarily lead to a world where valuable taboos are reaffirmed.
Rather, a dogmatic obsession with questioning dogma means that even the victories are open to second-guessing through reason. But reason alone cannot restore what toppled faith has lost. A truly advancing society hammers down dogmatic victories. It doesn’t constantly tear them up to check that the spikes are secure. Indeed, the mere act of checking loosens the spikes.
I’m running long so I’ll just hand the baton off to Chesterton:
Whether the human mind can advance or not, is a question too little discussed, for nothing can be more dangerous than to found our social philosophy on any theory which is debatable but has not been debated. But if we assume, for the sake of argument, that there has been in the past, or will be in the future, such a thing as a growth or improvement of the human mind itself, there still remains a very sharp objection to be raised against the modern version of that improvement. The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas. The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut. Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.
If then, I repeat, there is to be mental advance, it must be mental advance in the construction of a definite philosophy of life.
Everything Is About the Holocaust Except the Holocaust
As a side note, it says something pretty awful that it is increasingly unacceptable to have a debate about the science of climate change but increasingly acceptable to debate the fact the Holocaust happened (in fairness, it is still quite unacceptable to deny the Holocaust — in America — but any backsliding strikes me as horrific).
Al Gore & Co. started referring to skeptics as “deniers” in a deliberate effort to cast his opponents as the moral equivalent of Holocaust deniers. From Al Gore’s 1989 New York Times op-ed, to his 1992 book Earth in the Balance, to his conversations with his masseuse, Gore has been hammering this disgusting comparison with considerable success. From his New York Times op-ed:
In 1939, as clouds of war gathered over Europe, many refused to recognize what was about to happen. No one could imagine a Holocaust, even after shattered glass had filled the streets on Kristallnacht. World leaders waffled and waited, hoping that Hitler was not what he seemed, that world war could be avoided. Later, when aerial photographs revealed death camps, many pretended not to see. Even now, many fail to acknowledge that our victory was not only over Nazism but also over dark forces deep within us.
From Earth in the Balance: “Today the evidence of an ecological Kristallnacht is as clear as the sound of glass shattering in Berlin.”
From his conversation with his masseuse: “C’mon baby release my seventh chakra, help the resistance!”
Various & Sundry
Zoë Update: Zo-zo is going bonkers with boredom as she is still on restricted exercise status and has a cone on for most of the day and all of the night. But we did let her out of her cone for a bit last night on the principle that sometimes you gotta throw a dog a bone.
The latest “GLoP Culture” Podcast featuring a long rant from me about how little I care about animal monogamy.
My column from yesterday on the crazy notion that the Supreme Court failed an “empathy test.”
If you doubt that reason alone isn’t sufficient to run a civilization, I present to you this horrendous person who thinks her abortion was like giving birth and filming it was cool.
Did The Simpsons spark the Arab Spring?
Mildly NSFW SNL skit: When Neal Diamond sang a duet with Christina Aguilera
What else are they going to say? U.S. Air Force says they could take down Godzilla