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 (but not including those of you who merely pretend to read this “news”letter. Like the president, I’m not interested in photo-ops.),
I think I’ve stumbled onto a handy heuristic — or, if that word makes you want to smash my guitar on the Delta House wall, rule of thumb — for listening to Obama. Whenever he talks about himself, immediately flip it around so he’s saying the opposite. Think about it. “I’m not interested in photo-ops.” Boom. Translation: “I think photo-ops are really, really important. And that’s why I’m not going to have my picture taken with a bunch kids at the border.”
Now, sometimes, a literal reversal of meaning doesn’t work. But the key is to look at any statement he offers about others as an insight into his own mental state.
When Obama denounces cynicism, he’s actually being cynical. What he’s doing is expressing his frustration with people who are justifiably cynical about him. Why can’t you people fall for what I am saying!?
When he says he doesn’t care about “politics,” just problem-solving, what he’s really saying is he wants his political agenda to go unchallenged by other political agendas.
And — as I wrote about at great length here — whenever he says ideology and ideologues are a problem, what he’s actually saying is that competing ideologues and ideologies are the problem. That is, unless, you’re the sort of person who actually thinks Obama isn’t an ideologue, which is just adorable.
It’s not so much that he’s lying. Though if he were a Game of Thrones character, “Obama the Deceiver, First of His Name” would be a pretty apt formal title. No, he’s projecting. It’s an ego thing. I am fond of pointing out Obama’s insufficiently famous confession, “I actually believe my own bullsh*t.” What I like about it is that’s it’s like a verbal Escher drawing. He believes his own b.s. but by calling it b.s. he acknowledges it’s not believable. It’s like sarcastically insisting that you’re being serious. It’s earnest irony or ironic earnestness. If you take the statement too seriously, you could end up like android #1 in “I, Mudd.”
(Speaking of earnestness and deceit, am I the only one to find the White House press secretary’s name mildly amusing? Josh Earnest? “To josh” means to playfully kid with someone, “I’m just joshing ya!” Earnest means to be overly sincere and deadpan serious. The official voice of the White House is living up to both the verb and the adjective; he’s saying humorously unbelievable things in an overly serious way. He’s a poor man’s Steven Wright. Or maybe I’m overthinking things again. As Steven Wright himself said, a “conclusion is just the place where you get tired of thinking.”).
Anyway, I don’t take psychoanalysis, too seriously (“If you did, what would happen to me?” — The Couch). But I think Obama’s penchant for deriding his opponents as cynics and opportunists stems from the fact that he sees the world through precisely those sorts of prisms. But he tells himself he’s different because he does it for good purposes and besides, he’s so awesome his b.s. is true. No one knows if God can make a rock so heavy He can’t lift it, but Obama can sling such exquisite b.s. even he can believe. And because he believes it, he can’t tolerate the idea that others don’t.
Where Hysterics Fear to Go
Speaking of b.s., I think the rape scare raging across the country is mostly a feminist fraud. That’s not to say that there are no sexual assaults or that rape isn’t a very serious crime (I would be open to making some rapes a capital offense). But the simple fact is forcible rape is declining in the United States, while the definition of rape is expanding. And before you tell me that women are afraid to come forward so the official statistics don’t capture the full scope of the problem, let me cut you off and say, “I agree.” I am sure there are women who don’t come forward and tell the truth, and that is terrible (I am also sure there are women who come forward who aren’t telling the truth, and that is terrible too). But I am also pretty confident that the share of victims who don’t come forward is lower today than at pretty much any other time in the past. It’s un-provable, of course. But surely the stigma against rape victims is nothing like what it was a generation ago, never mind three or four generations ago. There has never been a more supportive climate for disclosure about such things — particularly on elite campuses where the panic is most acute — and there has never been a time when blaming the victim was less socially acceptable. And yet, the notion that “rape is as American as apple pie” gains more and more traction among feminists eager to update “The Crucible” (See this excellent summary by my intrepid research assistant at AEI Caroline Kitchens).
Anyway, I bring this up because I think it’s rather fascinating how there’s so much irrationality — or, if you prefer, passion — about the issue and yet it cannot break through the Clinton force-field. Todd Akin said something stupid about “legitimate rape” a few years ago, and Democrats still talk about it the way Russians talk about World War II; like it happened yesterday. Harvard has announced it will abandon the reasonable-doubt standard in favor of a “preponderance of the evidence.” A whole new New Class subspecialty has been created to find jobs for Rape Inquisitors.
And yet the news that Hillary Clinton attacked a twelve-year-old rape victim — whom Clinton knew had been raped! – as a deranged liar sits out in plain view and the hysterics and inquisitors simply, albeit awkwardly, glide around it like zombies making room for Brad Pitt at the end of World War Z.
Yes, yes, I understand that Hillary Clinton had an obligation to provide a vigorous defense of her client. I disagree somewhat with my friend Jonathan Adler when he says that Hillary Clinton was engaged in a “noble endeavor.” But I certainly think his prudential defense is logical, consistent, and entirely defensible. We are a nation of laws and we need procedural due process.
But the purveyors of the “rape culture” and “rape epidemic” talk explicitly reject prudence, logic, and due process! It’s like a mob that destroys everything in its path that suddenly becomes an Etonian debating society when Hillary Clinton is in its sight. They go from “Burn the witch!” to “Tut tut, she was just doing her job” in three seconds flat.
Hillary Clinton submitted an affidavit to the court saying “I have been informed that the complainant is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and engage in fantasizing” and that “she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body. Also that she exhibits an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her way.”
Setting aside the almost literary irony that this is exactly the kind of thing Clinton said about Monica Lewinsky, the victim insists this was an outright lie and she never did anything of the sort (Adler concedes, with undue understatement, that if Clinton did lie to the court, it would cross “an ethical line”). I have no idea what the truth is but, again, going by the standards of the “rape culture” mob, this allegation should have them lighting a fire under a pot of oil.
And this leaves out the fact that her husband was credibly accused of sexual assault himself. Now you can say that Kathleen Willey* lied — I don’t believe she did — but if you’re going to say that, I’d like it if you first got down off the soapbox and stopped shouting about how women don’t lie about rape.
You would think that after all of these years, I would cease to marvel at the Clintons’ uncanny ability to morally corrupt their supporters.
Here’s my problem with Adler’s argument:
What should we make of this story? Perhaps nothing more than that Hillary Clinton represented someone in need and fulfilled her duty as a member of the bar to provide a zealous defense of her client. This is not something for which she should be attacked. We are all the worse off if the message sent to young lawyers is that representing guilty or unpopular clients is likely to be a political liability down the road. Ably and effectively representing a criminal defendant — even one you believe to be guilty — is not “scummy” or inappropriate. Forcing the state to prove its case before it deprives an individual of their life, liberty or property is a noble endeavor. So while I think the story is newsworthy, I think most of the attacks on Clinton for this episode are misplaced, and a bit opportunistic
Let’s take Clinton out of the equation for a moment. I think Jon — a brilliant lawyer — doesn’t give enough weight to the fact that while defending child-rapists is a necessary evil, it’s still a kind of, you know, evil. The protections we afford the guilty are necessary to protect the innocent. If we had a machine that could, with absolute metaphysical, ontological, and scientific certainty determine guilt or innocence, there would be no reason to have trials, save perhaps for purposes of sentencing. In previous eras, some people believed God could serve such a purpose, making the truth available to us through various Monty Pythonesque mechanisms. Remember the SNL skit with Steve Martin as Theodrick of York?
Theodoric of York: Okay. Let’s see . . . Befoulment of wells . . . Boar pouching . . . Consorting with dames . . . Consorting with yourself . . . Aha! Consorting with the devil. All right, this is very clear in here. It’s in Latin, so I’ll put it to you in layman’s English — we’re going to have to throw you in the trough of justice!
[Two GUARDS tie the witch’s hands in rope. ]
Theodoric of York: And if you’re guilty, you’ll float on water. And if you’re innocent, you’ll sink. So you have nothing to fear!
[The guards hoist the witch up and carry her to a hot water-filled trough. Theodoric follows them.]
Theodoric of York: If the accused floats, that means the water has rejected her body. Of course, if the accused here sinks, that means the water has accepted her body . . . therefore she’s innocent.
Needless to say, such techniques leave much to be desired, which is why we’ve developed — through generations of Hayekian trial-and-error — systems that err on the side of the accused.
We can all agree that the presumption of innocence and the reasonable-doubt standard are huge advances in human civilization and that is therefore worthwhile to have defense attorneys doing the ugly work of zealously defending the guilty. But the necessity of due process can’t scrub all of the ugliness away.
Yes, they are fighting for the integrity of the system — a noble endeavor — but they are also doing their very best to ensure that their clients escape justice (not procedural justice but capital-J Justice). It’s a complicated and necessary tension.
I understand there’s a debate over whether or not Hillary is really laughing in that interview where she recounts how she got her child-rapist off with essentially a rap on the knuckles. But I think it’s fair to say she seems awfully glib and guilt-free about her role in it. For most normal people, I think that’s terribly off-putting. Moreover, you’d think someone who seeks to be the Joan of Arc of womanhood would have a good deal more sorrow about her role in a necessary evil.
Tales from the Homefront
I’ve been doing weather updates on Twitter lately. You know, stuff like “Today’s DC heat-humidity index is: Saigon brothel early in the morning, warming up to Alabama chain gang hot box this afternoon.” Or, “DC heat humidity index: Cool Hand Luke with a chance of Barton Fink.”
Now, you might think this is all about the jocularity, but it’s not. You can’t really get a sense of my rage in these tweets. I hate DC in the summer. Hate. Yes, yes, as a Goldberg I am descended from a desert people, but we like a dry heat. This place is so hot, fetid and humid — actually moist is a better word — that it feels like I’m a homunculus walking around the crotchal region of Al Sharpton’s tracksuit circa 1989 (Yes, you’ll have that image to carry around for the rest of your life. You’re welcome).
Unfortunately, if I were to express my real feelings about the weather on Twitter, it would read like Alistair Cooke walking into a backyard full of garden rakes; just one ear-shattering obscenity after another. Right now I could f-bomb Dresden.
Because both my wife and daughter are out of town, my only companion in all of this misery is my wing-dingo, Zoë. There’s just one hitch, she’s a swamp dog. Every time we go outside into the cloying miasma of aerosolized muck, the look on her face reminds me of the special crossover issue where Godzilla goes back in time to meet Devil Dinosaur. For the tiny number of you who didn’t immediately get the reference, Godzilla really dug the hot sulfuric climate in Dinosaur World. And Zoë loves this climate. It’s like she gets extra energy from it. The deer poop stays fresh longer, the squirrels are more likely to lose a step as they flee her wrath.
I went on Amazon and bought at least a dozen dog toys just to keep her occupied when I am trying to work or sleep. How’d that work out? Well, you know that cliché in the movies where the rookie cop visits his first gruesome crime scene and barfs at the horror? Well, if I were from a planet of sentient plush toys, I would be that rookie cop pretty much every morning. I come downstairs in the grey light of dawn every day to find a “living” room that looks like Charles Manson’s clan declared Helter Skelter on plush toys. It’s a dog-toy abattoir in here; Faux-felt moose and pigs are splayed across furniture in unnatural positions, their viscera scattered about.
I’m constantly trying to come up with new challenges and time-killers for her. She likes to chew ice cubes and my socks. So, last night, in what I thought was a brilliant move, I froze one of my sweat socks in a block of ice, just so I would have a little extra time to write this morning. So far so good.
Various & Sundry
My column from yesterday is on how Obama created the mess at the border. The lede is a little clever, I think.
My first column of the week was on how the pop culture contains more conservatism than many conservatives are willing to see. It got a lot of interesting reactions. I want to write about this more fully for the magazine, but let me make one point here. I think it’s a useful exercise to think about how you would make some real-life events into a movie. If you have to change the facts to fit the storyline, that should tell you something important about the morality of the event. For instance, in The People Vs. Larry Flynt, they had to make his brand of pornography incredibly tame. Don’t even get me started on movies like Reds or JFK. If they depicted the facts accurately, Flynt wouldn’t be believable as a free-speech martyr. Why? Because he’s a scumbag. Interesting question: How easy would it be to make a heroic movie about Hillary Clinton without bending the truth about her work defending a child rapist?
Earlier this week I was on a panel at the Heritage Foundation on the question of whether or not we need another Ronald Reagan. Video here.
This “news”letter was originally going to be about my disagreement with Charles Murray over the differences between liberals and progressives. But I went a different way. I’m sure the topic will come again. His op-ed is here. My response in the Corner is here. Charles and I discussed the topic with Steve Hayward, who was sitting in for Bill Bennett. Here’s the audio:
Speaking of Bill Bennett, I have to say I’m becoming a pretty loyal listener of his radio show. I don’t listen to a lot of conservative talk radio. I’m not against it, but it’s very hard to do what I do with that stuff in the background. Also, I like listening to NPR because (1) It’s useful to listen to enemy broadcasts and (2) the news reporting is often quite good, particularly if you don’t take it as gospel. That said, Bill really does a fantastic job of lining up serious and thoughtful analysts. When NPR does one of its extended profiles of a some World Music impresario, I find myself switching over to Bill’s show more and more and staying there longer and longer.
A reproductive-justice reporter (stop laughing) attacked me last week. My response is here.
You also might find this map of Godzilla’s geographic migrations in the Marvel universe helpful.
Bill Deblasio’s mess, complete with fantastic pictogram.
Thorstein Veblen is alive and well and living in Japan.
If reporters tweeted what they really do at work.
Robert Downey Jr Portrayed as Pinup Girls.
A lion cub gets his head stuck in a buffalo’s butt.
Ah, government. 14,000 draft notices were sent to men born in the 1800s.
Taking spiting your face to a whole new level: Man is growing a nose on his back after doctors implanted nose tissue into his spine during a surgery.
The IRS needs to recruit this guy as agency spokesman.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: The newsletter version of this article mistakenly misspelled Kathleen Willey’s last name. We regret the error.